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Why do we love and crave stories so much? Humans are the only creatures that communicate using stories, and we’ve been doing it since even before there were Kardashians to talk about.

technology storytelling computer on a table
This past August, I decided to spend some time working from a family log cabin in the woods of Montana.

Having the opportunity to be productive in a kind of natural wonderland that many city-dwellers never get to experience, I tried to invite people to come and visit. Everyone grooves on the idea in the abstract, but few people actually showed up. So I was completely thrilled when my friend Jim decided it was a great excuse to take one last summer motorcycle trip.

technology storytelling lake in montana
To get a feel for what kinds of things he’d like to see and do, I asked Jim what he knew about the area. Well, it turns out that Jim spent two summers of his early 20’s as a tour guide in Glacier Park. A young, heavy-drinking punk kid, he went there a little too late in the season, but to his surprise, they hired him on the spot – to drive a tour bus. He went over to the dorm to get settled.

“Oh – You must be Craig’s replacement,” they said.

“I guess?” He didn’t know who Craig was or if he was indeed Craig’s replacement. He was.

Craig had been eaten by a relocated grizzly and her two cubs just a few days before. Granted, Craig had made every bad decision in the book. He went hiking alone, wasn’t making noise, ran away, etc. But the bears, who had been relocated after being determined to be aggressive toward people in Alaska, had wandered 40 miles and then promptly eaten the first person they came across. So not so cool on the bears’ part either.

And now Jim is the new Craig. More prone to do things that start with “hold my beer and watch this” than hang out in a library, Jim wasn’t particularly knowledgeable about Glacier Park. They were given books, but there was no tour script. And dammit if these pesky tourists didn’t just keep asking questions!

They wanted stories” he said. “Even if you told them the truth, if it wasn’t interesting enough, they wouldn’t accept it. So I started giving them stories on every tour over and over. Bird Woman Falls was the biggest one. ‘Why is it called Bird Woman Falls?’”

So Jim became a fake legend machine. “The Romeo and Juliet theme will never steer you wrong. Young lovers across warring tribes. Misunderstood. Yearning to be together. The chief’s beautiful daughter. The soft-hearted, brave warrior who sees her bathing in the falls. People eat that up.”

“But here’s what makes it work: ’And that’s why they mate for life.’ This is the key phrase. People will love any bullsh*t story that ends with some animal mating for life. Just throw that in and you’re golden.”

Why do we love and crave stories so much? Humans are the only creatures that communicate using stories, and we’ve been doing it since even before there were Kardashians to talk about.

Back in the caves (many years B.K. or “Before Kardashians”), stories gave us the power to envision future events and plan for them using learnings much bigger than our own experiences.

Our brains are so evolutionarily wired for stories that in a 1944 study at Smith College, shown a short film with two triangles, a circle, and a stationary square, only one participant described the scene as geometric shapes. Every other participant assigned characters and emotional states to the shapes and described scenarios like fighting, rage, frustration, or innocence.


Our brains literally look for stories to make sense of the world around us. Stories kept us alive, allowing people to warn other people of dangers in memorable, sticky ways that weave data in with emotion to make information more engaging. Simply telling someone that eating the purple berries will kill them doesn’t have the legs of a story about how the berries were the eyeballs of a fallen god, whose anger toward people still lies dormant in the poison fruit (or whatever).

People remember stories 22 times more than simple facts.

The thing is, your brain processes a story with physiological responses just as genuine as if it were your own experience. As far as your biology is concerned, you are literally walking in someone else’s shoes. That’s powerful.

When computer technology first came on the scene, it felt a lot like capital-S “Science.” Math. Facts. Everything makes sense.

Given the complexity of our technology now, and how deeply integrated it is into our lives, it feels a lot closer in relation to an angry old testament god than a manageable list of facts.


It is mysterious. It has a lot of control over our lives from minute to minute (remember the last time you were about to start presenting in a meeting and saw the “Installing updates…” message on a big, blue screen? That.). And more importantly, we have to communicate a lot of detailed, imperative information quickly to a lot of people in order to keep us all working and playing and functioning together in this very technical shared reality.

The days of technical manuals are gone. Technology is going to continue to evolve at an exponential pace, and as a society and as individuals, we have to evolve with it, together, with a sense of clear vision about where the opportunities and pitfalls are. The best way to do that is to tell stories, just like we have for thousands of years.

And that’s why computers mate for life.


Also See: 3 ways to tell a great story 



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