There has always been an innate need for man to communicate. Before the invention of language and script, man used non-verbal communication – consider the cave paintings which date back (some say) to 30,000 BC. The phrase ‘Actions speak louder than words’ gave a whole new meaning to that period. As time progressed, man became a hunter and gatherer, started dwelling in places and living in groups. His desire to want to stay in a place led to the formation of language, drawing and eventually script. Over the years as a code for survival, the elderly people of the group probably shared the lessons they learnt to the next generation through tales, which turned into legends over several generations. Closer home, the Jataka Tales are noteworthy of mention as are also several religious texts. For time immemorial, storytelling has been a method to get others to recall a particular event of significant standing.
The Bible’s Old Testament is an exceptional example of men and women passing on lessons, instructions and tales from one generation to another through word of mouth long before it was ever written. Another example is that of Aesop’s Fables—a collection of stories that were credited to Aesop, a slave and storyteller from ancient Greece.
So, when did content reach a ‘million’ people?
The earliest ever recorded instance of storytelling was discovered in 1940 at the Lascaux Caves1 in the Pyrenees Mountains in southern France. It comprised a series of cave paintings that date back to 15000 and 13,000 BC, and show a variety of animals and one image of a human being—if you look at the paintings closely, it is clear to see a pattern—a story of hunting practices and rituals followed in that age. Can you imagine how strong the need to tell a story was for man to want to paint walls of a cave in order to pass on his story? His need to communicate only intensified and paved the way for script and language. The Egyptian hieroglyphs2 are prime example to this, and took place from around 3200–400 BC, and again, it was only deciphered in the 1820s by Jean-Francois Champollion3. If you had to calculate the number of years it took for a million different people to see these messages, it would amount to about tens of thousands of years.
Let’s move ahead to 700 BC and we have the first printed story—The Epic of Gilgamesh—which was script carved on stone pillars for everyone to see, in the Mesopotamia region. But this was discovered only in 1853 by an archaeologist Hormuzd Rassam. Now, carving messages on stone pillars and paintings on walls are a good way to spread the message but it localizes the message. A recipient of the message would have to travel to the places that held these messages to receive them. So, in hindsight, a story told at that time (from BC to the 1st century) would effectively take a significantly long time to reach a mere million people in the first age of consciousness.
Content moving at a faster pace
Continuing this journey to a little before the 15th century, where the arrival of the Gutenberg Press changed the speed at which content could be copied and shared (you will read more about this in our second in series blog), we see several examples throughout history wherein several empires tried to speed up the delivery of communicable content.
Take the Roman empire for instance. To improve the speed of communication, they built better roads and infrastructure, so that the messenger on a horse could travel swiftly. Going ahead to the 11th century, and a pigeon post delivery system was in place, which was used to hasten the delivery of the message4.
Along with trying to “get the message out there” faster, another reason why kings and emperors wanted to get their stories out there to a larger crowd was perhaps to popularize their version of the story. For it is a known fact that history was always written by the victor!
It is then easy to see that the types of stories told in this period focussed more on the journey than the destination. For man only writes about what he relates to the most. And as the journey was long and arduous, so was the focus of the tales he spun, and it took an equally long time for these stories to reach a large number of people if not more. The faster the tale was made popular, the easier it was for people to recollect and pass on. It is perhaps the very reason why the stories that originated in 6th century BC still make it to our reading lists today.
So how does this fact help businesses with their storytelling in the present day? Most successful campaigns will have one thing in common, they found a way to connect to their audience and went above and beyond the product they are trying to sell. A customer, no matter in which age, always relates to a story. The question that remains to be asked is “Are you making your story count?”
Stay tuned for the second age of consciousness in our next blog…till then just be glad that your content when told in the right way can reach a million people in less than a day!
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