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Woman vs. Machine

I grew up in a family where story was king. Both of my parents are actors. In the 1960s they were part of the founding company of a radical new reparatory theatre in San Francisco called A.C.T. I literally grew up in the wings, greenrooms, dressing rooms and balconies of the majestic Geary Theatre in the Mission district. The theatre played baby sitter to my two brothers and I as my parents rehearsed and taught and performed. By the time I was 13, I had seen over 100 plays and sat through countless rehearsals. Mostly classics. Shakespeare. Rostand. Chekov. Ibsen. Some were contemporary greats. Albee. Miller. Shepherd. I learned about life through these great works. Environmentalism through Ibsen’s, Enemy of the People. Prejudice from the Merchant of Venice. The beauty of imperfection through Cyrano. I also learned about the power of story.

Sitting through a rehearsal of King Lear at the tender age of 8 seemed like torture to me at the time. Only now do I really appreciate how story was being cobbled into my consciousness by some of the greatest story-tellers that have ever lived. I only wish I could have absorbed their genius through osmosis. But I did breath in their appreciation for story, well told, and the power it has to change lives. My mother always said that you should leave a theatre feeling elevated as a human being. My father said that theatre is where we get to tell the truth.

I find myself stressing at times that story telling is being lost on a generation that lives in life fragments. Instant hits. Perishable photographs. Most barons of Vine are not worthy of their status. Their fame will be measured in seconds not minutes. Marketers used to be storytellers. They took the “thing” and turned it into a story that made you feel good about buying the thing. And made you feel good for having it. Like all power, it wasn’t always good. I smoked Marlboro Reds. The Marlboro Man that rode that horse and died of lung cancer, he was a badass. Story can be used for evil. It is also the portal to all things good. Almost every prophet told stories to help us understand God. There are even stories to help us calm the stories in our minds. In my Buddhism class, the monk tells stories to help us get to a place where we can meditate in a story free state.

When I hear that the MarTech (chiefmartech.com) folks are the future marketers of the world, I grow uneasy. I’m a marketer, but I’m not that person. And I’m not sure that person knows story. I’m not sure that they see their calling as an opportunity to elevate the human condition. For this reason, I worry that my daughter spends too much time on social media. Hours a day sometimes. Snapchatting. Laughing at the buffoonery of Vine. Texting. Posting on Instagram. And then, as I am falling asleep at night, I hear something that bathes my heart in the happiest light. It is the sound of my daughter composing a song on her guitar. Its all analogue. Its all story well told.

And this is where her generation and my generation intersect. Just because her world is more fragmented, doesn’t mean she is losing the power of story. Technology, in its ideal state, is a teller of story. Coders, after all, are writers. Good Vines are a 7 second story. And who am I to judge? In the pre remote-control world, my Shakespearean father would get up during commercial breaks and literally turn off the volume knob on the television set. He viewed TV commercials as 30 seconds of mind poison. Of course, I had to go into advertising. And here I am, judging 7 second Vines. The immutable, soulful thirst for story is not denied by technology, it is enabled. And the great marketers of the future will not just be MarTech folks. They will be story-tellers that know how to use marketing technology to communicate the right story at the right time in the right context.

© Copyright 2016 Lucas Donat. All rights reserved.