Second Age of Consciousness of Storytelling

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Stories form a vital thread that connects humans with each other. Whether it’s scrolling down Facebook’s News Feed or watching the latest video uploaded on YouTube, we love being connected to each other’s stories. But the instant communication that bring stories to our fingertips, wasn’t always so. Stories took much longer to travel before it could reach people. And the story of the journey is a fascinating one—and it traverses through three ages of consciousness.The first age of consciousness—the period before the 15th century—was marked by both a slow and controlled dissemination of knowledge. Stories were disseminated only by the powerful and based on the manner of propagation available then, it would have taken tens of thousands of years for the Lascaux cave paintings, the Egyptian hieroglyphics or the Epic of Gilgamesh to reach a million people.

The Printing Press Kick-Starts a New Age of Consciousness

All this changed with Gutenberg’s invention, which kick-started the second age of consciousness. Rulers and the establishment no longer enjoyed exclusive access to the means of creating and propagating content. The time to reach a million people had shrunk considerably. Take Gutenberg’s 1,200 page Bible for example. The Gutenberg Press could produce 25 pages per hour. Assuming it worked 12 hours per day and that that there was a base of 10 printing presses operating in the Germany at the time, and that each printed Bible was read by roughly 10 people—information could now reach a million people within a span of 100 years.

As the centuries passed on, advancements in technology, along with clever sales techniques, shrunk the time a story took to reach a million people even more. In 1885, Mark Twain’s unique door-to-door sales technique, sold 350,000 copies of ex US Union General Ulysses S. Grant’s Civil War Memoirs. Assuming that each copy was read by or to approximately three people, the time taken to reach a million different people had shrunk to just 3 years.

Mass Communication brings in Further Change

The late 1800’s and early 1900’s saw the invention of several mass communication devices, including the telephone, radio, and television. This heralded the second age of collective consciousness, when brands defined and determined trends. For the next 100 years, any organisation, or brand, could diffuse a story of its choice on an unprecedented scale.

The second age of collective consciousness also saw the birth of the first ever press release. On October 28, 1906, around 50 people lost their lives in a train wreck in Atlantic City. Ivy Lee convinced his client, the Pennsylvania Railroad to issue a statement of what had transpired. This new approach completely revolutionised the concept of corporate communications. The second age also set off the golden era of Madison Avenue, where advertising executives built brands through their creative advertising (read: storytelling).

The Second Age Ends with Affordable Internet

All this came to an end with affordable internet and mobile connectivity that changed the entire dynamic once again. Peer-to-peer communications and multiple platforms brought ‘democratisation’ of content and removed the last barrier to mass communications. The Third Age of Consciousness was born, where Facebook posts, Twitter feeds and Instagram stories created and disseminated the agenda.

Compelling Content remains Pivotal to Storytelling

The five centuries that spanned the second age of consciousness had one common aspect—the stories that spread the fastest were the ones with the most superior content. Whether it was Gutenberg’s Bible, the Civil War memoirs or Ivy Lee’s press release, which was printed verbatim by the New York Times, it was the content that made people sit up and take notice of these stories. Books sold and campaigns worked because people engaged with the winning content.

Creating compelling stories that people wish to engage with remains the most important part of an enterprise marketing strategy. It takes on even more significance in the present third age of consciousness, where everyone is a potential storyteller, broadcaster or editor-in-chief, defining and deciding the stories being disseminated. This invariably leads to stories being by, for, and about them, and not governments or brands—making it important for brands and organisations to wake up and take notice.

Read more about the third age of consciousness and how brands, in order to stay relevant, will have to modify their marketing strategy, in our next blog post.

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