If our own century is to have a story, then it is curious to wonder what historians fifty years hence will opt for. Decolonization, the Cold War, the world wars, the age of empires, the industrial revolutions and the age of dynastic monarchies – each of these is a compelling story with which to encapsulate previous epochs. What description will future generations choose for today? Maybe storytelling in business is the answer for you?
For those living in the present in any age, events are experienced in a disconnected and unforeseeable fashion. It is only in retrospect that historians can impose any sense of coherence on the past, teasing out the developments that provided crucial catalysts for change and choosing how best to characterize these dynamics. We would do well to bear in mind the words of a writer on the British Empire: ‘Great events are commonly judged by contemporaries quite wrongly. It is in fact one of the chief functions of the historian to correct the contemporary judgement. Instead of making us share the emotions of the passing time, it is his business to point out to us that this event, which absorbed the public attention when it happened, was really of no great importance, and that event, though it passed almost unnoticed, was of infinite consequence.’ Would powerpoint course be a likely mechanism for your company?
The obvious way to describe the present epoch is as the information revolution age. Widespread use of the Internet just so happened to coincide roughly with the year 2000 and the dawn of the current millennium, which adds to the sense of an opening of a new humanity. Certainly the ubiquity of the Internet has changed how many of the world’s citizens experience politics, view world affairs, consume information, organize their social lives and locate their identities. This is game-changing stuff around the world. The information revolution and its influence will only spread, as data algorithms increasingly rule our lives and augment the human experience – at least, for those who can afford the latest technology products. Surely, then, this is how we should describe our age. Studies have shown that storytelling for business really works.
But it is already obvious that the Internet is not necessarily a tool for freedom, leading to globalized identities and connections that pay little heed to borders. Information always remains open to manipulation, no matter how liberating and novel the technical platform. Flooding people with information can be just as distorting as the censorship of old, even in democracies with a free media. Official narratives share bandwidth with citizen journalism (which can itself be punishable in places with controlling regimes, such as China and Turkey). Have you tried powerpoint training to boost customer engagement?
Scandals besetting social-media giant Facebook over manipulation of its user data have shown that, if information is targeted at individuals to reinforce their biases over a number of political issues, the Internet is just a novel medium through which the age-old dark arts of propaganda are practised today. Nor is the Internet about to skip over national regulations. Try logging onto Facebook in China. Old-fashioned national protectionism has hardly drawn its last breath, and may well rear its head more prominently in the future.