Front-Porch "Twitter": The Importance of Face-to-Face Story-Sharing

by Lyn Ford

A young student in a story-sharing / story-writing workshop that had been organized specifically for “gifted and talented” students hung back from those who rushed to their lunches.

He never looked directly at me; he shuffled his feet and watched his shoes, and nervously glanced up at me as he spoke. He said, “I like to write, but, y’know, I can’t just tell a story the way you do. I know we only have to read to a partner and tell the story to a partner. But, do we have to tell our stories? It’s hard to talk when somebody’s looking at you.”

I said, “You definitely don’t have to do what I do! Just share your story as if you are talking with your friends.” He replied, “But, y’know, we don’t talk the way you do. We ‘tweet’. Nobody looks at you, nobody tells stories. I guess we don’t really talk very much.”

In the past year I’ve met: brilliant students who cannot speak (I’m not talking about the fear of public speaking; I’m talking about the inability to verbalize ideas); an angry student who did not verbally express her feelings until she told them in her original fairy tale; an adult who said, “I don’t have any stories. I never had a life”; bullies who could attack with fierce and cruel words via notes and Internet social sites, but who couldn’t carry on a face-to-face conversation. Tappa-tap go the fingers on little phone keyboards, as kids sit with their friends and read about them on tiny screens. If all the batteries disappeared, how would these children speak to one another?

Our world is getting smaller and smaller thanks to technology, but, even when in the same room, some folks remain worlds apart. Nowadays, the statement, “Use your words,” may only confuse.

One outcome of a lack of narrative communication skills may be expressively aggressive behavior:
I can’t tell you how I feel, so I’ll show you.
I’m excited! I don’t know what to say! I’ll just scream and throw things! AAAAAH!

Other outcomes may be limited judgment and prejudicial thinking: I don’t know you, or anyone like you. That makes you someone I will distrust, dislike, fear, hate.

“Talking story”, a wonderful Hawaiian description of oral narrative, is essential to the well-being of individuals and the social foundation of our country and our lives. As they did in ancestral times, our spoken stories can help us to: face our fears; meet folks, see the similarities among people, and respect the differences; view the world as “home” and its inhabitants as “family”; imagine, create and recreate as we live among our fellow Earth-dwellers.

Story-telling is a simple and natural way of being and knowing. Story-telling, on the front porch, around the kitchen table, in the car, at family gatherings; in folk and fairy tales, our first and safest adventures into the dark woods; in personal story and familial memory, in tall tale and true tale, from trusted voices. Our children, our families, our hearts, our world need more story-telling.

Technology is a wonderful thing, but perhaps we need to let the birds twitter while we talk.

About Lyn Ford

Lyn is a fourth-generation Afrilachian storyteller and teaching artist, who will be a featured artist at the 2011 National Storytelling Festival. She is also a writer, published in storytelling magazines and newsletters, as well as award-winning teachers’ enrichment books and story anthologies, including: The August House Book of Scary Stories, edited by Liz Parkhurst; Literacy Development in the Storytelling Classroom and The Storytelling Classroom: Applications Across the Curriculum, edited by Sherry Norfolk, Jane Stenson, and Diane Williams. Lyn is an award-winning recording artist. Her CD, “When the Gourd Broke”, is a NAPPA (National Parenting Publications Award) Honors Award winner. Best of all, Lyn is a mama, grandmama, and good cook!

Contact Lyn

17 thoughts on “Front-Porch "Twitter": The Importance of Face-to-Face Story-Sharing”

  1. Appreciate your thoughtful take on talk and storytelling, Lynn. I too know kids and people who don’t talk and substitute texting and tweeting for relating. I have a question — something I wonder about as I work my stories and listen to other tellers. Are we storytellers still modeling real talk or front porch telling. The stories on my childhood porch included fun and laughter and was peppered with jokes and belly laughter but also had heart stirring sweet memories, heartbreak, loss, and even death. Are we still telling those kinds of teaching stories from our lives? And if we are/do is that what the audience wants to hear. Just wondering – –

    1. Hi, Elloise! Over the years, I have heard more stories of a personal nature being told at some festivals. I think part of this is in response to the audience, particulary young audiences who seem to discover an empathetic connection, the kind that was shared around the kitchen table in our youth. I feel we need both the truths of folk tales, fairy tales, proverb tales, and creative fiction of all kinds, as well as the realities, humor, and heart of family stories, in order to feel secure with life’s foundaton beneath our feet.

  2. I think today’s social media is a strong indicator of how much today’s young folks WANT to make social contact…. and they use that social contact constantly! What is missing is the eye contact, sense of presence, and human interaction that will never be replaced by computer chips.
    Well written!

    1. Thanks, Trisha. You stated this beautifully. I appreciate the knowledge that computers can offer these days, but I still miss the wisdom and connection that I saw in my father’s eyes when he told a story.

  3. I’ve said it before and I will say it again. State of the art cannot replace state of the heart. Great job on this blog Lyn! As much as I love technology, I am smart enough to know that there are many needs it cannot fill. We have to share that story with this generation.

  4. Tweeting and FaceBook have forced people to express themselves in as few words as possible. They are forcing us to act like robots. Even simple conversation has become a lost art. Thanks, Lynn, for bringing this to our attention.

  5. #storytelling U use 2 many wrds, ok? LOL

    Seriously, nice job, Lynne! What would it be like to never have the glorious give and take that comes from watching your listener respond to the story that, at this very moment, is taking form before you both?


    1. That’s so true, Doug. Storytelling is a collaborative art form. The responses of those who listen to the story feeds my heart, and sometimes spontaneously revises the story. I think that happens for most story-listeners and storytellers. Thanks for your response to the blog, my first!

  6. I read this a few weeks ago, and again it speaks to me. I wonder how we will be telling/communicating in 10 more years? Technology continues its march, changing and re-arranging us.
    But those birds…Yes, let’s all just stop and listen!

  7. Thank you, B.Z.! I wonder, too, if, years from now, our young people will spend time listening to the voices of birds, the songs in the wind and water, or the chattering of rustling leaves…so many stories have to be experienced in their moment. It is frightening that, for some, technology gives the false impression that 3-D, surround sound, and quick Internet messages are the equivalent of life.

  8. Lynn – I like how you advised the lad against comparing his storytelling to yours. Perhaps tell him that Garrison (Gary) Keillor of A Prairie Home Companion fame started telling his stories behind a partition on stage with a live audience in the auditorium. Yes, Gary was his given name. If the lad does not know who Keillor is, a quick viewing of him and A Prairie Home Companion on youtube will give him an introduction. As he began his career, Keiller was too shy to be seen telling his stories on stage for years. Keillor writes his monologue each week and keeps it in a manila folder on a music stand nearby for reference, if needed. However, he spins his yarns from imagination and memory, the ‘ba-bum,’ the heartbeat of storytelling. You and I and all NSN folks do this, and your young friend can do it, too. Also, ‘Utah’ Phillips used to quote Eamon Hennessay (sp?) saying, “Define your theater and possess it.” This has proven integral to my career and I think is good advise for all, especially youngsters winding their ways through technology. Thanks for sharing your story. Peace and prosperity, all.

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