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E3. Lou Reed’s Nephew on Storytelling
“Have you heard about storytelling?” Lou Reed’s Nephew asked.
“What about it?” I asked.
“That it’s what makes us human? That it gives our lives meaning?”
“That does sound familiar,” I said. “Did you read it in a book?”
“In a job description,” he said. “For a website that helps people tell and share their stories.”
“Of course,” he said. “Everything is a story now. Brands have stories. Rooms have color stories. Even stories have story worlds, which are stories about stories. We’re going to need lots of places to tell and share them. All these stories.”
“It’s true. I do most of my reading on shopping sites now,” I confessed. “They are desperate to tell me stories.”
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I couldn’t sleep at night—pulled forward through waves of anxiety by our ever-receding go-live date—so I roamed the internet in search of pithy histories, detailing how insignificant artifacts like nails or ice cubes altered the course of history.
I read about how the invention of the tumbler had made the Pyramids possible at The Bad Glazier. How artisanal bookcases led to the French Revolution at Crooked Timber. The secret history of the duvet and its role in the Reformation at Fourfold. I never bought anything—I wouldn’t trust these flimsy operations with my credit card—but I appreciated how they’d stepped into the non-fiction space. They even made me feel better about my sleeping habits.
Everyone divided their nightly rest into two parts in the nineteenth century, according to the website of Procrustean Beds, a company that delivered California king mattresses to your door in packages no thicker than a toilet paper tube. Before electricity, the night was long, so people split it into stages, like a journey. They woke up, visited neighbors, gossiped, ate, maybe had sex then slept until dawn. These stories soothed me with their upside-downness, reassuring me that my nocturnal smallness might still matter.
“Maybe that’s where all the typing money went,” I suggested.
“It’s actually kind of difficult to find things that are not stories,” Lou Reed’s Nephew said, ignoring my aside.
“Well, they are what make us human.”
“And give our lives meaning,” he said.
Lou Reed’s Nephew gazed into the brown-beige fabric of my cube.
“But if stories are what make us human and give our lives meaning, why do we have to work so hard at them? Isn’t this, what’s happening here—right now, with you and me—the story that makes us human, that gives our lives meaning? Why do we need help with that? Look at how effortless it is. Why corral these stories onto websites for telling and sharing? Aren’t these platforms really enclosing and killing, rather than telling and sharing, the stories that make us human and give our lives meaning?”
“What does it say there?” I asked.
“It says here ‘creating,’” he said, squinting above his glasses at his laptop. “Via ‘the lived enablement of the Anthropocene talespace.’”