How Digital Storytelling is Bridging Gaps And Preserving Cultures

When you combine the power of technology with the power of storytelling, the possibilities are endless.
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I'll never forget the Friday afternoon when an email from someone at LEGO landed in my inbox. The largest toy-maker in the world was interested in supplementing its creativity-through-building ethos with digital storytelling, particularly for little girls, and was looking for a partner who understood that they weren't looking for a game, but a truly meaningful tool. A possible partnership with LEGO was exciting for all of the obvious reasons, but more importantly it felt like a big win for the world of digital storytelling.

The benefits of storytelling in and of itself are well documented and include things like improving literacy, connecting people and passing down customs and cultures from generation to generation. But in some segments of the population, sharing stories in the traditional way isn't as easy as you might think.

Take the Bible -- the most well-known collection of stories on the planet -- for example. There are 6,800 languages in the world, many of which have never been written down and are spoken in places like Bihar, India. In these villages, people live their lives according to scripture that has never been recorded on paper. In many of these communities, Hindi and English are taught in school, and over time children are starting to lose their heart language. As the recollection of the local language fades, the memory of the Bible verses and community folklore is also lost. Their language is at risk, and so are the stories that their values and beliefs are based upon.

To help preserve scripture within these outlying communities, the New India Evangelism Association (NIEA) brought in technology partners to help. A crowdsourcing translation platform was developed and installed on computers in local churches, where the real work of preserving scripture in the villagers' heart language began. Elders, who are fluent in the local language, sat down with children -- who are fluent with the technology -- to work together to translate and record Bible verses electronically. Families discovered the joy of sitting and working together instead of segregated - men on one side, women on the other -- and even non-Christian neighbors became enthralled by the process and joined in to help translate and preserve Bible stories for future generations.

Even in communities with strong written languages live people with stories trapped in their minds. People of all walks of life battling various disabilities and even perfectly healthy pre-literate children struggle to tell their stories, and those without family or friends nearby struggle to have them heard.

If stories are the glue that holds communities together, perhaps the most important job of digital storytelling is to help us continue to nourish these relationships even when the traditional means of reciting stories aren't available.

Mobile storytelling apps, specifically, are changing the way stories are told -- and voices are heard -- throughout the world. We developed our first storytelling app, My Story: Book Maker for Kids, after hearing first-hand from our creative director the challenges his pre-literate sister faced when trying to share the fantastically creative stories in her mind without the tools to record them.

Today, educators from more than 100 countries worldwide use this iPad app to help children as young as four years old create stories and publish them electronically to share with friends and family. Apps for phones, tablets and other mobile devices are tools of the trade for today's teachers and therapists, used in the biggest cities and the smallest villages to enhance classroom learning and help children express themselves. In just three short years, more than 200,000 children around the world have used this digital tool to make their stories heard.

As we stand at the intersection of technology and storytelling, we see a future that makes it easier to both tell and preserve stories. This might mean a school child sharing her electronic book with a faraway grandparent, a group of women entrepreneurs in underdeveloped countries chronicling their experiences, a preschool-aged future author writing his first book or elderly people all over the world passing along their histories and that of their communities. Because really, when you combine the power of technology with the power of storytelling, the possibilities are endless.