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Marian Salzman

Marian Salzman

Posted: December 2, 2010 04:14 PM

This is the fourth in a series of 12 posts expounding on the 2011 forecasts in the annual trends report from Salzman, president of Euro RSCG Worldwide PR and an internationally respected trendspotter.

Just ask Oprah: There is nothing stranger than human existence in all its infinite and frail variety. If it's true, as they used to say, that each of us carries a novel around inside, it is possible that tomorrow an epic storyteller (charged by the ordinary experience of living through our extraordinary times) could hatch a 21st-century War and Peace.

But it's far more likely that the next Tolstoy would write 2011-style -- short, bold, sincere -- even though some of the material might still be novel-like. Take this generation's Little Women, sisters Khloé, Kim and Kourtney Kardashian, featuring prominently in tweets and retweets and floods of Facebook "shares," and that's just the beginning. (Although Khloé and Kim have quit SoMe cold turkey for a while for a good cause.)

In 2011, we'll have a serial epic of public postings in which "I" and "my" feature; postings by and about our very selves, even if we're just reflecting on what we wear or whom we admire. I've spotted this trend and called it mycasting, and it could be as revolutionary as the printing press must have seemed to the pulpit.

Decades before Elizabeth Gilbert and Augusten Burroughs ate, prayed, loved, drank and dried out to the best-seller lists, if you wanted to be a household name you probably needed to win a Pulitzer Prize, like William Styron did in 1967 for a novel timed with civil rights, The Confessions of Nat Turner.

The gatekeepers between people and publications kept a lot of characters out of sight for generations. Even though veteran Chicago journalist Studs Terkel gave the literary police a heave-ho when he recorded the nonfiction trench experiences of an "improvised battalion of survivors," for Hard Times: An Oral History of the Great Depression, it was thereafter really Terkel's voice that rang out in public to amplify the situations of actual little guys.

No more. In 2011, telling your story is not something you have to wait for someone to do for you but something you can do fully for yourself -- with unprecedented opportunities through blog platforms such as WordPress and technologies like Jott, in social media, and with apps to help bloggers cast out on mobile devices, too. This seizing of the storytelling reins by so many marks a real shift in who and where new audiences are. It's the Long Tail principle in action, where online, potential constituencies for your story are far greater than they are off, and the pudding proofs where real people gather to reflect zeal for other real people's stories truly told.

From mommies' to men's blogs, from food diaries to fanzines, the universal-access realm of online is a new storytellers' paradise with handy short installments as the universal language. Some of the most influential bloggers might be names you know, from Andrew Sullivan to Father Ray Blake, from group sites such as Global Voices to market gurus such as Nouriel Roubini. The multiplicity of "my" viewpoints being heard on new channels is impressive. There's straight autobiography, "creative nonfiction," professional expertise you can share with peers. And don't forget dynasty promoters. (As when Ivanka Trump blogs about the latest Apprentice episode, starring dear old Dad.)

Horn-tooters notwithstanding, that mycasting is making "populist rules" the new motto of American narrative is obvious, from long-formers to short. Whether you spent your November in "30 days of literary abandon" (producing a 1,666-count-a-day diet of words, as NaNoWriMo, the group site for novelists, urges) or whether you just kept busy uploading images, sharing links and retweeting tweets, you are in the current. Mycasting means energetically curating your individual content. Defining and using interactivity on the fly. And it's not an experience meritocracy.

You don't need to have cut your arm off with a Swiss Army knife (if you believe the intense product placement for the Swiss Army brand in the new movie 127 Hours) for your story to exact interest. But its telling does have to be compelling, as the eyeballs that look are also the eyeballs that rove. Be short, bold and sincere: short, because people don't have as much patience for long; bold, because subtle really can fly off into the ether; and sincere, because people are sick of spin. And even though you won't have actor John Gilbert's "squeaky voice" problem that was long thought to doom his career in time with the talkies, your voice, whatever your posts' length, has to be authentic and genuine, with sincere feeling. Telling -- and connecting -- are increasingly symbiotic practices in a world of multiples.

If you're still desktop- or laptop-bound, new developments in blogging sites have made that teeming practice even more so. While there are hundreds of thousands of bloggers measured by Technorati, until just recently fully 80 percent of them were not keeping their blogs up to date. Not, that is, until Tumblr, a blogging platform launched by a 24-year-old, reversed the previous trend by making posting and sharing so incredibly easy that new users are registering at the rate of 750,000 a month.

This individually driven world of mycasting has blown in with a vengeance, and it won't die down anytime soon. Clearly, just posting doesn't guarantee audiences -- and this brings us back to the gusto that is telling in ways that make others go for it, even if your self-expression just consists of forwarding what others have written to you, as long as people still see you when they're looking, at your urging, into your inbox. (But do beware some "my"s to avoid for security reasons.) Today, even if the staid old E.F. Hutton were talking, the stadium would likely be listening to somebody -- many bodies -- else.

Previously:
"Mad as Hell--and Only Getting Madder"
"Talk to the Hands"
"Net Gain"

Tomorrow:
"Booting Up"

 

Follow Marian Salzman on Twitter: www.twitter.com/@mariansalzman