Stop tweeting, texting and multitasking for a minute. Instead, tell your story.
Communication is the currency of our age. Americans send an estimated 2.5 billion text messages every single day—and this is just the start. Add to this the avalanche of tweets, Facebook updates and blog posts created every minute, and it’s clear: We’re saying more, sharing more and communicating at a higher rate than ever before. And yet, with all these new avenues of communication, have we forgotten how to share the parts of ourselves and our experiences that matter most?
While some complain that the evolution of communication in the digital age has led to eroded interpersonal skills and the demise of traditional spelling and grammar, I’m heartened by this seemingly insatiable need for communication. However, I suspect that one of the casualties of our information age may be the art form of personal storytelling.
In families, stories have always played a critical role in connecting generations. Throughout the centuries, it was through the stories handed down from one generation to the next that craftsmanship was taught, wisdom was bestowed and heritage was preserved. Whether around the campfire or the dinner table, stories have always been the glue between generations.
As a specialist in the field of demographic trends and youth culture, I see increasing evidence that this current generation of young people may be the first in our history not to receive the stories of their forebears. Whether it’s because older generations mistakenly assume young people don’t want to hear their stories or because communication between busy parents and their adult children tends to consist mainly of phone calls, emails and text messages, this failure to pass down stories could be the start of a worrisome trend.
It wasn’t until October 2004 that the value of receiving stories from the past came into sharp focus for me. My father passed away tragically and unexpectedly from a massive heart attack at the age of just 51. In the days that followed his death, my family and I faced the grueling task of sorting through my dad’s papers and belongings. We made the incredible discovery of a journal in the bottom drawer of his desk. In this journal, my father had been writing down many stories and memories from his life that he had never before shared.
As I sat there reading through my dad’s journal, I was captivated by how much I didn’t know about my father and his life. I was struck by the things that were important to him but had gone unspoken, and by how much we had in common.
It was this experience that led me to create Memento: My Life in Stories. My hope in publishing this keepsake journal is that the questions it contains will make it easy for parents to fill the pages with stories that may otherwise never come up in conversation.
In the years since my father died, I have often gone back to his journal to find guidance, advice and hope. I believe I can learn from his mistakes and feel empowered by his successes. In this way, his journal has become much more than the musings of a sentimental parent. This book and the stories it contains are my father’s legacy.
If future generations are to live better, achieve more and climb higher than their forebears, passing down cumulative wisdom from generations past is paramount. While it’s true that older generations were raised in a vastly different time, it’s equally true that the principles, values and experiences that guided and shaped their lives are as relevant and applicable today as they were in centuries past.
As I speak to audiences of parents and grandparents around the world, my encouragement to them is simple: Don’t underestimate the power of your life’s stories. It may be tempting to put off sharing or writing them down for another day, but instead make that day today.
Michael McQueen is an Australian demographic researcher and author of Memento: My Life in Stories.