Tell me a story…

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You gotta know people’s stories to really understand them. We as humans think and understand the world in stories, so if there’s no story, we can’t really wrap our minds around it. Instead, we find a way to tell other stories to help us fill in the gaps—the stories of the survivors, the first responders, and their harrowing journey to overcome the senseless tragedy, be it man, nature or machine.

Take a story about a plane crash: there’s some kind of mechanical failure, and the rest is the actual story, which is about tending to the wounded, signaling for help, and discovering the entrance to a cave full of treasure because you happened to crash in the exact right spot. Hey, it’s a story, so it could happen. 

But what about that first part–the mechanical failure that generally gets a line or two at best? It would be a whole different movie if it was about the two missed oil changes before the engine locked up—still not much of a story, but we all understand how that works and can imagine the horror of a tragedy caused by something so small that we forgot.

I like stories, even about plane crashes, but I don’t want to be in a plane crash. I want to have a really predictable day in which I finish up at my desk on time, make dinner with my family, and spend an evening laughing and doing what I want to do without surprises, and that’s usually the scene right before the story actually starts. We like to hear stories, not be stories. 

Like those who work tirelessly in the background to make the stories that shape our world, the equipment you use works quietly in the background until it can’t for some reason. There’s no story in it—something works, something breaks, and now it doesn’t work anymore. Those of us who make stories for a living—the film makers, artists, designers and creative content professionals—are focused on the story they are telling. The last thing they want is for some kind of mechanical failure to be the end of the story they are telling and the beginning of the one they are in.

To be able to tell your story without the sudden superimposition of a crisis flick, there’s this one scene every quarter where an Engineer walks into the tech room and later comes out again. It’s subtle, and it’s in the background, but if you read the back-story, that Engineer is secretly a super hero. By day, they’re just a mild mannered Engineer, taking care of routine issues so that nothing big happens. By night, they are Super Tech, and when the phone rings after hours, they know there’s an emergency tech problem waiting to be solved. 

Thanks to the dominance of the main plot, the tech issues were trimmed down to just routine maintenance without the crisis, so most people don’t know the story that could have been, but it’s there. And the SkyTech Engineer can talk to animals, and read the minds of babies, and predict the weather, and do every martial art known to man, while still finding time for family and an avid soap-carving hobby. Ok, maybe not all of that…but that would be a great story.

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