Why might self-storytelling have evolved?

Evolution tends to imply function


200k - 500k+ years ago. If self-storytelling evolved, the early human communities must have required it.


Language development and storytelling tendencies suggest the importance of groups.


Evolutionary biologists such as Wilson (1980, 2012) argue that group-level selection and human 'eusociality' must exist to facilitate a strong human tendency to live and work in groups.


Pinker (2012): what looks like group-focused altruism is actually 'selfishness' seeking individual advantage. Haidt (2012): humans have 'groupish' tendencies.


Human eusociality is at best a metaphor: no biological equivalent of ant pheromone trails or genetic specialisation in bees. Marcus (2004) - human behaviour best seen as 'prewired' rather than 'hardwired'.


Gould (1991, 1996, 2006): we may be seeing spandrels and evolved diversity rather than 'progress'.
And finally...

In Conclusion


Online self-storytelling:

  • Twitter Networks visualisations Oxford Internet Institute

    A Twitter networks visualisation from the Oxford Internet Institute

    In this model of storytelling, there is no one consistent truth, but instead a range of individual situated storytelling identities, each with a unique map of knowledge about the surrounding community: narrative-as-network.

  • Points to a love of ‘stories with ragged edges’ that have no fixed beginning or end, and which bleed into other people’s stories.

  • This has found a natural home in social media and other linked storytelling opportunities like Amazon and TripAdvisor reviews.

  • Phatic, networked storytelling is flourishing after years of declining communities – and other evolved behaviours are perhaps evident too.

  • However, we should be cautious of appropriating terms from sociobiology without a full understanding or critical engagement.


Cited works


Further links:

☁ Katherine May writing in Aeon on participatory digital narratives

☁ katherine-may.co.uk