I Thought Texting Might Ruin Storytelling

Alden Olmsted
8 min readMar 24, 2023

Turns out I was right

Too harsh? Ok— but one brief text can definitely kill the thrill of telling a good tale — and dilute the dopamine hit of sharing a story 100% fresh.

Garage find gold — My first cell phone!

I Still Got It

Yesterday I took advantage of a break in our record-setting California rain-fest to let the garage breath, and as I was consolidating a few worn out boxes into newer boxes I stumbled upon the tiny hand-held invention shown above.

Intrepid eyes may recognize another rarity — the since discontinued but forever iconic Super 8mm Kodachrome Film — which is another story altogether.

2002 was already strange

A close friend had died, another had gotten married, and less than one year removed from 9/11 I found myself back in daunting Los Angeles, to try college for the second time, at the ripe old age of 30.

And I worked on my first movie.

I sat behind Leo in a scene and met a nice red-haired girl named Amy Adams at the coffee cart as an old car driver on 2002’s Catch Me If You Can (me and my Gold ‘66 Newport appear a few times — at :59 in this scene if you don’t blink).

Yes — I was able to answer all the casting calls and show up on time at multiple locations around the entire Los Angeles basin without a cell phone.

Or gps.

Heck I didn’t even have a Thomas Guide (yeah yeah, I’m reallly dating myself now).

That Summer

I was back up in NorCal for already the second wedding that year and was checking in on a friend who had just learned how to make beer at home. He hadn’t perfected it but of course being polite I drank a big stein of his new brew before heading to the wedding rehearsal (which I was filming on Kodachrome btw — remember the Kodachrome?) and then the rehearsal dinner where I had BBQ oysters for the first time.

Following the rehearsal I met still other friends at the County fair and since one friend doesn’t like heights I got coerced onto the Zipper with his girlfriend. That’s the ride where two people sit in a little cage and go waaaay up and around and then come back down.

While spinning.

Can you guess what happened to the homemade beer and the BBQ oysters?

Yes. All back up.

I went on three more swinging-type rides and yes, I puked on each. If you’re keeping track that’s four rides: four heaves.

Oysters + homemade beer = 1
Alden = 0

But I digress

Like I was saying we were talking about his homemade beer and catching up and I was mentioning how convenient the cell phone seemed and that a few of my friends had gotten one, but that I wasn’t ready to commit.

When he pulled out this:

The tiny disruptor of oral tradition

The Nokia 3000 series.

The brick*, as it is affectionately known.

I looked at it, held it, and then asked the most important buying question there is: “how much was it?” — and the next thing I knew we called the salesgirl who’d set him up and I drove down to the store and she set me up too.

So after a weekend of homemade beer and puking and filming the wedding off I went, back to LaLa Land to finish my second round of college with a new monthly bill and a never before method of keeping in touch.

*As of this writing I’ve ordered a charging cable on ebay — if I can charge it and find my first ever text sent? Oooohhhh. . !

Let’s Go BACK

In time briefly, just for a recap of the gap in time between content (story) and receiver (audience), and how it has shrunk through the years.

I’m going to call it the anticipation gap.

Content | <TIME GAP> | Audience

Neanderthal Man: Cave Drawings | <100s–1000s of years> |
Or whenever the next generation came along and entered the same cave, happening upon the same story and maybe or maybe not understanding the punchline. Also very dependent on each generations’ sense of humor.

G reek orators: Speeches & Lectures | <Snooze you lose> |
Basically you were there or you were S.O.L. — unless you knew an extremely reliable friend with a great memory who could remember what was said, the lessons and hopefully even the big words. Good luck.

Jesus: Sermons and Miracles | <Written Bible = 1455 years> |
Similar to above, relying on an eyewitness or disciple or friend of a disciple to hear the good news. Or you had to wait around for a printed copy — oh and learn yourself to read too.

Byzantine military officers: Semaphore chain | <15 Min — One hour> |
Utilized in the 9th century between the Arab border and Constantinople, the semaphore chain involved lighting and spotting fires spaced out on mountaintops stretching 450+ miles.

British Naval officers used a similar system in the late 18th century involving opening and closing large shutters, to send messages between London and the base at Portsmouth — 85 miles in about 15 minutes.

J.R.R. Tolkien immortalized the semaphore chain as the warning beacons of Gondor in The Lord of The Rings.

Shipwrecked Sailor: Message in a bottle | <Tide dependent> |
Depending on ocean tides and storms, could be a week but probably six months or more likely a few years. And any action taken from said message of course was heavily dependent on the finders’ willingness and desire to help said sailor.

Modern man: Paper letter + Envelope | <A day — two weeks> |
Or maybe gets lost forever.*
*no offense meant to any mail carriers!

More modern man: Telegraph | <A few minutes — the next day> |
Again depending on ones’ proximity to a telegraph office, and whether the telegraph boy could find you.

Alexander Bell: Telephone | <Ring, ring> |
AMAZING! Connection almost instantaneous — dependent only on one’s proximity to a telephone.

Postmodern man: Text message | <Instantaneous> |
The most instantaneous form of communication yet — wireless and untethered, with messages often condensed by the user for speed and convenience.

Nikola Tesla would be proud.

Anticipation

Is truly one of life’s undervalued joys isn’t it?

It’s also one more subtle separation between us and the animals. Willpower. Delayed gratification. Anticipation. All of these synonyms of behavioral modification are distinctly human.

If it’s the week of your birthday and you already know about the party or dinner or concert — isn’t your entire week a little brighter — just from the anticipation? Do you remember when the teenage you first set up a date with that hottie — just knowing Friday night was on the horizon was excruciating but also wonderful.

To use an SAT-style comparison, anticipation is to storytelling what a wedding dress is to the honeymoon.

Anticipation + sharing stories = better friendships

I’ve written often about C.S. Lewis’ close friendship with Tolkien and their writing group of five or six that met once a week for over ten years, and it’s applicable here again: telling stories to your buds is one of the best parts about having buds in the first place.

Stories are a connective adhesion that bonds us to each other and that makes those friendships all the more flavorful.

Yes I Realize

That was a looong setup to get to the point — but hey did you enjoy the stories?

Now imagine what the text message version of those stories might be —

“Dude I sat behind Leonardo DiCaprio today on set!”

“Dude I got a cell phone!”

“Dude I had homemade beer and BBQ oysters and then puked on the giant Zipper”

Talk about missing the mark.

But truthfully do or do not the text versions above get the general point across? Do they tell a story, albeit brief?

Maybe so.

But don’t ask yourself which version you prefer — the brief text message or the colorful story — we’ve all been lulled into preferring convenience on the surface — instead, I suggest asking yourself which method makes you feel closer to the writer.

In other words, which version makes you want to go have a beer with him or her? Which one makes you want to tell a story?

You probably know my answer.

Here’s my challenge:

The next time you have a good story — a near miss traffic incident or a concert after-party mishap or a chance meet-cute with that girl from HR that you just gotta share — don’t.

Instead use both formats and make the most of the story — and the relationship.

Example

You: “Dude remind me to tell about that girl in HR”

Them: “What? Which girl?!”

You: “Just remind me.”

Them: “C’mon just tell”

You: “Later”

Them: “Lame”

<beat>

Them: “Ok I’ll try to come by after the kids are down. Save me a cigar.”

Now whether you have kids or don’t, hate cigars or suck ‘em down like candy, or want to talk to the guy in sales (good idea) instead of the girl in HR, you get the point — Use the quick communication method to set up the real story-time.

Your friends will never say it, but inside they’ll be doing cartwheels.

Your friendships will be richer and your life too — because story glue is the grease that makes the friendship engine really humm.

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Alden Olmsted

I was born in a small town in Northern California just another latch-key kid obsessed with BMX and Tom Petty. Now I make films and travel and write when I can.