Collecting Stories

Mark Minelli

We are not sure if this really qualifies as a story as it is more a story about stories…recent ones we like, drawn from across the digital world and that other one, commonly referred to as the real world. One thing is clear, human beings have always been and will always be deeply drawn to stories…what they tell us about who we are, and who we can become.

Significant Objects
This somewhat tongue-in-cheek thought experiment is still a fascinating study in the power of story, in this case, to affect the value of an object. In the experiment, writers scoured thrift stores for objects of the tchotchke variety, most were bought for around one dollar. These objects were placed on eBay with the writers’ fictional stories attached. It was clearly stated that these were fictional stories, not the real history of the object. Despite this fact, the sale of these items garnered a return of just over 2700%.  Of course, we know that a broken old guitar that once belonged to Elvis is valuable but it seems that any object with a story attached to it, real or imagined, matters too.

Fish Spoons from

Worldwide Developers Conference
This certainly follows the age old expression that a picture is worth a thousand words. In this case, that’s true even if the photo holds no particular aesthetic value. What it does hold, aptly framed by CNET editor Dan Ackerman’s title “WWDC explained in one photo” is a telling story. So what is the story of a mediocre image of a long line of dudes waiting in line for the men’s room?… namely the complete absence of any women, or in other words, a very big problem with/for the software development industry. The second image is from @womeninline that aims for “the ultimate goal of having to wait in line at a software conference ladies’ room.” As this image is taken inside said room with no concerns, we still have a way to go.

Object Stories
This innovative program invited people to bring things that mattered to them to the museum and tell stories about their connection to those objects. The objects and stories were captured and published onsite and online. This program at the Portland Art Museum not only invited visitors to co-create with the institution but empowered them to be their own curators of objects and the stories they carried. It created a shared intellectual and emotional space about objects and ideas and helped dissolve the invisible yet formidable barriers between art museums and the general public.


While the real potential of this elegantly designed visual storytelling app has yet to be realized, it’s telling that just a couple weeks after launch, it is populated by thousands of stories from across the world. It also echoes the fact we have always told stories with pictures as well as with words.