there are 2 posts from May 2012

May 25, 2012

on black box

If you missed it, Jennifer Egan and The New Yorker started serializing her new short story "Black Box" on Twitter tonight, coming from the @NYerFiction account. Earlier today, Egan posted a bit on the backstory:

Several of my long-standing fictional interests converged in the writing of “Black Box.” One involves fiction that takes the form of lists; stories that appear to be told inadvertently, using a narrator’s notes to him or herself. ... I’d also been wondering about how to write fiction whose structure would lend itself to serialization on Twitter. This is not a new idea, of course, but it’s a rich one—because of the intimacy of reaching people through their phones, and because of the odd poetry that can happen in a hundred and forty characters.

She wrote the story in a notebook that is probably intended for sketching storyboards...but whose black boxes now just look like textareas.

The 140 character limit necessarily impacts her prose and the story she's telling. But what I love is how Twitter turns each of the "narrator's notes" into individual, addressable objects, each with a social life of its own. I haven't pulled stats on every Tweet, but just eyeballing it, several hours after the initial delivery of Tweets the line with the most social heat (RTs and favorites) appears to be this one...

Followed closely by this one:

(I don't disagree.)

At first blush, having this reaction data isn't much different than viewing the most highlighted passages on a Kindle. But the difference is that this is happening in real time, in public, connected to identity, and has the potential to be conversational. And there were a few intrepid readers who were willing to break the fourth wall and talk back to the story. Here are two of my favorites...

On discovering that our story's protagonist was on the beach, @bklynreader shared her weekend plans:

And when the story took a particularly adult twist, @Chocolatemama38 seemed a bit caught off guard:

Egan says that it took a year to "control and calibrate" the story she's now tweeting; her tight prose doesn't exactly invite replies. But the shift into Twitter is a truly modern serialization technique; there's more going on here than simply contemporary fiction meted out 140 characters at a time.

May 02, 2012

helping the kids think about infinity

The “all the grains of sand on all the beaches” metaphor is played out. What we need are some new ways to help kids think about infinity. Here are a few that I might use with mine.

  • Every pixel in every billboard, television, computer monitor, checkout terminal, tablet and smartphone.
  • Every JPG, PNG or GIF (static or animated) image shared on Facebook, Flickr, Picasa, Blogger, Tumblr, Twitter and Instagram. Including the automatically cropped versions, resized versions and cached copies (whether at a CDN, ISP or in your browser). And all the pixels in those images.
  • Every beep after which you are supposed to leave a message. Every time you’ve pressed pound to continue. Every breath taken while waiting on hold.
  • Every email, instant message, text message, private message or direct message sent from one loved one to another. Or from one colleague to another. Or from a loved one to a colleague.
  • Every spam that’s been caught by filters. Or not.
  • Every bit of every stream or download delivered by iTunes, Netflix and Spotify.
  • Every event written to a log. Every click, keypress or browser event captured by Google Analytics. Every purchase signal captured by Amazon. Every like, friend request, comment or poke on Facebook. Every display ad impression.
  • Every keyboard press, screen tap and mouse click made by people. Or pets, accidentally. And every processor cycle spent waiting for that input.