The Stranger in Your Bedroom

I participated in the ‘group-read’ of the email story: Daughters of Freya. The ‘group read’ means that everyone starts receiving the emails at the same time, and discusses the work in a forum. The email story is delivered via email (just to be clear) over a period of 3 weeks. Not much effort there, you’d think. But even though it seems well-written and the delivery is genuine and well-orchestrated, I don’t read them all. In fact, I haven’t been able to read most of them. And, although I have them all in a special folder, marked by number to ensure proper order (thank God for good design), I miss a major part of the email experience — delivery, reading, anticipation…

I realise now why I do not enjoy such works (including alternate reality games): I am an ‘on-demand’ reader. Email fiction (those delivered to your email address, over time) and ARGs require you to attend to the updates (which in the later case involves pages and pages in forums and websites). These types of works are very exciting — they emerge, are reactive, you’re in the middle of the action — but very demanding. I have to experience them on their time. They are akin to ‘appointment viewing’ (think of traditional TV, where you have to sit down at a certain time to view your favourite show). Some ARGs are designed so you can pace yourself, but after a couple of weeks or more of inaction, you are informed that if you no-longer wish to receive emails, simply do nothing and you’ll be removed. Do nothing and you’ll be removed. I understand the need to do this (who wants unwanted emails?), but what about the person who wants to experience the work, later?

Why the ‘experience police’? To make it clear what I mean, consider this analogy:

Imagine an author stands in the corner of your bedroom. Every night the author watches as you go to bed. He doesn’t care if you’re tired, busy, worked a 20 hour day or reading another book; he just waits to see if you pick up his. If you don’t, he picks up his clipboard and puts a red cross by your name. If I have not picked up his book over a two week period the author storms up to me, whereever I am, waving the book, and red-faced, spits out that he is taking the book away from me. If I want to read it, I have to come back and ask.

Thankfully the authors of the 7 books I’ve had on my bedside table for the past year are not crowded in a corner. If they were, I’d never have the chance to read those books, a chapter at a time every few months.

Whose work is it anyway?

5 Responses to “The Stranger in Your Bedroom”

  1. 1 Jeremy Douglass

    Part of the problem may be that email is archival and asynchronous - scheduled readings head instead in the direction of “performance,” and might perhaps be better structured by some live medium, like a class seminar, or an episodic television show before the invention of “timeshifting devices” such as VHS or TiVO.

    I suppose we read things on time, not for the author, but for each other. My grandmother’s reading group meets once a month, and they have to read the book in order to participate with their friends. In online situations, streaming text can turn a publishing event into a social one. One example from interactive fiction - the annual XYZZY awards are performed as a live show of text statements via ifMUD.

    But, in the end, I understand where you are coming from - I’m not that kind of reader, either.

  2. 2 Christy Dena

    Oh, I think for those who actually did read the emails each day, the experience would of been very interesting and exciting. But my experience, of not being able/not putting time aside to read the emails as they appear, takes one dimension of the work out: the performance or real-time unfolding aspect of it. I can still read through the emails, in order, but I feel as if I am reading it post-mortem. The same has been said about interactive broadcasting type shows like Big Brother. You could watch the series on DVD afterwards, but it doesn’t have the same experience as when it is unfolding live, in response to audience input. Though the email fiction is not reactive like Big Brother, they both share the real-time aspect.

    I find this interesting: on the one-hand we have technologies that permit live interaction and stories that unfold in real-time and in response to your input; on the other hand we want our stories to be on tap, on-demand for when we want them. Could this be the double-logic of contemporary entertainment?

  3. 3 JJ Frawley

    I read the mystery a couple of months ago and loved it. I read the emails as they came in, which did add to the excitement. But the story’s a good one, and I think it would stand up on its own. I bought it on the recommendation of Cory Doctorow at boingboing who read it as a manuscript and said he almost missed a plane so he could read the ending. So if you haven’t deleted all these emails, you might want to give it a chance.

  4. 4 Christy Dena

    Hello JJ, I will definately be taking the time to read Freya. I didn’t mean to give the impression I wasn’t interested — just that I didn’t have time/put aside the time to read it in real-time. It sounds like it reads well, regardless of whether it is real-time or on-demand — which makes for good design. Perhaps the lesson of distributed works: make them accessible and compelling, no matter what the audience type.

    I look forward to sitting down and experiencing it. Thanks JJ Frawley.

  1. 1 The Stranger in Your Bedroom at WRT Writer Response Theory | Wood TV Stand

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