A Digital Education

Meredith Dabek, Maynooth University

Category: Internet

Choose Your Own Twitter Adventure

Within the larger world of electronic (digital) literature is the genre of hypertext fiction, a non-linear approach to reading that gives readers links or modes to jump from one part of the text to another. It is, by its nature, interactive, with the reader guiding the narrative depending on the choices she makes. Hypertext fiction also isn’t necessarily limited to e-books or online stories.  The term can also apply to traditionally published books (many prior to the advent of the web) with nonlinear narratives, such as Joyce’s Ulysses.

For many of my generation, the Choose Your Own Adventure novels are the best example of a traditionally published hypertext novel. Though not explicitly referred to or marketed as such, the CYOA books were hypertextual and interactive. The reader could choose any number of paths through the story that would alter the story’s outcome, and many readers (myself included) often tried to guess or predicate what would happen next, mostly to avoid the dreaded “you’ve died” message.

Now, thanks to one clever and imaginative Twitter user, the principals behind the CYOA books specifically and hypertext fiction in general have come to social media. Twitter user Terence Eden (@edent) created a “Choose Your Own Adventure” narrative for Twitter. The story takes place entirely within the Twitter platform / website, and web-savvy readers and fans can navigate through a series of choices in a mysterious story. Should you run or hide? Investigate that glowing light? Fight back or flee? Each choice brings you to a another, until (of course) you die.

Eden’s CYOA Twitter story works well for a couple of reasons. Thanks to Twitter’s setup, the @ symbol will automatically link to a user name, which allowed Eden to create a variety of user names for this specific project without having to rely on outside webpages or excessively long hyperlinks (that take up valuable “real estate” on the 140-character platform). Furthermore, Twitter allows for pinned tweets, which means Eden could keep all the relevant information at the top of a user profile, negating the need for CYOA readers to scroll. Plus, Eden kept the narrative portions of the tweets are short and to the point, compelling readers to keep clicking. The result is an addictive and entertaining story completely enclosed within this one social network. It will be interesting to see what happens next to push hypertext fiction forward even more.

“Wasting Time” as a Way to Read

These days in the United States, students can take college- and university-level courses in just about anything. From lectures centered on pop culture behemoths like Harry Potter and Star Trek to classes entitled “The Art of Walking” or “Understanding Basket Weaving,” apparently nothing is off limits in the realm of higher education.

Now, from the University of Pennsylvania, comes the course “Wasting Time on the Internet.” In a recent article for The New Yorker, course instructor Kenneth Goldsmith explained his rationale behind the course, which is aimed at creative writing students.  His course will attempt to help students capture the distractions of the Internet in order to remake them into works of literature.

For Goldsmith, “drifting, daydreaming, and procrastination have long been a part of the writing process” and the Internet provides these in spades. Of course, critics of digital modes of reading and information processing believe the World Wide Web is actually making us dumber. But according to Goldsmith, the digital world we live in merely provides a new way of reading – one that isn’t better or worse, simply different:

Every click is indicative of who we are: indicative of our likes, our dislikes, our emotions, our politics, our world view. Of course, marketers have long recognized this, but literature hasn’t yet learned to treasure—and exploit—this situation… We’re reading and writing more than we have in a generation, but we are reading and writing differently—skimming, parsing, grazing, bookmarking, forwarding, retweeting, reblogging, and spamming language—in ways that aren’t yet recognized as literary.

In a previous post, I talked about digital literature and how it differs from traditional literature and even e-books. Goldsmith’s course is offering yet another way of thinking about digital literature and how it’s created. While his students may indeed end up creating a literary work that more closely resembles a traditional format, the process of getting there is entirely digital. I’m very curious to see what might come out of this course – and how it connects to other digital literature.

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