Author Archives: Max K

Critical Response 2: Max’s term project

Note: Since my story isn’t very interesting if I give you clues, I’ll try not to discuss specifics here. It’s still much more fun if you don’t read this until after finding all the parts of “Hard Core Angels.”

Lonelygirl15 was a video blogger from 2006 who didn’t really exist. When I learned about the hoax and the controversy surrounding it, I found it fascinating: our society seems to be obsessed with shepherding truth in narrative lately, and the fact that this attitude spills over onto the internet is proof of how strange we’re becoming as a culture. James Frey’s memoir was torn apart by Oprah that year, while JT Leroy was revealed as “deceitful above all things” a few months before. Lying and freaking out seemed to be the flavor of the month in America: Bush lied about Iraq having WMDs and Clinton lied about not getting a blowjob, and it kind of trickled down from there.

Who’s to say, however, that truth is beauty and beauty really truth? Fuck Keats, sometimes “…all / ye know on Earth, and all ye need to know” should include an intriguing fabrication or several. Imagine the President as storyteller, not asexual dispenser of freedom. Imagine that when Clinton said that he “did not have sex with that woman, Miss Lewinsky,” he wasn’t just lying to save his skin: he was inviting us to explore the fictional world of a narrative in which his character, the fictional President, did not have sex with that fictional woman, Miss Fictional Lewinsky. Imagine that a lie is just a really good story.

My final project is a short story and it’s about lies, and it’s about media, and it’s about the places people live and the technology they use to do that living. It’s about the automobile, the great American transport of the 20th century, and it’s about the internet, the great American transport of the 21st. More specifically, it’s about a teenage girl named Sarah who dies in the summer of 2006, and about how three people who were close to her react.

The summer of 2006 is kind of a weird time to put science fiction. Generally that kind of story takes place in the far future, or at least the near future with jet-packs and UFOs. This is still valid science fiction, though, because of one thing: it explores the effects of technology on people, which is the point of science fiction (otherwise you’re just putting in lasers and green women to fend off boredom). All four fictional people have their own blogs, Myspaces, and other internet presences. You have to find them yourself – it gets sort of nonlinear in the middle, although there’s a definite beginning and end.

This is a new way of creating narratives, and it’s been done before, mostly for commercial purposes (some of the kids from Heroes, for example, have Myspace pages). To the best of my knowledge, though, nobody has set out to create a bona fide short story from blogs and Myspaces. Just think of it as an epistolary novel ripped into bits and hidden in other books!

That wouldn’t be a very good metaphor, though, because one of the things I wanted to explore in a short story is a very new phenomenon which makes this more than just a combination epistolary novel and easter egg hunt, and that is the phenomenon of death on the internet. If you haven’t, already, check out The site collects articles on dead people and links to their Myspace profiles. It’s morbid at first, but the things people leave behind online can be a fascinating glimpse into who they were.

Human interaction via the internet is relatively new. There hasn’t been time for taboos to form, or even for the most rudimentary social customs to develop. Most people on the internet, it seems, are angry, mildly autistic exhibitionists who can’t spell very well. When we treat the net as a city, we can see everyone having sex with the blinds open. People paint their deepest, darkest, secrets on their walls. They drive around aimlessly, and sometimes get lost. Then when they die, they leave an empty building like the shell of a hermit crab.

If you google someone hard enough, you can see the trail they’ve left across the internet. Little pieces of human lives are scattered across endless pages as people move from Geocities to Angelfire to Friendster to Myspace to Facebook to Twitter and to whatever the next digital city is, leaving a trail of ghost towns in their wake. Googling someone and finding their Xanga or Livejournal from several years ago is very similar to wandering through one of the abandoned mining towns of the American Southwest.

The point of all this is that we as a species have run out of places on the planet where we can easily start cities. We’ve begun to create them on the internet instead. People are living, more and more, in places which aren’t made of dirt and brushed aluminum but rather a series of ones and zeroes. Telling stories about the places we live is one of humanity’s favorite activies, and now that we’re starting to live on and in the net, we’ll probably see more and more stories set there. This project is just one of a flood of stories which will be written about the internet, and it’s not even that well written, but I’m fairly certain it’s told in a novel way and sometimes that’s more interesting than good writing.

“Hard Core Angels”

A lot of people have incredibly embarassing lives in the only city of the future to ever actually end up existing. People build houses in the internet, just so they can put billboards on the roofs to tell the world their secrets. This kind of voyeuristic architecture is explored in my project, “Hard Core Angels.” It’s a short story made out of the blogs, Myspaces, and personal tragedies of four fictional people. You start here.

Critical Response 1: Some hilariously late thoughts on cyberpunk, obsolete futurism, and human/media interfacing.

Everybody knows Marshall McLuhan’s famous adage – “the medium is the message.” It’s popular because it sums up perfectly the way in which the 20th and 21st centuries’ sudden explosion of new media have affected interpersonal communication. Radio and TV changed the way we tell narratives, both journalistic and fictive. The internet has done much the same, but with a notable exception: there is far more variety in the ways in which humans can interface with data (and narratives) via the medium of computers.
Writers like William Gibson and Neal Stephenson explored the ways in which people would interface with the net in the future. As it turned out, they were wrong about many particulars, but did a fairly good job of predicting some of the broader concepts. Like Jules Verne’s idea that man would one day travel to the moon (he was right; we just didn’t put people inside giant balls and shoot them out of a cannon to do it), Gibson and Stephenson’s predictions for the future of human/computer (and mediated human/human) interfacing were largely right… in the same way that the adorable three-year-old girl who describes the plot of Star Wars is also technically right.

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One of the major themes of the cyberpunk era is the coming similarity of having an internet connection to heroin. “Jacking in,” in Gibson’s works, is an analogue to “tuning in, turning on, and dropping out.” It’s a drug-powered surge toward a collective consciousness. Gibson’s internet echoes the narcotic togetherness of the 1960s, but rather than getting people high in order to facilitate groupthink, the Net is the other way around: it sucks people into the zeitgeist to get them high.

The fear of technology ensconced in all science fiction is just as present in cyberpunk. Much like fear of a rapidly changing society helped readers of Victorian Gothic fiction stay up all night with the lights on (and of course, the Victorian Gothic was science fiction for its time – Dracula, for example, makes use of then-futuristic telegraph technology!), fear of the coming ambiguity between humans and computers made the anxieties of cyberpunk thrilling (and not just cyberpunk, at the time – who can forget Patrick Bateman’s ATM from American Psycho and its inexorable command to FEED ME A CAT?)

Regardless of the anxieties of early adopters, computers never did end up meshing with us as completely as we thought they might. VR technology was introduced in the nineties and never went anywhere, something demonstrated by the abject failure of Nintendo’s Virtual Boy. Attempts to change the way we interface with data physically have been made, but few have been successful since the introduction of the mouse decades ago. Who can forget the rousing success of the Power Glove, for example? It’s so BADDDDDD!

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Nowadays, people claim that multi-touch is the future of data interaction. Check out Microsoft’s Surface for an idea of where this may be going: YouTube Preview Image
Multi-touch may well be the future of data manipulation: the success of the iPhone has proven that people are open to new ways of manipulating media (shaking it, dragging it, pinching it, twisting it). The all-encompassing sensory override of Gibson and Stephenson’s work is unlikely, though.