mar 04/18 • ghost in the cell (phone)
Short version: I loved Jelly Bone.
This was the first piece of e-lit for this course that I encountered on my phone. I swiped through the story one evening as I was curled up in my cozy saucer chair. It was an intimate reading experience; I felt like the work had entered my space, even as I was being drawn into Flo’s world. The text messages and Instagram posts, though part of a fictional narrative, were in their natural habitat on my phone.
The work doesn’t need to come with a set of instructions because the basic controls–swipe, scroll, tap–are familiar to smartphone users. And the story is split into “manageable chunks,” each episode taking less than 15 minutes to experience. This episodic format is a conscious choice by oolipo, and a constraint that serves the mobile experience. (If you’ve ever tried to read Moby Dick on an iPhone, you know that just being able to swipe through a novel does not necessarily equate to a satisfying mobile reading experience.)
I also think the story makes good use of sound effects. Even the small moments of sound in Jelly Bone–footsteps, a phone vibrating, the low murmuring of a crowd–helped me connect with the story. The sound helped suggest the story, as did the background images. They conveyed atmosphere, while the text conveyed information.
Occasionally, the experience didn’t play quite as intended–I’d be confused by a sound effect that played before I got read the relevant part of the text, or the pace of the story interrupted by a loading page–but it was overall very satisfying. I have to attribute some of this to oolipo’s technology-first approach. The platform’s format shapes the content, rather than authors trying to adapt their content to a digital platform. Digital-born literature!
Pullinger’s follow-up story, Breathe, is also meant to be viewed on a mobile device, and has some of it’s own unique functions. If you allow it to access your location, that information becomes part of the story (to eerie effect, let me tell you). Tilting your phone will sometimes reveal ghost messages. What I loved about that particular function was how your phone as a physical object becomes part of the storytelling. It reminded me of 360-degree videos; there is something so fun about physically turning to see more video.
All this made me consider the future of augmented reality in storytelling. How your location or the position of your device could change and enhance your experience. What other functions could we dream up for our digital stories?
James Pullin, “Story Making Machines,” International Literature Showcase