The Stranger in Your Bedroom

I’ve been participating 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?