Facebook Performance Art

For the past two summers I've goofed around about wanting to do a prose adaptation of Bruce Springsteen's Jungleland. Couplets of the song's lyrics have such a wide range of interpretation that you could spin a number of fast-reading short stories; my goal was to make the jump from technical writing (long, but factual) to blogging (narrative but short) to short story -- which is probably a koan of all writers who fail at tackling something novel-lengthed. My problem: I can't write dialogue. Some might argue that's because I rarely participate in dialogues myself, but conveying context through someone else's conversation is difficult.

Inspiration struck about a week ago -- not only would I do a modernization of a 33-year old story of New York hoods, but I'd do it with modern tools. If the Rangers were in fact having a homecoming in Harlem, they'd probably arrange it via Twitter, text messages and perhaps a Facebook group. Idea #1: When I sit down to pound this out, the whole work will be a sequence of Twitters, texts, and Facebook status updates. Map the characters into a vector of phone numbers, Facebook identities and Twitter URLs, and you have the ingredients for a forward story. Problem #1: As with song, there's no way to tell backstory; you enter the storyline in mid-stream and follow along, riding to some conclusion -- in the song it's nearly 10 minutes and a saxophone solo away; in narrative I think it's a shorter short story.

Always eager to find the transitive closure of goofy ideas, I went one step further: what if I actually captured screen shots of each electronic update, with enough time stamp information in subtle corners to indicate the pace of a song that could be the audio equivalent of an episode of 24. Why not go another step: get a half dozen people to create Facebook and Twitter identities for the characters, set up a group to "announce" the live performance of the story, and get up to 5,000 people to friend up and follow along, in real time, as social networking tools make art imitate life for a day.

With microblogging through Twitter and Facebook status updates, and cross-posting of blog entries as notes, we're essentially telling our own stories for a wide audience in real time. Why not tell someone else's story? And before anyone complains that Facebook accounts are for "real people" only, I'll point out that Doogie Howser has a fairly accurate Facebook profile; I doubt that any of the 3 people who claim to be the Devils' Zach Parise really are; and I noticed that a few FBers who might have been corporate or campaign fronts seem to have disappeared (Michelle Obama most notably and recently; she's back in page form). If a real person is following a script, generating a show in real time, then I'd think that the Facebook content kings would be thrilled with the chance to plug advertising into the event stream. Add in comments, wall postings and other content generated by people viewing the production, and you have truly interactive entertainment.

But as with all fun ideas, it starts with Square #1: I still have to write something.

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Hal Stern's thoughts on software, services, cloud computing, security, privacy, and data management

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