Successful Failures

“Black Box” by the American writer, Jennifer Egan, is a classic spy story with a unique twist; it has been written using the social media platform, Twitter. The plot of the story is very basic as it can be essentially simplified to, our female protagonist, who is infused with technology, infiltrates “enemy” territory, to then make an attempt to steal some kind of intelligence. The Twitter format does nothing but damage the story. However the original writing style keeps it modern and enjoyable.

The fact that the story is told with Twitter causes it to fundamentally fail. Each individual tweet feels very separate from others and that makes it very difficult to connect all of the  information together. As a result, the story is nearly impossible to digest without reading it through other means. We are just told what happens and never why it does which further disconnects the story and the reader. We do not know anything about the cyborg protagonist, the enemies, nor why any of the plot is even happening. If the story were published through the New Yorker’s blog to begin with, that would redeem it of some of its faults. Reading the story off of the blog is effectively easier compared to the alternative of Twitter. Since Egan’s writing style is composed of a collection of short phrases it would seem as though Twitter would be a great choice. Twitter’s 140 character limit, at a glance would seem fitting for the writing. The character count causes each stand-alone tweet to feel impactful, as it gives more meaning to the little that is said. This implies that, if one were to tell a story by stringing together multiple tweetsjust as Egan has donethen, each statement becomes weak, even meaningless. Twitter’s format encourages saying a lot through a few words, and the character count emphasises this idea. Novels in Three Lines by Félix Fénéon is a series of three-lined stories told in the 1900’s. Fénéon’s work has been recently converted to the Twitter format, where each one of his short stories is a tweet. Novels in Three Lines makes an excellent use of Twitter. Each story that is tweeted out holds more power and does not lose any of its effect when read, unlike “Black Box”. These very short stories are a revolutionary idea, and pave the future for Twitter Fiction.

Although the plot is nothing special and its medium is only detrimental, it is the way it has been written that is fascinating. The entire story is told through a limited second person perspective. It is delivered in such a way that, the narrative feels as though it is a set of instructions. This causes “Black Box” to be a very original experience, which partially makes up for the unengaging plot. The perspective could have seemed repetitive, but it works well with Egan’s shorter story. The story has a compelling social commentary of how society often perceives females. The protagonist pretends to be a “beauty”, someone whose only interests are to stay attractive and submissive. All beauties are meant to do is align with the interests of their “Designated Mate”. This mentality is made clear when the narrator states, “Never contradict your Designated Mate… Mirror your Designated Mate’s attitudes, interests, desires, and tastes.”(Egan). Egan cleverly shows how bizarre this kind of mentality is since all females depicted demonstrate a great sense of power and depth under their act of innocence.

“Black Box” proves to be a successful experiment of using other formats to tell stories. It has clearly demonstrated that Twitter can be used most effectively when limiting entire ideas to its character count. Although there were quite a few notable things that worked, it is clear that the final product did not turn out to be anything incredible


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