Twitterature: Black Box by Jennifer Egan

In computing, a black box is any device which can be viewed in terms of transferring information in & out, without any knowledge of its internal workings. Because of this broad definition, it has been said that almost anything might be referred to as a black box: a transistor, an algorithm, or even the human brain.

What originally started as an apology to her Twitter followers for accidental spam, turned into a popular spy-thriller. The story itself is deceivingly simple. It follows a beautiful female spy in the futuristic South of France. It manages to include patriotism, gender issues, racial prejudices, & more, without ever feeling like it’s jabbing opinions at you.

But this is not a review. It is a petition. A request. A plea.

Please make this story into a physical book.

Not just any physical book, but a book where the mode of space and time is expressed through design.

Back in 2012 Jennifer Egan released this story tweet by tweet, each a minute apart. It was later published by The New Yorker and is available for viewing by clicking here.

But I think this story, & Twitter stories in general, is especially interesting. In a way, it can only exist in that medium, on that platform. The anticipation of live tweets as a story comes in piece by piece is exciting. It allows for a delivery technique that can’t be accomplished in print books or even ebooks. But how great would a design aesthetic be that mimicked this? Sort of what poetry accomplishes whenever that’s a huge




rift in the poem full of empty space.

(^ intentional line breaks)

Twitterature has its setbacks, but it tends to highlight & allow the reader to focus on each individual word. It usually requires more inventive, concise descriptions & carefully curated sentence structures. Tweets are known for outbursts of political rage & two-bit puns, but when handled with the same level of preparation put into published writing, can be entirely thoughtful. This is because it places responsibility on the writer to choose precise words, as well as the reader who must analyze the current sentence before the next appears.

I presented on this story for class & fully believe that print books were & always will be the dominate mode of reading. However, in my educated opinion, I support that technologically enhanced books will be cool as fuck. But more traditional artistry and clever design skills have impressed me book-wise in the past, so I’m calling on the Chip Kidds of the world to make a decent paperback out of this thing.

Definitely give Egan’s story a read. It’s a quick one, so I recommend looking up Gaiman’s Hearts, Keys, and Puppetry. This one was an interactive Twitter-sourced experiment where tweeters used a hashtag to be reviewed & chosen. Nick Belardes is credited with being the first to write a true Twitter novel, Matt Ritchel wrote a Twiller (Twitter-thriller), David Mitchell used Twitter fiction as a means to promote Slade House, & Philip Pullman spent months tweeting his story. There’s even a Twitter Fiction Festival. But The Atlantic article on twitterature does a nice job of reminding us that it’s always the nature of authors & artists to test out whatever new media is available, Twitter is just among the latest.

Which is why I’m hoping they make “Black Box” into a printed version. There are foreign editions available, but none in English. The audio version is also available, but I haven’t listened to it. Let me know how it is if you decide to! I mean, Egan’s own mother had to make a Twitter account just to access the story because she couldn’t view it anywhere else, & several popular readers & reviewers have stated that they don’t read in this format & normally wouldn’t have read this version because of this.

I’ll leave you with a couple of slides from my presentation:

Screen Shot 2016-05-26 at 8.34.50 PMScreen Shot 2016-05-26 at 8.35.05 PM

Those images are illustrations by Brendan Monroe, who did the digital illustration. They really capture the tone of the story well, so just picture some pretty pages looking like that.


“Nights in the South of France are a strange, dark, piercing blue.

A bright moon can astonish, no matter how many times you have seen it.

If you were a child who loved the moon, looking at the moon will forever remind you of childhood.”

“When someone has become essential to you, you will marvel that you could have lain on a warm dock and not have known him yet.”



2 thoughts on “Twitterature: Black Box by Jennifer Egan

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