Saturday, October 3, 2015

Exploring and Extending Perspectives of "Adventures in Twitter Fiction" - TED Talk by Andrew Fitzgerald

Critique of the TED Talk presented by Andrew Fitzgerald, 

"Adventures in Twitter Fiction" 

"Adventures inTwitter Fiction" is a TED Talk, where the presenter, Andrew Fitzgerald reinforces the point that Twitter allows for the blurring of fact and fiction, real world and digital world, flexible identity, anonymity - and what these tools provide as building blocks for creative experimentation.

Essential Questions:
Some of the essential questions, examined within the context of the TED Talk include:
  • How can different digital mediums change the way stories and other literary works are not just shared, but created?
  • How does flexible identity, anonymity and engagement with the real world change the way writers interact with their audience? 
  • How can Twitter allow for creative people to push the boundaries of what is possible in this platform, and how will it alter what we define as a story?

Fitzgerald explores in his TED Talk, how the short story is experiencing a renaissance of popularity in a brand new form, primarily because of the affordances made with social media. Many writers today are using the power of social media to connect directly with an audience as a means of generating feedback. In this new format, there is no longer a mediator between the writer and audience, providing a more "organic" mode of natural connection. The lack of barrier allows for more creative experimentation in not only the interaction between author and audience, but the manner in which the story is produced. This new format is created, when there is a combination of the live communication and the serialization of written fiction.


Literary Magazines such as the The New Yorker are even stepping into this new wild and "unmediated frontier" with experimentive storytelling. Fitzgerald explores how many authors are testing the boundaries of this medium in vastly different ways, allowing for a variety of reading experiences. One author, Jennifer Egan, convinced The New Yorker to start a fictional account where her story, "The Black Box", was composed specifically with Twitter in mind in 140 character "bits". In addition to the unusual way in which the story was told, for nine days, it was shared in a serialized format as a series of tweets, eventually totaling to over 600. With the story unveiled in such a non-traditional way, readers could tune-in and await in suspense until the next tweet was shared.


Image Source: Twitter Crimer Show
Other examples of fictional writing on Twitter can be seen in the short story, "Evidence" by Elliot Holt.  In this tale, Holt weaves together a story through a series of tweets through multiple Twitter accounts. This format allows the author to capture the voice and perspective of all characters line by line, thereby allowing for greater authenticity. Twitter has also become a platform for parodying television, which can be seen in the Crimer Show. In this case, the Twitter story sounds like a television episode, but told on Twitter. If you wish to tune in, you can't, as the show is now advertised as being only available through "re-runs". There are also other examples of non-fiction storytelling which can be seen in RealTimeWWII, which documents real events of World War II day by day - thereby connecting us to the past, like a digital desk calendar. 

What are the Implications?

There are several implications in using Twitter as a platform for not only sharing fictional stories, but for creating them. It is one where the mode in which the story is created and produced, is blended with the platform or the stage on which it exists. Allowing the audience a sense of intimacy and connection not only to the plot and characters, but a sense of community created with this type of sharing.  In releasing a story bit by bit, as in the case of "The Black Box", audience members could join in the community of readers all awaiting in suspense for the next tweet. With no one able to read ahead, there are further potentials for publicity for The New Yorker and the author, by encouraging discussion in a platform already built for conversation. It conjures up images of old fashioned radio shows where families and communities gathered together to hear weekly broadcasts.  How can this type of storytelling build connections not only within members of the community, made up of followers and readers, but with the writers and the audience? Can this new platform, often criticized for its shallow connections, offer the same sense of connectedness that people would have experienced almost a century ago? 

Although I appreciate the potential for writers to connect with their audience through social media; as well as the opportunities Fitzgerald shares in this "new frontier" for creative experimentation, "where access to the tools is the only barrier to broadcasting". I can’t help but wonder what are the sideline benefits of broadcasting the story in this form. Is it just a media stunt or opportunity for writers to garner publicity and a following for their writing? Is this a platform merely a space where they can give an audience a taste, in hopes that they will buy the book for the polished version of the story later on? Or is it purely just an opportunity for the writer to truly engage with their audience and gain feedback in the creative writing process, allowing fans a sense of connectedness to the formation of a story. One can only hope that for the purity of the medium, that the latter would be the case. It is interesting to note that Egan, author of "The Black Box", only produced the one story in this form, making me wonder if it really was just for publicity.  Not wanting to be jaded or skeptical, I decided to look for other Twitter serial writers. After a quick search, I discovered other Twitter short stories  One was aptly named, the Very Short Story, which are stories by @sean_hill. He asks followers to "send me a noun and I'll use the ones that inspire me in a story." Here is a perfect of example of interacting with one's audience and engaging them in the writing process. However it is important to note that he is also writing a book of his Twitter stories, and advertises it on Amazon.  Hmmm... purity of form??? Then again, whom am I to criticize, the guy has to make a living. 

Now What? As Educators, Why Should We Care?

Image Source: Mashable 20 Twitter Short Stories Written by Mashable Readers
As I listened to Fitzgerald's presentation, I immediately started thinking of ways this platform could be used to connect the Connected  to literary works and writing. Would students be interested in exploring writing one tweet at a time, through micro Twitter stories, as shown in the Twitter contest created by Mashable, 20 Twitter Short Stories Written by Mashable Readers? Maybe Twitter could be a way to demonstrate to students that as a teacher, I am trying to connect. Imagine exploring with students the subtle nuances of communication that only can be demonstrated in 140 characters or less. Showing students the skills needed in being deep, while demonstrating brevity

In addition to discussions regarding the medium in which to tell a story, using Twitter in this manner would also lend itself to discussions related to Digital Citizenship. Teachers could revisit Fitzgerald's comment, how "access to the tools is the only barrier to broadcasting", as this ties in to the first element of Digital Citizenship - Digital Access. Students could explore who is not able to access this form of writing and whose voice is not present in this wild frontier. Perhaps, students could compose the stories of the marginalized and share them on Twitter as part of a social justice project.  

Part of the Digital Access discussion should also be around the issue of the age one must be to access social media, and why companies like Twitter have Terms of Agreement regarding the age of users (Twitter states you must be over 14 years). So although there are all kinds of great ways one can connect with this form of writing, with younger audiences it would have to be through the teacher as the guide of the Twitter account.  If teachers were interested in engaging students in "fake" writing on Twitter, there are sites such as Classtools and tools like Twister

As a final note, if you are interested in using Twitter for older students, Twitter has a site, Tips for Educators in exploring Twitter Literacy, and would further lend itself to discussions regarding Digital Citizenship. Educators can peruse topics ranging from: what is Twitter, ways teachers can connect with students,  how to keep your account secure, defining personal boundaries, tweeting thoughtfully, and considering the context. Bravo Twitter, that's definitely showing some responsibility for the medium by providing these tips!


Fitzgerald, A. (2013). Adventures in Twitter Fiction [Video file]. Retrieved from

1 comment:

  1. I think this is fascinating!! Previously, I only considered Twitter to be a tool for non-fiction content and creating. So far, I use Twitter with my class account for helping kids practicing summarizing, building our social network and opening up conversations around digital citizenship. Kids are often so engaged and inspired in creative writing spaces but "brevity" is always the challenge! I think it would be interesting to explore some of these ideas with my kids. Twister looks like a great tool, as well! Thanks for sharing!