I participated in this interesting artistic story-experiment here in Austin where I got a bunch of text messages from weird phone numbers telling me this odd story about air elementals. Sort of an X-Files thing. It was mostly good, with one major problem — I couldn’t text them back.

So that was a major problem. Using an interactive medium to tell a non-interactive story; not that cool.

The other issue was that the story, though intriguing, was basically straight-ahead science fiction. Government conspiracies, eldritch technologies, you know the drill.

I went to a party for the end of the piece, and the party was pretty great, and it got me thinking about what I would do with such a story, were I to have the time and the technology.

I’ll assume that my story can’t be interactive either, because theirs couldn’t. It was a technical problem, so let’s just assume that I can’t get around it.

Ever see Doctor Strangelove? Of course you have! If not, go watch it and then come back to this blog. Actually, go watch it even if you haven’t.

What did you notice about it?

That movie is completely obsolete. It’s still a great movie and I still love it. But it belongs to another age.

It’s a movie about people who can’t get other people on the phone. The commander closes down the base communications, there is an illicit radio, they can’t get the commander on the phone, they can’t get the Kremlin on the phone, they lost communication with the plane, they don’t have change for the pay phone.

This does not make much sense to the modern viewer. It makes less sense every day.

Dr. Strangelove is a perfect exemplar of one aspect of the traditional farce. Missed communications, mistaken identity, and misunderstanding are the foundation of the form. All three of those basic human facts of life have been irreversibly changed by modern technology. Not being able to call somebody is a thing of the past.

Arrested Development, season 4 — the “Puzzle Season” — is not nearly as funny as the original show. However, it is endlessly fascinating and technically brilliant. They managed to make a complete farce that embraces and depends upon modern technology. Mistaken identity is present, much as it ever was; wigs and fake accents are just as effective now as they ever. Missed communications are missed because the people involved didn’t think to listen or deliberately obfuscated; there are very few times that anyone who wants to make a phone call cannot. Misunderstanding has been transformed, multiplied, transmogrified by the willfulness of the characters. Mistakes are made because people want to make them.

Now that we know this, what can we do?

The nature of the text message is immediacy and privacy. I’m just mentioning it, I have no idea what to do with it. However, when the other person is not interacting,

As is often my method, I started thinking about the most interesting texts I’ve ever gotten. I’ve gotten a few, but I think the most interesting came from somebody who is obviously a friend of mine, but whose number I did not save. Whoever this person is, they started texting me out of the blue and we had a very interesting conversation about True Detective. I was too embarrassed to admit that I didn’t know who it was at the beginning and I’m way too embarrassed to admit it now. Having a conversation with a stranger/nonstranger about an area of mutual interest was extremely interesting.

These musings all suggest directions that this could go.

All that said, I think I’ve figured out what story I would tell, if I were telling a story along these lines. I guess posting it right now would be some sort of dreadful anticlimax.