Short sto­ries about online in­ter­ac­tion ad­dic­tive

Winnipeg Free Press - Section G - - BOOKS - Re­viewed by Keith Cadieux

TORONTO-BASED au­thor and critic Shawn Syms serves as ed­i­tor and con­trib­u­tor to this Winnipeg-pub­lished col­lec­tion of short fic­tion fo­cused on the changes to daily life (and lit­er­a­ture) brought about by our ad­dic­tion to the In­ter­net and so­cial me­dia. While it may seem that con­stant ex­po­sure to dig­i­tal tech­nol­ogy is at the very root of the per­cep­tion lit­er­a­ture and the printed word is on the de­cline, th­ese en­gag­ing sto­ries ex­plore tech­nol­ogy and its ef­fects in in­ter­est­ing ways. Some sto­ries use tex­ting, emails or Face­book as the­matic el­e­ments or ma­jor plot com­po­nents, like Steve Karas’s Six­teen-S hun­dred Clos­est Friends, which is about boy­hood ac­quain­tances who re­con­nectr over Face­book. F Oth­ers use theset el­e­ments to ex­per­i­ment with the very form of the nar­ra­tive, such as Noughts & Crosses: An Un­sent Re­ply by Steven Heighton, the premise of which is clear from the sub­ti­tle, or Tex­tana by Christo­pher Woods, which is told through back and forth text mes­sages be­tween char­ac­ters re­ferred to only as “1” and “2.” Per­haps the great­est strength of the col­lec­tion is its broad range. There are 27 sto­ries in all, from well-es­tab­lished writ­ers as well as new­com­ers, hail­ing from Canada and the U.S., and some that now live much far­ther abroad. There is no tired or overused sub­ject mat­ter; each story find­ing an in­ter­est­ing and dif­fer­ent facet to ex­plore. Syms has cho­sen an ex­cel­lent and varied lineup. Most of the sto­ries are quite short, giv­ing the col­lec­tion an ad­dic­tive qual­ity. Read­ers may find them­selves say­ing “Just one more story, then I’ll stop,” only to plow through three or four more with­out a break. A few sto­ries stand out above the oth­ers. Dele­tion by Robert J. Holt is an in­trigu­ing med­i­ta­tion on how peo­ple con­tinue to use so­cial me­dia even af­ter the in­tended re­cip­i­ent has died. SO MUCH FUN is told through de­scrip­tions of photographs taken dur­ing a rowdy girls’ night out, some posted to In­sta­gram, while oth­ers are kept un­seen. Heather Bir­rell’s pow­er­ful No One Re­ally Wants to Lis­ten is about a woman us­ing an online fo­rum for ex­pec­tant moth­ers. The story man­ages to show the com­plex mo­ti­va­tions of that kind of online in­ter­ac­tion — shar­ing too much in­for­ma­tion with strangers but some­how feel­ing a pro­found con­nec­tion with peo­ple you’ll never meet. One com­mon the­matic el­e­ment in many of the sto­ries is the pos­si­bil­ity and al­lure of hav­ing an online per­sona dif­fer­ent than your ac­tual one. Some of the char­ac­ters say things online they would never dare ut­ter in per­son, while oth­ers are so de­luded as to be­lieve their online per­son­al­ity is more im­por­tant than the real-world one. Many of the au­thors here fully rec­og­nize tech­nol­ogy and so­cial me­dia are here to stay, but there is still an anx­i­ety about what the long-term ef­fects might be. The big thing to take away is th­ese sto­ries prove tech­nol­ogy is not an enemy or ri­val of good lit­er­a­ture. In fact, it is in­trigu­ing and loaded sub­ject mat­ter. What­ever tech­no­log­i­cal ad­vances or changes to how we com­mu­ni­cate in the fu­ture may hold, we’ll al­ways have good sto­ries to tell about them. Winnipeg au­thor and teacher Keith Cadieux couldn’t help but check his Face­book

page while writ­ing this re­view.

Friend. Fol­low. Text. Sto­ries from Liv­ing Online Edited by Shawn Syms En­field & Wizenty, 296 pages, $20

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