Three Versions of Here, Three Versions of Why


Here: A small conference room on the fourth floor of a mission-style building, with a balcony looking out on palm trees and the beige and green hills of western Palo Alto.

Here: A collection of interesting people with diverse talents and experiences, all of us sighing and scratching our heads and tapping away at our keyboards.

Here: A screen full of text and images, in no place in particular, at no particular time, being consumed by you, the reader, wherever you are.

So why am I here, in this room, in this group of people, on your screen? There’s a selfish reason. The very act of answering this question is one part of the reason I’m here. I’m a writer, which means I spend large amounts of time seeking out quiet, spacious solitude, and then filling it with what I hope are or will one day become good ideas. I do this work, largely, alone. The process of telling a story is not a solitary act—there are readers and editors, there are conversations and questions that lead to revisions and restructurings, there are designers and artists and typesetters, all of whom conspire to produce a thing made of information that exists in the world in some form or another.

But the practice of writing, of putting words together into ideas, is, for me anyway, a very solitary experience. And one reason I’m here is to challenge this mode of working and thinking. There are fourteen of us, all trying to answer this question right now, and maybe this unity of purpose will reveal some new aspect of the practice of writing, some new kind of voice that emerges from collective, collected solitude. I’m greedy for new skills and new approaches. If this process surfaces new powers of craft, I want them.

A second reason: I’ve been fortunate. I’ve had the opportunity to tell stories in a variety of media. I’ve also had the opportunity to tell stories with different narrative shapes. Some have been linear. Some have had diverging paths. Some have consisted of many singular nodes. We live in a world where stories are increasingly media-agnostic, and as a result, they’ve come to take on many different shapes. A good story branches. A great story explodes. I hope one reason I’m here is because I’ve seen firsthand some of the many emergent behaviors of stories in the wild. And I hope to learn of others from the many qualified field researchers assembled here.

There’s another reason, too, and this is the one that really hums in my chest when I think about it. I believe that when we talk about the future of reading, we’re really talking about the future of the imagination. Imagination is the engine that powers storytelling. I want to know how we as readers will insert ourselves into the stories of the future, because that is the process of reading that I’m most interested in. I want to think about how new tools and technologies will speak to our imaginations, how the stories of tomorrow will read us even as we read them.

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