#147: Real or Not Real

Hello friend, I’m back at my parents’ house in the burbs on this stormy Sunday evening, and I’d like to point you to two short – er, let’s call them, articles. The first is Julie Rubicon, which my friend Robin posted to his Facebook account. The second is The Empathy Machine by Adi Robertson. They’re short enough that you can probably read them right now. I can wait.

. . .

Back? OK. A part of me wishes the second title didn’t give it away: the stories are both fiction. I present them to you together because they both reference things that actually exist (or things very much like things that actually exist), and reference them in ways that are essential to what the story is trying to accomplish. Does Facebook have some internal tool to spit out a report on the attention given to certain brands or keywords? Of course. Is it a portal to the future? Probably not. But, knowing what I know about Facebook, would the culture there be wacky enough to internally call such a tool Enchilada? Or have it reside in a group with the acronym PIG? I. Don’t. Know!

It’s the ambiguity of this referential space, I think, that defines the reading of both stories. The weird thing is: the more plugged in you are to the references, the more ambiguous the space becomes.

I guess that would make it a kind of fiction, about a specific industry. That’s it – these stories are Silicon Valley fan fiction.

This is not entirely surprising coming from Robin: fictional application of real-world technology is part of his M.O., and is wonderfully expressed in his stories. “The Empathy Machine,” however, crosses my wires in an uncanny (though not unpleasant) way. A little backstory is helpful here: The author, Adi Robertson, is a reporter for The Verge. In fact, VR is her beat. The story’s written in the same voice as her reporting, and even with the “Verge Fiction:” giveaway I was constantly caught off guard by the references to the real. I would think I had entered a fictional world only to be pulled back into this one by a real quote from a real CEO of a real VR company that had been reported on by, you guessed it, Adi Robertson. Like I said, uncanny.

It reminds me of that boilerplate legal statement at the start of novels: “This is a work of fiction. Names, places, and companies are either fictional or used in fictional ways.”