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Mar 17 2015

Temporal Relativity and RITGM

“Luke, you’re going to find that many of the truths we cling to depend greatly on our own point of view.”

-Obi-Wan Kenobi

When I made Read If They Get Me, I was working with ways to use the perspective of the reader to change the narrative. Your relationship to the story changes based on which references you recognize, the order you read the pages in and when you read it in relation to the writing.

The whole project was originally envisioned as a work of science fiction, while the futuristic sounding year of 2010 was still wholly in the future. I considered titles like GoGetter 2010, but I kept developing my ideas, and time caught up to me.

By the time I first published most of the events of the story, I paced things to keep them only slightly in the future. The setting became a kind of magical realism, with events set in a kind of “twenty minutes in the future” setting, a secret world of inscrutable surveillance technology which could believably hide among us. Keeping that up in real time was a particular thrill, where the future events I posted would already be set in the past by the time the next chapter went up.

I modified wordpress to publish posts with dates a day or two ahead and worked events from the real news into the story — mentioning WikiLeaks, which came to light while I was writing, talking about the riots following the SF Giant’s first World Series win and shrugging off the date Harold Camping advertised on all those billboards would be the rapture. I couldn’t make that up.

Later, as the events of the story were slipping reassuringly into the past, Edward Snowden came forward to reveal that we had all really been living in that kind of world the whole time, and the story took on a new significance.

Surveillance is really happening all around us, but Read If They Get Me will always be tied to its moment in time and space, San Francisco during the “great recession,” before anarchists had any rallying cries from Occupy Wall Street, a moment which will never again be any closer to the present day.

I used links to google street view, showing where each event took place to help ground the events, but those places have changed. As street view took new pictures, those updates changed the details of the story. Then google released historical street view, preserving that aspect of the setting.

I recently went back and revised which street views show up in the establishing pop-up windows. I was surprised to go back and discover that most of the images displayed by the story were already pretty close to their now historical time period, following the links I created at the time. Defenestration is gone in real life, but it’s still a part of the story, when I make the point about what weird stuff you see just driving around the city.

Street view has changed its layout, though. The little popups in the story now give a specific address, rather than just a spot on a map. That adds to the feeling that you could have gone to that spot and found those people. I left a lot of the specific addresses out to prevent that at the time, but this stuff all clearly happened years ago, and since the time and place headers were created to satirize the “Law & Order” scene establishing practice, I guess it fits.

I liked the idea that the story’s network of information is also connected to the larger network of the web. If street view changes their site, that changes the connection to those events as a consequence. I also don’t store the pictures of the characters in their bios. Those are embedded from other locations, so I had to update a few of those as well.

Maybe when you’re reading this post, all the pictures are gone and none of the street view links work anymore. That’ll be part of another phase in the changing relationship that Read If They Get Me has with the past, the present and the future.