“I’ll be sure to write to only you, my dear Jackson. To save my pennies for a midnight thought.” – Treehouse (Pennies for midnight)
Sifting through the myriad selections of works that the Electronic Knowledge Database has to offer, I stumbled upon this rather unconventional love story compiled by Joseph Alan Wachs. The romance is told through an interactive storytelling iPhone application, based on a series of real-life email exchanges between a man named Jackson and his lover nicknamed Treehouse. In the foreword of the application, Wachs explains how he uncovered this online love affair: “In early 2008, while restoring the corrupted computer files of an old hard drive, I discovered a lengthy back-and-forth e-mail correspondence between two people…As I sifted through the countless megabytes of fragmented data, I realized there was a love story buried within the files.” These exchanges take place over the course of six months, between February 6th and August 5th, 1996. There is a total of four appisodes, and the first one hundred exchanges are featured in the first appisode that I downloaded onto my phone and read (the other three appisodes require payment).
When you first open the application, it provides you with a tutorial of how to read through the exchanges in a chronological order. The screen is divided into two columns: the left hand side features the titles of the emails that you can easily scroll through, while the right informs you of which email number you are currently looking at. This function allows you to scroll through all the emails picking out the one that interests you, almost like chapters to a novel. This however is not advisable, as the story really only makes sense if you read from beginning to end. The length and format of the exchanges vary, as most emails do. Within each email/chapter, you can tap the screen to scroll down to read what is below. One tap on the paper clip featured in the top right corner of your screen would bring you to the next email. Jackson’s emails have blue headings, while Treehouse’s are yellow. All emails feature date and time stamps. The design of the application is fairly logical; the only one flaw I can think of is that while it is easy to access the email that comes next, there isn’t a function to easily return to the one before.
The story begins with an email written by Jackson to Treehouse, and we learn very quickly that the two lovers have been communicating for a very long time, even when Treehouse lived in Japan and was in a relationship with another man named Adrien. Jackson tells her he loves her and that he’s proud of her decision to return to school in Arizona. Treehouse proves herself to be rather witty in her response: “Man, I wish I could get in your Levi’s 2night (ad campaign!). But for now, I will resolve myself to lay between the keys on my keyboard, instead of between the sheets. Then, perhaps I could shift/command you to cap-lock my space bar. Is that an option (alt)? Too much Ctrl? Should I delete my request?” In response to her provocative words, Jackson composed her a digital collage that featured a denim printed background that repeated the Levi’s ad campaign in her previous email, and he accompanied the collage with the words: “You inspire me, you know.”
One of the most interesting aspects of this tale is how the lovers’ story is set against the backdrop of the Internet revolution. Reading through their exchanges, you are brought back to the days before most of the amenities we have grown so accustomed to became readily available. For example, the couple discusses the possibility of having a “real time conversation” (a.k.a. instant messaging), and Jackson writes: “Real time conversation is how I first got turned on to the ’Net in the first place in ’93…and I have wanted to figure out how to do it outside of AOL.” As the story progresses, we are made increasingly aware of Jackson’s familiarity with the Internet, and how he correctly anticipates our inevitable transition from AOL to World Wide Web: “But, now that you’ve gotten online and you have a taste (mmmm…) for it, and you see how lame AOL is and you’re STILL not seeing the World Wide Web and you’re missing out on all the action.”
What is impressive about this application is how Wachs was able to repair and decipher the corrupted data, translate them back to their original content, and then reformat them into a presentable, cohesive, and interactive story. As you flip from one email to the next, you become more and more immersed in the lives of the lovers, it is almost as if you are injecting yourself in their love story because you are tapping your finger to move from one day of their lives to the next. The cliffhanger that concludes this appisode, featuring the return of Adrien, is prompting me to purchase the entire app series. I really enjoyed this story and I am planning on downloading the next three appisodes.