What happens when you get into a cab in Morocco and ask to be taken "to Matt Damon", and then you ask every single person you meet the same question? The answer, amazingly, is that you might actually find him. That's the subject of a short, brilliant and true story that the American HR worker Erin Faulk told over a series of tweets earlier in the year, which went viral, with write-ups in Jezebel and Gawker.
Faulk was studying Arabic in Morocco when she heard a rumour that Damon was filming The Green Zone in Rabat, she says, so she convinced her class of five to get on a train to the city. From her Twitter account @erinscafe, she later posted "Here was my plan: just like, ask people where Matt Damon was.
"The good news was, we could say 'Where is Matt Damon?' in like, eight languages between the five of us. So we did.
"We got a cab. The driver asked us where we wanted to go. I said 'to Matt Damon'. *silence*"
The journey took the group to the American Embassy, a fishing village called Sale, and eventually, at midnight, to a Humvee with Matt Damon in it. It's worth looking up the story online, to get the whole, hilarious, blow-by-blow account.
Faulk, who is making a documentary film about Twitter called Follow Friday, put the tale up on the website Storify, which allows users to tell stories by collecting updates from social networks. These range from celebrity stories, collecting Twitter and Vine jokes about Ben Affleck as Batman, for example, to coverage of political affairs.
Storify is just one example of how new forms of storytelling are proliferating in the age of social media. Another is Terribly Tiny Tales, a website set up and curated by the Mumbai-based writer Anuj Gosalia. Readers submit suggestions for words to inspire stories, and a pool of writers uses them as the launch pad for tweet-sized stories, which are posted every day on the website and on its Facebook page.
"The attention span of people has reduced drastically because of social media usage," says Gosalia, who is 27. "That includes me as well. Being a voracious reader and yet not being able to read an entire book was an issue."
Vallari Shah, who works for an NGO, was given the word "ginger" and came up with the following micro-story for the site: "They promised Gudiya an education. Her first class - no school, no chalk, no teacher. Just a kitchen, some ginger and a mother-in-law." According to Gosalia, "good stories always revolve around untold truth".
Flash-fiction, or "short short stories", as they are sometimes called, have been around for hundreds of years - the Egyptian Nobel laureate Naguib Mahfouz was a master of them - but the internet has opened up new possibilities for collaboration, and even Hollywood stars are getting involved. (Although, sad to say, not Matt Damon.)
Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who has appeared in films like Inception, Lincoln and The Dark Knight Rises, is one of those embracing these possibilities. He'll release his third Tiny Book of Tiny Stories - made up of tales of just a couple of lines each, contributed and illustrated by visitors to his website hitRECord.org - in November, through HarperCollins.
Gordon-Levitt started the site in 2005 as a place to post his own homemade videos and writing. Since then, it has evolved into what he calls an "open collaborative production company" to which visitors can also upload content. In 2010 an anonymous user known as Wirrow began soliciting micro-fiction and illustrations on the site; together he and Gordon-Levitt turned the contributions into the first Tiny Book.
One story reads, in its entirety: "The Doctor's wife ate two apples a day, just to be safe. But her husband kept coming home."
"The internet is allowing us to get back to what's really more natural, which is that storytelling is a shared thing," Gordon-Levitt told the Los Angeles Times when the first book came out. "It's our natural way to be communal."
Faulk, who continues to write personal stories through Twitter and Storify, agrees that the internet can help us reconnect with older storytelling traditions.
"To me, Twitter is like sitting in a room full of your friends. It's a conversation," she says. "When you tell a story to a group of your friends, they're going to ask questions, and throw in comments. I could tell the exact same story a day later, to different friends, and it would be totally different."
. With files from IANS
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