A few years ago, a writer by the name of Christine Love released Digital: A Love Story quietly into the wilds of the internet. Set in a idealized vision of late 1980s computer culture, it told the story of two people who meet on a BBS and fall in love—albeit with a few Gibsonian complications thrown in for good measure. The story was well written, capturing the feel of not only the first stumbling steps into adolescent romance but also the contradictory connected isolation of the early internet. The story on its own would have been interesting enough, but Love’s decision to present the story via an old looking interface added to the immersion of the story as well as pushed the right nostalgic buttons for some members of her audience while also evoking an idealized image of the past for others. In short, Digital was a period piece, set during those infant days of networking when stealing long distance codes in order to connect to a remote BBS was done without a second thought (I suppose it goes without saying that it was also set during a time when long distance phone calls were actually a big deal—before cellular telephones made the concept archaic).
Digital had its flaws, which are mostly courtesy of its occasionally clunky interface and a few design decisions that were symptomatic of Digital’s short development cycle, but the strength of the writing and the charm of its unique presentation were more than enough to make it something of a critical success. Here was a solid example of what electronic literature could do, something which hadn’t really been in evidence since the days of Patchwork Girl or Twelve Blue—and Digital’s youth meant that it was better able to take advantage of the electronic format than its predecessors. Thematically the narrative was exciting as well, as it provided an interesting, if idealized, view of the role of technology in forging new relationships and ways of relating to one another. Setting it in the early days of the internet (back before it was the internet, really) better helped to highlight these themes by restricting the interaction to text on the computer screen—no pictures, no face to face conversation.