When I grew up in the 80s and 90s, Choose Your Own Adventure was a pulp phenomenon in which adolescent readers were empowered to risk their fates as protagonists in some paperback adventure. After they consumed a chapter-worth of words, readers took delight in being able to decide their next move before enjoying or suffering the consequences of their impulse. The options might read something like “enter the cave / turn to page 116” or “take the mountain trail / turn back to page 84.” Sometimes the reader’s eager eyes might spoil an ending as fingers clumsily flipped chunks of pages.
The recent appearance of a website called “February Hummingbird” offers a similar network of narrative possibilities, but in this case the electricity of the online format magnifies the effect of the multi-path story. To a casual browser, this creation, which attributes itself to “Marisa and Blake,” may appear rather basic due to its fresh look and its light, pleasant prose, but behind that simplicity is a crystalline brilliance that emanates from the consummation of form and content.
Beginning in the 1960s, Pioneering media ecologist Marshall McLuhan reported how electricity extends the central nervous system beyond our bodies and allows people to experience the world instantaneously as “space and time interpenetrate each other totally in a space-time world.” Internet, cellular, and satellite technologies express this understanding as information and communication traverse the world at light speed. Whether by intention or through the intuition with which organisms inhabit their natural environment, the “February Hummingbird” authors have created a Choose Your Own Adventure-type narrative within a medium that matches its message. The hyperlink ecosystem is a more fluid format for expressing simultaneous, alternate pathways than the clunky method of flipping pages either forward or backward—a print convention which suggests linear time.
The harmony of well-mated form and content is not only an equation for a whole that exceeds the sum of its parts, but it is also the recipe for a kind of medium that allows aesthetic efficacy—and, whether or not the former was incidental, Marisa and Blake can certainly take credit for the latter. The story flows with a casual tone due to its conversational diction and its second-person point-of-view, a unique characteristic of the Choose Your Own Adventure-type model. Suspense moves the reader quickly though short pages, but the narrative is otherwise fun and slightly absurd. Since multiple pathways empower an element of free will, the text has a versatility that allows either a quick, less-than-five-minute read or a longer exploration of the various, simultaneous possibilities.
The web design is also very clean and creative, beginning with the centered blue silhouette of a hovering hummingbird. All of the buttons are very simple and intuitive, such as two unobtrusive arrows that patiently rest in the upper right corner until the reader is ready to either go back one page or return to the beginning. For those who wish to demystify the aesthetic glimmer of the primary content, a nice circumscribed i on the opposite corner makes transparent much of the authors’ process. The map is one of the smartest features, as it represents all of the interconnected possibilities within the story in a single image. Such a picture is more than novel—when applied through comparison to the grand narratives that give meaning to life, the simultaneity of such a story map challenges the linear perception of time.
Perhaps “February Hummingbird” is a casual weekend invention from “a Creative Writing major and a Computer Science major,” as the site claims, but it exemplifies a relationship which great artists understand intuitively—that media are both technological and aesthetic. When information and communication technologies evolve such an equilibrium, they have a tremendous power to enrich and inspire their audience.