17776 | or, Storytelling in a Digital World

In July of 2017, Jon Bois- the associate editor of the sports blogging website SB Nation- published a new article, titled “What football will look like in the future”. The page opened to an initially inconspicuous article, with a generic header and layout. However –

It’s clear that the sport of football needs to change. And the $64,000 question, my friends, is simple: “how?” Something is terribly wrong. The writing’s on the wall: youth participation in the sport is down, thanks in large part to their parents’ concern for their health.

In recent years, the NFL has something is terribly wrong. In response to numerous clinical studies regarding something is terribly wrong, the league has taken action — and something is terribly wrong. Oh no. Something is terribly wrong.

Do you hear that? Do not be afraid, but something is terribly wrong. (via SB Nation)

– something begins to change. The text suddenly zooms in, with the repeating words “Something is terribly wrong”, and then the screen goes completely black, with an image reading, “Good morning. The time is: 2:17 A.M. The date is: 3-27-43.” And then it redirects to the first chapter of 17776.

Post header image
Via SB Nation.

17776, simply put, is exactly what the title says: a look at (American) football, 15,757 years into the future. More broadly? It’s about immortality, the legacy and culture of one sport, the relationships we make, and what the world looks like when everyone stops dying and being born, shown primarily by three space probes. It sounds like a lot- and honestly? it is- but it’s also, to this day, one of the most interesting pieces of literature I have ever read, both in story and format. It’s a study of humanity and relationships and interests, and it does this while blending together text, gifs from Google Earth, old newspaper clips, and videos.

A screenshot of dialogue from 17776.
via SB Nation

Stories about what happens after- after the apocalypse, after a massive change to society, after something has been altered at the core of the way we operate- are quickly becoming one of my favorite genres. My summer reading book last year for AP Language was Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel, a beautiful novel about relationships and society after civilization collapses. I devoured the book, and still find it to be one of my favorites. In Station Eleven, society collapses after a virus takes out over half of the population. Some twenty years later, Kirsten, a young woman born a few years before the virus, travels around North America with the Traveling Symphony, an orchestra-and-theatre-troupe that performs Shakespeare for whoever’s left. This is the part that’s so important to me; the fact that Emily St. John Mandel took an apocalyptic scenario and, in deciding to write about what happens next, wrote about humans surviving and living. It’s a beautiful and comforting thing to imagine, I think, that, years after the apocalypse, we’ll still find ways to make art.

While Station Eleven deals with the majority of the world dying, 17776 takes the opposite approach: people stop dying (and being born). How do people learn to keep living when the one thing they had connecting them was death? For Jon Bois, the answer is football. It’s an incredibly basic (and silly) thing to base a story that has to deal with an eternal future around, but it’s also strangely comforting, to think about humanity saying that, with all this time and opportunity to do so much harm and damage, they will instead play a game, and keep playing it and changing it as something to hold on to and still be able to enjoy. It’s what Shakespeare is to the remaining citizens of Station Eleven, but with rules that make border-long playing fields and never-ending games.

A screenshot of conversation between two human characters in 17776.
via SB Nation

Kristen O’Neal discusses the beauty of this story a lot more eloquently than I ever could in this article, but one of my favorite points that she makes is how love and appreciation for everything on the planet is the framework of the story. Humanity has been given the ability to create new technology in abundance until the end of time, and yet they choose to keep what they have. They choose to try to interact with each other as much as possible, and appreciate what others have to say, and to keep life- including all of the seemingly-meaningless, occasionally frustrating parts- beautiful. Speed limits and drive-thrus still exist, and when a lightbulb burning for thousands of years (the real Centennial Light Bulb is still burning today!) is snuffed out, the world holds a funeral. The people 17776 have to hold these bits of humanity close for their own sanity- boredom, as Ian Crouch writes, is their only enemy- but they also hold these bits close out of love and appreciation. At the end of the story, just before Nine goes offline to recharge and rest, JUICE begins a long, winding speech that explains everything that happened on Earth as a sort of reassurance. The best part of that speech to me, as the reader, is this, when JUICE says, “…these people are the people of the 20th and 21st centuries, and they like the world they built, and they keep these seemingly redundant roles intact because they are who they are.”

Rather than growing tired of a perfect world, humanity chooses to wholeheartedly love an imperfect one and create what they can with the space they are given. I think that’s rather beautiful.

A screenshot of dialogue between Nine, Ten, and JUICE in the last chapter of 17776.
via SB Nation

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p.s. – what did you think of this weird, essay-style post? please let me know! i’ve had a lot of feelings about 17776 essentially since it was released, and this doesn’t even sum up all of them (maybe i’ll do another post someday about how it sets a very nice standard for the future of digital storytelling), but it was nice to finally get these thoughts on paper. thank you all so much for reading!

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6 thoughts on “17776 | or, Storytelling in a Digital World

  1. OH this is so good! I’m going to confess now…I started 17776 when it first came out and I never finished? I think I was trying to read on my phone? I can’t remember. Anyway, I am now starting again from the beginning, and I’m very excited. This also really puts into words what I loved about Station Eleven. I wish we got to read books like that in school haha.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much!!! Ooof, I can see how reading it on a phone would be pretty difficult. I hope you like it!!! Station Eleven is honestly one of the best books I’ve ever gotten to read for school lol.

      Liked by 1 person

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