This one is easy. I remember it vividly.
I was on the L.A. Metro Gold Line train, shortly to arrive at Union Station, when I looked up from reading an article in my phone. And I noticed that everyone else around me was doing the same. Reading on their phone.
Okay, let's not exaggerate. A handful of folks were holding their phones landscape, watching a video. And a few peckish types with bobbing knees and "personality" hair were clearly swiping left and right in the candy-store-meets-fruit-machine of Tinder. But everyone else was indeed reading. It might have been articles about the significance of the yield curve to the American economy. It might have been (okay, it probably was) shrill analysis of the Dodgers' recent loss. It might have been Google search results for 'girlfriend hates car smell what now'. I don't care. It was reading.
It's easy, as someone who cares so much about the written word and the craftsmanship behind it, to fear for the future of reading. Emojis taking the place of earnest, messy expression. (Him: "So, hey, I think I love you?" / Her: 😍 / Him: "No, really. I love you." / Her: 😍😍 / Him: "Oh fuck off with that." / Her: 😶) Netflix -- and its proliferating rivals -- wrapping binge options around us like anacondas on sign-in. Wifi everywhere but morgues, so we can never escape that rate-your-experience-today request from the 7-Eleven outreach team.
And yet, and yet. Here were folks, all manner of folks, spending their sliver of time between porch and paycheck on none of those things. Nope, they were reading. They were choosing the all-enveloping escapism that is unique to the written word, that the literalism of video -- for which you always have to remain half-present, pinioned to real time by the need to watch and listen -- won't ever quite match. And I worried a little less about the future of reading then.
I also realized that, if I could tell a story that fit inside those slivers of time each day -- a story that readers could engage with in their train journey or standing on line for coffee -- then I could reach through all of modern life's ever-spinning distractions and connect with an audience.
That's why Octane has short chapters, none longer than 1,500 words, and is designed to be read in quick bursts. Yes, you'll have to remember who characters are and how they relate to each other, but there'll be a quick reminder tool in the online reader to help you with that. (And, of course, if you are hooked, your brain will organically shift things around and make room for that information, holding it there from week to week.) That's why Octane is not a PDF or an eBook -- no need to download anything, no bloating your already-hungover device -- but instead is read online in a distraction-free interface that brings the words to the fore. That inescapable wifi I mentioned? With this project, I'm embracing it and turning it into an ally.
So that is the challenge I've set myself with Octane: reading that fits into the naturally-occuring gaps in your day, rather than reading that requires especial effort. "And, with that, Lex Snowe sets out to save the written word from extinction." Yeah, no, that's not what I'm saying. As I recognized on that train, the written word doesn't need me to save it. It just needs me to think a little harder about exactly how and when it remains the most vital and enthralling form of elevation in this world. - L.S.