I was around five or six when I started reading independently. My mother was determined to “keep me out of trouble” from the start, so she chose to occupy my time by driving me to the library every weekend. I was to select ten books and finish them every week. Thus began my voracious appetite for reading. The library had an indoor greenhouse nestled between the tables and the second floor—I would sit there for hours with my back pressed against the glass, completely absorbed and unaware of anything else around me.

I’ve been thinking more about those days lately, especially because my reading experience now is punctured with brief sessions of scrolling through my phone, watching the latest YouTube channels, and flipping through the different streaming services on my television. I’m a huge advocate of the digital age, especially because it’s given us so many opportunities for creativity, connection, and expansion. However, I also note that it has been one of the perpetrators of decreasing my attention span, and these days I find that a book has to hook me fast—otherwise I’ll lose interest between the pages and checking my various screens.

Recently, during one of my careless scrolling sessions, I discovered an ad for fiction phone apps. The basic premise is a Choose Your Own Adventure storybook for the digital age. These are short, mobile stories that bring the reader right into the crux of the situation. You role-play as one of the characters and are faced with multiple choices consistently throughout the story. Some choices can affect your character’s morality or change their relationship with others. These stories span a myriad of genres, from period dramas to contemporary action to medieval fantasy and more. They incorporate elements of graphic novels through animated characters and backgrounds, as well as music to tap into the user’s different senses to tell a story.

Among the most popular genres are horror and fiction; oftentimes, these particular stories will be written in the style of text messages, which can create another layer of chilling reality for the reader. While some apps are meant to enhance the storytelling and reading experience, apps like Hooked draw the reader in and aim to create a more authentic, realistic experience. Their popularity and readership has increased exponentially in the past year, with Hooked reaching 40 million readers per month.

These fiction apps are enticing for several reasons. They’re delivered in short sessions, they get straight to the point, and they encourage interaction and creativity. There are consequences for your choices. All of these elements engage the user and hold their focus.

As for me, I enjoy dabbling in these apps because it inspires me to think of all the unique ways storytelling is constantly evolving and how we can all contribute to that change. Instead of longing nostalgically for the days before connecting with the world was just at our fingertips, how can we lean into the idea of growing with the digital advances? Stories are one of the most ancient and primitive forms of entertainment and have withstood the test of time, and for good reason—they connect us all. Fiction apps are just the beginning of what we can achieve as we continue the culture of storytelling in the digital age.

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