Storytelling in the digital age

In this digital age, it's no secret that writers are scrambling for ways to make new the ancient art of storytelling. I'm taking part in a project that merges the addictive consumer frisson of the online auction with the warp and verve of a cutting-edge literary magazine.

Significant Objects, a project dreamed up by New York Times columnist Rob Walker and intellectual impresario Josh Glenn, asks writers to compose stories inspired by souvenir ashtrays, novelty figurines, and other tchotchkes picked up at flea markets and tag sales.

Walker and Glenn put the items up for sale on eBay; winning bidders get the significant object and a printed copy of the story it inspired; writers receive the proceeds of the sale. Contributors include "Jamestown" author Matthew Sharpe, novelist Lucinda Rosenfeld, and critic and historian of photography Luc Sante (the object of my own story, a Candyland maze game, went up for auction earlier this week; the current high bid is $8.50).

While Significant Objects may seem like a curious way to promote writing, it's really a cunning experiment in the nature of value and consumer society. Invested with new significance by its attendant fiction, an object may increase its market value.

So far, the results are modest but positive: most of the objects have received bids above their original prices (around a dollar, give or take). But hey, bidding's still on!

Matthew Battles is a freelance writer in Jamaica Plain, Mass.

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