[image from “deep surface” by Stuart Moulthrop, found here]
Even with the growth of computer technology, the paper book is still the paradigm for the text. The published book is primary, so that when we read on a computer the software imitates the experience of the physical book as close as possible. An article in pdf is divided into paper sized (not screen sized) pages, and despite the interactive potential of computer media, pdf texts are arranged in a linear fashion (one page after another), without internal links or embedded sound and video. In Hayles words, the interface for reading on a computer uses the paper book as a “material metaphor.” (p.22)
But there are other texts which experiment with the potentials of reading on a computer. One archive of these experiments is the eliturature collection linked above. The literary works in the collection cannot exist on paper in the way that they exist here. Each unfold differently, combining text, sound, movement, and organized in hypertext or other branching formats.
Explore some of the documents in the collection and consider the ways that the format interacts with the words and their meaning. In Writing Machines (2002), N. Kathrine Hayles writes, “To change the material artifact is to transform the context and circumstances for interacting with the words, which inevitably changes the meanings of the words as well. This transformation of meaning is especially potent when the words reflexively interact with the inscription technologies that produce them.”(p.24)
Here the computer interface is the “material artifact” and the “inscription technology.” In each case, how does the document “transform the context and circumstances for interacting with the words,” and thus change “the meanings of the words as well?” In what ways were these “technotexts?” That is, in what ways do the stories and meanings embedded in the text comment on or interact with their own interface?
Is this the future of the book or a detour along the way?