When it comes to literature in digital media there is a lot going on – and especially for kids the playing field is fascinating. But that should come as no surprise since kids really are like sponges and much of the technology seems to be very intuitively adapted for point and play mode. YouTube has been overflowed with different kids playing iPads * taken and encouraged by proud parents (mostly dads) – and it is quite fascinating to see how quickly they pick up on the choices at hand, but I will not dare try to go into the debate on the cognitive benefits and learning curves. Suffice to say that the interactive literature the technology enables often seems to be targeted at children and young adults. Maybe it’s because the combination of reading with the rest of your sensory system is often thought of as a pedagogical tool for learning and when you are an adult the ideology becomes that you read not to learn but to reaffirm or contest what you have previously learned.
My latest encounter with interactive fiction is the wonderful world of Mr. Morris Lessmore (alas, only second-hand, as I have no iPad). I would love to hear from others who have actually tried it, from what I can gather it seems quite interesting.
“The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore” is a short film and app by Moonbot Studios (although of course, the film is only available in US iTunes godblastit) and created through a combination of stop motion, 2D and miniature. Just like other narrated apps Morris Lessmore gives you different possibilities to explore like repairing books and flying through a world of words etc. It is literature in game play – however, the Morris Lessmore website says it ‘reinvents digital storytelling’, which I would call a smart-ass sales pitch, because from what I can gather the app stands on the shoulders of and joins in on the same track as other lit-apps before them. Think of “Alice in Wonderland” for example, restricted as it may have been in relation to Morris Lessmore, but still, reinvention is a big word.
* And other electronic devices, I’m sorry for singling out the iPad, it’s not the only choice out there.
Last week another semester started at uni, and this time I will be delving into the vast field of literature as more than just the piece of text inside a book. On Thursday we were introduced to the semester plan and the curriculum with bonus literature.
The course is really fascinating. When I first read the course description I didn’t really know what to expect, and only had a vague idea of what the “expanded field” of literature covers. I have talked about the e-book before on my blog, but more as a concrete tool for reading a piece of text without anything extra to it, or introducing the possibilities that come with an electronic book. The e-book has spawned new directions for literature and at the same time reintroduced the book as physical form and an integral part of the context where no text can stand alone.
One take on the e-text is taking advantage of the multi-touch function of smartphones or tablets. Aya Karpinska has created a children’s story, a so-called zoom-narrative, where you use the zoom function to maneuver around in the story. It’s an app that can be downloaded to your iPhone, and there you can explore and create your own paths through the narrative. The story is called Shadows Never Sleep and there is also a demo video.
In the physical realm there are creations such as Jonathan Safran Foer’s latest book, Tree of Codes, which combines the visual and the tactile with the cognitive. There is more than continuous text on page after page after page. What he’s done is he has taken a novel by Bruno Schulz and made his own story out of the already-existing words by cutting chunks out of the “original” and the pages therefore are fragmented. It is a piece of text that is much more, that takes into account its physical presence.
Cue hypertexts and the children of the digital age, children in a way that you get to play with the internet, try its boundaries and piss people off by not abiding to rules and regulations. Today (and I have like 143 tabs open, my computer is ready to give up, and I don’t have enough time in the day to read all of them, so I am on a continuous journey that takes me longer and deeper into different corners of literature+art+internet) I found Jane Wong/Joe Davis with Ways to carry you, and Jason Ockert/Mattias Dittrich Shirtless Others. I will not say to much about it, except invite you to try it, see what you think. And then there is Kenneth Goldsmith’s Soliloquy, which is an unedited transcription of everything Goldsmith uttered in one week of his life. It’s quite funny to browse through.
UPDATE: I keep finding new stuff, but this last one is so good I have to make an update and include it: it’s Seoul based web-art group Young-Hae Chang Heavy Industries. They make text animations with funky music, you have to check it out. I stumbled onto Dakota (a reading of Ezra Pound’s Canto I & II), which is linked here, and a transcription here, but there is much more if you go to the mainpage: http://www.yhchang.com/
I picked these (sorry) almost at random, just as an introduction to the vast amount that is just lying out there, and all my tabs are waiting, nay pining, for me to explore them (as I assume, of course, my tabs have emotions resembling that of humans, and not, as I heard at a party, fish, who have no feelings and thus can be eat by vegetarians, over and out).
Yes, yes, yes. The Americans have it all, nevermind us bottom feeders once known as the Glorioussus Conquistador’ Speciexus Europedales Grandes (just made that up, but for you history buffs out there I will have you know that once, a long-long-looong time ago, Europe was actually not that bad at inventing and thinking – now, innovation is left to the US and education to Asia, oh well).
So what is it this time? Google eBooks is what it is this time! Google has launched their very own cloud-based online e-bookstore and what is the message I get when tiptoeing my way through the digital candy store?
“The latest Google eBooks are not available for sale in your location, yet… Google is working with publishers around the world to let you buy the latest ebooks from top authors. In the meantime, you can still browse millions of free and public domain Google eBooks and read them effortlessly across your devices.”
Damn it to blitzing high waters and a splash of disturbing x-rated words!!
I want to see what’s going on, I want to get on the ebook tidal wave. I too have needs!! And I need to be updated on the services and possibilities that are out there so that I can critically, and with a diversified background, form an opinion. And I cannot do that when my whole project is being sidetracked by stupid, ancient geographical barriers and short-sighted prioritising. Yes, I am aware of the immense judicial process that goes before a project of this sorts, and yes, I know that e-books has proven to be an immense market in the US, but can we please get on the bus here!?! Is it impossible to start something of this sort up in Europe? Or am I just looking in all the wrong places? In the US there are strong pushes towards a new market: Amazon, Apple, Barnes and Noble etc. have all seen to it that they are in the right place, and they are pushing their agenda strong.
The difference and the exciting part with google is compatibility: the readers today are often locked to their respective bookstores, making it hard to be as flexible as one is used to, and really is a pain in the but. But Google promises to transgress all that, yey! (the excitement is fleeting, because, as previously stated, I cannot make a really and truly informed decision when I cannot be part of the fun!)
In my opinion the process of breaking e-books out in the European market (at least from where I am standing) just seems too slow. It is commendable of the few who are trying to push e-books and who really make an effort of getting the word out. But there is just one problem: they are too few. And maybe the recession has got a lot of businesses second-guessing their aggressive marketing when it comes to breaking out into full blown e-book alert. But there is a market, yes! I am the market! And I live in Europe. It’s logic and it’s simple. So get more to going with the innovation and the thinking Europe!
I have just spent the last six hours (I am not exaggerating) cataloguing my bookshelf. Why? Because I was browsing around on my phone and I found an isbn scanner that promised a true literate’s wet dream: the chance of a quick scan-add and voila, bookshelf details are digitalized. Only it was not really that simple. It never is…
Initially I was thinking of easing in on the whole thing, you know, scan a couple of books, see how it goes, and then forget about it until tomorrow. It started off at an even pace – pointing the phone towards a barcode led to a ding (very reassuring), and hey presto all the information I could ever want about author, title, publisher, even a little picture of my book. This made me incredibly excited, which led me to haul an entire row of books out of my bookshelf, and then there was no turning back. Only by the 10th book something went wrong – I scanned and scanned, but nothing happened! Luckily, those clever app-developers had a backup for when this occurs – manual registration. The problem is not when you have one or two books that need this special treatment, but rather when it adds up to about 30 percent of the collection. This is a – pardon my French – shit load of manual labour in an age of ‘less is more’-attitude in all aspects of life. (UPDATE: Just read an article on app-funtionality that sums up my points and grievances quite well. See here.) My back is sore, my hands are crooked and I am pretty sure there were no flickering black spots on my wallpaper previously today.
But now I have a nice list on my phone so I will never be stumped when someone asks me if I own this or that book or if someone wants to give me a book present and doesn’t know if I already own it – this, I am told, is very common according to the app-developers, so it is paramount that one catalogues ones’ books. Now I come prepared for whatever book-situation might occur.
One thing that was quite funny (and I don’t even have THAT big a bookshelf that this should happen) was that I had forgot several of the books I, apparently, own. Makes me wonder why on earth I go to the library at all, I am surely well stocked for the autumn-winter season. Now I just need to quit my internship and I can go full-time into hibernation, just me, my books and I. And a cup of tea or two. And some chocolate. The occasional food-run is not to be dismissed. Of course, the seasonal Christmas lunches can’t be missed.
Ah, sod it, the point is, now I have an excellent track of what books I have and which one’s I am missing (ahem!). For someone with a goldfish memory this is quite relevant. Aaaand, I can send myself, and others, an e-mail containing the list of my books. And if I meet someone that happens to have the same app, we can swap book information, how cool is that…
I don’t know if this is a thing I am going to keep and build on or if, in 5-10 years, I will look back and think “shish, what a dweeb” (no comments on that, thank you, not quite there yet!)
By that time I will probably have chucked all my physical books and moved on to la digitalismus – the e-book! I need some good arguments – the ones where I am saving rain forests and reducing CO2 emissions are very good ones, and I probably should make the change yesteryear, only… I’m sorry, but the readers are just so uneventful and rigid. It’s a toughie. Luckily lots of progress is going on in this field, and I am sure that this is something that has caught on forcefully enough to take at least a good chunk out of the book market. But more on that in another post.
Anywhoo, the result of my cataloguing? 229 is the magic number for now – this does not include the ones scattered strategically around the apartment (aka, not on the shelf) or the ones I have borrowed out (so much for the remembrance of books lost).
So if you were thinking about giving me a book and saying to yourself, “nah, she probably has that one already”, I might not! Give me a call, a mail, take me aside, let me hook you up with my awesome list. And I promise, I will catalogue that one too. And the next one. And the one after that. I might just stop if I ever reach this stage.