Thursday, February 25, 2010

S03. The Interface and the digitalization of the Text

While usually for MCM readings, I’m in the habit of printing out the required texts and underlining with a pen as I go through them, when I began to read Manovich’s essay on The Interface it occurred to me that would be missing the point.

In his discussion of the progression of digital media, Manovich points out that the original purpose of the computer was to function like a typewriter, processing words and then printing them out. It was created for a print based culture, and the attention Manovich gives to text’s role in its continuation got me to look a little closer.

The level to which the computer has come is fascinating, as is the idea of the hyperreal interface which disguises the actual mechanical workings of the device. At the moment I have 6 word documents open. 6 stored files, open for editing and positioned by the movements of my mouse to allow me to switch between them comfortably. I can write, I can erase and unless I save I leave no marks. It’s a lot easier than having 6 separate print works in progress in front of me. Drafting on typewriter sounds like a nightmare.

If I click on the Preview icon down on my toolbar, an illusory series of visual markers for connections to various programs, I open 5 PDF files. While Digital Media and my History Class’ syllabi were created on a computer, probably in typed in word (just as I’m doing now for this blogpost) before being converted and stored online. My copies of Friedburg and Manovich’s essays as well as the scanned in copy of our assignment for Monday look back at me, the soul of a printed page captured and proliferated far beyond the capacity of their original forms.

To consider Manovich’s essay in this sense we look at its journey from the author’s mind to my desktop. The author himself typed it and assuming he worked from handwritten notes, this is the first step in the process. It was then sent as a word document off to an editor, who made some changes and inserted it into the larger file that would become the book in which it was printed. The book was then printed, hundreds of copies of the same text each taking up 56 pages of the larger work, and then Prof. Chun or perhaps another faculty member bought the print copy and scanned it in page by page, uploaded it to the mycourses site for each of us to download.

Maybe this is why I can’t read, “Two and a half decades before the concept of digital media was born, researchers were thinking about making the sum total of human written production- books encyclopedias, technical articles, works of fiction and so on- available online (Ted Nelson’s Xanadu project),” on my computer without finding it at least slightly ironic.

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