Expanding the reading experience -Diana Huang

Approaching this assignment, I decided to go straight through the list of articles and write my notes on each as I went. I comment on overall themes I noticed at the end.

The DMCA was interesting for me to read because laws are often discussed on the news with certain sections highlighted, but I rarely search out the original documents myself. Something that I think is abundantly clear in today’s society is that because online journalism is so open for anyone (including ENGLIT students in blogs set up in under a minute) to enter into, practically anything can be referenced as a source. With the ease of “researching” a topic on Google these days, many articles that are perpetuated throughout the world cite sources that should not be considered legitimate. Falsities are spread, knowingly or unknowingly, by writers who give only a Cliff Notes version of a document without the proper context. So, reading the DMCA, I wanted to find what the real laws were and what kind of behavior is permissible.

The DMCA is a law that attempts to extend copyright rules from traditional print media to online media. While the internet definitely needs policing to give the write people credit for work on the internet, the internet is also most useful because it provides easily accessibility to many articles for all those with a connection. Policing the internet seems nearly impossible unless the illegal agency is something that is very popular and out in the open (i.e. Napster). I do wonder how often prosecutions are actually made due to the DMCA – the act limits the liability of agencies, but I’ve rarely heard of an individual getting into trouble either.

I had a bit of a revelation partway through “The Library of Babel”. The author had sounded familiar at first but I couldn’t place him, and thought I would try to figure it out as I went along. I was right! Midway through the second paragraph, I realized that the confusion I was going through was similar to another work of his that I have read before, “The Garden of Forking Paths”. That short story was probably one of my favorites of the last literature class I took, as while it confuses you it also makes you think. One of Borges’s favorite concepts is that of a labyrinth, where you lose your way but still move towards one center. In that story, there is mention of a man who tries to write a book that is a labyrinth, where there are infinite paths you can take and endings you can reach, opening a new path each time you make a choice. This idea of paths that converge and diverge first reminded me of works like the popular His Dark Materials Trilogy by Philip Pullman, where parallel worlds exist. Of course, this is also a concept explored in other works from this week’s assignment, but I’ll get to those later.

“The Library” here has many parallels to “The Garden”, as it is also a form of a maze with a center, and there is also the idea of getting lost in labyrinth-like books. However, while I found “The Garden” hopeful and felt that I understood it with a second reading, “The Library” was depressing and confusing to me. The picture is a nice touch that puts you in the mindset of another world for the story, but I still couldn’t make much sense of the piece. The idea that there is an infinite library where “everything has been written” and very little of it can be understood would not lead me to suicide, but I don’t see the hope or meaning in this kind of world. I reread the last paragraph a number of times, but I still don’t understand what the man finds hope in.

This site defines a wunderhammer: “The cabinet of curiosities, or Wunderkammer, was designed to facilitate an encyclopaedic enterprise, the aim of which was the collection and preservation of the whole of knowledge.” I used this definition to approach “my body,” that it was an attempt to describe all aspects of this woman through her body parts. However, while a typical Wunderkammer is like a museum, displaying many varied objects/ideas, this hypertext Wunderkammer provides connections between items. If you think about each body part on the main page as a display object, each display has connections to other displays, and even to displays outside the exhibit (i.e. other bodies). This has a choose-your-own-adventure sort of feel, since reading it is like talking to a person and depending on what order you read things in, you get a different picture of her as a person. I ended up reading through each article and opening the links in new tabs so I wouldn’t miss anything, but maybe this destroyed part of the connected feel of it for me since then it wasn’t much different than just going through all the links on the home page in order. I didn’t really understand why there were words on the home page that did not link to anything (phantom limb, tail) but there were other words that were left out but linked to things when you clicked on them (eyebrow, eyes). The woman on display is an interesting character – I don’t think this site would work if that were not true. The roughly drawn pictures throughout add an extra dimension of life to her story. “my body” made me wonder to what extent this idea could be taken to and still be interesting. I feel that once you get to a point where there are too many pages, it becomes an exercise in futility and no one would want to keep reading it.

When I first approached Galatea, I quickly became frustrated as I could not produce much of a response. However, I got lucky when I asked her about her artist, the only topic I found that produced an emotional response. She confessed that she loved him which ended the game for me. The other way I found to end the game was by simply typing “walk,” but I was unsure whether some endings were preferred to others. I did find it interesting and clever that she would produce very different responses when asked the same question at different times. Asking about the artist after learning that he has left her makes her upset, but asking about him after she has spoken warmly of her history with him gives a sad but subdued response. After playing with the page for a while, I decided to take a look at the cheats page. I loved seeing how many possibilities were allowed, even though it is difficult to find the code to guide Galatea towards what you want. It is also fascinating that what her response is to a current questions depends on values which change depending on the questions you asked in the past. Of course, Galatea is still very limited in her abilities, but that the page is able to produce a fairly good human-like experience (much more advanced than Eliza) was great, and I wonder what similar technologies there are now and how advanced they can be (the robot receptionist at CMU comes to mind). It also struck me that while there is so much focus on robots doing work, social robots are a much more difficult and intriguing topic.

Finally, there was Change the Code, Keep the Text. I found the examples given here fascinating, showing how literature, code, and visuals interact to produce different experiences for the viewer. Coding against the grain was my favorite – the idea that someone would code “wrong” for a different creative effect was very interesting. In my limited programming experience, I’ve always been taught to make my code short and well commented so others can understand it, but in this site I found many ways that people do not do that for good reasons. I’ll definitely look at website source code more often from now on to see if I ever find anything interesting there. I started the site watching the videos, then moved to only reading the text, and finally took a look at the source code once I had finished reading through all the text. The computer generated voice on the videos seemed weird to me since the writer surely could have recorded himself reading, but the author’s explanation that this means you can hear the bugs in the reading software fit with the idea of the site.

Overall, I found this week’s readings very stimulating, and they all showed many ways the web can expand on the experience of literature through illustrations, links, and sound. I love the idea that putting literature online gives the writer a chance to incorporate choice into the reading experience in a much more graceful way than the early choose-your-own-adventure books. I’m very excited for what will come in this class and what other types of literature I will discover.

-Diana

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~ by Diana Huang on January 18, 2011.

2 Responses to “Expanding the reading experience -Diana Huang”

  1. There are several interesting points alluded to in this post:
    For one thing, there is the sore-spot of librarians the world over, which is the modern state of the Internet. By this, of course, I refer to the innumerable, unedited writings published every second across the Web, Google’s disinterest in fact-checking, and people’s interest in believing what they are given by said Google.
    In a mildly related vein, there is the issue of taking the reins of such an unwieldy monster by, for example, law enforcement. The Internet is too vast a thing to patrol or grasp with any true measure of completion. Who knows what slips through the cracks each second? Beyond law enforcement, this can be expanded to any party who wants to know everything that goes on on the ‘net related to some issue.
    Another overarching topic raised was that of how a digital canvas can be found to be painted in different ways with subsequent viewings. Indeed, we see that, with varying degrees, the audience may be directly involved in forming what they are experiencing.
    Finally, Diana alludes to the importance of an interface that one can engage with, as, without this, all other efforts are largely wasted.

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