Wednesday, February 11, 2004

Reading:: Datacloud

Originally posted: Wed, 11 Feb 2004 00:12:40


by Johndan Johnson-Eilola

I just finished reading the manuscript for this book. It hasn't been published yet, but it's slated for the Computers & Composition series. Because it's not yet published, I'm not going to give the book a full review at this point. But what I will say is that I think this is going to be an important book for computers and writing.

That's not because the book breaks a lot of new theoretical ground. It employs Reich's notion of symbolic-analytic work and Hall's articulation theory in much the way that Johndan's earlier articles have done. But Johndan turns this framework to the question of how we encounter texts. We used to encounter them one at a time, he says: we would read a book, interact with an interface, etc. But now we don't just read texts, we inhabit a fully textualized space, a "datacloud" in which many texts physically surround us and compete for our attention. Our computer screens display browsers, email, IM all at the same time, and next to them, sticky notes, whiteboards, and printed texts, signs, litter ... If we are now immersed in texts, inhabiting textual landscapes, then how does that change reading and writing? Johndan's answer is that we spend more time on the surfaces of texts and less time engaged "deeply" in them. And that's okay, he says.

I like this text. I like its informality: Johndan manages to keep the text light even when investigating texts with articulation theory, which means that this book could be used for undergraduate seminars. I like that it attempts to provide a general theory of textual interaction rather than fixating on MOOs or IM or other specific technologies that may evolve into something unrecognizable by the time the book hits print. I like that it still engages with specific examples such as MOOs, IM, and whiteboards. I like that it is self-indulgent enough to discuss turntablism in detail.

There are certain limitations to the text, but I'll wait until print to discuss them. For now, look for this book to be printed and take a look for yourself.

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