17.553 paradigm shift of textuality

From: Humanist Discussion Group (by way of Willard McCarty willard.mccarty@kcl.ac.uk)
Date: Wed Jan 21 2004 - 03:42:56 EST

               Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 17, No. 553.
       Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
                     Submit to: humanist@princeton.edu

         Date: Wed, 21 Jan 2004 08:27:23 +0000
         From: Patrick Sahle <sahle@uni-koeln.de>
         Subject: Personal Experiences in the Paradigm Shift of Textuality

A (mediated = medialized) text is a machine or a user interface that
“behaves” in a certain way. So we expect the texts we face to behave in a
certain way. There is always ONE text technology that sets the standard.
Which socializes our notion of a text as the normal behaviour of that text.
Actually we are on the threshold of a new shift, undergoing continuing
technical (= mental) socialization. I experienced my own
“conversion”/”passover” when I visited an italian restaurant some days ago.
Looking at the menu, my friend said: “I don’t know what I’m going to eat,
but it should be something with cream sauce. I will have to read all the
lists of ingredients”. And I thought: “yeah, that’s strange. The menu
doesn’t behave as it should. You can not press a Ctrl-F-Key and look for
‘cream’ in all the dishes. The text doesn’t highlight all occurrences of
‘cream’. The text doesn’t answer to my questions. This isn’t a normal text,
it’s not interactive, it doesn’t communicate. It’s a dead thing.”

To me, at that moment, it seemed to be an outdated, old-fashioned kind of
text, an antiquarian text, as from an archive. Surely the
printed-book-people had a similar experience for hundreds of years, when
they encountered manuscripts. They surely often will have thought: this
isn’t a normal text. It’s too hard to decipher and where is the table of
contents which directs me into the book and to some certain page numbers?
Where are the headlines and footnotes? Why is it so inconvenient to use
this kind of text?

Maybe some decades from now I will sit in an italian restaurant with my
son. And I will hear him talk to some menu: “What pasta with cream do you
have to offer?”, expecting it to answer in a clearly audible voice ­ and
never even thinking about being forced to “read” a menu. What will be left
to say about "textuality" then?


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