The Post-Alphabet Future
The real world of digital reality has always been post-alphabetic. Probably because the letters of the alphabet were too slow to keep up with the light-time and light-speed of electronics, the alphabet long ago shuddered at the speed of light, burned up and crashed to earth. Writing can't keep up to the speed of electronic society. The result has been the end of the Gutenberg Galaxy and the beginning of the Image Millennium. Images moving at the speed of light. Images moving faster than the time it takes to record their passing. Iconic images. Special-Effect Images. Images of life past, present and future as culture is fast-forwarded into the electronic nervous system. Images that circulate so quickly and shine with such intensity that they begin to alter the ratio of the human sensorium.
This is probably why artists,
scientists and engineers from Xerox
Parc have created a creative installation titled "Experiments in the Future
of Reading" (XFR) at the Tech Museum in San Jose, California. All
these experiments in the "Future of Reading" project have a very practical
purpose: to suggest new consumer products for post-alphabetic society.
Here, the alphabet is blasted apart and creatively reconfigured by the
of electronic culture. Touch screens fill with texts which shift at any
moment to follow another story line: single words that open up into continents
of lost dreams;
paragraphs that recombine into novellas; stories that compress into a single
emotion. Or huge, gleaming light-tables on which are displayed graphic puzzles
that can only be solved by physically tilting the table back and forth
by hand, watching the letters of the alphabet slowly roll across the screen,
forming new creative combinations. Literally, *hand-writing* for the new
electronic cave-dwellers. A paradigm-shift in the form of ideas for new
consumer products in which writing itself bubbles
to the electronic surface, searches anxiously for its lost chain of (alphabetic)
hesitatingly across the old literary divide between metaphor and metonymy,
finally realizes that words are on their own in a liquid digital
world, and comes to life as light-through and sound-through and eye-through
electronic words. The words slide up and down, mutate one to the other,
creating new digital meanings. Pixel events, light-screen language, and
Consider our personal favorite. A children's book
telling the story of a cool cat doing the jazz scene in San Francisco.
Except this time, rather than reading the book, ~you play the reading~.
Sit in a comfortable armchair equipped with micro-speakers (with a mega-computer
tucked away behind the chair), open the book, run your fingers over the
pages, and the sounds of jazz on the written page suddenly surround-sound
your ears. The cool cat at the ~Purple Onion~, at the ~Hungry I~, at an after-hours
club down by the docks. In traditional reading culture, the eye was privatized,
shut up inside the privacy of the central
nervous system, isolated from the other senses. In the future of (electronic)
reading, the eye goes public. It reconnects to the other senses, notably
to the ear and the hand. Tactile Reading. Touch the page at any point and
the sounds of jazz being written about can be instantly heard. You are
actually in the sound-field of the book. Move your hand closer to the page
or further away, and the sound intensifies
or fades accordingly. The end, therefore, of passive reading, and the beginning
of in-depth participation in the electronic book. The future of reading
will be fun. It will be experimental and immersive. It will be unpredictable.
It is a full-body, full-mind, full-ear, full-eye experience. It will certainly
involve the complete ratio of the senses. ~Instantly, you are the reading~.
Or are you? If this project is about the 'future of reading', then what's really being read? Not words rolling off light tables or books as soundscapes, but the eye of human flesh itself. Seduced by electronic reading as a packaged consumer product, the eye is externalized in the transcendent form of a light-object, a sound, a liquid consumer graphic, a simulacrum of ocular perception.
Virilio's "sightless vision" or an immersive game of alphabet soup?
Arthur and Marilouise
- Rupert Sheldrake - _The Evolutionary Mind_