A brief definition: By ‘text’ I here mean symbols including the alphabets and punctuation, layout and fonts, which can be interpreted as sounds (phonetic) or symbolic meanings (such as reading a word you understand the meaning of because of the context, but you may not understand how to pronounce it). I do not mean ’text’ in the larger meaning of a text by the literary theory definition of any object that can be “read”. I do look to the root of the word ’text’ as something woven, a texture – as an important touchstone as to the evolution of text and as to it’s potential futures.
Imagine going back to living and working in a pre-literate world, but keeping all the technology – all the amazing cameras and drawing tools. Imagine how hard it would be to communicate anything beyond the most visibly obvious – how you’d communicate ideas and perspectives, thoughts and insights. You’d have a great photograph and high resolution video but no way to annotate it, no way to elaborate, no way to explain. Think about how hard it would be to get work done in that situation – just picture trying to read this document without text. It’s not so hard to appreciate the tremendous power the written word has given us when we imagine a world without it.
So let’s appreciate text on paper – printed books certainly aren’t going to go away any time soon.
Socrates pointed out to his aristocratic friend Phaedrus meaning (“bright”) that while writing increased our faculty to record knowledge, it diminished our ability to interact with the knowledge. This is a valid concern for text on a ‘dead‘ substrate, like papyrus or paper, but it is something an ‘interactive’ digital substrate can go some way towards rectifying – and this is hinting to the intense potential power of digital, interactive text.
So while we appreciate the power of text on paper, let’s also appreciate the implications of text in the electronic media in which we now do all our knowledge work. There are rich, deep and powerful interactions computers can bring to the written word.