The scope for my PhD Project is richly interactive text

I assert that that the experience the human race has built up over the last 5,500 years or so to write and read the symbols we have come to call text, is invaluable for our mental capabilities and cannot be replaced by pictorial representations such as drawings, paintings, photography, VR or AR – the richness of text provides a mental augmentation which can clearly accommodate dimensions of thought not amendable to pictorial representations, such as abstract thought and clear grammar. I am stating this to counter some of the VR/AR hype and to remind ourselves that we are only at the very beginning of digital text – there is a whole lot of development to do.

I further assert that the interaction with text which has become possible over the last 50 years or so is not just a new aspect of the medium of text but a new fundamental part of our cognitive and perceptual machinery. I am stating this because the biggest finding and surprise of my first year of working on my PhD was how little the move from analog to digital text and the new interaction potential this makes possible is appreciated. In dialogue with many academics and laypeople whom I have been lucky enough to get to know, the notion of something qualitatively new is not appreciated.

The work I aim to carry out is to demonstrate that there are powerful avenues of the development of text becoming available to us as our digital equipment becomes ever more powerful and that we have barely scratched the surface in our everyday work lives – we need to examine the thinking and insights of the very earliest pioneers to help us look outside what has become normal and then we need to dive deeper and research the prehistorical, historical, sensory, cognitive, information theory and practice aspects of interactive text to lay foundations for informed re-invention.

Importantly, I will implement systems to demonstrate and learn more of how the unique digital interactions make new ways of working and thinking possible since this cannot be demonstrated via text alone – it must necessarily be demonstrated via the interaction of text.

If you tell me, I will listen.
If you show me, I will see.
But if you let me experience, I will learn.
Laozi

The work will be primarily to augment university students. As Jackob Nielsen’s research pointed out already in 1989, “there is little hope for a single, universal hypertext user interface design which will be optimal for everybody” (Nielsen, 1989), so I am focusing on the knowledge work process of a student writing an academic paper, not on business or general writing.

The software platform will be my macOS and iOS Liquid | Author word processor which I will continue to develop and experiment with, treating text as a dynamic medium (Jason E. Lewis, Alex Weyers, 2016), with a main focus being on what I call a Liquid View which is a non-linear, free-form outliner and ‘thinking space’ for the word processing text. The aim will be to show how richer text interactions can contribute to a deeper literacy and will be measured accordingly.