Born Digital

Today in class, we discussed the differences between digitized and born digital objects. As we discussed, what identifies these as born digital creations is that each text takes advantage of the possibilities afforded by digital technology both in their creation and presentation/consumption by readers.

I wanted us to look at the far end of the spectrum when it comes to born digital objects (or electronic texts) so we could see those characteristics unique to digital writing most clearly.

As we viewed each text, we came up with a list of characteristics we observed in these digital compositions, so we could have them as guiding principles for our own digital works.

Our analog word cloud

Some categories of electronic writing and the examples we looked at (this list is adapted from “What is Electronic Writing?” by Brian Kim Stefans):

  • Hypertext prose like Shelley Jackson’s “My Body: a Wunderkammer,” or Claire Dinsmore’s “terra.”
  • Animated poetry like “The Dreamlife of Letters” by Stefans.
  • Wordtoys, in the form here of an interactive installation by Camille Utterback and Romy Achituv called Text Rain.
  • For interactive fiction, we explore both traditional text-based IF like Andrew Plotkin’s Shade, or the almost purely visual “The Path,” a horror retelling of Little Red Riding Hood by Tale of Tales Collective.
  • Collaborative art can take many forms, from the digital/analog collaborative novel Implementation, to Miranda July’s newest media project: a social messaging app called “Somebody.”
  • Augmented reality and/or locative media projects, like “Somebody,” or Google’s game Ingress.
  • Computer-generated texts (which we didn’t get to in class, so spend some time here) move the notion of authorship from the resulting text and into the code or algorithm that produces the text. Nick Montfort’s auto-generated poem “Taroko Gorge” is a good example of the possibilities of this genre. Montfort wrote a series of words describing the place (the poem’s subject), and then wrote the code designed to automatically generate the poem by randomly selecting from those words. (Pro tip: Cntrl + U reveals the page’s source code.) On the project page, you can see a small sample of the number of people who have remixed the poem by copying the source code but filling it in with their own vocabulary.
  • “Database aesthetic” work often moves beyond the purely digital in terms of creation or distribution, but is designed to mimic or replicate the way a machine processes and reimagines information. Kenneth Goldsmith’s “Day” is a good example: here are a few sample poems.

Remember, this is by no means a comprehensive list of digital writing genres, and as you can tell from exploring these pieces, many overlap between several categories. There are just as many more pieces that defy easy categorization.

My hope here is that we can move beyond thinking about writing in terms of genre — beyond just trying to, say, make an animated poem — and instead try to engage with these concepts in our own digital writing, whatever form it may take.


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