The Collaborative Era of Print and Digital Text

     Yin Liu’s argument in “Ways of Reading, Models for Text, and the Usefulness of Dead People,” that we ought not subscribe to a singular notion of “text,” persuaded me and encouraged me to investigate my own presumptions and assumptions about text. Personally, I am predisposed to conceptualizing a text as a stable and bounded book. Given that I was educated according to western traditions of reading, writing, and literature, it is unsurprising that I have a certain affective engagement to texts that are presented as conventional books. Accordingly, I do not treat other modes of text, such as wearable text on clothing, with the same level of serious engagement and intellectual curiosity. Liu’s use of St. Cuthbert’s Gospel to illustrate the diverse nature of textual models enjoined me to problematize my affective relationship to texts that are not based in modernity’s Eurocentric historical roots. Hopefully, one day I will be able to engage with distinct modes of texts with the same level of attentiveness that I afford print books.

     Moreover, there is a lot of potential for the four models of text that are explained in Liu’s piece to combine together to offer a better understanding of textual phenomena. For example, the structural and material models could be used collectively to unpack human relations to digitized representations and reproductions of print books. If a digital text preserved identifiable markers of linguistic cues (letters, words, and grammar), then the structural paradigm would have an appropriate application because the reader would have certain interpretive schema associated with interacting with that language. However, the material model could be applied to explain the inherent characteristics of the digital presentation of the text on a particular digital device as well. Like a book, the material composition of a digital viewing device is a critical site of analysis for human-textual engagement. In essence, an example of innovative theory could hypothesize that one could both be implicated by materialist understandings of human-digital device interaction and structuralist understandings of human-language interpretation.

     Here is a relevant article on textual interpretation by Scientific American on reading on screens vs. paper:

     Along these lines of thought, Stauffer makes an appealing case for the importance of advancing both print and digital libraries in “My Old Sweethearts: On Digitization and the Future of the Print Record.” While digital libraries offer innovative ways of representing data, information, and scholarship, print libraries possess distinctive characteristics of temporal markings.  For example, the Flash animation of the same literary work represented over the past 1,000 years in “In the Beginning was the Word: A Visualization of the Page as Interface,” digitally shows the cultural and historical transformation of a print text. Even though the digital animation is more accessible, the analysis scholars could conduct on the text in that project, the gospel of John, would be fundamentally different if they had access to print versions of the text. In this instance, digitalization facilitates and streamlines education, but it also obscures certain markers of temporal transformation that can only be experienced through physical copies of the text.