The written word is a fundamental unit of knowledge, therefore, the richer we can interact the written word, the richer we can interact with our knowledge.
The Golden Age of Text & Deep Literacy
I look to a positive future of text, I do not spend time wondering if there will be a future of text,I believe that the golden age of text is still in the future. I believe that the golden age of text will give us a deeper literacy where we are better equipped to have deep conversations and develop deeper understanding.
It would be a horrendous mistake to give up on over five thousand years of progress of developing ever more powerful symbolic notation systems, which is what text is, to go back to only have pre-literate interactions (pictures, video, 3D) only.
It would similarly be a terrible mistake to think of text as complete. The evolution of text is nowhere near complete, it continues on paper and in our digital world:
Just as ‘papyrus’ gave us the first cheap writing substrate and our word ‘paper’, and just as the binding into codexes for easy access with a piece of ‘birch’ wood as cover, giving us the name ‘book’, text on digital substrate becomes ever closer to unleash the root meaning of ‘text’ itself, the weaving and unweaving of the texture of meaning.
Having text in cyberspace - navigation space - is of fundamental importance, something we have only just started to get past the surface of:
The most fundamental aspect of existence is not a thing, a thing only has ‘properties’ when compared with another thing. It is often seen that information is the most fundamental but information does not exist unless it’s interactive. So we can look at interaction as most fundamental - the most fundamental aspect of existence is not a thing nor ‘information’ about the thing but the interactions between things.
Interactivity then, is the fundament we need to support in order to support our own ability to actively ‘be’ in the world.
Marshall McLuhan said: The alphabet was one thing when applied to clay or stone, and quite another when set down on light papyrus.* This is because writing is as much about the substrate the lines of text are drawn on, as the lines themselves.
To author a document means to make decisions as to what will be in the document and what will be left out. Documents are framed human intentions.
It is not enough to design ever-flowing database environments, though that is important to do as well.
What we do need to do however, while augmenting the author’s ability to frame a point of view, is augment the readers ability to look at the point of view in as flexible and powerful ways as possible.
The above introduction attempts to lay out why I feel text is important and thus poses the question of what I am doing about raising awareness of the potential of text and actually realising some of this potential. The answer is the Future of Text Symposium and the Liquid | Author word processor:
The Future of Text Symposium
I started The Future of Text because I feel very strongly about the potential for interactive text to augment our ability to communicate with each other and to understand our world. I have been fortunate to get to know Doug Engelbart well, and of course I am hugely influenced by his work.
“I honestly think that you are the first person I know that is expressing the kind of appreciation for the special role which IT can (no, will) play in reshaping the way we can symbolize basic concepts to elevate further the power that conditioned humans can derive from their genetic sensory, perceptual and cognitive capabilities.”
If we can make text deeply interactive, if we can provide interactions for even the most minor spark in the reader’s mind - if we can provide interactions that become so natural to the reader that there won’t be a decision necessary, if we can let the reader access any aspect of a text, then we will open up doors to our perceptions so far beyond what text on paper has been able to provide that we are not just talking about a new media - we are talking about new ways of being. This may sound like hyperbole but this is the promise of hypertext, as defined so long ago by Ted Nelson as “Non-sequential writing with free user movement”
This is one major aspiration for The Future of Text, but the symposium is by design very open, with pretty much any aspect of text open for discussion. Previous topics have included the design of the letterforms, the history of writing, art projects and collaboration aspects. The symposium is not designed to only inform, it is not designed to compete with TED, it is intended to inspire through cross-pollination of ideas, hence the 10 min presentation and 10 min dialog format.
I hope you can join us: thefutureoftext.org
The Liquid | Author Project
The Liquid | Author Project is my other push to give us new ways to interact with text. It’s a very small project, not open source yet but scheduled to be so when the code is mature enough.
Author is focused primarily at augmenting student-teacher interaction through papers with improved citations. It is available for OS X and iOS for free, with a small In-App-Upgrade to support the project should you so wish. Comments and feedback for Author is greatly appreciated: liquid.info
London, May 2016