What is the future of reading? Has the age of print come to an end? Are books going to disappear any time soon and be replaced by the likes of blogs, games, Tweets and Facebook narratives? As curators of this exhibition, we ask these provocative questions deliberately to echo the concerns of today’s publishing industry and some of the moral panic surrounding digital culture. We do not think that the exhibits presented in this show will ever replace the conventional print novel, short story, or poem. Instead, we want to show how recent forms of experimental writing use digital technologies to enable new ways of reading, which complement and sometimes challenge more established media like books, films, and videogames.
Present-day literacy involves so much more than reading text. In our contemporary media-saturated, digital culture, we must ‘read’ multiple modes of representation (e.g. image, sound, film, hyperlink, hashtag) and also understand how they work together to co-create meaning. We are constantly bombarded with new software releases, new websites, and new ways of communicating. We have to learn not only how to pick and choose from vast quantities of useful (and not so useful), reliable (and not so reliable), information, but we also have to adapt rapidly to new uses and forms of digital technology.
Participating in the digital revolution, creative writers are, as ever, experimenting with the new tools available to them. Writing with new media means experimenting with novel and alternative forms of expression, and the digital literary works that are the focus of this exhibition have emerged from these new creative possibilities. Digital literature is written for and read from a computer, and its structure, form, and meaning are dictated by the digital context in which it is produced and received. Rather than existing as a digital version of a print text, digital literature is “born digital” – that is, it would lose something if it were removed from the medium. Utilising the affordances of digital media, digital literature often contains hyperlinks, moving images, mini-games, or sound effects, and they all require that the reader interacts with them.
This exhibition traces the historical development of digital literature from experimental print precursors through to pre-web text-based forms and current web- and App-based incarnations. It includes Interactive Fictions (IFs) and electronic text adventure games, hypertext and hypermedia fictions, Flash fictions, kinetic poetry, and literary videogames. We invite you to interact with and enjoy the works for what they are: experimental, surprising, and thought‑provoking. You will probably find that some of them are far easier and far more enjoyable to ‘play’ and interact with than others. Some may give you a feeling of being lost in hyperspace; others may give you a sense of physical embodiment and immersion, of being an actual character in the storyworld. Some will feel like playing a game – others more like watching an animated film. We encourage you to explore the wide variety of literary creativity that has emerged in the wake of the digital age and consider where the future of reading may lie for you personally.
Dr. Alice Bell and Prof. Astrid Ensslin, October 2014