Future of Text
The power of digital text is often alluded to but rarely put front and centre for study or improvement.
From propaganda tweets heard around the globe faster than truth can catch up† and barrages of bots swaying elections, to a virtual tsunami of academic research texts drowning knowledge and using the notion of ‘Fake News’ to dismiss whatever doesn’t fit ones narrative, the information discussed is largely in the form of digital text.
Text is visualised rhetoric and as such it is a form persuasion–text is seldom written without it’s function being to persuade the reader of it’s importance and truthfulness. As such, it carries vast potential to persuade in order to enlighten, to subvert or to obscure – to enlighten with knowledge, wisdom or insight, to subvert an election and to obscure knowledge through volume.
This is a case of the medium shaping the power of the message: A single sentence on a piece of paper does not hold the same power as a single sentence in a tweet and the ease of publishing vastly overpowers what was possible to print and read on paper.
The power of interactive digital text can be enormously powerful but so far we are mostly recipients of this power through passive means by simply adding to the flood of news, social media posts and academic ‘papers’ with little regard for how we can present it in the most useful way to be read. Digital text holds real, untapped potential because of its inherent interactivity and we have a choice: We can learn to control the vast sea of digital text or be controlled by it.
If we choose control, we need to ‘take’ control and this requires real effort; effort to better understand the attributes, or ‘nature’ of digital text and this will only be possible with dialogue with people of different perspectives and the development of experimental text-interaction software systems with clear goals of augmenting our ability to enlighten ourselves and others,while constraining the ability of the written word to subvert or obscure. The media tools we build to interact with our text is not neutral.
For decades players of video games have asked what capabilities new games can offer†. It's time knowledge workers are encouraged to ask the same question of their text software. It's time we break out of the paradigm of the printed page as Doug Engelbart introduced to the world.
Key to understanding and inventing the future is to engage in dialogue which is why we have been hosting the annual Future Text Symposium since 2001. The speakers and participants are of a diverse group, from typographers to authors, artists, coders, editors, teachers and beyond–a diversity seen as crucial for interesting dialogue to emerge:
We are developing an online blog journal called ‘jrnl’ based on WordPress which realises some of Doug Engelbart's ideas and will provide an increasingly rich interaction with the presentations and supporting media from the symposium as well as our own internal dialogue:
The Future Text Institute is being founded to research and develop text systems in an open way to augment our abilities to extract as much power out of digital text as possible: