Future of Text
The power of digital text is often alluded to but rarely put front and centre in our discourse about what is going on in the world today and in the future.
From propaganda tweets heard around the globe faster than truth can catch up† and barrages of foreign 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 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 to enlighten, to subvert or to obscure – to enlighten with knowledge, wisdom or insight, to subvert an election and to obscure knowledge through pure 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–digital text holds real, untapped potential because of its inherent interactivity.
We have a choice: We can 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 dialog with people of different perspectives and the development of experimental text-integration 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.
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 dialog to emerge.
The FTI is an institute 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. This includes hosting and recording dialog in our Journal (of which The Future of Text, below, the major event) and building software Projects to explore opportunities and share what we learn openly, of which the Journal itself is a core software project.