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RW chap8

RW chap8

considerable strain by

considerable strain by dynamic text. 179 The problem is compounded by the fact that, in some applications (including the one illustrated in Figure 8.1), readers can annotate or change the author’s original text. Unless some way of attributing such changes to individuals is built into electronic text systems, this could suggest a bibliographer’s nightmare. Electronically delivered text focuses us on features of books and reading that we mostly take for granted, especially their physical nature. Garland (1982: 5) comments: ‘Whenever I rhapsodize about the opportunities presented by the electronic media, at the back of my mind I find myself thinking, “Yes, but a book is a book is a book. A reassuring, feel-the-weight, take- your-own-time kind of thing…”.’ And, as Kerr (1986) has pointed out, electronic text does not allow you to stick a finger between two pages while examining a third. The active reading strategies encouraged by educators (Chapter 4) assume that the text remains stable. Readers need to be able to build a mental map of the text as a physical object, in which headings, illustrations and other graphic features act as landmarks. It must also be asked whether the amount of information to view at any one time has an effect on our ability to understand complex arguments. In the 25 line display typical of current computers, there is a higher probability that the beginning or end of the sentence you are reading will be out of sight. 180 Benest & Morgan (1985) recently developed a prototype electronic text system that emulates traditional books. Readers are presented with realistically-sized ‘double-page spreads’ with shadows imitative of the bulk of a real book—the shadow is larger on the right-hand side at the beginning of the book, and larger on the left-hand side at the end. By 179 Writers conventionally treat texts as if they are static physical objects—to keep track of their linear arguments even the most ‘codified’ of prose has indexical features—words or phrases which point to some other part of the (static) text. References which point backwards, forwards or to the immediate textual environment are known, respectively, as anaphoric, cataphoric and deictic. 180 I have published a slightly fuller version of this argument elsewhere (Waller 1986). Chapter 8 • 261

touching a mid-point of the shadow, the book opens at that point, and single pages can by touching a dog-ear at the corner of the page. There is a potential in such a system for book-marks, note-taking, and all the traditional features of printed text, without losing sight of the extra electronic potential for on-line dictionaries, cross-referencing and easy up- dating. 181 Benest & Morgan’s system may be seen as an instance of the normal progress of new communication techniques, which often require a transitional period in which they imitate the old, and in which new expressive and interpretative techniques can gradually develop. For example early printed books imitated manuscripts, 182 and early film- makers used fixed cameras in imitation of the fixed viewpoint of the theatre audience. In a welcome contrast to some of the ‘literacy revolution’ theories already encountered, Hirsch (1967) suggests that ‘the transition from script to print was rarely dramatic…[it] was continuous and broken, and I venture to say that all great discoveries, all so-called new movements, harbor the same contrasting elements, continuity and radical change.’ (p. 1–2) Co-operative and uncooperative media It is arguable that the introduction of greater accessibility has had the effect of turning text from what Cherry (1966: 16) termed an uncooperative medium into a co-operative one. A spoken conversation is the archetypal co-operative medium, since the participants must agree on the topic, when to interrupt or give way, and when to finish. An unsegmented written text, on the other hand, gives the reader little option but to start at the beginning and continue reading until the end is reached—or to cope with the insecurity of random encounters. The greater 181 Burrill (1986) has also proposed a system that imitates a number of book-like features. 182 Smith (in press) suggests that this conservatism might be in part due to the fact that early printer’s copy often consisted not of an author’s draft, but a ‘published’ manuscript edition. Chapter 8 • 262

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