Hello, are you reading in your head?

Introduction

Inthefifthcenturytherewerenogapsbetweenwordsbecausepeople(mainlyreligiouspeople)justreadaloudandlistenedtowhatwaswritten.Readinginyourheadwasweird. Then there were gaps between words. And then (if not before) there were

paragraph breaks.

At some point there was the invention of the printing press, a montage of significant historical events and finally the Internet. Now we read and write mainly on computers and this technology is changing everything. But even before the web, ways of reading and writing were constantly changing and we were finding them strange and new.

As a design researcher, I'm interested in new and strange ways of reading and writing.

My PhD was about writing games that help small groups tell stories together. What is most important in a writing game: the game - the writing bit - or the story it produces - the reading bit?

Other projects I've worked on recently have looked at other aspects of reading and writing. Is there a better way to find a story you want to read? And how can you remind people to use libraries (for all the free books)?

- David Jackson, Storyjacker

Huh?

Mistakes and how to love them

Web app that captures your typos as art

'Lift Off'(1979) is a work by Charles Bernstein which I came across thanks to poet Kenneth Goldsmith in his book Uncreative Writing (2011).


The work is intended as a poem and is a transcript of the correction tape from Bernstein’s electronic typewriter. This makes it effectively an unabridged document of every word or letter he deleted over a particular period of time. Certain errors such as all-caps WHATEVER and potential typo Togather - ('together' or 'to gather'?) give us clues as to what he was writing but only in the form of what he deleted. Goldsmith says that what Bernstein is doing here is emphasising “the fragmentary nature of language”, that “the resultant text is a tissue of quotations drawn from a series of ghost writings” (Goldsmith 2012, p18). It is certainly both aesthetically and materially fragmentary, showing only glimpses of these other texts. However I would delve deeper and say that he is documenting through these errors a hidden aspect of his own writing process. In this sense, it is an intimate documentary that goes beyond the scope of the ghost writings it is surplus to. By shining a light on his slips of hand, of focus and of changes in intention, Lift Off shows us a way in which we can better understand what we do when we sit down to write

In response to Lift Off and a call for Mix Digital 2017, I started to think about what a digital writing page designed to highlight the path of this writer would look like. The following prototype shows what I have developed to date: Typoetics prototype (July 2017)

Creative writing multiplied by random

Experiment with random text generation

Piece about my random text generator for creative writers (V1 March 2017)

Randomly combining texts together is not a trick of the digital age. The Oulipo movement was sparked off by Raymond Queneau's One Hundred Thousand Billion Poems, originally a flipbook of ten sonnets cut so that each line could go with any other.


One of the many things that make the work interesting for writers and readers is the mixture of both intentional and unintentional semantics in the text. With over one hundred thousand billion poems to be made from Queneau's piece it is impossible to think that he meant for you to flip your way to any particular combination of lines, beyond the original ten sonnets. However through the poetics of the sonnet - line length, rhythm and rhyme - original compositions occur that seem as though they were specifically designed to be together:

'The gorgeous youth helps Hestia's heart unfreeze
and sniffs the smoke that sets his nose aglow
the Turk you see was deeply mired in sleaze
across the hillocks comes a steady blow ...'

A great affordance of the digital page is the ease with which text can be quickly manipulated and randomised. I've looked around for text generators when I want to mess around with text generation with students or for myself. And their are some good ones - like Orteil's - but none of them were quite simple enough.

So here's my random text generator for creative writers (V1 March 2017)

H
is Aitch

A text magnifier

I made something recently and I couldn’t explain why.

It’s a text parser that magnifies your words, turning each letter into its phonetic word. Like this:


It wasn’t until I began reading The End of Oulipo? by Lauren Elkin and Scott Esposito (2012) that I found a way thinking about it that made more sense to me. One concept the book dwells on is exhaustion as a creative process. Esposito reflects on Perec’s An Attempt to Exhaust a Place in Paris (1978) in which Perec visits the same place over three days with the stated intention of inventorying ‘that which is generally not taken note of, that which is not noticed.’ (Perec 1978: 3) He is using exhaustion to divert attention to something usually overlooked in normal writing processes, where the emphasis is automatically to find the grand narrative: the reason to tell your story. His method for creating the conditions for exhaustion was rule based. ‘Perec created complex formal systems that he would then attempt to exhaust’ (2012: 24) says Esposito. It was complete simply when it ‘[ran] out of space within the confines of its rules’ (2012: 25).

The magnification piece I made also attempts to divert attention away from the normal interpretations of text. It does this by exhausting our automatic semantic response to words and sentences.

For example...

  1. We write ‘Words mean something’ into the atomiser and it creates ‘uppercase double-u ow ar dee ess (space) em ee ay en (space) ess ow em ee tee aitch iy en gee’. The words are recognisably related to the sentence that they come from: meaning stretches the divide between the text and the implied text.


  2. We then atomise the ‘uppercase double-u ow...’ text to get the following:
    The original text is still discernible in some abstract respect - we relatively quickly perceive uppercase from ‘yoo pee pee ee ar cee ay ess ee’ which relates back the original casing of the word but now the idea of bothering to reading the words is a dull prospect.

  3. Finally, we put this text through the magnifier a third time and it becomes something altogether exhausting in both form (it is now very long) and semantic coherence (it would take a long time to unpick the meaning from it).

    However, if we read a few lines we get a chance to consider the fact of the the first word’s capitalisation in great detail:

    wye ow ow = yoo = u
    pee ee ee = pee = p
    pee ee ee = pee = p
    ee ee = ee = e
    ay ar = ar = r
    cee ee ee = cee = c
    ay wye = ay = a
    ee ess ess = ess = s
    ee ee = ee = e

    At this level of magnification our automatic processing of the syntax is slowed almost to a stop. The material of the original sentence is now the main subject of our reading, not its meaning. We notice both the repetitive nature of letters in words and their porousness, as other letters trickle in to describe their intricacies (e.g. the wye in ‘u’ or the double-u in ‘y’). And very soon, we the readers are exhausted by the text. It then is a relief to press the reverse button to be reassured that specificity still exists somewhere within it.

Herein lies the parallels with Perec’s notion of exhaustion. He uses the process to magnify all the small events in everyday life that are overlooked without tactical writing constraints. This piece magnifies the text itself so that we can consider it anatomically: specific details of meaning slowly recede and general semantic elements are brought to the front. The writer’s burden in this process is taken on by a machine. So it is up to the reader to exhaust the text.

Try the text magnifier (V1 August 2017)

Researching
story-writing games

2012-15 PhD research

How do you make a game that helps people to write stories together?

For my PhD thesis submission to the Manchester School of Art, I set out to answer this question and others. I developed two multiplayer games on my story-writing platform Storyjacker designed to encourage players to write meaningful stories in small groups. I followed an iterative design process, using playtesting with Manchester Metropolitan University students to inform development decisions along the way.

At the end of the research, a board of creative writing experts assessed the quality of stories produced to provide insight into how games could be used to create meaningful stories in future.

Go to the original Storyjacker website

Read a summary of my PhD research findings

Play Bamboo story game on the original Storyjacker website (3 players required)

Related presentations, seminars and publications

Showrooming Amazon: Borrow It extension

Storyjacker lab project

Borrow It is an idea that came about when I was asked to present at a workshop at University of Sheffield in July 2015. I came across research on the future of libraries produced by Arts Council England. It found that the general public now has very high expectation of online services provided by libraries, set by online media vendors, such as Amazon, iTunes and Google.


Amazon and other online vendors produce apps that encourage showrooming: review a book in a bricks-and-mortar shop then buy or subscribe for a lower price online.

But what about reviewing online then borrowing for nothing from a library?

The Borrow It extension finds the book title when you’re on Amazon.co.uk book pages and turns it into a book search result on Manchester Metropolitan Uni library's website.

I've worked with the Manchester Metropolitan University (MMU) libraries to fine tune the project to offer books to MMU students.

Download the extension for Chrome

Borrow It is currently a prototype. The next step is to turn it into a piece of software that public library borrowers can use. Making it work on other book related sites is also a goal of the project.

No cover to judge: DipIn reader app

Project 2014-2016

The DipIn mobile app is a story comparison tool currently in closed beta. It offers the reader two short text samples from the beginning of two different novels. The user reads both and chooses the one he likes best to learn more about that story. As the reader makes choices, the app learns about his taste to offer more appropriate story selections. If a reader likes a book he is reading, he can download samples or buy the book.

DipIn won an IC Tomorrow Books on the Move Contest for funding and partnership with the Publishers Association (The PA). Richard Mollet of The PA described the challenge as a way to find a new service ‘to capture the imagination of people who perhaps don’t read a great deal or perhaps don’t read at all and… be encouraged to read books.’

DipIn offers specific features targeted at changing the habits of casual readers and their attitudes to reading. Mainly by making it fun again with game-like features and making the process of starting to read a book easier with small samples.



Related presentations, seminars and publications