Archive for October 11th, 2009

My most recent attempt to create a visual artefact uses Flickr and is called Attachments. I’m happier with it than I have been with the videos or the PDF in spite of my reservations about its personal content.

Yeoman 046
I’m trying to explore some of the characteristics of digital texts that Merchant identifies.

Merchant argues that the production and consumption of digital texts is very different to that of print-based texts. He lists the following characteristics:

  1. A move from the fixed to the fluid: the text is no longer contained between the covers or by the limits of the page.
  2. Texts become interwoven in more complex ways through the use of hyperlinks.
  3. Texts can be easily revised, updated, added to and appended.
  4. Genres borrow freely, hybridise and mutate.
  5. Texts can become collaborative and multivocal, with replies, links, posted comments and borrowing – the roles of readers and writers overlap.
  6. Reading and writing paths are often non-linear.
  7. Texts become more densely multimodal (as multimedia allows for a rich interplay of modes).
  8. Roles of readers and writers overlap.
  9. The communicative space is shared and location diminishes in significance as the local fuses with the global.
  10. The impression of co-presence and synchronous engagement increases.
  11. Boundaries begin to blur (work/leisure; public/private; serious/frivolous).(Merchant 2007: 243)

I think I agree with Merchant on these characteristics but with a couple of biggish reservations.

Firstly, because digital texts can do all these things (e.g. enable collaborative authoring, revision, blur generic boundaries etc.) does it mean that this is how they are actually being used? In essence, is Merchant describing actual manifestations of digital texts or suggesting some of the directions digital texts might possibly take?

Secondly, I think that on a more sophisticated level, printed texts (books) have never been contained by their physical limitations and have always been interwoven and multivocal. Here’s Michel Foucault and Roland Barthes ( I should probably cite Julia Kristeva too) on this:

The frontiers of a book are never clear-cut: beyond the title, the first lines and the last full stop, beyond its internal configuration and its autonomous form, it is caught up in a system of references to other books, other texts, other sentences: it is a node within a network… The book is not simply the object that one holds in one’s hands… Its unity is variable and relative. (Foucault 1974: 23)

[text is] … woven entirely with citations, references, echoes, cultural languages (what language is not?) antecedent or contemporary, which cut across it through and through in a vast stereophony. The intertextual in which every text is held, it itself being the text-between of another text, is not to be confused with some origin of the text: to try to find the ’sources’, the ‘influences’ of a work, is to fall in with the myth of filiation; the citations which go to make up a text are anonymous, untraceable, and yet already read: they are quotations without inverted commas (Barthes 1977: 160)

Do digital texts reveal more explictly the ways in which all texts are constructed? Is the really fantastic thing about digital texts the ways they expose how all texts are produced?


Barthes, R. (1977). Image – Music – Text. London : Fontana.

Foucault, M. (1974). The Archaeology of Knowledge. London: Tavistock.

Merchant, G. (2007). Mind the Gap(s): discourses and discontinity in digital literacies. E-Learning, 4(3): 241-255

I’ve been having a go at doing visual artefacts this week: a couple of rough videos – one made on my iPhone another on my Mac from iPhone pictures; a makingsenseofimages PDF on a Flickr photo and I’m also going to have a go at Prezi (a tool I already dislike).

It made me realise that I’m not very good at the visual. I think I’m not a ‘visual person’. Before anyone jumps on me for naive essentialism, I want to say that I think being a ‘visual person’ is something that gets developed – or not – over time.  Here’s an illustration one of my contacts in our Faculty of Art, Design and Architecture  did in 30 mins to use in the publicity materials for the then new digitisation service:

book flight medium

I thought it was a pretty neat  visual explanation of the service – pages of a book taking flight like birds. It made me think of the Craig Raine poem about the ‘Caxtons’ – an association that reinforces my perception of myself as someone happier making things with words than with images.

I’m going to have to block in some time to summarise and comment on some of the interesting reflections that have emerged as a result of our MSc Twitter experiment.

There have been a few comments about 140 characters being insufficient. I wonder if this isn’t missing the point of Twitter though? Maybe Twitter’s strength is the way it enables what I’m going to call “ambient collegiality”.

This idea is partially based on Leisa Reichelt’s notion of ambient intimacy:

Ambient intimacy is about being able to keep in touch with people with a level of regularity and intimacy that you wouldn’t usually have access to, because time and space conspire to make it impossible. Flickr lets me see what friends are eating for lunch, how they’ve redecorated their bedroom, their latest haircut. Twitter tells me when they’re hungry, what technology is currently frustrating them, who they’re having drinks with tonight. (Reichelt 2007)

More recently, Guy Merchant has contested the view that Twitter’s function is only phatic and coined the phrase ‘ambient sociablity’:

Ambience seems to catch the sense of lightweight contact that typifies microblogging, and sociability leaves it open to both the level of friendship and the sort of exchanges that are transacted. (Merchant 2009)

In the context of a course like this, or of my use of Twitter for professional networking, I like the idea of ambient collegiality: being able to know what my peers are reading, writing about, reflecting on in nearly-now, almost real-time. They can share conference calls for papers, invitations for project funding, jobs, new software, relevant news. It’s a distributed senior common room without coffee.


Merchant, G. (2009). Ambient sociability. My Vedana. Retrieved May 20, 2009, from

Reichelt, L. (2007). Ambient Intimacy. Disambiguity. Retrieved October 8 2009, from