Tom Sherman on Sun, 27 Feb 2000 18:08:13 +0100 (CET)

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People don't have the time to contemplate a text anymore.  They figure
they know how to read and want texts that deliver their contents quickly,
directly, efficiently.  They want to read texts the way a laser-scanner
reads bar code.  They want texts to have a single, fixed message that jumps
off the page at first reading.  Today complex, circuitous texts are either
considered to be unresolved or written by sadists.  Texts that are
difficult and unyielding are perceived to be alphanumeric torture

Reading used to be seeing and thinking.  The text object was rigidly
fixed, like a drawing, placed in waiting for someone to stumble upon it,
to pour over it, to decode it with multiple passes.  The reader would
potentially lock onto the cluster of words and sentences and scan them for
meaning, eyes passing back and forth in silence, line after line in a
groove, while the reader's thinking emerged as a whisper, the recovered
sounds of the author thinking, literally in a transference of utterances
coming from the back of the throat to the tip of the tongue.  Often one
begun reading silently but ended up reading outloud, in an essential
multi-sensory representation, the image AND sound of a text.  Text was
thus absorbed by the body, entering the mind through the eyes, and ending
up with a flick of the tongue.  The disembodied words, deposited in the
out-of-body text, found a new home for the length of time the reader's
body and mind was occupied.

But now a text is rarely left behind to stand alone.  Sure there is
literature.  Serious books.  Volumes of text to escape within.  But text
outside literature must now be contextualized by image, either still or
photographic, or by moving images.  Television and video, and now the
computer networks that feature so much text today, networks that will
ultimately deliver television and video, are peppered with text.  Moving
image demands explicit text, text as data, as informative texture.

Cinema, the movies, like the live stage before it, is a text-free zone.  
The script is brought to life by actors, but other than the title
sequences and credits, written text is as scarce in movies as photographs
are in novels.  But in television and video, audiences are expected to,
and seem to enjoy reading texts set against the flow of moving, changing,
continuously updated images combined with and enhanced by sound and music
and voice.  Reading texts within the context or flow of moving images and
sound is now preferable to reading, contemplating stand-alone, fixed,
black-on-white text.

We were once expected to approach texts for information.  We would forage
until we found something of interest, become still and read.  Then
television and video captured our stationary, contemplative time, and
pushed us back into ourselves.  As our bodies were transfixed into our
reading postures, television and video and alphanumeric text was poured
into us.  First we were moving to and through the information.  Then the
information was moving through us.

As this fundamental change occurred, where the information was aggressively
fired at and through the reader, the text no longer carried the thoughts
of a distant author.  Text was no longer an object of thought left behind
by an author for an audience.  The text of television and video (and
digital multimedia) was written explicitly for the audience, to seduce and
influence an audience in mind and body.  It catered to the audience.  
Texts were written to help the audience negotiate the multimedia
environment of moving images, sounds and music and voice and data.  Text
in this context had to be explicit and functional.  It must be as clear
and unambiguous as bar code, scannable in an instant and absolutely

Tom Sherman

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