Camille Utterback's response

Camille Utterback's response

2004-11-05

Camille Utterback figures the mouse click as weakly interactive.

Our interaction with digitally represented information ranges from more passive “path-picking” or navigating activities to more active “mark-making” or authoring activities. Strickland’s “moving through” paradigm for interaction describes forms of engaged reading and attention-shifting made accessible by hyperlinked media. The metaphor of “moving through me while I move,” however, leaves out the more active types of interactivity encompassed by role-playing, world-building, communicating, and creating - modes of interactivity where users’ own mark-making is a primary activity. While Strickland initially claims that “`move through me as I move’ is as much the `voice’ of a hypertext as it is of the writer/encoder,” her examples, with the exception of Jim Andrews’ Nio piece, leave the user in a position of a focus-shifting reader/viewer, not in the position of speaker or mark-maker. While the stenographer’s ability to shift her focus as information moves through her seems an apt metaphor for the examples Strickland cites, there is no correlate in her examples to the stenographer’s tape - to the stenographer’s ability to leave a record of her work.

The pieces Strickland cites by Memmott, Rosenberg, Mez, and herself all require participation from the reader as they click on links, try to operate written “appliances,” or engage in deciphering a complicated interplay between the visual and written. In Memmott or Rosenberg’s work, the user’s actions are exploratory as they try to learn the effect of their decisions. In Strickland’s work, one learns to “find one’s way” through the composition - never knowing the effect of clicking on a particular link until that path has been explored. Strickland spends much time discussing how the authors she cites craft the oscillation between the visual and written in their works, but Nio is the only example where the users can actively and intentionally determine the arrangement of the elements for themselves. Nio is the only example that provides users with the tools to create their own compositions. While Nio does not give users the opportunity to create their own unique marks, it does provides cumulative, if temporary, visual evidence of the user’s decisions as they rearrange and combine predefined elements.

Mark-making is not an essential element of an interactive work, but it seems a necessary component for a stenographic model of interactivity. The marks left by a real stenographer are, in fact, the main purpose of her toils. She makes marks so that information can be conveyed between individuals, so that information can be passed on and communicated. The stenographer may also leave unintentional marks - the smudge of the ink on her tape, the accidental drip of coffee. Both the intentional and accidental mark-making abilities of the real stenographer contrast the purely navigational role of the user in most hyperlinked journeys through digital media.

Intentional mark-making is often an active product of creativity, but unintentional mark-making is at the very least a sign of our human presence. Our presence in the real world leaves scuff marks and wears down edges. When our interactions with digital space provide us neither a way to make marks, nor to leave casual evidence of our passing, how can our travels affect the experience of others that come after us? How does one find the well-trodden paths? Where are the grease stains on the most loved pages? Even our casual marks communicate meaning. The lack of these marks in the digital realm informs much of what feels sterile about our travels there. Part of what catches the stenographer’s attention is precisely the unintentional.

If the stenographer is our model of interactivity, her physical situation should also be examined. Impulses may be flowing through the stenographer’s nerves as she translates and encodes, but when does she get to get up out of her chair and move? Can she walk out of the office and start to dance? Can she ever move with or against another body? Strickland’s “move through me as I move” paradigm relies on the idea of motion, but it is important to note that the physical movement of the stenographer - or of the user in her examples - at best consists of her fingers typing and clicking.

As we develop new systems and tools for interaction, there will certainly be room for many modes of interactivity. Navigational, mark-making, and physically engaged forms of interaction should all be explored. Amongst these many possibilities, Strickland’s paradigm, while poetically voiced, describes a predominantly navigational mode of interaction. Physically, the examples cited are all limited to an engaged viewer/reader sitting at a monitor and making choices via a mouse. My hope is that our visions for interactivity will extend to include more complex forms of engagement for the user, and more actively involve our bodies.

Rita Raley responds

Stephanie Strickland responds