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The Book

Narrative motors

  Eugenio Tisselli

 

When we experience narrations created in a digital environment, we
generally find a clear trend in which writers consider the computer as
a mere tool and not as a medium. Thinking about the computer as little
more than a rather sophisticated typewriter leads to tremendous
limitations: the resulting texts are not a reflection of the computer's
intrinsic qualities but just a continuation of the history of
mechanized writing. Nevertheless, new formats (and thus, new ways of
telling stories) come with new media, even if not necessarily new
themes. This text explores new ways of narrating by exploiting the
qualitative differences between computer and paper, both considered as
media.

The computer's keyboard as physical interface clearly follows the model
of the typewriter. In such machine, we face a series of univocal
processes: each time a key is pressed, the corresponding character is
printed on paper (the only possible variation comes from the binary
choice between upper or lower case). Furthermore, such processes
generate accumulation through repetition: a page is formed by many
letters, words and paragraphs; a piece is made up of pages.
A writer that is new to computers can feel related to them thanks to
the keyboard, which he or she has known for a long time. When this
happens, it is only logical that the writer approaches writing in the
same way it was done before, that is: accumulations of text are created
from an idea as a point of departure, only this time on a screen. It is
true that now correcting, copying and pasting can be done much more
easily, but the physical configuration of the keyboard as an interface
between the text-idea and what is written on the screen encourages a
way of working that is almost the same as working on a wooden desk. It
is necessary to look beyond what the keyboard suggests, and turn our
gaze towards the guts of the machine.

The mainstream operating systems usually follow the desktop metaphor.
We can find documents, folders, a recycle bin... we can suspect that
those who designed such interfaces (the keyboard as a physical
interface, the "desktop" as a logical interface) couldn't or wouldn't
leave behind the traditional ways of working and producing, and thus
reducing the computer's possibilities to a rather unstable mimic of
tools that already existed.

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