A new definition of roles

1 Leave a comment on paragraph 1 0 During last weeks, I was reading Alan Liu’s “From Reading to Social Computing” as part of the requirement of our class and I was struck by a passage in his essay that I found very interesting to define one of the most important change the DH environment is producing into the literature field.

2 Leave a comment on paragraph 2 0 Alan Liu briefly sketches the shift from Web 1.0 towards Web 2.0, passing through what he defines as “Web 1.5”, and he underlines the change in the roles of author and reader (creator and receiver of the information) that this transformation has produced. The Web 1.0 was indeed very similar to the previous experience of traditional reading, employing an electronic support instead of the paper: there was a well specified author, who transmitted a well defined information to a passive audience. This was a vertical transmission of information, produced by someone who was recognized as author, a term derived by the Latin auctoritas (authority): all the readers recognize this specific role, and accept their condition of passive receiver of the information the author is providing them because they need this information (if they don’t, they will not read it). Quoting from Alan Liu’s essay,

3 Leave a comment on paragraph 3 0 there was no actual crossing on the early Web between the roles of author and reader, because the information delivery system partitioned those roles from each other, leaving any change in the reading act quarantined at the reader’s station. The reader was newly hyperactive, but at best such hyperactivity was authorship at one remove from what was really happening on the server. It was simulated authorship.

4 Leave a comment on paragraph 4 0 As I pointed out, the reader was now allowed only a minimal interaction, and the two roles of author and reader remained clearly separated. They started to interact more actively with the “Web 1.5”, a definition provided by Liu to define this intermediate level between Web 1.0 and 2.0. This intermediary step begun in 1995, after “the Internet data backbone went commercial” and companies took advantage of this to provide new instruments for money transactions. As Liu pointed out,

5 Leave a comment on paragraph 5 0 readers used their version of Web forms (advanced search forms, “shopping cart” pages, and so on) to transact bidirectionally with that database, reading from the database but also writing to the database. After all, online commerce sites wanted customers to write in credit card numbers, mailing addresses, product reviews, and so on. In effect, the range of the reader’s agency expanded to the server at the halfway point between author and reader.

6 Leave a comment on paragraph 6 0 Considering the two roles of author and reader, the revolution in their interaction and reciprocal position was brought by the so-called Web 2.0, which finally swithces form a vertical (or semi-vertical) transmission of the information to a circular one. Quoting, one more time, Alan Liu,

7 Leave a comment on paragraph 7 0 Why not give readers Web-input pages similar to those used by authors so that they can write more fluently into the identical database, thus effectively allowing readers to become prolific commentators and actual coauthors?

8 Leave a comment on paragraph 8 0 I found very interesting this idea of establishing a “co-authorship”, but I found interesting also a different point of view, expressed by the user Humanity Harrell in the comment to the passage just quoted, which I read in the electronic version of Liu’s essay (the possibility to post live comments to essay and other readings is a fundamental characteristic of the digital humanities). Indeed, this user disagrees with Liu on the base of the “ability to comment”: for Humanity Harrell,

9 Leave a comment on paragraph 9 0 the ability to comment does not produce co-authorship, because the role is still established. The authority of the author is still regarded above the interactive reader/user even within the website formatting. Web 2.0 just allowed a forum for discussion and increased interactivity but did not usurp the authorship role completely as he seems to suggest.

10 Leave a comment on paragraph 10 0 He proposes different ‘genres’ of Web-based text as more focused on this co-authorship:

11 Leave a comment on paragraph 11 0 A wiki however, is closer to true co-authorship because users are indistinguishable from authors from a Web-page presentation […] and because in more recent wikis, privileged users can actually edit website code itself. MLA commons, like a blog, attempts a similar process by incorporating comments into the readers experience of a text but only increases interactivity while maintaining Web 2.0’s roles. Therefore, I would distinguish Web 2.0 as the blogs or interactive sites and I would regard wiki-based platforms as the new paradigm or Web 3.0 because it allows users access to truer co-authorship by making these binary roles indistinguishable.

12 Leave a comment on paragraph 12 0 As a scholar of literature, I disagree here with both Liu and Humanity Harrell. I think that the digital environment is indeed producing a change not limited only to the forms of writing and reading (it is not simply a matter of wikis and posts, compared with comments and e-commerce), but to the entire paradigm of transmission of information. Alan Liu is focusing on the products of this transformation, which – in my opinion – has to be considered through an olistic point of view. New tools have been created because new ways of information transmission are required; and new ways of transmission are required because the new information system around us needs a paritarian division of roles where everyone could be at the same time author and reader, active and passive. And, in my opinion, this necessity is due to the general system whose the exchange of information is just a simple part: in a certain sense, everything – to be transmitted and consumed in a digital way – has to be considered as information. It has to be inserted in a fluid, dynamic stream, where everything has to be quickly consumed and – if considered interesting – re-inserted in the endless stream of dynamic movement. For this reason, a schematic division between authors and readers is not usefull: it would maintain strong borders between two roles that, in the new paradigm of digital contemporaneity, needs insted to be continually mixed and exchanged.

13 Leave a comment on paragraph 13 0 This, of course, will bring to a dramatic change in the production of ‘objects’ to be read, which will lose their ‘aura’ (to use a key term in Walter Benjamin’s considerations of modern art and literature) in order to be more accessible. If this will definitely change the status of literature is not yet known and impossible to define now.


Source: https://dhpraxisfall16.commons.gc.cuny.edu/2016/10/13/a-new-definition-of-roles/

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