Convergent Devices, Dissonant Genres: Tracking the “Future” of Electronic Literature on the iPad on Prezi
I just got back from my first time presenting at the Electronic Literature Organization conference. My presentation looked at the emerging tablet platforms (particularly the iPad), where the future of the book is being touted even as most apps either imitate the physical text or begin to converge with possibilities from games and animations. With Microsoft and Google joining the tablet game, these devices seem to be here to stay, and perhaps through them some of the potential of electronic literature will be realized. I saw a number of interesting iPad projects that are promising for the tablet’s future, including Alan Bigelow’s Last Words and Jody Zellen’s app experiments.
Here are a few of the boundaries that iPad electronic literature apps begin to play with–and will hopefully continue to push at:
- Exploration through touch – The touchscreen’s directness allows for conscious manipulation, and a hands-on approach to storytelling elements that can offer responsiveness well beyond the current model of triggering animation or sound. Strange Rain offers a model of this, although the form of interaction is fairly constant.
- Adaptive and transformative interfaces – The gesture-based system of the iPad means that no set pattern of buttons, keys, or input needs to be defined: the interface can continually change, not only to imitate past interfaces or other media from a telephone rotary dial to the flipping of pages, but to extended tactile experiences beyond simulation.
- Intimacy of digital experience – The form factor of the iPad and other tablets allows for a shared reading experience and directness, along with an integration of the tablet into a range of environments. The shift of the screen from the laptop profile to the form of a notepad or book changes the relationship with the medium.
- Breaking outside the page – Scott McCloud’s concept of the infinite canvas was a reminder that a screen serves as a window, not a sequence of slides or pages. A few apps have played with this concept on the iPad (most notably Meanwhile), but there is still room for thinking about storytelling through the iPad’s portal.
- Layering of narrative and content – Strange Rain plays with the layering of narrative through the downpour of raindrops, while interactive picture books hide animated easter eggs behind illustrations. These dimensions can take on even greater depths, with human emotions and the networks of relationships of ideas and people all waiting for new representations.
- Incorporation of meaningful interactivity -The side-by-side existence of books with games is already resulting in hybrids, though often with shallow integration such as Toy Story‘s parachuting Army Men mini-game. The ability to flow between reading, watching, probing and playing is eased by the interface and by the expectations associated with the device’s inherent convergence.
- Mainstreaming of electronic literature – The popularity of works such as the Alice iPad app suggests an interest in the future of the book’s novelty. However, current apps deliver too much of the familiar, and experimental apps are hard to find among the app store’s rote categories. There’s room for a new category of work on the iPad, driven by artistic and experimental texts, to truly probe at the future-seeking claims behind the platform.
A few more of my thoughts on this topic can be found in some of my CC2K Future Fragments columns: