The Changing Spaces of Reading and Writing

Commentary 3 – text will remain

Hi everyone,

Hayles explains that sometime between 1995 and 1997 a shift in Web literature occurred: before 1995 hypertexts were primarily text based with “with navigation systems mostly confined to moving from one block of text to another (Hayles, 2003).”  Post 1997, Hayles states that  “electronic literature devises artistic strategies to create effects specific to electronic environments (2003).”

Bolter and Kress both contend that technology and text have fused into a single entity. That is, in the latter half of the 20th century, the visual representation of text has been transformed to include visual representations of pictures, graphics, and illustrations. Bolter states that “the late age of print is visual rather than linguistic . . . print and prose are undertaking to remediate static and moving images as they appear in photography, film, television and the computer (Bolter, 2001, p. 48)” Cyber magazines such as Mondo 2000 and WIRED are “aggressively remediating the visual style of television and digital media” with a “hectic, hypermediated style (Bolter, 2001, p. 51).” Kress notes that “the distinct cultural technologies for representation and for dissemination have become conflated—and not only in popular commonsense, so that the decline of the book has been seen as the decline of writing and vice versa (Kress, p.6).” In recent years, perhaps due to increased bandwidth, the WWW has had a much greater presence of multimedia such as pictures, video, games, and animations.  As a result, there is a noticeably less text than what appeared in the first web pages designed for Mosaic in 1993. Furthermore, the WWW is increasingly being inundated with advertisements.

Additionally, text and use of imagery is also evident in magazines that also use visual representations of pictures, graphics, and illustrations as visual aids to their texts. Tabloid magazines such as Cosmo, People, and FHM are filled with advertisements.  For example, the April 2008 edition of Vogue has a total of 378 pages.  Sixty-seven of these pages are dedicated to text, while 378 pages are full-page advertisements.

While there are increasingly more spaces, both in cyberspace and printed works, that contain much imagery and text, there still exist spaces that are, for the most part, text-based.  This is especially evident in academia.  For example, academic journals, whether online or printed, are still primarily text. Pictures, graphics, and illustrations are used almost exclusively to illustrate a concept and, to my knowledge, have not yet included video.  University texts and course-companions are primarily text as well.  Perhaps, as Bolter states, this is because “we still regard printed books and journals as the place to locate our most prestigious texts (Bolter, forthcoming).” However, if literature and humanistic scholarship continues to be printed, it could be further marginalized within our culture (ibid).

Despite there being a “breakout of the visual” in both print and electronic media, Bolter makes a very strong argument that, text can never being eliminated in the electronic form that it currently exists.  That is, all videos, images, animations, and virtual reality all exist on an underlying base of computer code.   What might happen instead is the “devaluation of writing in comparison with perceptual presentation (Bolter, forthcoming).” The World Wide Web is an example of this.  The WWW provides a space in which millions of authors can write their own opinions; Bolter is, in fact, doing this for his forthcoming publication “Degrees of Freedom”.  The difference between Bolter’s text and others is that he uses minimal use of imagery and relies almost entirely on his prose to convey they meaning of his writing.  Be that as it may, Bolter contends that the majority of WWW authors use videos and graphics to illustrate their words (forthcoming). Text will remain a large part of how we learn absorb and communicate information, however, “the verbal text must now struggle to assert its legitimacy in a space increasingly dominated by visual modes of representation (Bolter, forthcoming).”



Bolter, Jay David. (2001). Writing space: Computers, hypertext, and the remediation of print [2nd edition]. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.

Bolter, Jay David. (forthcoming). Degrees of Freedom. Retrieved November 28, 2009 from

Hayles, Katherine. (2003). Deeper into the Machine: The Future of Electronic Literature. Culture Machine. 5. Retrieved, August 2, 2009, from

Kress, G. (2005). Gains and losses: New forms of texts, knowledge, and learning Gunther Kress. Computers and Composition, 22(1), 5–22.

1 comment

1 Clare Roche { 11.29.09 at 3:07 pm }

Do you think that education will have to change to accomodate the visual?

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