The life of text online – each word makes sense on its own, yet what an odd concept to grapple with. We talk about stories coming alive, we are thirsty for narratives in books or films, but our interaction is from creator to receiver. In reading articles like Audrey Watters’ Un-Annotated or Brent Plate’s Marginalia and Its Disruptions, I realized that this world of “interaction with and shaping of the text” was entirely new to me. To better portray my shock, I need to give two examples that define my behaviour: I have loved books so much ever since I was a child, I considered leaving a mark, any mark of any sort, to be… like, the eighth Cardinal Sin. I particularly ached when I saw ear-marking as a substitute for a purchased or self-made bookmark. I eventually found a more sane balance in university, when I found highlighting and annotating to save me time. I actually enjoyed it for the first time, to leave commentary that I could then review at a later time.
This is pre-social media.
Then, similarly, online commentary for me has been incredibly scarce (mostly due to my scarce time) and always of a positive nature. I mean, you know what they say, “if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say it at all.” For example, I follow my artist friend’s journey because I purchased a piece from her over Etsy. We’ve never met in person but we’ve become close through our appreciation for the art. She’s also American so it’s been highly educational to compare the fate of art and artists in Canada vs the US. So coming from this perspective, I am naturally bewildered by the vast amounts of negative or trolling commentary. I just don’t know when people have the time, really, and that’s what horrifies me – how many people devote time to this kind of interaction.
Coming from this perspective, I just think that a writer does indeed have the right to define who comments, and moreover, to carefully review and curate what kind of “life” is given to their text. This sounds extreme but to soften the perspective, I have to say that I also believe this to be context-based. The kinds of magazines that I enjoy reading, like Discover, National Geographic and The New Yorker, they have geeky readers like me that engage in super interesting commentary. Sometimes it’s fun just scrolling down past the article to read a few thoughts or debates, they’re equally “alive” and entertaining.
However, Watters’ writing on the vast amount of “threats of sexualized violence” had me contemplate on the purpose of texts online. Many years ago, I read this moving piece on the initial purpose of “the online world” versus what it has ended up being over time. A review of the development of Internet is this article but the article I read was in a magazine (Google and I tried our best but to no avail). Long story short, the view of scientists was positive and uplifting, this world of resources, knowledge, and limitless interaction of global proportions – but over the decades, it’s exploded into this universe of galaxies near and far, where so much ugliness and uselessness has crept up (like porn and trafficking and such tragic things).
So yes, sometimes, audiences could do with some parameters and limitations in their online socialization over a text. Some texts online can be “alive and well” just on their own, without any trolling or #pwning or whatever you may call it. Some texts can do just fine being left alone.