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Partial Histories

We're back for the second day of ISEA2004 at Lume. Unfortunately I got here a little late (some good discussions on the tram and after with people from Sarai), so I think I might have missed a speaker or two of this session called "Uncovering Histories of Electronic Writing".

Currently speaking is Michael Mateas, before him (I believe) was Noah Wardrip-Fruin, one of the two editors of the New Media Reader. The other editor, Nick Montfort, will speak next. I missed part of Michael's talk, but he's mainly talking about some early AI projects (from computer-based ones like Eliza to robotic AI systems like Senster).

Now on to Nick Montfort - who isn't actually here, though! His paper is delivered in absentia by another speaker... Montfort begins by talking about early computing which didn't use screen-based output but rather continuous paper - this attempts to question the dominance of screen-based media. Early interaction systems were in fact paper-based, and in such cases even mixed (upper/lower) case output was seen as a luxury!

Speaking of systems like Eliza, this changed the nature of interaction - people would be able to read along as the sentence was printed, which meant that the conversation was more like spoken conversations where you don't quite know yet where your conversant's sentence might be going. On the other hand, paper-based interaction is obviously far less ephemeral than screen-based engagement.

Overal, then, Montfort speaks of an interface ecology which is complex (and continues to be so - witnessed by the work on mobile and tactile interfaces)...

Finally, on to Jill Walker, one of the foremost blog researchers and research bloggers today. She focusses on the timestamped nature of blogging - each and every post is usually identified by the time it was posted, and often also by who posted. Frequency, brevity, personality are the three key aspects of blogs, she says, and time is perhaps the most important factor here.

She refers to Copenhagen-based blogger Tinka who has experimented with removing these paratexts (date, author, etc.) from her blog entries - as a result Jill asks: what would the Net, or at least blogs, look without them? She now offers a brief history of timekeeping (from sundials to ancient calendars and almanacs; increasingly these also had a disciplining effect, too (sow your grains in the right season, go to church on Sundays, be on time for school, etc.). We even have timepieces as rewards for long service by employees! The upshot is that we feel guilty if we don't keep (to) the time...

So what happens if blogs enable the manipulation of timestamps? (She draws an analogy with letters here - which are usually also dated, as well as poststamped.) For example, there could be fake blogs - prewritten entries which are posted at set times, etc. But in an age of surveillance, can we truly escape time? (Actually, I've been considering changing timestamps of these entries to Estonian and Finnish time myself - decided against it since my body clock is still somewhere in mid-flight anyway...:-)

Further, blogs, RSS feeds, etc., privilege the prompt - if you miss a week's worth of material coming in via RSS, you're probably likely to skip it because it's not fresh any more. In fact, what's not new any more might be outdated and not worth reading anyway. Further, the experience of missing current content is itself fairly painful for some people now...

An interesting point from the ensuing discussion, by Noah Wardrip-Fruin: there's a difference in style, even genre, between live blogging, essayistic blogging, and link blogging.