TabLit: Theorizing, Teaching and Preserving a Platform-Specific eLit

Abstract (in English): 

Tablet computers such as the iPad come with standard technological affordances that other computers such as laptops and desktops do not have as a default, such as touch screens, gyroscopes, and accelerometers. Their simplicity of design, consisting of a flat screen with no required peripherals (such as a mouse and keyboard), and their manipulability (they can be held in one hand, utilized assuming multiple bodily positions, held at different angles and in various distances from one’s face, and easily switched between portrait and landscape orientations) have opened new creative opportunities for multimedia authors. In doing so, ‘TabLit’ (or ‘AppLit’) has challenged scholars, teachers and preservationists of eLit to address the unique features of the platform which has enabled and shaped this body of work. This presentation represents a preliminary foray into delineating and foregrounding some of the key issues of tabLit from theoretical, instructional, and preservation and access perspectives, using four mobile-only works as case studies: Erik Loyer’s Strange Rain (2011), Semyon Polyakonskiy’s Maginary (2020), Tiger Style’s Spider: The Secret of Bryce Manor (2009), and Simogo’s DEVICE 6 (2013).
Tablet computers, in terms of technological design, are much closer than other computer types to an approximation of the book page. Although some works of appLit simulate the ‘turnable’ pages of the print book, others replace this navigation with page scrolling, and still others radically rethink the idea of ‘the page,’ requiring the development of a new poetics of the page. In large part due to the touch screen, two common design paradigms can be distinguished in the design of the tabLit page/screen: the indexical or digital instrument, which require requires skilled use of a finger (or fingers), and the frame and infinite page, where the tablet screen becomes a ‘moveable’ viewing window over a page that extends in multiple directions beyond this window.
In regard to teaching tabLit, this presentation will describe a pilot tablet lending program the author developed with his university library in order to ensure that tablet-based works assigned in a course (“Narrative in a Digital Age”) were accessible to students. It will outline some of the challenges this pilot faced, including students’ tablet/tabLit literacy and technological obsolescence. This last challenge offers a germane segue way into the final topic, preservation and access, which is (or should be) a key concern for both scholars and teachers of tabLit. Two current but far from optimal sites that address access (and, though this access, a form of preservation) will be discussed: the website and social media channels of the iOS game reviewer, App Unwrapper, and GameClub, a subscription service that enables access to a “library of iconic games,” created in response to the concern that “We’re losing the history of the App Store” (Eli Hodapp, 2019). To conclude, the presentation will survey how resources like the Electronic Literature Directory and the ELMCIP Knowledge Base are currently covering tabLit and suggest possible improvements.

Platforms referenced:

Title Developers Year initiated
Android 2008
iOS 2007
iPad 2010

ELO 2021: Platforms and Software 3, 27 May 2021

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Daniel Johannes...