Spark Gap: Digital Language, Interstitial User

Critical Writing
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Abstract (in English): 

Private reading practices and public spaces collide at the mobile browser, and this interactive installation imagines a browser that amplifies the intimate co-presence of its readers. In an ambient immersive environment, it asks if an interface could become more expressive of our influence on each other, and it embodies how language slips from one screen to another in an always shifting hybrid of reading-writing. 

Users join a public reading area equipped with a row of iPads, each opened to an experimental web browser. The darkened gallery combines the interstitial nature of the public waiting room with the intimacy of a bedroom, and the illumination from each screen invites digital eavesdropping and attention to fellow users. Upon browsing, each reader witnesses other readers' touch behaviors layered in colorful, ephemeral trails on their own screen as they browse. Fragments of text tapped by their neighbors float over their own reading choices, interceding in their chosen narratives, both as alteration of the reading experience and also as reminder that their reading behaviors are written elsewhere. In addition to the in-app display, the program collects these text fragments from all readers into an accumulating archive and conceptual poem, written collaboratively and programmatically. This shared composition is made publicly available on site, as the performance of digital reading becomes an act of writing in an era when every action becomes data. 

Language has always been about that spark gap of transmission from one mind to another. This work explores how digital reading negotiates the gap between readers as we share anonymous physical proximity but diffuse digital intimacy, plumbing the tensions alive in the intersections of reading–writing, physical–digital, self–other. The work directly engages ELO conference themes including "mobile technologies' effect on writing and reading habits" as well as considerations of screens and presence. 

The paper draws on interdisciplinary scholarship from media studies and classics, cognitive science and design research, to explore cultural and historical contexts for digital reading practices that ground the considerations of the installation. It argues that digital reading environments contribute to a more fragmented experience of subjectivity, one that reflects an existing social ecology which technology should be used to emphasize.

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Chiara Agostinelli