Critical reflection on digital literature experiences – Part B

What makes a good digital text ?

colour illustration two boys in bush

© Gary Crew 1994

The ubiquity of innovative digital technologies has not only given rise to new developments of narrative forms, or redefined what it means to engage and read texts (Hateley, 2013, Lamb, 201; Walsh, 2013). It also raises the question of how various digital platforms and interfaces ‘…protect an imaginative, continuous and deep reading experience’ (James & de Kock, 2013). A good digital text then is able to not only fully utilise the affordances of digital technology, but to also protect this imaginative, continuous state that is the immersive reading experience through a considered, sensitive digitisation of the text. The use of hypertext or hypermedia which does not complement the intention of the narrative intrudes and detracts from this experience. This failure also to enhance, extend or transform the digital reading experience equally prevents rich interactions between the reader and the narrative.

Digital text or print text ?

As a consumer of both print and digital literature I have come to appreciate the uniqueness, potentiality and limitations of each ‘platform’ to deliver a reading experience which protects and extends imaginative, deep engagement with narratives (Yokota & Teale, 2014). On the one hand, digital texts offer me an agentive reading experience where I am able to engage with the text and narrative in a non-linear way. I am not limited to progressing by moving in a linear way to the next page. This agentive experience means I can create my own meanings with the narrative and explore the text according to my interests. The Our Choice app provided me with this altered, immersive reading experience by providing me with the opportunity to interact with graphics, audio, video and the author when and how I wanted. Being able to navigate the text via thumbnails at the bottom of the screen provided me as the reader with the added benefit of structure.

On the other hand, the online version of The Watertower by Gary Crew with illustrations by Steven Woolman did not protect this ‘… imaginative, continuous, deep reading experience’ (ibid). As a lover of picture books, I own a print copy of this text and love the experience of examining Woolman’s illustration. It is the same rich, experience I enjoy reading and engaging with Grahame Base’s intricate illustrations or Oliver Jeffers humourous characters. A digitised version of these texts fail to provide the tactile experience of lingering over, touching and examining an illustration that I appreciate.

While digitised versions of text provide access and interaction ‘anywhere, anytime’, there is also the important issues of matching the platform (medium) with the narrative (message) (McLuhan, 1964). An illustrated picture book, together with text is the message. Often the illustrations themselves may deliver an alternate message or extend the message of the text.To digitise this text involves not only protecting the message, but to consider whether the platform (medium) is able to provide additional functions to support the reader’s experience. To merely substitute a print format with an electronic format falls short of not only failing to transform the experience, but to also ignore the intention of the original work as in the case of The Watertower, where the experience of the narrative is driven by Woolman’s illustrations which provide added layers of mood through line and colour.

Part of my dissatisfaction may also rest with the differences between engaging with an app on the iPad and reading a text online. The iPad’s screen and page turning navigation mimics physical page turning of print texts and the physical form approximates and aligns with engaging with print formats (Hately, 2013, p.7).

So, what makes a good digital text.?

In my beginning is my end. T.S. Eliot, Four Quartets

A good digital text is one that not only protects the imaginative, continuous and deep reading experience, but also is able to match the platform with the medium.

References

Crew, G. (1994). The Watertower (S.Woolman, Illus.). in2Era Publications. Retrieved from http://www.in2era.com.au/products/eerie-tales-online/items/the-watertower.

Gore, A. (2011) Our choice [App]. Rodale Inc., Melcher media, Push Pop Press. Available from http://pushpoppress.com/ourchoice/

Hateley, E. Reading: From Turning the Page to Touching the Screen. In Y. Wu, K. Mallan and R. McGillis (eds.), (Re)imagining the world: Children’s literature’s response to Changing Times. Heidelberg: Springer-Verlag. Doi: 10.1007/978-3-642-36760-1_1

James, R. & de Kock. (2013). The Digital David and the Gutenberg Goliath: The Rise of the ‘Enhanced ‘ e-book. English Academy Review: South African Journal of English Studies, 30(1), 107-123.

Lamb, A. (2011). Transmedia Universe. Learning & Leading with Technology, November.

McLuhan, M. The message is the medium. Retrieved http://web.mit.edu/allanmc/www/mcluhan.mediummessage.pdf

Pressman, J. (n.d. ). Navigating electronic literature. New Horizons for the Literary:Essays. Retrieved http://newhorizons.eliterature.org/essay.php@id=14.html

Walsh, M. (2013). In L. McDonald (Ed.), A Literature companion for teachers (pp.181-194). Marrickville, NSW: Primary English teaching Association Australia (PETAA).

Yokota, J. & Teale, W.H. Picture books and the digital world: Educators making informed choices. The Reading Teacher, 67(8), 577-585.

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