“Electronic literature, generally considered to exclude print literature that has been digitized, is by contrast “digital born,” a first-generation digital object created on a computer and (usually) meant to be read on a computer. “(Hayles) In other words, it is still print literature but it is modified to become electronic literature by computer programs. With digital technologies, electronic literature thoroughly integrated with printing literature to make new inputs to literature field nowadays. “Shy Boy” is great example for electronic literature and it is a poem that is created by computer with digital production. “Shy Boy” was very early production for Thom Swiss. Collaborating people underneath poems is his work but he’s not a programmer; he’s a language person. He tried to put a team of people to work on single pieces or group of pieces. For “Shy boy”, he used to capture the ideas, which were inside of his head, then he contacted to one designer and one editor. At this point, they worked as the team as combined all their pieces of work together to make new production. Also, “Shy Boy” had soft music that got along with the video and the way that the words were disappearing and appearing. “Electronic text remains distinct from print in that it literally cannot be accessed until it is performed by properly executed code. The immediacy of code to the text’s performance is fundamental to understanding electronic literature, especially to appreciating its specificity as a literary and technical production” (Hayles). With the print literature, we can’t have this process that make the document is more interesting like electronic literature.
Shy Boy by Thom Swiss is engaging. It is engageing because it manages to pull you in with the dull horns in the background and the falling text accentuated by grey and black elements. While this could also be seen in an old fashioned hard bound book, what cannot be reproduced on a physical page is the way the text moves and fades in and out. The music in the background is also unique to E-Lit. Although you could play music on a separate device while you read, in order for it to be considered E-Lit the device and source of the text must be the one and the same. All of this, the sound, the text decorations, and the massive amount of white space helps make the story more dramatic, just as Hayles said. another way that one could guess that Shy Boy is electronic literature is in the source code. If you use Firefox you can look at the page source and see that both HTML and Flash were used to create Shy Boy. In a book the poem wouldn’t make any sense if it were surrounded by HTML code. In fact it would make it very difficult to pick and chose what is actually the poem and what is in the code. Not only would HTML make it difficult to read in a book, cut the addition of Flash makes it impossible. The inclusion of Flash brings the Shy Boy story to life in a way it could never be in print.
Shy Boy is not print. Shy Boy is most definitely born digital. Katherine Hayles describes literature that is born digital as a “first generation digital object created on a computer and (usually) meant to be read on a computer” (1). Hayles also states that electronic text simply cannot be accessed without “running code” (3). It will never be the same in the form of print because the story was designed to be read on a computer with special effects and audio playing in the background. The same experience could certainly not have been achieved via print. The story takes advantage of the computer’s capabilities with sound, fading words, and various animations keep the story alive. Personally, I found the story entertaining. It would certainly not have not been the same if I read the same script on paper. The music playing in the background shows the emotions. The fading text really shows how much the shy boy wants to vanish. And the animations keep me awake. Shy Boy was a little fast paced, but I actually wanted to keep up with the story line to see what would come next. A book does not do that. You would have to read at your own pace, and put a little more effort to imagine what the shy little boy is going through. The digital experience of Shy Boy was without a doubt a work of electronic literature that was literally born digitally.
Hayles describes “digital born,” as a “first generation digital object created on a computer and usually meant to be read on a computer” (1). The poem, “Shy Boy”, was created using a computer and can only be fully viewed using computer “capabilities” (Hayles 1). “Shy Boy” uses motion, fading colors, and animation to create certain feelings and experiences for the reader. One would not be able to experience the fading of the words, if the poem was a print document. However, by using the animation capability of the computer, the reader is able to experience fading words and associate it with the feeling the shy boy is experiencing, his need to vanish. Furthermore, the motion of the text is not something the reader would be able to experience with a print version. The motion creates an urgency to keep up with the story. The print version would allow the readers to move at their own pace throughout the poem. “Shy Boy,” is a digital born medium that takes advantage of the technological capabilities of computers, while creating interactions between the medium and text. However, as Hayles describes “Shy Boy,” still encompasses the “traditional modes of understanding language,” while being digital (3). Furthermore, the digital work requires code that print work does not need. By using HTML and other programs offered by computers to create work, “Shy Boy,” is truly a digital born piece. Furthermore, it cannot be accessed without “running the code” (Hayles 3).
Of the three electronic literature pieces that I viewed, I would have to say that Ad Verbum would be the one I choose to evaluate. First of all, Ad Verbum is a piece of interactive fiction (Par. 10) that relies on word play and other strategies in order to beat. This work is classified as interactive fiction because of it’s high reliance on it’s game element in order to progress the story. This work is not one that relies on art but rather narrative (Par. 10). This piece is a prime example of digital born work. Hayles claims that ““Unlike a print book, electronic text literally cannot be accessed without running the code. Critics and scholars of digital art and literature should therefore properly consider the source code to be part of the work, a position underscored by authors who embed in the code information or interpretive comments crucial to understanding the work.” In this case, Ad Verbum would not be able to run without the use of code and if it could be used with code, it could not be fully utilized i.e. one would not be able to experience this work fully without being digital, “a first-generation digital object created on a computer and meant to be read on a computer”. Ad Verbum itself was created on a computer and must be experienced as such. This piece of interactive fiction is a digital-born work because of it’s reliance on the digital aspect of it’s nature.
Not only is it literature but it is also digital art because of the way it is presented. You not only read the poem about a Shy Boy and how he see and feels about himself but see a visual representation of the emotional state he is trying to convey. What makes this digitally born is that the authors would not have been able to present it in this particular way without its origins starting in the digital world.
Being a bit of a geek myself I always look at the source code of web sites that interest me so I can see how they did it. One of the first things that I noticed was that the code used was very minimal. I was expecting to see a huge amount but it is ten lines of code. The active part of the poem, a .swf file that is used for vector graphics, is stored on their server and does not activate until a user clicks on the ‘enter’ link.
As stated in Hayles’ Electronic Literature: What is it? In chapter three part of the genetic material to be born digitally is to have code embedded and part of the interpretation process. We read this in paragraph six:
“Unlike a print book, electronic text literally cannot be accessed without running the code. Critics and scholars of digital art and literature should therefore properly consider the source code to be part of the work, a position underscored by authors who embed in the code information or interpretive comments crucial to understanding the work.”
Audra Mann | @WSUVcollegeMom