@MyDtcAccount – Jonathan Crabtree
For centuries, people have been writing books down on paper. Now, some authors are starting to create their work on computers. Creators have discovered that the technology now exists to be able to create a piece of art that the reader can actually interact with instead of just observing. Katherine Hayles describes something that is born digital as a “first generation digital object created on a computer and (usually) meant to be read on a computer” (1). This definition is fairly broad and generic but, in the case of the digitally born poem “Shy Boy,” object that are born digital usually implement some type of “running code,” which means that the experience is always changing for the user (3). Using “Shy Boy” as an example, this text is continuously appearing and then disappearing, forcing the reader to read at the pace that the author intended it to be read. This cannot happen with a print book, which, some may argue, is a good thing. The main point, however, is that electronic literature is different than print literature. “Shy Boy” also has soft music playing in the background, which is meant to enhance the reader’s experience. Music has been proven to evoke emotion, and that’s exactly what the author was going for when creating this poem. By making a sad story and then playing a “sad” piece of music behind it, the author is basically manipulating the reader’s emotions. By utilizing technology, people are creating pieces of art that can be enjoyed and interacted with, instead of simply absorbed.
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.
Shy Boy is poem created on a computer that has visual effects as well as words. This piece is an example of electronic literature. Katherine Hayles, the author of “Electronic Literature: What is it?” explains why this piece would not be considered print. Electronic literature is “a first-generation digital object created on a computer and (usually) meant to be read on a computer” (Hayles). This does not include pieces, such as word documents, were the work can be read in print. Shy Boy was created to be read on a computer because the words move and disappear. The movement of the words allows the reader to come closer to the overall meaning of the poem. The poem tells of the feelings of a shy boy. He wants to fade into the background and vanish. During Shy Boy, the word ‘vanish’ actually disappears, adding emphasis on the boy’s emotions. Shy Boy cannot be told the same way in a print version. The reader would not have the same experience with Shy Boy in just print, which is the author’s intention. This electronic literature piece was create by the author for the purpose of experiencing it on the computer. Electronic literature “challenges us to re-think our assumptions of what literature can do and be” (Hayles). Literature is no longer just print. Authors can have moving words, sound and moving images to better convey their message to the reader.
“Unlike a print book, electronic text literally cannot be accessed without running code” (Halyes). With this quote in mind, I feel that “Shy Boy” by Thomas Swiss is an accurate example a work that is “born digital.” There are many reasons why authors create digitally born works. In terms of “Shy Boy,” the reason is to evoke specific emotions. Swiss uses text animation such as fading and bold facing to set the immediate tone of the piece. The music that is used in the piece also affects the mood. Electronic literature like “Shy Boy” tends to break the mold of traditional still text such as a printed book or newspaper. By using text animation and sounds, electronic literature keeps the reader’s attention and connects with the reader more efficiently. The text in “Shy Boy” continues on with or without the reader and creates excitement. In a printed piece of literature, the plain text doesn’t ever movie or produce sound. It may provoke inner thought in emotion, but only if the reader continues to pay attention to the text. The reader’s mind can wander off at anytime and lose the connection. Electronic literature uses many tricks to keep your attention. For a piece of work to be labeled as “digitally born,” the work is created digitally. It cannot be reproduced in a physical form. That is another reason why “Shy Boy” is a great example. Electronic literature may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but I feel that it really allows the reader to connect to the piece of work.
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).
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
“”Literature” is a complex web of activities that includes much more than conventional images of writing and reading” (Hayles). This progressive idea of the term thus includes electronic literature like “Shy Boy” by Thomas Swiss. “Unlike a print book, electronic text literally cannot be accessed without running the code” (Halyes). In Swiss’ piece there is moving text and fading colors with an underlying musical tone that evokes emotions that wouldn’t otherwise be summoned if the poem had been written on a sheet of paper. Electronic literature is all about breaking the boundaries of traditional forms of communication and adding new levels of immediacy. “Shy Boy” progresses with or without the reader, causing a feeling of excitement as the code runs its course, presenting an emotional story that captures the reader’s attention and demand continuous thought. “Digital born” pieces of literature are defined by their inability to be reproduced in physical form. Electronic literature must be created digitally and must remain digital. Using a technological medium such as the computer screen “urges the user to not only look at the interface, but to actively participate in the communication…” (Looy and Baetens 10). “Shy Boy” does just that. Although it is a very short piece, it captures a universal human experience and incorporates neutral colors, muted music and fading text in order to present an story that could not otherwise be told if this literature was printed into a book or article. Electronic literature is all about experiences what cannot be had in the physical realm.