The Value of Literature in Digital Medium


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I don’t find myself uninvolved reading an old ragged and faded book with the literary work printed on it. The pleasure of reading the printed literary texts specially without any distraction is limitless. I grew up visiting the community libraries and have mostly enjoyed reading the printed material until I discovered the power of electronic texts in the recent years of my life. While print was only the method to express the literary work in the past due to its limiting nature of medium, the electronic format has broken the barriers by making it possible for writers to communicate and express more effectively. The blend of text and multimedia in electronic format can certainly carry the value of literature by forming the creative combination of art and messaging. In fact, digital literature subsumed with technology such as multimedia can be more persuasive and effective to readers than the ordinary print format with only letters and words inked on it.

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“Trailing Clouds of Glory” is a print poem that was published in 2012 by Indian American poet Vijay Seshadri. In his poem, Seshadri seeks to mention about his earliest experiences in America as an immigrant. The form of story-telling in the poetry is maintained by structuring the poem in a single stanza. He does not let his feelings get in the way of his narration making him an impartial observer. He uses the metaphor by referring the border patrol as the angel with the flaming sword. He notes the power of this ‘angel’ to wave some people in and wave away others as if to separate goats from sheep. Seshadri notes that the border is not fixed, and it is up to the men with binoculars to decide which side of the border you are on. He does not offer more insight on the border patrol process but moves to a current situation where he notes an undocumented family that did not have a worry on the train with him headed to Manhattan. By moving from his story to theirs, he seems to be laying ground about what the future of an immigrant is where the first experiences show what they think of America and the family depicts years later.

The poem comes at an interesting time capturing immigration as a theme which is a topic that has been hotly discussed by the US government. While it would have been easier for Seshadri to make the poem more emotional, he makes us question border security and the depiction of the American dream. And seeing that this is not a new problem in the country, rather than leap to insane measures to prevent immigrants from crossing over, it would be easier to understand what brings them in the first place and help them come up with their dream which they can take pride in. Seshadri however just observes and does not tell us where he thinks there is a problem or what he thinks is the solution.

It was tough for me to grab the intent behind the creation of e-poem “The Great Migration” by Jason Edward Lewis until I installed the app and interacted with this poem using my cell phone. The e-poem is a combination of texts and moving visual images portrayed on a screen. The words clustered together form an image of a sperm and by use of repetition as well as varying speeds we can see the urgency of the ‘sperms’. The movement of objects on the screen with blue background can be perceived as if they are swimming in the water. The visual indication provided by the movement of sperm-like projectiles on the screen can be interpreted a race for survival where the rest of the sperms veer off and only one is able to make its way for the fertilization.

Some word clusters are in three sentences while others are in two sentences, therefore, giving it a structure of the poems we are familiar with by making us relate these clusters to stanzas. We can, therefore, say that the structure of this poem has multiple stanzas of two to three verses. Lewis, therefore, gives us a familiar thing in an unfamiliar territory, convincing us that the words are not just random and that this is actually a poem like any other just served on a different medium. However, owing to the fact that this is a new medium and we can easily get distracted by the moving words or fascinated by it all and concentrate on other things other than the message, repetition is used to make it possible for the reader to catch up with the words without feeling the need to pause or worse still, having a fear of being left behind.

The poem talks about migration from the very basics during conception and illustrates that life is a continuous journey and everyone has their own path to take. The journey is also meant to change us just as sperms start out as many but only one survives and it does so by fertilizing an egg and therefore changing completely. We each have our own journey to take and we need not worry about the journey of our friends. Ultimately, the hat is important is to embrace our journey and be ready for change when the time comes. This message comes at a great time when things are rapidly changing and people trying to imitate others to see if they will be in the same luck.

In my opinion, I would term this experimental art as it is poetry embracing a new form. This innovative visual interaction with texts and poetry to communicate ideas is different from what is known and seems to have no rules but is more of an experiment of sorts to see if people resonate with the material they are being given and whether this method is effective in communication. To make it simpler to understand, the poet uses a lot of repetition and short sentences to ensure he does not lose his audience.

While the migration from print to non-print digital media is definitely something to consider, the experience becomes fully controlled by the creator with the reader having limited options. Print media allows the reader to imagine and interpret things based on their own knowledge and experiences and paint new pictures in their minds. Non-print media, however, through the subtexts communicates a lot and is able to dictate how we interpret the material. For example, Lewis, through the speed of the moving text clusters, dictated the pace of the poem since one had to read faster in some instances. Shehadri had less control over this and I could read the poem as I deemed best.

Non-print media allows for a different user interaction experience. In Lewis’ poem, we see that it is possible to interact with the words on the screen by tapping them and moving them to a different direction. With print media, the most one could do was flip a page or highlight words. This experience then makes the reader feel as if the words have literally come to life and sparks curiosity as the actions on the words have different effects to the other words. The reader, therefore, becomes a co-creator of his experience and his art through these interactions. These interactions with the words can be seen as a distraction from the key message such that one may be fascinated by this experience and forget to consume the poetry as they play around with the words on-screen.

Previously, e-poems would have been described as audio-books or poems on a blogpost making the interaction experience different. With audio-poems, the reader becomes a listener and the reader can manipulate the message by how they choose to read varying the tone and pace while the reader would have read it differently. Blogs, on the other hand, facilitate interaction with the poet and imposing a laziness of sorts to think as the author can now write and interpret what they meant to say (Muhammad & Womack, 2015). However, Lewis’ form of e-poetry is interesting as it sits so close to the print poems with no audio and visual is not incorporated through images such as photographs or video but rather, using words hence the reader’s creativity is not heavily influenced by the poet, leaving it open to interpretation as it is with print media.

Lewis also seems aware of the fact that the concentration span of people is shorter and although he uses visual interactive media, he makes the poem short and simple. The poem can also be easily understood using the first glance at the screen. Just by the images of the clusters of words arranged to form sperms swimming across the screen, the reader knows that ‘The Great Migration’ speaks to the journey of reproduction at first glance. This is similar to print media whereby the first sentence has to spark an interest and communicate to the reader. It is for this reason, Shehadri begins by stating that he is an immigrant something that makes the reader curious to know what he is talking about.

Literature is demystified using such mediums for e-poetry and this could be more effective if created While Lewis makes sure that he does not try and incorporate other media such as audio and video, the visual images of sperms created by the words make one interpret the poem in a limiting manner whereas if it were written as plain words, one would have been at will to wander as they had wished in response to the words they read. Poetry is therefore made simple and limited probabilities hence fewer speculations on the different meanings derived from the work of art. Art, therefore, becomes objective using such mediums as opposed to subjective and as a result, one cannot learn from it a great deal since they are unable to interpret the art from their perspective.

In conclusion, the change to non-print media is inevitable. As with every change, there are ups and downs. While the structure of the poetry may still be in stanzas, the visuals communicate more powerfully and the subtexts limit the creative approach that opens readers to various interpretations of an artwork. Readers and creators alike will now have to work within the new structures created by the experimental art and test their boundaries doing as they please in what they think will help them communicate effectively.

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