Reinventing literacy, one byte at a time

If you have nothing else to do today, here’s some suggested Sunday reading. This week’s NYT magazine features Wired‘s Kevin Kelley on the recession of textual literacy and the invention and spread of visual literacy. Kelley argues that the coming phase in tech development are programs that read will visual content the same way computers now read text, meaning that in a few years, we’ll be able to parse visual data through both text and images. An example of this would be using keywords or tags to find a specific scene in a movie, or if you’re looking for a particular element in a image, tapping into a database (like flickr) that conducts searches through visual cues.

Needless to say, this will make Where’s Waldo way less fun.

For an earlier appraisal of the rise of digital literacy, I just started reading this book on the MIT Media Lab, which is dated but decent and offers an late ’80s overview of the the transformation of media culture. It’s a bit weird to read about the prospects of email (1 billion messages sent by 1988!) and think about VCRs as cutting edge technology, but regardless, it’s interesting to see how people were thinking about these things in the pre-Youtube era. Something to mull over: according to the author, by the mid 70s, 1 in 5 words were being transmitted via screen rather than text. While it’s in high relief now, our second so-called Gutenberg Revolution has been a long time coming.

And now for something completely different…

A BBC Newsnight mini-documentary on Nabokov’s final unpublished novel, The Original Of Laura, which Dmitri Nabokov — son of the late master of literature and lepidoptry — recently decided to release against his father’s wishes. The decision came after months of heated debate — particularly between Nabokov the Younger and one Slate reporter — and will be edited and on shelves by next year. Up until now, the novel has been locked away in a vault in Switzerland, and à la Pale Fire, is currently in the form of index cards. Aside from Nabokov’s son, only two scholars have seen the manuscript, which is rumored to be both the most experimental thing he’s written and also a late supplement to Lolita.

Here’s Dmitri, in true Nabokovian style, on the novel’s premise: “It’s basically the story of a brilliant neurologist who is hopelessly fat, tormented by his young wife, who is hopelessly promiscuous.” Better make your way through 2666 before this takes its place as assigned reading on the F train.


~ by Jessica on November 23, 2008.

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