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Digital text as a phenomenon of culture

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Slides from the International Forum of the Faculty of Slavic Studies at the Sofia University “St. Kliment Ohridski” 2019 where I talked about how I saw digital text. First published at:

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Digital text as a phenomenon of culture

  1. 1. Digital Text as a Phenomenon of Culture Teodora Petkova International Forum of the Faculty of Slavic Studies at the Sofia University "St. Kliment Ohridski" 2019
  2. 2. What makes digital text different? I. Text-specific differences 1. Hypertext 2. Ease of publishing, distribution, access (search/retrieval) 3. Non-linearity, fragmentation 4. Potentially all kinds of containers (DNA included) II. Context-specific differences (where culture is a layer of meaning, adding context) 1. New situation (both communicational and one related to the human condition) 2. Algorithmic audiencesImage from Dokieli: rww#461819979
  3. 3. How does that difference manifest within our culture (of reading and writing)? ● New interpretative routes (cf. F. Rastier) ● Yet another layer in the fabrics of the multitextual animal (cf. B. Bogdanov) ● New ways of retrieving with text (semantic search) ● Liberature-type context
  4. 4. New Interpretative Routes
  5. 5. New Interpretative Routes I am a human I am not a robot Remember me
  6. 6. New Interpretative Routes: Poiesis* par excellence! (cf. Socrates/Via Heidegger) Plato tells us what this bringing is in a sentence from the Symposium (205b) [...] "Every occasion for whatever passes over and goes forward into presencing from that which is not presencing is poiesis, is bringing-forth"
  7. 7. New Interpretative Routes See:
  8. 8. Yet another layer (code) in the fabrics of the multitextual animal
  9. 9. Yet another layer (code) in the fabrics of the multitextual animal We can look at communication on the Web through the perspective of intertextuality (as a macrotext surrounding the texts we communicate by) and also through the work of algorithms that operate with texts on our behalf.
  10. 10. Yet another layer (code) in the fabrics of the multitextual animal Text exists by at least two layers on the Web: a human-readable one and a machine-processable one.
  11. 11. Yet another layer (code) in the fabrics of the multitextual animal On one hand, text exists in the context of the social and communicative fabrics of us, the multi textual beings. On the other hand, text resides in the context of the technological constructs that we recently began to use in order to communicate through them. Assemblages of formalized language, computational meaning and complex rules for expressing, transferring and decoding messages. The Two-Faced Digital Text
  12. 12. Speaking of formalized language...
  13. 13. The two-faced digital text is hard to understand and create. Processing text presents challenges at many levels, from handling character encodings to inferring meaning in the context of the world around us*. Our “new librarians” - the search engines are yet to tame levels like characters, morphemes, sentences, paragraphs, documents, corpora etc. [* cit. “Taming Text”]
  14. 14. New Ways of Working with Text
  15. 15. New Ways of Working with Text (Semantic) search of texts Image from: rch/graph
  16. 16. New Ways of Working with Text Simply said “automata” fetching texts around.
  17. 17. Liberature-type context
  18. 18. Liberature-type context ● Astounding amount of documents on the Web [The Indexed Web contains at least 5.29 billion pages (Sunday, 19 May, 2019).] ● Context collapse is a concept used by academics writing about the effects of social media. It refers to the infinite audience possible online as opposed to the limited groups a person normally interacts with face to face. ● Giant scale of inscribing words, thoughts and interactions on the Web’s tabula
  19. 19. Liberature-type context Everybody writes and reads on the Web, all around. This is how someone named a file with the image of the Sofia University.
  20. 20. Liberature- typecontext Codes overlap. There is no one “binge”, The way we perceive and represent transforms. In a recent share, a Bulgarian wrote that if you write and essay, you can enter a contest for X thing. And then people began writing the word essay (есе) under the share…. [ref. ]
  21. 21. Parallely to these collapsing codes of understanding and emerging codes of misunderstanding, are increasing number of digitized libraries - gems full of knowledge and semantic networks.
  22. 22. And that changes how we interact with text, how we hold our internal and external dialogues. The change takes place by a. A transformation in our culture of search and b. A transformation in the way we exchange, find and do things on and off the Web.
  23. 23. The Web Genie* is Set Free! ● More and more connected people (words and devices) ● Many-layered infrastructures of code and culture ● “Smart” searching and tagging ● We talk, understand and do in an open, collaborative way * “Web genie” is borrowed from the “Creative Web Writing”, p. 14
  24. 24. The Genie of the Dialogue We began to realize our interconnectedness on the Web and our responsibility for this share cyberspace - a giant corpus of texts and data, dialogues and deeds. Here are some examples of shared directions:: ● Contract for the Web ● A digital Humanities manifesto ● The Cluetrain Manifesto ● Data Values and Principles
  25. 25. Of course, as things go, paradoxically, many times the genie of the dialogue is locked in unreadable text formats...leaving OBSCURE traces of semiotic process (cf. Cf. “semiotic processes leave a physical trace or nevertheless leave a trace”, The New Writing Environment) Vesselina Valkanova 2/' 1(: 0(',$ 75$16)250$7,216 $1' 52/(6 2)&20081,&$7,21'(6,*1,17+(21/,1((19,5210(17 Äɇɹɦɚɧɨɜɢɢɫɬɚɪɢɦɟɞɢɢ ɫɚɦɨɢɧɫɬɪɭɦɟɧɬɢɫɤɨɢɬɨɞɚɪɚɡɤɚɡɜɚɲɩɨɞɨɛɪɟɢɫɬɨɪɢɢ ́ 1 7KH WXUEXOHQW GHYHORSPHQW RI PRELOH FRQVXPSWLRQ RI WKH ,QWHUQHW SRVHV VLJQL¿FDQW TXHVWLRQVWRHGLWRUVSXEOLVKHUVDQGGHVLJQHUVDERXWWKHIRUPV RIUHSUHVHQWDWLRQRIMRXUQDOLVWLF FRQWHQWDQGZKDWWUDQVIRUPDWLRQVRIFUHDWLRQDQGODRXWFDQEH 4977a47bf7db?tk=OEOmT_AYQsq2eUl3pHv32wAAAABcxWEz.kY3s2G3EQ1P8_9pVuo2nGw
  26. 26. Reminding us the the digital gap is not digital at all... We can’t even get to a shared understanding of how to cite… And this is not about technology or digitalization. It is about shared understanding and collaboration based ot common starting points.
  27. 27. One such starting point is the Digital Humanities manifesto a universe in which: a) print is no longer the exclusive or the normative medium in which knowledge is produced and/or disseminated; instead, print finds itself absorbed into new, multimedia configurations; and b) digital tools, techniques, and media have altered the production and dissemination of knowledge in the arts, human and social sciences. The Digital Humanities seeks to play an inaugural role with respect to a world in which, no longer the sole producers, stewards, and disseminators of knowledge or culture, universities are called upon to shape natively digital models of scholarly discourse for the newly emergent public spheres of the present era (the www, the blogosphere, digital libraries, etc.), to model excellence and innovation in these domains, and to facilitate the formation of networks of knowledge production, exchange, and dissemination that are, at once, global and local. Today, the universitas (universe of knowledge) has become far too vast, multilayered, and complex to be contained within the walls of any single institution, even one as broadly conceived as the university.
  28. 28. Digital text brings us into new dimensions of culture We are now to consider (and figure out) an ecology of digital being (and WRITING) on the Web. Image and thinking from: relationships/an-ecology-of-digital-being-of- sorts/
  29. 29. And before a simple choice: how to put thoughts into words (and code) on the Web One possible way forward is the understanding that digital text and its role in life are largely related to the realization of the interconnectivity, intertextuality and the living ecosystems - all moving parts of the text in the Web. Such awareness can help us recognize the responsibility and the possibility that digital text opens to us: ● to be part of a huge textual corpus, configured ad hoc by a dynamics of code and culture. ● to continue to be multitextual beings who also teach their "new librarians" what things (and texts) are, without letting words and worlds freeze into closed representation and absolute comprehension.
  30. 30. Thank you! Image: Chronotext, see: Email me at: or at :)