Posted by: soniahs | August 30, 2010

Exam reading: “Electronic literature”

N. Katherine Hayles has studies a number of issues related to human-technology interaction, including ideas about consciousness, technological determinism, and the physical experience of technology use. In “Electronic Literature,” she explores said genres as a set of metaphors for her earlier work:

Summary: In this book, Hayles builds a case for electronic literature (e-lit) being a metaphor for modern human-computer interactions. She begins by outlining the current diversity in e-lit genres, and discusses the importance of interpreting e-lit while keeping in mind both print and new media theories. She discusses three major ways e-lit reflects on HCI. First, it foregrounds “dynamic hierarchies” (feedback/feedforward systems that tie together objects into dynamic hierarchies) and “fluid analogies” (flexible algorithms that structure interactions), both of which inform her interpretation of how consciousness arises (other key concepts: recursive loops, adaptive systems). Second, it supports her interpretation of where agency resides in HCI (thus, what our framework for study should be). She rejects both technological determinism (e.g., media determine what we can/can’t do) and purely human embodiment (e.g., tools are only important in how they affect the human body), and instead argues that agency is distributed among both humans and their tools. Third, e-lit helps us explore the interactions between the conscious mind and bodily knowledge; it “revalues computational practice” and foregrounds how human agency interacts with nonhuman agents.

Comments: I’m glossing over the many specific examples Hayles uses from e-lit to support her arguments (book comes with a CD with several examples). I have problems with two big arguments on a scientific basis (given, these are not my areas of expertise): the definition of cognition that calls current attempts at AI “aware” (more of a philosophical issue), and the equation of brain plasticity and the ability to learn with genetically heritable change (this is a bigger issue for me, and supports her assertion that tool use has shaped human evolution- my understanding is that this is lacking in empirical evidence at this point).

Links to: McGann (HCI); Manovich (transcoding-multiple layers of meaning); Norman (knowledge of the mind and of the body)



  1. […] to: Hayles (hypertext literature); Ong (writing systems and […]


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