Levente Seláf (2007)
Hallgatói Információs Központ
The Electronic Turn : Changes in Textual Structure.
It has been a commonplace for nearly two decades now, that the shift between the old ways of writing and the new, electronic-based ones has a lot of serious theoretical and practical consequences. We already know a lot about the specialities of working with a word processor, producing materials for a multimedia CD-ROM and being connected to the endless textual universe of the Internet.
Most discussion on the impact of that shift has focused on issues like the fate of linear narrative, changing notions of authorship, readership, copyright and so on. Quite rarely the electronic text becomes a topic for philological investigations, although more and more knowledge gets represented only or mainly in that form. In this paper I would like to concentrate on the text itself and to raise some questions from the point of view of the philologist, which are generally left out of consideration. I will try to take a closer look at electronic texts, list some important features of them and make conclusions about their philological status.
One of the essential differences between printed and electronic texts is visible for the first glance, namely the first is visible, while the last entirely not. I have my lecture here with me in two written forms : One in print, which I can transform here and now to speech without any problem. The other in electronic, on a floppy disk. To achieve the same result with that one, I would have to realise a sequence of complicated actions in connection to a computer.
There is no information per se, every human product of culture has it’s own vehicle transporting it. But there are differences about how mediated these communication systems are. To read a traditional book we have to use only our eyes. To view a film recorded on a videocassette we have to use also a videoplayer and a television. The case of electronic texts is the same, only even more complicated. To have an e-text properly appearing I have to have the right version of the right word processor for the right operating system on the right computer-hardware. The printed text was in front of our faces ; to make an e-text readable we need a set of interfaces.
In the age of printing «texts» are standing side by side on a bookshelf. They are visible and touchable, they have a physical reality perceivable directly. Electronic texts are lying somewhere hidden on a hard disk of a computer. They are somehow similar to elementary particles. We have never really seen them, we know about their existence only indirectly : making the same experiment with them they react in the same way (except of some word processors made by worldwide multinational companies).
The importance of this change is that the evidence of the visible text was the base of any philological discussion. It is a kind of commonplace, that the birth of the humanities is strongly connected to the appearing of literacy, when different parts of texts became comparable. In the case of electronic literacy one can never be assured, whether the text read by him is the proper form of it, or it is modified by one of the interfaces used. While a specimen of a printed book seems to be «given» for once and all, an electronic text changes its faces from platform to platform.