The Fluid Page

Posted by on Feb 21, 2014 in Code, Digital Scholarship | No Comments


Deep Surface presents an interesting experiment in page design. It is a project, built by artist Stewart Moulthrop, that  seeks to explore what the reading experience would look like if  the page–imagined here as both the page of a book and a webpage–were constructed of “some pliable fluid, like water, so that we could dive gradually from one plane of presentation to the next.” Readers are encouraged to “dive” into the page to encounter different pieces of texts, as well as different presentations of text (static text, text that moves across the page, etc.). Readers are free to plumb the depths of the page, skim the surface, and/or float freely between the two. The only constraint introduced into the experience is the need for air. Readers must come up to the surface though out the reading experience to refill their lungs, once you run out of air you cannot continue reading.

I thought this project was interesting because it explicitly seeks to invoke the roaming and zooming reading experience that Piper (2012) describes as features of the digital page, but in a slightly twisted manner. Rather than a topological or surface metaphor, Moulthrop uses notions of water to play with depth and to create a more affective experience of the digital page. While reading, I got the sensation of falling deeper, felt the excitement of exploring new areas, and always felt a little lost along the way–as if I were  indeed exploring murky depths of a body of water.  Such an exploratory experience did help foster what felt like a new kind of reading practice, which I found very interesting. However, what I found lacking was the ability to pull the text together to develop meaning, or create some kind of order. Deep Surface does not present information in the kind of sequential pathway that Piper argues is so central to “successful reading interfaces” (p. 60). As a result, I found it difficult to know what information the page was presenting. Consequently I find it difficult to call this project particularly successful if reading is the ultimate goal. Although I can intellectually appreciate the kind of experimentation that goes into a project like this,  I suppose I am very much locked into that medieval mode page design and of information presentation. I would be interested in finding other projects that explored the affective potential of the digital page while also maintaining the ability to synthesize and understand the text to create meaning.

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