This paper argues that new mobile reading platforms in general are altering conceptions of literary space in highly conflicted ways, by radically expanding the sites where narratives can be accessed and experienced even as they reinforce a residual notion of literary reading as a sedentary and decontextualized experience.
By: Brian Greenspan, Carleton University
Article published in Digital Humanities Quarterly, Summer 2011, Volume 5, Number 3.
Locative technologies hold out the promise to transform literary space in all of its dimensions, including its represented spaces, reading interfaces, and the very spaces within which literature is produced and consumed. Yet, despite the growing use of location-based technologies, authors and readers alike have been slow to take to site-specific narrative due to limitations inherent in both the current design of locative media systems and our received notions of what constitutes the narrative experience.
This paper argues that new mobile reading platforms in general are altering conceptions of literary space in highly conflicted ways, by radically expanding the sites where narratives can be accessed and experienced even as they reinforce a residual notion of literary reading as a sedentary and decontextualized experience. Locative media likewise hold out the promise of increased mobility and contextual awareness, but confront several cultural and technological factors preventing such an enhanced emplacement of narrative, factors that current performance-oriented approaches cannot fully address. At the level of cognitive engagement, the conditioned expectation of being “transported” to a remote fictional world interferes with readers’ appreciation of the locative narrative’s close ties to the real world, as well as the contextual effects it elicits by means of transportation through the actual world. At the technical level, the discontinuous algorithms of place that inform the architecture of most locative media systems hinder the perception of narrative patterning and flow across more extensive spaces.
Locative media thus operationalize the spatial tension between conventionally sedentary modes of literary engagement and new modalities of mobility, a tension that is constitutive of our present mediality. The study concludes with a discussion of StoryTrek, a next-generation locative hypernarrative system designed to enable more complex, dynamic and fluid modes of embodied narrative spatiality. By encouraging the user to actively form complex narrative links between real and fictional spaces, StoryTrek enables utopian forms of spatial play that neutralize both the spatial limitations of current locative media design and the sedentary reading practices that continue to structure the experience of digital literature.