Review: D. Fox Harrell, Phantasmal Media, Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2013

"Expressive computing system developers can create digital stories, poems, or games in which aspects of content, such as theme, plot, emotional tone, metaphorical expression, or imagery, can vary improvisationally with user interaction...In addition to the new meanings generated in each new single session, new meanings emerge from the contrast between multiple readings or play sessions. These new meanings can be composed in response (discrete or continuous) to user interaction."" [1]

The creation of electronic literature, literary games, and content-intense interactive art involves a complex combining of content and code/authoring system, as well as a consideration of user interface and the ability to put it all together -- whether the writer's vision is to emphasize the constraints or to create a work where the constraints are not apparent to the reader. Print poets have thousands of years of lineage of the constraints of writing poetry and thus an inherent heightened ability to compose, whether intuitively or with deliberatively imposed constraints.

In contrast, although there is energy in this seemingly never-ending struggle, creators of new media must constantly rise above evolving technologies and look to the meaning of the work as a whole. To this end, for those who work on the fertile borders of content and code, Fox Harrell's Phantasmal Media is required reading.

In this fascinating book of shifting definitions, that in their very mutability illustrate an elusive concept, Harrell initially explores "phantasm", not only in new media but also in print, film, and music, pointing for instance to Akira Kurosawa's Rashomon, where "Meaning is constructed as a blend of the concrete knowledge that the event did take place and the shifting, conflicting reports given by the characters amid a cinematic forest scene dappled by shadow and light." [2]

Contingently, he illustrates the use of phantasm in new media with Chameleonia: Shadow Play, created in Harrell's Imagination, Computation, and Expression Laboratory (ICE Lab) at MIT. Inspired by W.E.B. Du Bois's definition of "double consciousness", Chameleonia responds to gestures and environment and in the process transforms a user's avatar, while at the same time the avatar's shadow mutates differently -- confronting the user with a virtual environment where an individual's self-conception is different from the way that individual is viewed by society.

As the book progresses through sections on "Subjective Computing", "Cultural Computing", and "Critical Computing", like the variety of works that are used to illustrate these concepts, the definition of "phantasm" is variable and elusive. But, to a certain extent, that is a point of Phantasmal Media, at least for this reader.

"The importance of the concept of the phantasm to challenge conventional understandings of human experience can be expressed by a simple observation - much of what humans experience is real is based upon the imagination." [3]

"Phantasms are products of the imagination that are constructed at the nexus between sensory-imagistic and conceptual thinking."[4]

"The concept of phantasmal media is inspired by the balance between orchestrated form, improvised chaos, and political forthrightness in Charles Mingus's compositions, such as "The Original Fables of Faubus..." [5]

Phantasmal Media, then, is a contingent companion to Michael Joyce's Of Two Minds: Hypertext Pedagogy and Poetics. (University of Michigan Press, 1995) Both are notable for fluid prose that conveys the meaning of its subject with the echoing of the language and/or structure of computer-mediated art/literature.

"Expressive epistemology design appreciates the possibilities of artists representing smaller-scale, individually subjective knowledge in ways that are amenable to generating striking, destabilizing, or otherwise expressive content. In other words, expressive epistemology design is about designing the ability of systems to prompt phantasms using data structures." [6]

D. Fox Harrell is Associate Professor of Digital Media in the Comparative Media Studies Program and Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory at MIT. Using interactivity, social critique, cross-cultural narrative, cognitive semantics, gaming, generative systems, and the social aspects of user-interface design, his work explores relationships between imaginative cognition and computation.

In Phantasmal Media, beginning with a review of his own path to interactive narrative -- in search of ways "to algorithmically retell stories from multicultural perspectives" -- Harrell credits the influence of Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man, which "weaves together profound social critique, experimentation with prose style and narrative structure, imaginative (even borderline science-fiction) events, and verbal imagery". [7]

As documented in his book, the process with which Harrell's own practice has evolved is of interest to fellow creators of new media narrative. For instance, named for West African storytellers who incorporate improvisation in their performances, Harrell's formative authoring system, GRIOT System, utilizes a combination of knowledge engineering, interactivity, and cultural identity, in conjunction with algebraic semiotics, Joseph Goguen's mathematical approach to meaning representation. In his chapter on "Expressive Epistemologies", Harrell describes in detail how GRIOT System generates "polymorphic" poems, such as "The Girl with Skin of Haints and Seraphs". And in the same chapter, he documents how subsequently the GRIOT System was used to create the Living Liberia Fabric, a multimedia memorial that utilizes an interface based on traditional West African Fabrics.

The relevance of Phantasmal Media to computer-mediated aesthetic systems resides in Harrell's exploration of concepts, such as the potential of computational media to explore identity in unprecedented ways; to offer the reader parallel immersive paths; to conceal these paths or reveal them at intervals; to construct layered narrative in unexplored ways. In this exploratory era -- as those of us who create and teach new media strive to fully understand each other's work -- the paths that Phantasmal Media provides to the understanding of the creation of computer-mediated art and literature are one of the approaches that distinguish this brilliant book.

Contingently, the importance of Phantasmal Media does not reside only in the examples of computer-mediated narrative with which Harrell illustrates this book. As is the user's prerogative in exploring new media, it resides also in the examples that we as scholars and practitioners ourselves imagine. For instance, to my mind came the search for the phantasmal Beast in Emily Short's Bronze; the language of classic-science fiction that pervades the metaphorical journey in Andrew Plotkin's Hoist Sail for the Heliopause and Home; the deftly woven telenovela-inspired narratives in Mark Marino's hyperfiction a show of hands; and the challenging cultural phantasms that underlie my polyphonic and generative hypertext epic, From Ireland with Letters.

Indeed, the very point of Phantasmal Media is the "reality" of differing imaginations. And Harrell's own definition of expressive epistemology design, (quoted to introduce this section) invites differing visions in the creation of electronic literature and computer games.


1. D. Fox Harrell, Phantasmal Media, Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2013. p. 53

2. Ibid. p. 25.

3. Ibid. p. 4.

4. Ibid. p. 32.

5. Ibid. The quote and its continuation are on p. 338.

6. Ibid. p 84.

7. Ibid. pp. xi-xii.

reviewed by Judy Malloy

Review: Judith Donath, The Social Machine, Designs for Living Online, Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2014

J udith Donath's The Social Machine sets forth a clear, elegant, and continually interesting approach to the design, interface, and pleasurable interaction of/with online social environments. With a focus on innovative interface and design, The Social Machine is also of interest to writers and artists, who are interested in issues of design and metaphor in the creation of interfaces for electronic literature and new media art.

In her words:

"The online world may evolve into an extraordinary new form of human society, where people make discoveries collectively, produce important works, and form friendships and other connections at a vastly unprecedented scale. But it is not there yet. Humans are fundamentally sensory and social beings: for the online world to achieve its promise, we need to design interfaces that work with how we see and respond to the world around us." [1]

Judith Donath is a Harvard Berkman Faculty Fellow and former director of the MIT Media Lab's Sociable Media Group. She is also an artist, whose work exploring aspects of social media has been shown internationally. In her Preface to The Social Machine, she credits the MIT Architecture Machine Group, ("ArcMac", the precursor of the Media Lab, where she began her graduate studies) for the genesis of the remarkable approaches to the social media environment that she sets forth in this book. At ArcMac, Donath was "immersed in a culture devoted to inventing technologies to transform how people think, learn and communicate." And many of the ideas in this book, she observes, spring from the ArcMac culture "...that emphasized the sensory experience of the computer interface, that it should not be a cramped read-out, but a fully inhabitable environment" [2]

The Social Machine utilizes Donath's work -- including work created in collaboration with students and colleagues -- to explore creative approaches to contemporary social media. For instance, Visual Who (1995) was inspired by a trip to Japan, where (when feeling isolated) she would run @who to see who was online at the lab back home.

To make @who more interesting, Donath eventually used data from the Lab mailing lists to construct an interactive, beautifully designed graphic interface that overlaps interests and identities and in the process creates a feeling of co-presence and community identity. Visual Who is thus an artist's interface for a community of friends and colleagues, and in this context elegantly mediates the experience: "In the middle of the day, the 'window' shimmered with people coming and going; late at night it was dark, with only the occasional user checking in." [3]

Other works documented in The Social Machine expand the idea of social media and/or ask us to consider social media issues. For instance, in 2000, Donath, Karrie Karahalios, and Fernanda Viégas created the Visiphone, which -- with both abstract and meaningful components -- interfaced conversations among friends who wanted to communicate virtually while cooking and cleaning in the kitchen.

For instance, Christine Liu and Donath's UrbanHermes, (2006) which allowed users in public places to display words or images on Sharp Zaurus PDAs woven into unisex messenger bags -- and encouraged other users with similar gear to respond to or retransmit the images -- blurred the boundaries between the real and the virtual. In the process, UrbanHermes functioned as a performance art work and as a way of looking at the experience of social media in a different context, while at the same time, it asked questions about the dichotomy of expanded community and privacy.

"Interfaces Make Meaning"

Classic interface approaches are likely to be centered on user-computer interaction. On social media platforms, however -- as if each platform is mediated by a party host who invites people, introduces people, inspires conversation, and creates an environment of comfort -- in addition to user-computer interaction, the interface mediates a virtual gathering of people.

In Chapter 3 -- pointing out the ways in which, with color, motion, metaphor, interactivity, and good design, interfaces have the potential to shape sensual meaning -- Judith Donath creatively explores how "Interfaces Make Meaning". The ideal design of new interfaces for social media interaction, she observes, takes into account not only the re-creation of face-to-face conversation but also the need to explore new kinds of experience that augment face-to-face interaction. And importantly, there is a difference between designing interfaces for office applications and designing interfaces for social media. Social media is not an office:

" is a machine for playing games, making friends, reading news, and watching movies amid a virtual crowd of other users. People use it to keep up with a wide range of acquaintances, to see what others are doing, to participate in discussions, and to present a particular view of themselves to close friends and distant strangers. Making an intuitively useable interface for this world requires making the information accessible and navigable, delineating public areas versus private space, and enabling various channels of communication. At the same time, it needs to capture the feeling of being in a social space, not a filing cabinet." [4]

"Visualizing Social Landscapes", "Mapping Social Networks",
"Visible Conversations", and more

Other chapters address:

"Visualizing Social Landscapes" -- in ways that include algorithmically generated maps of online communities;

"Mapping Social Networks" -- mapping the relationships between a large number of people -- a wedding guest map, for instance;

"Visible Conversations: Seeing Meaning Beyond Words", for instance Themail (2006) - a personal email visualizer created by Fernanda Viégas, Scott Golder, and Donath for individuals to visualize the continuing history of their lives through the centrality of email;

Also of interest, among others, are chapters on "Data Portraits", "Constructing Identity", "Embodied Interactions", and "Privacy and Public Space".

We approach social media for various reasons, to gather information, to widen our circle of friends or colleagues, to participate in a way of expression that is becoming central to our society. Seldom do we step back and look at the social media environment in a visual way, asking: what does this "place"-where-I-spend-my-time contribute to the aesthetic qualities of my environment? How could it be re-imagined to allow people to enter a virtual space that is not only intellectually stimulating but also continually visually interesting. In The Social Machine, Donath reminds us of the time spent online and asks us to consider the interfaces of social media systems and the ways we approach them.

Her voice is eloquent; her writing is elegant; her deep involvement with social media is important.


1. Judith Donath, The Social Machine, Designs for Living Online, Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2014. p. 6

2. Ibid. p. vii

3. Ibid. p. 4

4. Ibid. p. 45

reviewed by Judy Malloy

Jef Raskin: The Humane Interface

A leading force in the conception and creation of the Macintosh project for Apple, computer scientist and musician Jef Raskin, (1943-2005) who conducted the San Francisco Chamber Opera Society and played the organ, was an apostle for the design of "humane" interactive user interfaces. Raskin believed that user interface -- the way the user communicates with the ccomputer -- should be at the core of the design of computers of the future.

His influential book, The Humane Interface, New Directions for Designing Interactive Systems, (Boston: Addison-Wesley, 2000) is a combination of technical and approachable. Merging interface anecdotes and wisdom with detailed information on program design, such as the design of search applications, The Humane Interface is a useful resource for new media writers who create work that situates poetry, narrative, and visual elements in the context of interface design.

Raskin expresses interface strategies that are seemingly simple yet are important. For instance, in discussing the need to consider the role of memory in interface design, he cautions that you can't assume that the user will remember what he or she has seen previously -- a familiar problem for every writer who works with the issue of how the reader will remember the revealed details of character and place. Indeed, questions considered in many of Raskin's discussions -- how the user remembers the interface, what he or she has to do to produce more text, how navigation strategies path the reader -- are of primary interest in the creation of new media literature.

Among the issues the book addresses are:

Visibility versus invisibility -- basically, if you can always see an interface device, it is visible. if you have to remember how to find and use it, it is invisible.

Monotony -- whether or not different ways of doing the same thing are incorporated into the interface

The time it takes for the user to understand the work

Taking into account "habit formation" -- ie wouldn't it be better to give the user a way to undo mistaken commands, rather than asking such questions as "are you sure you want to...", which may be habitually answered "yes".

These issues may not always be important in a work of new media literature, and in some e-literature, either the subverting of such principles underlies the poetics or the revealing of the interface or what the interface reveals contributes to the narrative tension. Thus interface maxims can serve to bring clarity to the issues of interface design while at the same time (to a new media writer) they suggest literary strategies. For instance, the observation that the reader absorbs the workings of the interface at the beginning of the work and then assumes that he or she will always be confronted with it, might be used in one way when narrative flow is important, but in some instances, a new media writer might wish to alter the interface to differentiate time frames or characters.

In the Chapter on "Navigation and Other Aspects of Humane Interfaces", Raskin discusses "intuitive" and "natural" interfaces. Noting that "intuitive" tends to be defined by what the user is used to, he uses as an example Star Trek IV when the former officers of the Enterprise are transported to the 20th century. In one incident, Scotty picks up the mouse of a Macintosh computer and attempts to operate the computer by speaking into the mouse. "Computer..."

Because what the user is accustomed to now drives interface design for many computer systems, Raskin also observes that designing for natural and intuitive interfaces can be detrimental, i.e. there is a conflict between creating something that actually works better and creating something that the user is accustomed to.

The author's attitude to icons may not be well received by visual artists. Nevertheless his question -- wouldn't it be easier to use words than trying to guess or reveal what each little symbol means? -- has some resonance for contemporary desktops, and he provides colorful examples of how icons can be misinterpreted.

His discussion of programming environments, in which he emphasizes the role of documentation in programming creation, is of interest to the contemporary field of literate programming. (Chapter 7 - "Interface Issues Outside the User Interface") Importantly, The Humane Interface is of interest as regards how a seminal figure in interface design looks at interface design.

And all of Jef Raskin's points serve to remind new media artists and writers of the importance of interface.

"An interface is humane if it is responsive to human needs and considerate of human fragilities," he writes. "If you want to create a humane interface, you must have an understanding of the relevant information on how both humans and machines operate. In addition you must cultivate in yourself sensitivity to the difficulties that people experience."

Jef Raskin's The Humane Interface, New Directions for Designing Interactive Systems, is available from Amazon

reviewed by Judy Malloy

Brenda Laurel: The Art of Human-Computer Interface Design

I nterface -- the way the reader (the "user" in computer technology) communicates with the work -- is a primary concern for creators of electronic literature, as well as for readers who want to adventure into new media fiction and poetry. Writers and artists may choose to subvert the principles of interface design, striving in some cases to challenge the reader, or making the interface an actual part of the work. For instance, the interface design principle of "least surprises" might be important in a work of literature in which the content of the text is most important. On the other hand, surprises might be an integral component for writers and artists who design the interface as an integral part of the work itself, rather than as a way of accessing an underlying work. However, it is of interest to understand the principles of interface design, whether we choose to use or subvert them.

The Art of Human-Computer Interface Design is a classic work of Macintosh Interface design. Edited by theater and computers scholar and researcher Brenda Laurel, who was at the time a consultant to Apple Computer and later created Purple Moon software for girls, the book is a formative documentation of the time in history when personal computers were beginning to make new ways of reading and writing possible.Some chapters are probably too Macintosh interface specific to be of interest to all new media writers. Yet the book is very useful. not only from the point of view of historical interface design but also from the point of view of classic approaches to creating interfaces.

For instance, the uses of conversation in interface design -- in particular the simulation of human/human conversation, as opposed to human/computer interaction that does not take this into account -- is addressed by Susan F. Brennan in "Conversation as Direct Manipulation, an Iconoclastic View". Her chapter includes a series of useful examples and discusses how they can be enhanced with graphics.

In "Interface Agents: Metaphors with Character", Brenda Laurel talks about the creation of character in terms of personifying interfaces, using characters in the theatrical sense. Her approach is designed mainly for the creation of interfaces for practical applications, and the interface device of personified "agents" that assist computer users has not become as widely used as anticipated -- perhaps because our relationships with our computers are one-on-one and we may not desire an intermediary, something that was not anticipated in the age of transition from impersonal mainframe to personal computer. Nevertheless, for new media writers who are interested in the traditional literary use of fictional characters as interpreter of events, how this concept was translated into ideas of computer interface agents and guides is of interest in the creation of electronic literature.

In "Guides: Characterizing the Interface", Tim Oren, Gitta Salomon, Kristie Kreitman, and Abbe Don discuss designing an interface for Grolier Electronic Publishing's The Americana Series: America 1800-1850. Fictional characters, represented by graphic images, were used to help young readers select the material most appropriate to their interests. "We are finding out as much about the way people want to receive content as we are about navigation," the authors note. "We have uncovered a lot about what engages in the interface, but we have also discovered that the interface is deeply intermeshed with the content."

Other chapters of particular interest include:

Ronald Baecker and Ian Small, "Animation at the Interface"

Chris Crawford, "Lessons from Computer Game Design"

Abbe Don, "Narrative and the Interface"

Myron W. Kruger, "Videoplace and the Interface of the Future"

S.Joy Mountford and William W. Gaver, "Talking and Listening to Computers"

Michael Naimark, "Realness and Interactivity"

Theodor Holm Nelson, "The Right Way to Think About Software Design"

Tim Oren, "Designing a New Medium"

Howard Rheingold, "What's the Big Deal about Cyberspace?"

Gitta Salomon, "New Uses for Color"

Rob Swigart, "A Writer's Desktop"

"If it is to be like magical paper, then it is the magical part that is all important and that must be most strongly attended to in the user interface design," Alan Kay writes about the computer screen in his chapter "User Interface: A Personal View". Kay also looks at Marshall McLuhan's ideas on how the printing press changed the thought patterns of those who learned to read, observing that "What McLuhan was really saying was that if the personal computer is a truly new medium then the very use of it would actually change the thought patterns of an entire civilization."

Brenda Laurel currently serves as an adjunct professor in Computer Science Department at UC Santa Cruz. She served as professor and founding chair of the Graduate Program in Design at California College of Arts from 2006 to 2012. The Art of Human-Computer Interface Design was conceived of and technically supported by interface designer S. Joy Mountford and is available from Amazon

reviewed by Judy Malloy

The New Media Reader,
edited by Noah Wardrip-Fruin and Nick Montfort

E xploring interface development and in particular narrative and poetic uses of interface in new media literature in a continuing series on interface issues, Authoring Software looks at an important compendium for students and teachers of new media writing practice: The New Media Reader, edited by Noah Wardrip-Fruin and Nick Montfort. (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2003)

A valuable collection of source documents -- presenting over 50 points of view of neww media history in one volume and including a CD of seminal works -- The New Media Reader forges an original path through the contemporary history of new media up to the development of the World Wide Web. Introductory statements by Janet Murray and Lev Manovich and commentary throughout by the editors, introduce a collection of essays that range from Donna Haraway's influential A Cyborg Manifesto, to an historic introduction to the World Wide Web by Tim Berners-Lee, Robert Cailliau, Ari Loutonen, Henrik Frystyk Nielsen, and Arthur Secret.

" The playful construction within constraints that the Oulipo defined as the role of the author can become an activity extended to readers, who can take place in the interpretation, configuration, and construction of texts."

From the point of view of writing that predated computer-mediated writing but experimented with proto-interface structures in print works, Six Selections by the Oulipo is one of the most interesting sections in The New Media Reader.

Founded in France in 1960 by Raymond Queneau and François Le Lionnais, the group's name is an acronym of Ouvroir de Littérature Potentielle, roughly translated: "workshop of potential literature". Setting the stage for the flowering of French works of digital literature in the 1980's when writers, including Jean-Pierre Balpe and Philippe Bootz, among many others, created works that were actually implemented on computers, Oulipo poets and writers experimented with the very structure of literature, using print and experimental artist book formats. Their writing is particularly interesting in that their strategies in print foresee reader interaction with literature and provide an interesting look at literary systems now implemented by authoring software. "The potential that lies within such an understanding of interactive experiences is a reconfiguration of the relationship between reader, author, and text," Nick Montfort and Noah Wardrip-Fruin write in their introduction to the Oulipo. "The playful construction within constraints that the Oulipo defined as the role of the author can become an activity extended to readers, who can take place in the interpretation, configuration, and construction of texts."

Six Selections by the Oulipo begins with Raymond Queneau's One Hundred Thousand Billion Poems for which he wrote a series of sonnets -- 14 lines of structured poetry -- which are composed so that they can be combined in many different ways and are laid out so that lines can be cut put to reveal a very large number of different poems.

The anticipation/the foresight to see how such an approach might be taken are at the core of the migration of experimental writing from print to new media. Queneau clearly saw this, not only in One Hundred Thousand Billion Poems but also -- running at the bottom of a series of pagges in The New Media Writer -- in his Yours for the Telling in which the adventure story interface of branching paths is anticipated: "Would you prefer the tale of the three, tall lanky beanpoles if so go to 16 if not go to 3."

Following One Hundred Thousand Billion Poems, French poet Jean Lescure's "Brief History of the Oulipo" winds in and and out of the history and goals of the group in a diffuse poetic essay that itself reflects the qualities of the work of this group of poets and writers (of which Lescure was a member) and for whom literary history, the literary qualities of experimental literature. and an exploration/discovery of structure were core as was multiplicity of meanings -- "In short, every literary text is literary because of an indefinite quantity of potential meanings" he states.

Other documents in this section of The New Media Reader include:

Mathematician/writer Claude Berge's "For a Potential Analysis of Combinatory Literature",which begins with forerunners of now computer-mediated strategies in the humanities, such as Mozart's "Musical Game" that allowed people to compose variations on one of his works by combining a series of musical phrases. Berge then displays a -- particularly interesting from an interface point of view -- creative series of systems analysis graphs of literary works with experimental structures, including the work of Queneau and Raymond Roussel, as well as many other approaches that can be expressed with mathematical diagramming. The graphs themselves -- although in the spirit of Oulipo how they might be created differently could be considered -- are of interest to writers of new media literature, whosometimes struggle with ways to map out the structures of their works.

"Computer and Writer: The Centre Pompidou Experiment"
in which French poet, publisher, and diplomat Paul Fournel discusses a series of early experiments -- by Dominique Bourguet, Jean-Pierre Enard and Paul Fournel, and Jean-Pierre Balpe, among others -- both in creating computer-mediated works and in translating works, such Raymond Queneau's, into various kinds of computer-mediated poetry and/or narrative generators.

Italo Calvino was also a member of Oulipo and is represented in this section by Prose and Anticombinatorics, a narrative with programmic solutions to a murder mystery.

In addition to Oulipo, experimental writers in print whose work is featured in The New Media Reader include Jorge Luis Borges, William Burroughs writing on "The Cut Up Method of Brion Gysin", and Augusto Boal.

" On the top are slanting translucent screens, on which material can be projected for convenient reading. There is a keyboard, and sets of buttons and levers. Otherwise it looks like an ordinary desk."

In a series of documents that review the contributions of information science futurists, The New Media Reader documents the history of contemporary creative organization of information with papers by Vannevar Bush, Alan Turing, Norbert Wiener, Theodor H. Nelson, and Douglas Engelbart, among many others.

Many new media artists and writers created their work on separate but parallel tracks. Nevertheless, these papers are of continual interest --not only historically but also in formulating insights and ideas for future directions in the field.

For instance, in 1945, observing that the human mind "operates by association", in his futurist paper "As We May Think", originally published in The Atlantic Monthly and reprinted in The New Media Reader, World War II Director of the US Office of Scientific Research and Development, Vannevar Bush asks readers to:

"Consider a future device for individual use, which is a sort of mechanized private file and library. It needs a name, and to coin one at random,"memex" will do. A memex is a device in which an individual stores all his books,records, and communications, and which is mechanized so that it may be consulted with exceeding speed and flexibility. It is an enlarged intimate supplement to his memory.

It consists of a desk, and while it can presumably be operated from a distance, it is primarily the piece of furniture at which he works. On the top are slanting translucent screens, on which material can be projected for convenient reading. There is a keyboard, and sets of buttons and levers. Otherwise it looks like an ordinary desk."

In the following years, information specialists, such as Henriette Davidson Avram and Ralph H. Parker and many others, both designed and created vast systems of searchable computerized library catalogs that are not represented in this book. [1] These systems were the backbone from which branched (or were created on separate parallel paths) innovative uses of computerized full text information systems on which The New Media Reader focuses, such as the Evolutionary List File (ELF) system proposed in Ted Nelson's classic paper, "A File Structure for the Complex, the Changing, and the Indeterminate" (1965) in which Nelson quotes Vannevar Bush's definition of the memex, addresses the problems of organizing and accessing personal and scholarly information of scholars, and suggests an ELF system using a database based on entries, links, and lists. He coins the word hypertext and imagines full text information systems as containing not only words but also images and film. A primary use of his ELF system is scholarly writing, but he envisions other possibilities.

Also of interest in The New Media Reader is Douglas Engelbart's Augmenting Human Intellect: A Conceptual Framework, as well as classic source documents in computer and information science history that include Ivan Sutherland's "Sketchpad: A Man-Machine Graphical Communication System"; Richard Stallman's "The GNU Manifesto"; Alan Kay and Adele Goldberg's "Personal Dynamic Media"; and Stuart Moulthrop's "You Say You Want a Revolution? Hypertext and the Laws of Media".

" It is our hope that all courses in which The New Media Reader plays a role will include serious study of the digital objects presented here-or of other artifacts, online and off, that don't lend themselves to being reproduced on the printed page. New media cannot be grasped by only consulting firstary sources and critical writing, however important such perspectives may be. Whether our goals include insightful analysis or meaningful new creation, our work should be grounded in interaction with specific new media creations -- as surely as those interested in literature should read literary works, as much as those interested in cinema should watch films."
Web Preface and Guide to the CD - Nick Montfort and Noah Wardrip-Fruin

Outside of Eastgate's continuing importance in publishing hypertext literature and the Electronic Literature Organization's work in this area, early works of new media literature are not always easy to locate or to run.

Thus, it is important that (although some selections require applications that may not be available to every reader) the CD that accompanies The New Media Reader contains a notable collection of interesting selections of pre-World Wide Web new media writing and games, beginning (as regards games and works of art) with Stephen Russell's legendary Spacewar! and also including Gregory Yob's Hunt the Wumpus, Adventure, Jim Rosenberg's Diagram Series 3 and 4, Judy Malloy's collaborative literary authoring system, You!, Robert Kendall's The Clue, poems by John Cayley, and Writing on the Hypertextual Edge, edited by Stuart Moulthrop, a section of the Spring 1991 issue of Writing on the Edge, which includes Izme Pass by Carolyn Guyer and Martha Petry, as well as Michael Joyce's WOE.

" What McCloud's work nevertheless shows is that new forms, even those that have not been studied seriously for centuries or even decades, do indeed have certain conventions and rules, and that if the form being studied is considered with care and thought, these rules can be determined, benefitting those who work in the form, who are striving to improve the practice of their art." -- Nick Montfort

As regards the creation of interface, The New Media Reader is particularly useful to new media writers in presenting an overall picture of historic approaches. The book also reprints quite a few papers that are specifically helpful to designers of interfaces for new media literature. They include:

Richard A. Bolt, "'Put-That-There': Voice and Gesture at the Graphics Interface"

Lucy A. Suchman, two excerpts from her book Plans and Situated Actions: The Problem of Human-machine Communication

The first addresses navigation -- as an example of different approaches, contrasting European style navigation, which begins with a plan, with Trukese navigation which begins with an objective; the first addresses interactivity, which she approaches from a anthropology/sociology point of view that might inspire conceptions of how narrative can be differently considered for "interactive artifacts".

Scott McCloud's "Time Frames" (from his book Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art)

Brenda Laurel, "The Six Elements and Causal Relations Among Them" (from her book Computers as Theater) and "Star Raiders: Dramatic Interaction in a Small World" (from her PhD thesis)

J. David Bolter, from his book Writing Space: The Computer, Hypertext, and the History of Writing, a selection entitled "Seeing and Writing", which looks at the visual aspects of the "Electronic Page."

Additionally, The New Media Reader hosts a series of papers that look at creative new media in learning environments. For instance telemative narrative pioneer Roy Ascott is represented with "The Construction of Change", an essay with a central focus on an education of artists that includes cybernetics. And Michael Joyce's "Siren Shapes: Exploratory and Constructive Hypertexts" focuses on classroom uses of StorySpace and hypertext.

More information about , The New Media Reader is available on the MIT Press website at

and on the book's website at

The Table of Contents is listed at

The CD Table of Contents is listed at

reviewed by Judy Malloy


1. Queens College CUNY, Library Technology Timeline
Books on the development of the personal computer are also a recommended supplement to The New Media Reader. Although it is now taken for granted, creators who used punchcards and mainframe computers in the 1960's and earlier (I worked for a contractor of the Goddard Space Center Libraries computer catalog in 1967 and later headed the team that designed and programmed the Ball Brothers Research Corporation Library computerized catalog in 1969) know how important the work of Gary Kildall, Ed Roberts, Steve Wozniak, Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Xerox PARC, Lee Felsenstein, Don Estridge, (as well as many others, such as Douglas Engelbart and Alan Kay, whose work is included in The New Media Reader) did to invent and produce the personal computer systems we use to create contemporary new media art.

Also recommended as supplemental source material are publications about seminal art telecom systems, such as Heidi Grundmann, Editor, Art Telecommunication, Vancouver, Canada: Western Front; Wien, Austria: Blix, 1984 and Roy Ascott and Carl Eugene Loeffler, Guest Editors, Connectivity: Art and Interactive Telecommunications, Leonardo 24:2, 1991.

For information about the content | code | process resource, email Judy Malloy at: Suggestions for inclusion are welcome!

last update September 10, 2015

D. Fox Harrell
Phantasmal Media

Judith Donath
The Social Machine

Jef Raskin
The Humane Interface

Brenda Laurel
The Art of Human-Computer Interface Design

Noah Wardrip-Fruin and Nick Montfort, eds.
The New Media Reader