DAC Home   Lost in the book or distracted by touch and sound?

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Anne Mangen 
Research Fellow, Volda University College, Norway
mangen@parc.xerox.com

Maribeth Back
Research Scientist, Xerox PARC, California
back@parc.xerox.com

  FluidReaderand Listen Reader are two experimental reading devices from a museum exhibit built by the RED group at Xerox PARC. The exhibit, "XFR: Experiments in the Future of Reading" explored how digital technologies affect the ways we read, both now and in the future.

The Fluid Reader is a monitor tipped on to its side. Over the screen of the monitor is a touch screen. On the monitor an entire story is displayed, in this case one called "Harry The Ape." Next to some of the words in the story are small triangles. When the reader touches one of these triangles, the sentence breaks at that point, bends down, and grows a new sentence ending while the old ending disappears. Many of these new sentence endings have small triangles themselves that in turn reveal additional extensions to the sentences. The alternative sentence endings do not change the story (this is not hypertext where the visitor determines how the story ends) but instead adds additional information, further explanations, details, asides, jokes and lies. In effect, the reader is digging deeper into the story with his or her fingertip. The story itself reflects this digging-ever-deeper structure: Harry the Ape lives in a tree in a jungle. In Harry's fur live several other creatures, including a small mouse. In the mouse's fur lives a family of fleas, and so on down to the amoebas in the fleas' stomachs.

The Listen Reader is an experiment in deepening the immersive feel of the reading experience through the addition of ambient sound. The Listen Reader combines the look and feel of a real book - complete leather binding and colorful paper pages -- with the rich, evocative sound quality of a movie soundtrack. Sitting in a big, stuffed chair with speakers mounted in it, and moving her hands over the pages of a book, the reader "conducts" the sounds of a book. Embedded in each page is a radio frequency identification (RFID) tag, which calls up the right sounds for that page spread. At the same time, electric field sensors in the book's binding sense the proximity of the reader's hand and send information to a computer lets the reader control sound parameters like volume, pitch, or pan. The experience can be as active or passive as the reader wishes.

Aim of presentation: This paper explores how interactivity can affect the immersiveness of content in digital fictions like Fluid Readerand Listen Reader. Many claim that immersion and interactivity conflict in literature because of their making the reader aware of the signs, whereas interactivity is considered to depend on their disappearance. These two reading experiences were designed in part to challenge this idea, which we think may depend on the intricacy of the interaction and the expectations it foists upon the reader. In this project we use the two installations as test sites for further exploring literary, aesthetic, narrative or other aspects that may have an impact on the immersive experience of the fictional content. By writing test fictions in different genres for Fluid, ranging from fairy tales and detective novels to stream-of-consciousness-like and other experimental genres, we can approach questions like what these devices might tell us about our fascination with fiction - like how, and to what extent, do different literary genres have an impact on the immersion, in interactive devices like Fluidand Listen? What are the relations between the various kinds of literary content, the different requirements for the reader in each of the interactive devices, and the immersive experience? What can installations like Fluidand Listen tell us about the nature of fiction, and the nature of our fascination with fiction? The paper is, then, highly explorative, not intent on coming up with the ultimate solution, but aiming to trigger off a number of interesting issues and questions for further research.


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