DAC Home   The Interactive Word Object
Jim Rosenberg
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Poets have proclaimed for decades that words should be treated as objects. When this call is made, it is typically metaphorical: how to write in such a way that one's relationship to the words is similar to the relationship of a sculptor to the physical materials that go into the sculpture. With the widespread use of low-cost interactive computers, this is no longer mere metaphor. The word is an object in a literal sense; word processing users have a tangible feeling of moving words as actual physical objects. Where words are manipulated in graphics software as "text objects," this sense is even more palpable.

Ironically, it could be argued that the object oriented nature of writing is actually less pronounced among interactive writers than among writers in general. While today's software allows very complex word objects to be created, the typical metaphor of today's interactive media tool does not facilitate making word objects that can be easily manipulated in near physical ways. This presentation explores a number of issues related to creating an interactive writing framework that foregrounds creation of word objects.

Not all cybertext fits with an object oriented framework. The presentation will begin with a survey of work to which an object oriented approach does not apply. The poésie animée school from France, such as the work of P atrick Burgaud (Philippe Bootzăs work is also relevant) is a good example of cybertext that aims to present a unified seamless experience where the object approach seems irrelevant. At an intermediate level is work that foregrounds the algorithm. Apparently non-interactive "generator poetry," such as the work of Jean Pierre Balpe, resists an object oriented framework (from the reader's point of view). From an intermediate point of view, some of the work of John Cayley involves algorithms which are not particularly object-oriented but do have a relationship to objects manipulated by the reader.

The current state of Web development tools presents a complex and confusing landscape. The second part of the presentation will present a discussion of how various Web environments contribute to or detract from creating an environment conducive to creating interactive word objects. The largest section of the presentation will be a demonstration of the author's ongoing set of experiments to achieve pluggable word objects. The discussion will begin with a rationale for word objects. The word itself may be considered an object; interactivity must be allowed to extend down into the fine structure of languageăs already-present object character. In short: the interactive cybertext word object must be allowed to function as a word.
"Plugs and sockets" are the essence of how syntax works; this must be available to interactive treatment. Theoretical guidelines for word object pluggability will be discussed. Actual examples of pluggable word objects from a commercial Java run-time environment will be presented as an example of what can be achieved with available technology.  

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