The central idea of Jay David Bolter’s keynote address, “Open Spaces: Inscription and Technology,” was that we need to rethink what we count as inscription, and for his recent work this includes spaces that are hybrid in terms of including physical location(s). He began by providing a useful “old story” about origins of hypertexts and cyberspace. He admitted that he was retelling an old story but expressed the concern that it is now “so old” that many in attendance here might not know the story. The advent of computer games and Games Studies began to alter the “old story” through the constitution of a procedural rhetoric, use of persuasion, and explanation of how things work. He used Fatworld as an example, and one I hadn’t heard of, September 12th. September 12th gives a simple argument about the ways in which fighting terrorism with violence is an inadequate and problematic approach to dealing with “terrorism.” What is interesting about it, noted Bolter, is that it is an argument embodied in a game. It is rhetoric activated. The problem is that much of traditional literary study/theory does not accept this as part of its tradition(s) of writing.
Bolter moved from games to another “old story” about cyberspace, discussing how it was an abstraction, considered an escape from the “real world” and a release from cultural determinations and the body as marker. Cyberspace and virtual reality were the image of The Matrix. The vision of cyberspace, as represented by John Perry Barlow’s “A Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace”, was that we would would actually live this virtual reality. The problem, Bolter argued, was that the experiencing of virtual reality came with a certain disembodiment. The headsets used to experience this “reality” cut users off from the world. A paradigm shift can be seen in the works of Mark Weiser (his idea of ubiquitous computing is interested in the intersection of the human and the virtual/digital/computer) and Howard Rheingold. This paradigm shift is what has informed some of Bolter’s latest work. He’s currently interested in augmented reality. Augmented reality involves this intersection between the human and the computer and involves the physical manipulation of one’s environment based on computer information. Bolter gave the example of an early version of the interactive game, Facade, that has now been reworked as an AR game. In the AR version of Facade, rather than entering into an immersive, seamless, online environment where you are in the apartment of fighting couple, Grace and Trip, the user now uses a headset while navigating around a physical apartment and interacting with Grace and Trip. The possibilities for AR games run the gamut from entertainment to education and allow for new forms of collaboration.
Bolter made the argument that even virtual worlds such as Second Life aren’t really pure cyberspace, as seen by the connections to the physical world via the money made by some Second Life users and by the hacks some students at Georgia Tech have worked on that allow Second Life avatars to walk around their campus.
All of this is to say that there is a clear movement away from the verbal/written and we need ways to take these new forms into account.