A Talk About the Interactive Text with Frode Hegland
In this episode of the Intertextual Animal series I hope you will enjoy Frode Hegland talking about text as substrate, the usefulness of any technological construct as its essence, the need for deeper look into the writing and the reading processes we live by.
Digital text holds real, untapped potential because of its inherent interactivity and we have a choice: We can learn to control the vast sea of digital text–or be controlled by it.
It’s lunch time and I have a Skype meeting with Frode Hegland, the organiser and passionate host of the annual Future of Text Symposium, and also someone I admire and like to read whenever I have time for deep thinking and imagining. We have rescheduled our talk for that particular day because on the usual Intertextual Animal date (the 8th of every month) in May I didn’t have the superpowers to continue at the pace I have started to walk and write at in the recent weeks. I had to make a pause. To take a deep breath and realign my activities, especially the “digital” ones with what I do and what I dream of.
In that same vein of realignment, the talk with Frode went incredibly well, despite the two glitches – my Pomodoro timer disrupting the conversation in the beginning, and then somewhere in the middle, my Wi-Fi signal disappearing. Both these glitches I read as a big huge (sic!) reminder that digital is something we are just beginning to make sense of and weave into our millennia-old traditions (and transgressions) of understanding the universe around us and further taking action, informed by the signals we have managed to decode.
That said and felt, I am more than excited to present you Frode. In these two video parts (if you decide to watch the conversation on Youtube: Part 1: Understanding (Digital) Text + Part 2: Doing Digital Text, and one part, if you go with the text only version) you will hear Frode talking about text as substrate, the usefulness of any technological construct as its essence, the need for deeper look into the writing and the reading processes we live by.
Part 1: Understanding (Digital) Text
Teodora: Hello with this forth episode of the Intertextual animal – a series of talks about textuality, web and connections. Today I am honored and very curious to have Frode Hegland. He is currently on a PhD programme at the University of Southampton under the supervision of Wendy Hall and Les Carr. He also hosts the Symposium the Future of Text. Frode is also developing the OS X utility Liquid | Info, as well as other, smaller software projects and is currently working on Liquid | Author , a new perspective in word processing, primarily for academics.
The thing that excites me even more about him and his projects is that he’s working on concepts such as interactive text. He’s also working on the project, which is a book where he will be collecting pieces of texts from different authors from different domains, I will share the link within the transcript of this talk later. [The Future of Text : a 2020 Vision.]
So today, I will be waving a text with him for you to get to know his work. And the workings of his mind. Maybe. 🙂
Frode Hegland: That was big expectations there. Okay. It’ll be an interesting dialogue as we’ve had in the past. So yeah, thanks for talking.
My first question is, what is your personal definition of text?
Frode Hegland: Oh, that’s very easy. I don’t always use the term text. Doug Engelbart, when he talked to me about this, he preferred symbol manipulation. So when I talk about text, I really am talking about some kind of lines on a surface. I’m not talking about the text in a wider picture.
Text and pictures are very different. However, of course, they can work powerfully together.
Yeah, I started in a very dry definition. And I think that relates to what you do, because the other media is getting a lot of attention, and a lot of funding. So I don’t really feel the need to go outside of the really, really basic definition of text.
Okay, so I will need to rephrase my second question, which is what discerns the digital lines on a surface, from the lines on stone or in print.
Frode Hegland: I’d like to discuss that, of course, but I wrote a note based on our pre chat, you mentioned, you were talking to someone and you had a hard time getting to talking about actual text. I’ve had this problem for decades, and it feels like you want to talk about a window, the glass and the window. People will not do that. They will talk only about what they see through the window.
It is almost like, you and me, we both wear glasses. It’s like talking to someone say, Can we talk about your glasses? Well, look, there’s a car over there.
You know, it is so transparent to most people. They haven’t gotten on it. And it’s a very strange thing.
My wife and I, we renovated our house that we bought over the last year. So our vision has changed.
So we have had to buy lamps, you know, this is the big house for the rest of our lives son going to grow up. So what does that mean? We have to figure out what does that mean? What are lamps, you know, when you don’t, when you’re not buying a lamp or a house in a specific way. It’s a thing that hangs up there. The way our mind creates stories, we don’t go into a room and stop and look at all the details, we have to ignore almost everything I think is very similar with text.
People read text, in the same way they go into a hotel lobby. There’s expectations of how to get through it. But it’s really, really, really hard until you have a very specific interest to notice there’s a carpet on the floor. How do you walk over the carpet? Is it too thick? Or is it thin? Is its color useful for navigation? All these issues only an interior designer would look at.
So to get people to look at interactive text is really, really hard.
Some people, in my experience focus on the typography, which is hugely important other on the design. Again, hugely important. But when it comes to the interactivity… that is now getting into your question.
The substrate of text is what you’re talking about, of course. And it’s a fantastically interesting history. I don’t mean to be patronizing to you by saying things, I’m sure you know, but just in context, to answer your question. The different stages of the pen and paper, so to speak, the tool and the substrate have given very different opportunities for what writing can be. It is very different to edit a dry clay tablets from a wet tablet.
Similarly, the story of papyrus is interesting.
But what’s also kind of neat, there is a current as an early 2019 exhibition at the British Library, which is party, the history of text, it’s called Making Your Mark. Some of the items in there are hugely moving to see. One of them is of a kind of a Sphinx, and it’s from the turquoise mines of Sinai.
That’s where alphabetic writing happened for the first time. And the only time in history.
It was Egyptian slaves, Mesopotamian slaves, everybody from the region had to figure out a way to communicate. So they took prior marks and instead of having meaning around them, they made sounds.
So that’s amazing to actually see that in the flesh. But there was something else much more recent. A medieval manuscript that was on vellum. And then it was nice to say in and so on. But then we were lucky enough to be there on the press day. So the academic advisor was there. And he pointed out that you can see kind of edits a little bit, one of them made a mistake in this beautiful illuminated manuscripts.
So at the time, for legal documents, they used a different animal leaves from sheep, because a sheep has a layer of fat above the skin.
So that means that if you make your mark and you change it, you can instantly see. You’ve destroyed it.
But this goes into our digital substrate discussion, of course, because digital text can be anything that can be visually shown on a display of some sorts.
The question is, in what way can it be useful.
So that’s why I’m investing a lot of my time, trying to figure out the human visual system. I had some very interesting conversations with people. But there’s also again, really, really hard to get things useful out of this, because we’re really dealing with unknown unknowns.
So a lot of this will become incredibly obvious in retrospect, I think.
The key thing about symbols rather than pictures, though, of course, machine learning is changing this, is symbols can be operated upon.
You can do a simple thing like: show me all the words in these documents, or all the sentences that have the word Coca-Cola, in there for instance.
That’s the kind of magic that happens because of the computer. And because it’s a symbol.
When you mentioned that, you’re looking into the ways digital text can be useful. And then you went to machine learning. In-between that window, I thought that one of the ways text can be useful is through its other face, the code. The code behind the text. Do you look, the code behind the text as a text?
Frode Hegland: I accept that it is, absolutely. And I think there are things we can learn. But I am not a coder. In the same way that I would say I’m more of an architect than a builder. You know, I feel my job is to represent the user and argue with a very good builder. When you’re talking about text as code, I do think that we need to get to stages where we can write almost programmatically, though.
For instance, in Wikipedia or something, if you write “Tomorrow, I will have a meeting with Frode”.Once that date hits, because it knows when it was written, it should say something like that, I was scheduled to have a meeting with Frode on the 13th of May.
But of course, the radar or the author should be able to constrain if those changes happen, and so on. That’s what I mean by your writing in a way that the system can semantically understand. But Victor had some great demos of things he did at Apple, where you could write mathematical functions in a normal page, and then click on the text to change the formula. So that is very cool, very useful, should be able to do similar things with texts.
Yes, I agree. I recently stumbled upon a letter, a cover letter, which was pre-programmed for the writer to write. Like: you need this paragraph, and then you can choose from. And this lets your creativity expand within a certain format.
Frode Hegland: I think that’s really, really cool. For the word processor,that I’m building – Author. At some point, I do want to include real templates, primarily for students. So let’s say you have a science homework template. Why should the students have to think about “Oh, did I remember this section?” Of course, okay, you can justify why student would have to struggle, but why in the world, the teacher have to go through manually every document to find all the relevant bits.
So yes, even though digital is very, very flexible, the templates and the structured means to enter stuff can be extremely useful. Absolutely.
Tell me more about Author.
Frode Hegland: Okay. I just changed it this weekend. So it’s a very good time. I’ll tell you the design problem first. Liquid Author is the word processor that I started not long after Doug Engelbart passed away. Because, for me, building my own word processor is the most amazing thing I could imagine.
It is the way that I’ve been growing up, in that era of using these things. Now we have a lot of API’s and abilities available to make it. That’s incredible. So I decided to have to do a project that was bigger than me, would take more money than I have, would take more effort and more time. So this is a very much an ongoing project.
So the first thing that I want to tell you about before I tell you about the new thing is, I really didn’t like the idea that in a document or book, you have a table of contents that is separate. In a digital environment, I find that offensive.
PDFs are useful for semi-legal documents, that you know, this is what was written down, we’re doing everything we can to make it non interactive. It’s fine for certain users, but for anything else, for deep reading, whatever, it’s horrible. It’s just what Doug Engelbart didn’t call WYSIWAG: what you see is all you get.
So with truly digital text, my brother is a theater director, he uses his hands a lot, you know, I can’t talk to him without him, constantly moving his hands. And it’s actually inspiring, because we have a little trackpad or a mouse.
So the multi-touch trackpads on the Mac, I think are absolutely amazing. So what happened was that
Author went through, I think five different developers. People just got burnt out or they didn’t get it or whatever. One of the first versions was iPad. So on an iPad, trying to develop it completely for that medium, I decided that if you pinch the text, it should collapse and only show the headings.
So that means that the table of contents headings, and the headings on the documents actually are the same thing.
That to me is really, really important. Because if you then think of the document, not as you know, here’s a table of content. Here’s the document, like someday we got things on the side. It’s so disconnected. It’s, of course, in virtual worlds, we can do completely magical, disconnected things. But also our mental structures need something to hold on to.
So that’s why for me if this is the documents, and this is the outline, it’s the same thing. It’s just it’s a kind of a sculpture.
So what I’ve been working on for a long time, okay, six months, at least intensely is so you do the pinch in, but what about the other way of doing a pinch out?
What magical stuff can we have happen there? So for my PhD, I’m working on augmenting postgraduate students do their literature reviews because I think it’s awful the way it is now.
By the way, are we frozen…
Transcribed by https://otter.ai and edited by me 🙂 Teodora
Part 2: Doing Digital Text
Frode Hegland: Right, so we were talking about text having kind of a sculptural shape. And we talked about how having a document with kind of a table of contents on the side, I find a little bit offensive because there is no real shape that’s very lazy. So that’s why I like the notion of using either one on iPad, pinching, or on a trackpad, pinching to collapse the document to only see headings and so on. So the other issue has been, for my PhD: I’m supposed to help postgraduate students do their literature review.
So how can I deal with literature sources and concepts? Concepts that matter the most, but you need to back them up. So looking at the citation source, this glossary terms, which is the same as concepts in this context, keywords and headings, and so on, they can be really, really messy. And if you look at my blog, you will see back and forth of different ways of doing it plus a fair amount of swearing, because I tend to think and write at the same time. So I have decided to do two things. One is a bit of a cheat: when we are exporting from author to PDF or Word documents, the user can choose to have a references section automatically appended at the end.
So it’s supposed to look like a normal academic document. The idea now is that you have your document to two fingers, flip it around, and you have your references at the back. A teacher can read the references separately, click on the links, but also, within that we can have different dynamics such as automatically organized by author, or a timeline. Or any other thing,
A timeline based on what?
Frode Hegland: The publication dates. The problem with that is, the academic world is absolutely shit, when it comes to its own documents. You know, you download a PDF, and it’s called blah, blah, blah, or PDF. But you do get them from the Mac and has no info. There are ways that we would have to work to populate these things with normal meta information. It’s absolutely crazy insane. Similarly, you cannot link to anything inside a PDF or a digital book. These are really, really big issues. But that’s kind of another step up. So the really important thing that I want to be able to have Liquid Author do for users to give them a greater amount of mental freedom with minimum load.
So we can do mind mapping and brainstorming and different applications and their cool at different levels, but then you go back to your work process or whatever, and it’s not integrated. And that’s a bit of a mess, and we stop using them. The thing that I did this weekend was, when you do this, actually, it doesn’t matter the gesture, because it isn’t a sculpture, but you get a blank screen, whether you had text in your word processing view or not to get a completely blank screen. And in here, you just double click anywhere you want to type any text you want.
Any text that is also in the main document becomes bold. If you double click on it, it opens a list of all the occurrences of that text in the document. Let’s say you’re writing a document about sweets, and you have the name of particular chocolate. And you, in your kind of concept view, you put all the chocolates, or certain things, whatever, you organize it like a mind map, brainstorm, whatever. Double click on it, here’s a list of all the places where it’s mentioned, as a full sentence. This means that if it’s the name of a chocolate bar, that’s not very well known, the first time it’s in the document that would usually be introduced. And that is a quick way, without even making a glossary, to have access to a definition of what that is. Now the user can click on that to jump to that section of the document or just click in the margin to dismiss this. All the texts that you have typed in this view that is not old, that means that is not in the document, if you double click on that, it takes that text into the normal view. So you can start writing.
Let’s say you have just put lots of different sweets in there, many haven’t written been about, oh, here’s one that I need to write about. Now double click on it. So the end of the documentary, say this, and that’s blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. And then just keep working. These are the two primary ways that the concept map and the word processing view are linked.
While you were talking about this, I was thinking about the concept, you have developed “cost of indirection”. Can you talk about this a bit?
Frode Hegland: Yes. My close friend and hero and inspiration Doug Engelbart was all about, let’s make it powerful, and then figure out how to make it easy to use, it was against ease of use. I agreed with him, but I come from a design background. You know, in Photoshop, I can do anything in 10 seconds. Because I know how it works. But also a lot of the tools kind of make sense. I realized that, just like when you walk, let’s say your walk between home and office, whether you take transportation doesn’t matter. But is it the case with you as well that, strangely you don’t follow the same route in both directions. One or two places maybe ago, around a building and another way or so on.
It’s a strange thing. And what I mean by that is, when you are mentally looking at your goal from one place, what’s in front of you, the buildings, the park, whatever kind of forces you in a specific direction.
When you reverse that, it’s not the exact opposite, it’s different. So it means that, you know, you’re thinking about things, you’re busy, you’re not going to stand there and plan your route, if it’s important to you may use your GPS on your phone or whatever. But it’s the same with work.
If you have a tool, or a capability that requires consciousness, you’re screwed. Unless it’s something that is very different and very important. And I think Doug would have agreed with this, because he had the illustration of someone skiing downhill. If you don’t have instant ability to manoeuvre your fall. That’s what I mean also by the cost of interaction, for instance, of the two tools that I have the Liquid and the Flow tool. Have you used those, by the way,
No, tell me more about Liquid | Flow.
Frode Hegland: Are you a Mac user?
Teodora Petkova: Yes, I am.
Frode Hegland: Fantastic. Go to liquid.info, please download it, thank you! What it does is this: it uses system services on the Mac. So that means that it is tied keyboard shortcut in almost any application. I’ve set mine up to be command+space, but some people use that for the spotlight.
What it would be is, let’s say I come across the word lemon, anywhere, and there are no links or anything, but I want to look up maybe in Wikipedia to find out the origins of lemons. Or maybe I’m wondering what the word I want to look up the etymology of lemon, etc. Maybe I want to translate the word lemon to Norwegian, I don’t know. point is that with this tool, I select the word keyboard shortcut. And then on the screen, there’s a bar. So the word lemon has been hoisted into that bars. Now this is “lemon” and there are some options underneath. If I click on the references option, I can then do Wikipedia, etymology and so on.
So if I want to do the etymology, click on that, it opens up in a web browser. The cool thing is, all of these have keyboard shortcuts connected. So for instance, once I’ve done the keyboard shortcut to get this bar, I can do R for references, and then W for Wikipedia.
Turns out I have stolen this idea from Doug. Because in Augment, it’s the opposite – you type in the commands, and if you don’t know what you should type next to the question mark, it’ll show you all the options.
And this system, if you’re very fast, you don’t need to ever see the menu but the menu kind of comes up as a follow up.
It is a tool that has gotten absolutely amazing reviews. Once you start using it, I think you will find it is very, very strange to not have them. Because it gives you after little bit of training, instant access to over 300 different resources.
Without the oath to having to give you anything. So it means that well, for instance, one of the commands that has as Google reverse image search. So if you’re on Facebook, and there’s one of those ads that not ads, but messages, political messages, there’s a little dodgy, you select that, first a little bit of text just so the tool can work. And you do S+R which is search and then Google reverse, you wait a little bit, because it has to upload the image, send it to Google comes back, it’ll tell you where that image first was used.
So when I see friends who post fake news, and within 20 seconds, including waiting for the download, and everything, you can have it verified, I get really annoyed.
To use the tool and itself on a normal thing, not with an image, it literally takes half a second. Because it goes into your hands very quickly. So that’s what I mean. It is very, very important to give capabilities, but you have to operate subconsciously. Because I think, and I haven’t found research to substantiate it, but once you have to make an active choice, that’s a lot of sugar you are burning. The brain has a limited amount of energy to make choices throughout the day, which is why many successful people wear the same clothes every day. So if you have a tool that is so easy in your hands, that gives you so many options, then it’s much closer to skiing, you don’t question whether you’re going to go right or left to lift your leg, you just do it.
When you’re searching, does that search through Google’s search?
Frode Hegland: Any search engine you like, but the default is Google.
Every once in a while I get an email from Google telling me to cease and desist because it’s a machine search and that’s illegal, then I have to go and show them the earlier emails that have from their lawyers because my work with Vint Cerf that it’s actually fine. And they go away again. And it is just a way to send them a search. So they really should be happy with it.
I want to go back to the flow. You mentioned in Author and to the way you described, how you structure your literature review, for example, what is really important for me when I’m writing is to be able to somehow show my way through a concept, my physical way through reading things. That’s why I asked about the timeline you mentioned. I somehow imagine that it’s a timeline of discovering things. And I think that’s another interpretive route to understanding. And a lot of mess will be saved if we can show what we read when we read it and how we built our concepts.
Frode Hegland: I completely agree with you.
There’s a guy, I’m not going to waste your time by looking him up now, but he’s building a Memex.
Storing of all kinds of things digital in his life – where he is driving and everything. He will also be in the book, so I’m sure you can find him on that page. Really, really brilliant guy. Within what I’m doing with author I have many, many dreams. What you’re talking about here is one of them. Because a few years ago, my teacher from university, whom I studied with, Well, anyway, a very long time ago, we had a kind of discussions around this and he is very, very, very clever. But he kept saying that GPS is so amazing. And I was saying we’re talking about text there is no inherent GPS coordinates in text.
So I thought this man is very clever. Even though he’s not very technical, there’s got to be something behind this. So then I realized that we do have in a lot of text is time. Exactly the reason you’re talking. And then we can do absolutely amazing things.
You know, here is a really badly written blog post. What was the weather like that day? Work? Did you have a lot of meetings? You know, what books did you finish before this concept? What did you finish after that concept? Completely agree with you. These are things we need to invest in. We also need to invest in, on the educational side on an iPad version, which we will do again, is measuring the room as much as we can, the noise level, the light level, how frequent and how long the individual reading sessions are. All in proximity to other students. All to be properly used within consent for a lot of students, because I’m a teacher by nature, I’ve been doing teaching and I will be doing it again. Doing the boring stuff is a real criminal use of human resources.
Right? You have a human teacher dedicated to X amount of students, they don’t get to see the students much because they have to do things like grading. In Author, what I discussed with my Russian friend Timor, is when you publish it (an export of your document I call publish), there are some modules you can choose to have on or off. This doesn’t exist, but this is what we want to do. One of them is basic grammar and spellcheck. It should report to you the level of writing, whatever modules, whatever APIs, whatever libraries are out there, you should be able to plug it in. Also plagiarism check. To find out if there’s anything you have pasted without realizing you haven’t cited it.
And the final one that Olivia Polany (?) mentioned, which was really brilliant is to have a text summarization engine for the author. So the author can say whether a machine summarizes the document to say what you want to say.
And the thing that I added because this was a great dialogue, and I remember everything about it, was: hang on, if this summary has more than a couple of sentences, each, if you click on a sentence, it should only open the parts of the document that contributed to that sentence. So if this summary is wrong, by intention in some areas, you should be able to edit just those areas.
So now you’ve gone through, you publish your document to your teacher.
Your teacher’s version of Author has the exactly the same modules working on imports. If you were lazy or if you didn’t do it, the teacher can get just a screen that says: this has a reading level that’s way below expected. Plagiarism is certain percent, the teacher can choose to open it or just reply back with: Seriously? You can do better this is the report.
Similarly, what Timor and I talked about was doing machine learning and large volumes of texts based on different moods of students. So for instance, if we know certain students are depressed, we learn that, so when you then get the spreadsheet of documents on your computer as a teacher, the coloring of the documents will reflect the students mood, so that you can get clues about what’s going on with certain people. It may be close to the documents by what’s other students student spend their time around. So of course, this is for younger students, and of course it’s an invasion of privacy. But it’s only the kind of invasion of privacy a really good teacher with the time and resources would do anyway. So if it’s done in an open way with involvement on the parents, it can save a lot of time. Have a lot more face time, human-human face time for the teacher and students and get a lot of crap out of the way.
I like the way you put text within its broader, so called outer textual elements.
Frode Hegland: Let me give you a tiny bit of philosophy. Is that a good point to do that?
Yes, sure. Okay.
Frode Hegland: In 1991, I was studying advertising. I was a Mac user as I am now, but Windows was bad. I was out driving one night. I realized holy shit, Mac and Windows are both awful.
But I decided to spend my life trying to improve that stuff.
First six months was to make a definition of information because that’s the stuff that computers use. My working definition became: “something which is useful for someone or something in some way at some point.” So that reflects exactly what you said. It has to be useful.
Text in and off itself is nothing.
That also goes to my deep philosophy and my deep statement, which is that the most fundamental thing in the universe is not information, its interaction.
It is through interaction information arises.
I’ve run this past a few famous physicists and they all agree with me so I’m very happy about that.
If you then extend that into the layers of our work, and becomes very self evident that to give richer interaction to the user off the text becomes a natural and important thing to do.
I am thinking about the etymology interaction, and then I go back to action and the Lating verb for doing. And then this brings me to an author I was reading, who was saying that when we are on the web, we’re acting by writing. Our actions are writing. I’m just sharing my thoughts. And you said that text is nothing…
Frode Hegland: It’s nothing without the human on both sides. Well, it’s not nothing, but it’s not very useful.
The thing is, I’m so tempted by the idea that it is something even if there’s nobody around. But I know that that’s a fallacy I’m just sharing it with you.
Frode Hegland: I think this is one of those Marshall McLuhan moments where, for deeper meaning we can go in both directions. If we’re going to make text more useful and more interactive, it has to be in a manner that really serves the user.
Text in itself is kind of a lab experiment. It is just not very interesting. But you refer to the book and that brings me up to the philosophical breakthrough that I think I’ve had this weekend with the work. May turn out to be completely obvious, but I think it was kind of interesting, and that is… Are you familiar with the book Socrates in Love?
Frode Hegland: So I’ve been listening to that, driving, and you know, Socrates has gotten into my head again. I love how he hated text because he felt it was superficial, there was no dialogue and so on.
I saw your share on Twitter.
Socrates did not like text since it did not provide readers with interaction with the author. But what about writing?https://t.co/uvTYp2sVHt
— Frode Hegland (@liquidizer) May 11, 2019
Frode Hegland: Oh, you did? Okay. Did you read it? (cf. Socrates and Text)
Frode Hegland: Okay. So I’ll just summarize it for the video then and then I would really like to hear what you have to say. So whereas I agree that reading in a non digital environment is quite an interactive, when you are authoring that is a Socratic process because you are having a dialogue with yourself, as you write.
Over. As an over to you.
I mean, I think it has implications for how we develop software, but how do you feel about that position?
I feel that the dialogue is also not only internal with yourself, but with your imaginary reader.
Frode Hegland: Yes, but yeah, yeah, sure, absolutely. But yes, I don’t disagree with that. A lot of my textual work is based on the notion that, let’s say we really do have our higher thinking and the prefrontal cortex. Now we have this huge reciprocal lobe with the back of the head. Just like with computers, you have a CPU but also now more and more the GPU, the graphics engine is being used to augment the CPU. Let’s use our precipital lobe to augment our frontal lobe.
So it is and you know, to you I know it’s really obvious but a lot of people just don’t connect to it. But can we make more powerful canvas thinking spaces… And that’s the whole package. And that then was what really prompted the the way of saying it as you know, unless you’re writing something extremely simple, even a shopping list. You will edit. And that’s a dialogue.
I like that. Editing is a dialogue.And going full circle back to what you shared in the beginning. The thing that you saw in the exhibition – the sheep velum and the core concept, that editing is now easier… more useful.
Frode Hegland: Because of the nature of this conversation, I will agree with that. But it’s easier in some ways, more useful in some ways, just like you know, walking down that street and where do you go, you know, let’s say you have a building, it’s in shadow. And it’s impolite here, chances are you go on the bright side, even though they’re equidistant to the other side. When you reverse maybe it’s different. Tiny little nudges. Right? The tools we have in our word processors, the way you can view it the way you can, either use a template or not. All of these things, make some things easier, some things, less likely to be noticed, etc, etc. So, developing these things is not as my good friend Ted Nelson, you know – he has whole worlds imagined in his head. And yes, he is a genius. But when it comes to implementation, things change and it’s tricky. I am fully aware of my limitations. So I have some dreams that are here, but they’re really vague. I know. We need to build, to step into the forest, make a map and then keep going.
Is there something I didn’t ask you? Or you want to share?
Frode Hegland: No, I think we covered all, from my perspective, at least. I mean, I have, as most artists, and I am an artist, I went to Chelsea School of Art. That’s, you know, that’s my background. But, of course, I have tendencies of manic depression up and down. Thankfully, my life generally now is, you know, 90% or 99% up, manically up, you know, super happy, most wonderful wife and child. Everything’s wonderful. But the 1% of people, either not caring or questioning what we do. I very often get: “Yeah, but isn’t it more important to work on energy or organic food or war or hunger or whatever, or cancer?”
And I get really, really angry even as an older guy. And I say, if someone was working on one of these things, would you actually tell them to work on something else? You know, why can’t you let us get on with us. It really, really, this upsetting. On my blog, there is a category called the “Why?”. And every couple of months I have to rejustify.
And it is very much like Doug, he had, you know, he said: “It’s like I’ve climbed up this mountain to see into the distance” Because he himself didn’t consider himself a visionary, but from the perspective, you know, he saw things. Then I go back to humanity, which are in this giant vehicle, and I try to communicate, but it’s like, I have these big hands and I can’t move them. You know, he love to do this. I can’t get a grip on what I’m going to tell them. And here they are with this tiny little headlight just going straight ahead. That’s what it feels like. It feels so obvious because fake news is almost entirely textual. Academic articles that get buried because they’re not found is almost entirely textual. political discussion is almost entirely textual other than shouting matches on TV.
When we have this important form of knowledge, how in the world can our species not prioritize utilizing it better? The most depressing part of my life is the fact that when you search for “the future of text” you find me. I am quite literally a nobody. Adobe, Apple, Google, these companies should have been having interactive text centers, they should be investing tons of money, not just on making pretty pictures. I’m an artist, I can make images better than almost anybody. I know how to do that. I can make a video, a movie level quality. It’s not that hard. It’s actually very, very easy. If you follow the work of, oh, his name escapes me, Randy (?) – first been with Adobe, and then he did Final Cut with Apple, and now it’s been simplified. They’re amazing tools that it takes a certain kind of effort to make them. Could you imagine a knowledge worker in an office making a one hour documentary instead of making a document. Of course not. So this fallacy that text is old fashioned, pisses me off. You know, we spent 5000 years refining it, to be able to hold all of the human imagination. They say that a picture’s worth 1000 words. Yeah, only if you look at the size of the JPEG.
If you have a picture of a cat, it’s a picture of one specific cat. If you have the word cat, you have all the cats in history, and I know I’m speaking to the choir, but this is my little scream at the end of this very nice discussion.
It is a nice discussion, and I’m thankful and grateful that you shared this with me. I’m just a little more optimistic, with my crazy fascination with semantic technologies. And I really believe that we are finding a way to use text as tge diamond it is, the multi-faceted diamond it is. I feel your pain and I understand your frustration, though. But I’m an optimist.
Frode Hegland: Well, that’s good. I’m an optimist too. But like Van Gogh, although I’m not an artist at all like him, just, you know that the pain that he went through: “I have no choice I have to paint” It’s it’s the same here is very bizarre. I don’t want to make a work of art. I want to make the tool so that others can make the work of art. And I think that’s something you share. So whether we’re optimists or not is kind of a spice. But the underlying issue is no choice really.
I’ll just ask a question, which is: what is the the route from art to advertising to Author. I’m using the three A’s here as an epilogue.
Frode Hegland: Advertising, because I naively thought in the beginning, I could use a lot of different media when I applied to study. And when I was very young, I didn’t even properly know the difference between writing and images, you know, copywriter and art director. It was just all kinds of cool stuff.
But coming to advertising is what I’ve been teaching too. And I believe in it very strongly, because we’re at an amazing time where, yes, people may be swayed by fake news and politics. However, if you have advertising that lies today, you’re not going to get very far for very long. Advertising today can be creative, persuasive communication. And as Jen Burke, my teacher at university said: “All rhetoric is persuasion”.
So it makes it very clear and very honest: Here’s a cake I would like to sell it to you. It’s the best in the world.
Oh my God, if we could use the same principles when we’re presenting a, an academic paper, there’s a finding, this is how it came about. That will be amazing.
Sorry for interrupting you, but aren’t we trying to do this to the abstracts?
Frode Hegland: My friend Chris Gutteridge at Southampton, he had a great insight. A while ago, he said that if you want to understand what a scientific paper is, look at the last sentence of the abstract first.
So that kind of insight is actually incredibly useful because when I want to go into stages of doing large volumes of document comparisons, what do I want to see on the screen? I want to see the author of the title, maybe not, maybe I want to see that one sentence. Right. So that is also the issue. These are intensely human artifacts, it’s not data structures. It is the human side.
The name Author, I’ll tell you how that came about. Doug system is called Augment. Turns out that author and argument have the same etymological root of making something greater. And I also like the fact that Microsoft is interested in the Word, Apple is interested in the Page. This is interested in the person doing the writing.
Thank you very much for this.
Frode Hegland: Thank you. I’m now gonna go with my little boy to town he turned to a few days ago
Frode Hegland: Yeah, thank you and he’s learning the alphabet. Most letters sound the same, but it’s amazing.
Is he’s talking now.
Frode Hegland: It’s very variable, very variable. The journey with him, also from my work, has been absolutely amazing.
With this our conversation paused, only to be able to begin again somewhere across the universe (I was tempted to write cyberverse, but stopped myself :)) and our shared noospheres…. Stay tuned for the next episode of The Intertextual Animal in which I will be talking to Zara Altair about fiction, non-fiction and the art of writing for the Web.
Transcribed by https://otter.ai and edited by http://thebravenewtext.com