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Shuffling Narrative

October 20th, 2011 by hazemtagiuri

After my previous post speculating on the ways touchscreen devices will change the way readers engage with books and other texts in the future, I recalled an interesting example in the present.

The iPhone and iPad ‘A Visit from the Goon Squad‘ e-book app provides an option to re-order the hectic, backwards and forth narrative into chronological order, or even shuffle the chapters at random. However, these options are only available once the book has been read in its original order, meaning Jennifer Egan’s intended meaning won’t be lost.

This reminds me of cheat functions in video games, often unlocked once players complete the main body of the game (commonly known as “story mode”), granting them new ways to play and the ability to revisit past levels. This parallel seems like it could develop in the future – we might see e-books that reward readers for their time, or even their ways of interpreting the text, perhaps via intelligently recognised digital annotations, conceivably being used in an education context.

I suspect that being able to automate our interpretations and responses to literature and other art forms isn’t an entirely good idea, however. I think technology should facilitate and enhance engagement with them, but not instrumentalise the human element – our spontaneous, inspired, and unique reactions to works of art.

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