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Teaching and Learning Multimodal Communications

Alyssa Arbuckle, Alison Hedley, Shaun Macpherson, Alyssa McLeod, Jana Millar Usiskin, Daniel Powell, Jentery Sayers, Emily Smith, Michael Stevens, Authors

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Plaintext Performance: Media Relations

The relationship between these two media forms—text/JavaScript and text/HTML—is complicated by Bjørn Magnhildøen's real-time production of "Plaintext Performance." Magnhildøen originally performed the piece live, combining phrases he typed on a keyboard, algorithmic writing, and feeds from various automated computer processes, including net connection monitoring and ftp logs.

We tend to think of plaintext as a traditional, almost old-fashioned medium, even in its digital form. "Plaintext Performance" reminds us that text production cannot be, by definition, a fully immersive process: as we type on our keyboards, we are surrounded by hundreds of processes, including embedded code, of which we remain unaware, signified by the e-lit piece's seemingly random lists of file locations and numbers. The jerky, disconcerting movement of the piece's JavaScript element heightens the viewers' sense of impotence in the face of digital processes out of our control or even our awareness. Work continues with or without our input.

"Plaintext Performance" hearkens back to Kirschenbaum's description of the Maryland Institute for Technology in the Humanities' efforts to preserve new media author Deena Larsen's total work environment in "Digital Materiality." Where do we draw the line between our work, which in the humanities is still largely text-based, and the underlying processes that structure our digital work environment? At the moment, I am drafting this post in Scrivener's "Compose" function, which allows me to black out the rest of my screen as I type. But this does not mean that other functions on my computer have ceased to operate. To put it another way, to what extent do our digital tools co-author what we write?

Author: Alyssa McLeod
Word Count: 263
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