Understanding Media Redux: Making Better Use of Space and Time Online

wordle poetry
Last month I contrasted the wordle (a collage of words with size proportionate to frequency of use) of the contents of my personal profile and my friend Siona’s, and commented on how hers seemed more reflective of me than mine did.

As a second experiment, I produced the wordle above of the contents of a collection of five of my own poems, and below it the contents of my favourite poem, TS Eliot’s Four Quartets. I was kind of hoping that the result would be poetic, and it really isn’t, but it is, I think, instructive. What jumped out at me immediately were the words time and world, in both wordles. It occured to me that most poetry, as representation, is essentially preoccupied with time and space, what happened where and when. Many of the prominent words in these wordles are temporal or spacial. The word now features in both, and while Eliot’s place is the sea, mine is the forest.

If poetry is infatuated with time and space, I wondered why most poetry makes such poor use of both to make its message. Most poetry is linear, row on row, though ee cummings for example was more playful with the placement of words on the page. Even spoken poetry adds little, and sometimes even detracts from the mood and meaning, since poetry is very much a conversation in which the reader takes part, fills in the blanks from his or her own experience, adds context, which a dissonant reading can destroy.

The poem below, Swan and Shadow by John Hollander, is quite clever in its use of space.

swan and shadow

What could we do, in the brave new world of the Internet, to make better use of time and space, in poetic ways? We know that the eye and the brain process information visually, from the centre out to the periphery, not linearly. Should we, could we write poetry that way?

We can now use video to make words move in ways that are both informative and expressive. Could we write poetry so it appears before us a few words at a time, at the speed we would read it, using text in clever and expressive ways, the way Michael Wesch uses animation to explain social media? I’ve spoken at business conferences about how visualizations can add meaning and value to information. Could they add meaning and value to poetry?

What role could/should sound and video play in enhancing, supporting, reinforcing the written poem? Is it like a spoken reading of a poem, that can make it better (if it’s well done) or worse (if it intrudes on the reader’s own sense-making about the poem)?

I’m interested in the answers to these questions in the context of poetry, because if the Internet presents us with opportunities to make poetry more communicative, evocative, ‘successful’ in some sense or other, then surely it can do the same for other written media, like blogs, newspapers, magazines, stories, novels. We have seen the addition of audio and video to these media, but in very prosaic, unimaginative ways. How could we do better? How could ‘multimedia communication’ be really innovative, integrative, reinvented from the ground up to convey feeling and meaning to us in richer, natural ways, to move us to the time and place of the writer of words, so that our conversation with him or her is more real, richer, more sensory, synaesthetic?

The Internet is itself innovative, but I can’t shake the nagging feeling that we’ve been very un-innovative in how we’ve used it to convey the meaning of language, that we’re too rooted in the hard-copy and one-way broadcast way of thinking about media. What do you think? If Marshall McLuhan were alive today, howwould he be using the Internet?

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3 Responses to Understanding Media Redux: Making Better Use of Space and Time Online

  1. Jon Husband says:

    I like to think McLuhan would maintain a blog, at a minimum.

  2. John Graham says:

    This is where I’m excited: seeing how “Web 2.0” is just “tools for conviviality” and “appropriate use of technology” – and the milieu I’m in AND TALK TO includes Quakers of a generation shaped by Illich and Schumacher AND people who were actually IN the sixties AND people who just USE blogs and social networking AND I can READ A BOOK by McLuhan who can’t blog because he’s DEAD (I presume). It’s all set to *go offline*, *establish an offline presence*, and work seamlessly with the majority who will never touch a computer. Deschooling society can happen now. The great re-skilling, the great unlearning, the great unforgetting – all i know for sure is the excitement, and the calm, and the confirmed hunches that hint at the possibility – and don’t underestimate your role, Dave Pollard, you’ve tried to save the world, and it just might have worked – with a wink! Some problems will remain intractable, the human species will not suddenly become immortal, but all the institutional problems can be solved now. We and other species can be happy about that. It’ll take all of us.Which is nice.Working with media, time and space? Send a package, a letter. Paper, texture, ink, maybe a book, hand-scribbling. I sent one a couple a weeks ago, and the waiting is EXCRUTIATING at times, I LOVE IT!

  3. John Graham says:

    Sorry, not seamlessly – i don’t like seamlessly – I prefer to leave more space, gaps.

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