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Ph.D thesis on "Conversational Analysis of Chatroom 'talk'"

Abstract for PhD ODAM

Masters thesis: Influence of the World Wide Web on literature



...Narrative is present in myth, legend, fable, tale, novella, epic, history, tragedy, drama, comedy, mime, painting (think of Carpaccio's Saint Ursula ), stained glass windows, cinema, comics, news items, conversation...narrative is present in every age, in every place, in every society; it begins with the very history of mankind. There never has been a time period or a society without narrative. Caring nothing for the division between good and bad literature, narrative is international, transhistorical, transcultural: it is simply there, like life itself. (Barthes 1977)

"In the beginning was the word and the word was with God", The Christian Bible proclaims. From the time of that first word, which we could date back to a particle of a nanosecond before the Big Bang, the word has been formulating itself in clearer and clearer forms. Literature is the concreteness, the word made text, of that first great word that has brought creation to its present state. On our particular particle of dust in this remote area of just another universe we have spent the past few thousand years on a quest, the quest of constantly improving communication through story telling of who we are and why we believe we are here.

The World Wide Web, like every particle in the universe is a linking mechanism. Before there was the World Wide Web there was a much simpler form of hyper-communication. Oral story telling, often in tribal settings, was for thousands of years the only way to present and preserve narratives. Aside of Palaeolithic cave art with its fixation on horses and cows there are no records of the discourses of humans from tens of thousands of years ago. Daniel Chandler divides oral and written into two categories giving a list of differences:

Spoken Word

Written Word

aural visual
impermanence permanence
fluid fixed
rhythmic ordered
subjective objective
inaccurate quantifying
resonant abstract
time space
present timeless
participatory detached
communal individual

The World Wide Web combines these narrative dichotomies and takes away much of the need to be literary literate. With multimedia computers the literature that we once needed to read to understand the narrative we can now hear as well as see; this is the combination of the visual and the aural. The World Wide Web makes literature both permanent and impermanent. Impermanent narrative is experienced through the violative nature of the World Wide Web, both in the way one can link to other sites and with the ever possibilities of losing the site one is viewing due either to the site being removed from the Internet or the server losing the site all together through a crash of its system or deleting the site. All the other paired words of aural and written could be isolated and analysed but we can say overall that the World Wide Web is the current form in which literature will change in presentation, meaning and in experience.

Human's first exposure to writing began about 3,500 BC in Sumeria and it took five hundred years for the development of hieroglyphs and another 1300 years to have the first true phonetic alphabet. It took humans five-thousand years to go from their first scribbles to finding a way to mass produce printed words with Guttenberg's Press. We only go back to 1964 to have the first word processor being invented.

Printing has been the tool of learning, the preserver of knowledge, and the medium of literature. Until the advent of radio it was the great means of communication. (Chappell p. 3) Literature on the World Wide Web has an almost early printing press image to it. Books printed during the Renaissance had text surrounded by images, usually religious images. The first illustrated book, was made in 1461 by Albrecht Pfister. (Carter, Martin, Febvre)

Before there was the Internet, printed books, the first library at Alexandria and before hieroglyphics, humans shared, made up and spread stories. We can only speculate how stories were told and spread during pre-recorded history. With no way to preserve stories or to pass them on except through oral story telling all stories became linked as one person told another and the stories travelled from tribe to tribe. Stories would change in their telling and what seemed to be fact to those who heard the stories became what we now refer to as myth.

With the World Wide Web we still may not know the source of a narrative but we know it did not arrive through magic or from the gods. Yet there is an easy comparison made with early oral story telling and the World Wide Web. Both oral and technological story telling are susceptible to flux, revision and the whims of the presenter. Whereas, for the past five-hundred years we have had texts preserved through the printing process we now have returned to when literature had no fixed address.

In narratives of the past there has been the implied author , the person whom the reader assumes is the creator of the narrative. However, on the World Wide Web the implied author can easily be a group of authors. The World Wide Web is now a tribe with interweaving and constantly changing narratives.



"(c)" Terrell Adsit-Neuage. Hackham South Australia October 1997

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