Technology As Imitation (Part 2)

An argument might be made that the mode of technological imitation, then, could be more effectively considered as an imitation of other socialised experiences. For example, reading hypermedia narratives might be usefully compared to the experiential genre of dining in a fine restaurant. The beginning of a meal would start with an induction into the space of the restaurant, whereupon the diner/s are led to their table, then invited to study the menu and select their dishes; whereupon the evening proceeds according to relatively self-negotiated interactive choices: conversation, making requests, consuming the various courses, supplementing the meal with beverages, commenting on the decor, and so on.

The end of the experience is put entirely in the hands of the diner/s, who may choose to linger after the meal, order seconds and thirds, or just leave abruptly in displeasure. In fact, existing words like "menu", "server" and "delivery" in current computer vocabulary perhaps already hint at the experiential metaphor in operation. In this case, the creative consideration would be how the authors of hypermedia narrative might construct an experience that best serves the reader/user's imagination: an "artistic service" in the sense that a restaurant might provide service and "wait" on the diner. This is perhaps pre-empted by Robert Kendall in his A Life Set for Two (Eastgate Systems) hypertext novel, which explores the memories of a relationship as mediated through a restaurant menu.

Another model of technological imitation might be that of a curated experience: perhaps an exhibition, conference, or even a party. People often attend these with some expectations, but hope to be surprised and delighted, even aroused by the experience. As with dining, the reader is left to configure his or her own exit point, and in this case one might argue that this technological imitation accounts for the varying levels of commitment readers might bring to a hypermedia narrative, due to personal agendas (reading for poetic enjoyment, reading for course homework, reading to survey technology used, browsing, etc) and thus accommodate different degrees of engagement.

Strategies would need to be in place to encourage visitors, so to speak, to "come back again", and revisit the narrative; the challenge to authors would somewhat correspond to that of an event organiser, in catering a rich-enough experience. A suitable example would be the interactive CD-ROM Freak Show (Voyager) by rock band The Residents, which presents a surreal carnival-like scenario for the user to explore, interacting with each attraction in turn.

A third imitative model would look at how technology imitates game-puzzles in hypertext/hypermedia narratives, which are often composed as a fragmented story to be unfolded/solved by the reader. There are clues provided along the way, various conventions of access, and interactive principles that function as rules of a game. In fact, new media theorists have been exploring the reading of hypermedia narratives as enlightened by the conventions of gameplay.

An example of this might be My Name Is Captain, Captain (Eastgate Systems) by Judd Morrissey and Lori Talley, an interactive poem which animates intriguing boxes and patterns of text into enigmatic poetry structures, to stimulate cognitive pleasure and enhance the satisfaction of reading as a form of problem-solving.

As hypermedia authoring technologies get increasingly flexible and powerful, it is possible to expect that each narrative will reference its own imitative modes, and demonstrate radically new dimensions of new media poetics. In the case of Fast City, the interactive experience incorporates aspects of technological imitation outlined here, to emphasise the open-ended inventiveness of both life in the Fast City, as well as the experience of hypermedia reading.