Electronic Signatures

We have come along way from the handwritten signature. Of course, now we don't spell our names differently at will. Now reproducibility is key. The technological challenges of insuring that the various intended readers will get the same or similar pages from a critical web are enormous, especially since any individual or screen can distort a page to size. The difficulties involved in designing the page can compound daily, as I can attest. For this essay I had to learn two wholly new programs, HTML editor High Tea and Adobe Photoshop. The former got me involved in an unfamiliar programming language, and the latter involved learning to use the scanner as well.

My adventures in scanning alone deserve several pages, but I will confine myself to noting that scanning pictures in for the illuminated texts argument was straightforward and easy compared to trying to get the file sizes down to a reasonable figure. Moreover, the load time, image resolution and even the placement of the images on the page will vary from one Webbrowser to another, so that what looks just great on the Macintosh in my office is somewhat grainer and blurry on the more powerful Macs in the MacLab. These same images crash and burn when I try to access them through Compuserve and show up always aligned to the right, text below, on Netcruiser when a friend tries to hook in through his computer at work. As a result several hours of labor in getting the pages to look perfect can go down the tubes with the flick of a computer button.

In the terms Richard Lanham explores in The Electronic Word, I keep getting stuck between looking AT the page and looking THROUGH it to the content. Lanham theorizes this dynamic as a new, compelling version of the tensions in rhetoric between persuasiveness arising from style and the value or content of the argument. The advantage of the electronic writing space, according to Lanham, is that it puts these two poles of creating meaning into dynamic play. The disadvantage from my perspective is that the technological challenges and pleasures of producing visual style can all too easily outbalance the pursuit of content.

I now understand all too well the seduction of technological marvels. Having put so much work into preparing to write this essay, I haven't got as much energy or as much time for what I wanted to say about this form. And I did not even venture into the complexities of sound and video reproduction. I assume, however, that the balance between style and substance, between the construction of the hypertext and the scholarly motive behind that construction, can evolve with the scholar using the system. At the moment, I am most interested in the dynamic that exists between what a linked text enables and what it cannot achieve. It can enable certain kinds of textual comparisons that a printed text cannot; it can allow a freer interaction of text and image; with some improvement in processing, it can link performance into text--as the MIT multimedia project has already proved. What it cannot do is substitute image, sound, and video in the place of critical thought. It is really neither a problem nor a solution, but a useful structure for:

breaking out of the text