These Memories of How to Rob a Bank Won’t Last

“These memories won’t last” by Stuart Campbell is a story about his grandpa’s memories and behavior after his grandma’s death. The story is procedural by vertically scrolling down the page. As one vertically scrolls there is a rope that I feel represents the sanity and memories that the grandpa can hold onto. The further one goes the rope doesn’t stay in a straight line and also wraps itself around characters and objects throughout the story. I was fascinated by the fact that his grandpa could recall memories very well even when the present becomes fuzzy for him. Although the title of the story is these memories won’t last long, his grandpa memories lasted the longer than his present sanity.

 

In Alan Bigelow’s “How to rob a bank”, the reader follows the screen capture of “Bankrobr” as he decides to set himself up for an early retirement. He makes the life changing choice of robbing a bank. The reader can follow his every move and decision as he does all of his research and decisions on the phone. The story is set up similar to a slide show as the reader can go forth and back through the character’s timeline.

 

Although these two stories are very different in content and theme they have similarities in their procedural ways. Both stories allow the reader to go backwards to recall previous parts of the story, and they both only let him or her go so far back. In “These memories won’t last” as the reader scrolls down the Grandpa’s life on a rope the reader the previous part of the story slowly fades away. The reader cannot go much farther back as the memories literally won’t last. In “How to Rob a Bank” the reader can use the arrows to look at previous screen captures but after a certain amount of returns the reader is given a “wrong way” sign to point him or her back in the right direction. Another part of “These Memories Won’t Last” that I feel is underrated is when he says he feels that the world is forgetting his grandpa. I feel Campbell counter acts this by not letting the reader just scroll through the grandpa’s life quickly, but it has to be done at a slow pace. In “How to Rob a Bank” the reader can easily speed click through this young character’s life and story.

P.S After further research I am sad to say the Instagram Bankrobr does not have post from the story.

I Want The Memories To Last

A screenshot from These Memories Won’t Last

There are many aspects to this piece of digital literature that are only really available inside of a digital space which allow the reader to reach a more personalized understanding of Campbell’s story and experiences. Having to scroll through this piece, for example,  instead of having to physically flip the pages of a book emphasizes the fluidity of our experiences and thought processes. One second the author is having a nice conversation with his grandfather about his antics during his time in the military, the next a psychotic episode is trigged and his grandfather is thrust back into WWII.

While scrolling through Campbell’s These Memories Won’t Last, the visual of the rope really helps the reader understand the grandpa’s struggle to hold onto his memories and perceive his present surroundings at the same time. I understood the rope to represent the synapses of his brain and as the dementia got worse, the connections between each memory became more and more knotted up. To help the reader further understand how straining this entire ordeal was, the reader can hear the physical straining of a rope when a section with a lot of knots comes up.

The music that plays as you going through the story and the way it changes as your progress through the story further pushes onto the reader not only how Campbell’s grandfather felt but how everyone around him as well. Music is a very effective tool to express emotion or to just set the mood for a story and by choosing to present his story through a digital framework, Campbell is able to enrich his own narrative with it.

 

Story Layout: Does it Matter?

First off, I would just like to say that I felt very silly last night for not understanding why either of the two works we looked at for today’s class counted as data-base oriented texts. Needless to say when I looked at the syllabus again I was very relieved to find that we are now talking about procedural texts, therefore I am not actually as dumb as I felt!

Anyway, onto some real content. I was excited to re-open These Memories Won’t Last for this class because it’s a work I actually looked at a semester or two ago in Dr. Fox’s graphic medicine class. In the class we spent a lot of time generally going over how comics and/or visual art can depict aspects of of disabilities that can’t be conveyed in text alone, and ultimately decided that visuals paired with sparse text allows for a more empathetic understanding that disability is something most humans will experience at some point in their lives. This was one of the only digital works we looked at, and, that being the case, we didn’t really go into it as a work done online so much as we looked at it as though it was another comic, since that’s what we were used to.

Looking at it from the perspective of electronic lit, though, I was forced to consider the question of why this works as a digital narrative, but perhaps would not have been so effective as a comic on paper. Clearly, the motion and sound of the story are essential to setting the tone and mimicking the effects of dementia to some extent. Without the WWII sound effects made possible by the fact that this is a computerized work, how much less effective would the image of the grandfather having a WWII flashback be? For me, the striking part of this moment is the abrupt change from peaceful sound to violent ones, because that contrast is what really depicts the suddenness and aggressiveness that comes with PTSD and dementia.

Taken from the creator’s website, here: http://www.sutueatsflies.com/

Here, when looking at some panels side by side, what changes? It’s easy to imagine the effect of having this on a printed sheet of paper, and the effect would simply not be as engrossing as a work that requires you scroll through it, in whatever direction you please for as long as you want. The digital formatting allows you to create a space in which you can linger on a single image for as long as you want, but also allows for you to ignore images if you want to since they disappear (much like memories) once you’ve scrolled past them.

Only Linear Narratives Have a Wrong Way

Good morning, Electronic Literature. Doing the Let’s Play video for this class has motivated me to think of these blogging assignments more as conversations and less as papers that require a direct point with three pieces of evidence. (Funny, though, because the latter more accurately reflects the assignment we had for the Let’s Play. I guess I’m trying to indicate more of a commentary on the tone of the writing.)

I’m sad to say I will not be in class to discuss how to rob a bank, which was actually the piece I chose to do my Let’s Play video on before I realized it was on the syllabus! I love this piece. I’m going to embed my video below.

*As a quick note, I mentioned a tiny detail about an app game showcased on the user’s back screen as “Taylor”. It’s actually called “Lifeline”, where you work with and guide the character, Taylor. Probably will hear more about that game from me later in the semester on this blog.

I covered most of the main points of what I wanted to say about the work in the assignment, though now having sat with the The Language of New Media reading for about a week and a half, I want to think about this piece in the context of the narrative versus the database. This piece is situated solidly in the narrative camp in a way that is almost profound for its representation on a digital platform. I’m thrown back to the conversations we had on the second day of class about the impending death of the eBook – as it failed to take advantage of key affordances of the new platform it has migrated on, instead, mirroring the mechanics of reading a material book. While I definitely do not feel that way about Alan Bigelow’s work, and I think that he creates the effect of swiping quite intentionally as a form of passive consumption, I’m still kind of left flabbergasted by the lack of effort I have to put into reading and following the story, and there is pretty much no way I can conceive to do it differently. Just like a book in print, if I wanted a different read on the information and characters provided, I’d have to literally blatantly skip pages. Every detail in the narrative is provided for a reason.

Most of my conceptualization of the lack of “database” in this piece comes from the fact that there is little ability to navigate spatially on the screen (though also notably, little ability as well to consider this piece particularly encyclopedic). The options are quite simple, forwards with the right arrow key, or backwards with the left. In fact, you can only go so far backwards on the left before the screen forcefully informs you “wrong way!” and puts you back on course. I’m reminded of the little flying koopa that puts you back on track when you’re going the wrong direction in the Mario Kart franchise. I’ve attached images of both below for comparison.

The “Wrong Way!” sign if you go too far backwards in how to rob a bank by Alan Bigelow: http://webyarns.com/howto/howto.html
The character at the top is indicating that you are going the “Wrong Way!” in the GameCube game, Mario Kart. Image taken from TheUltimateTailsFan28’s Youtube Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RpU_b3jZIww

Anyways, even the other piece that we read for class today, which could also be clearly and uncontentiously classified as digital narrative and literature, at least challenges the form of the webpage a bit more than Alan Bigelow’s work by giving us some room to navigate the space and choose different directions. This piece, however, also relies heavily on the narrative structure in that it requires all things to be read and interpreted with the author’s end point and framing centrally in mind.

Works Cited:

Lev Manovich, “The Database” from The Language of New Media (2001)

Let’s Play: how to rob a bank

I found this amazing piece of art, how to rob a bank – all lowercase for minimalist aesthetic points, on the Shortlisted Competition Entries of Reading Digital Fiction (parentheses funded by the AHRC, close parentheses).  All credit for the piece goes to digital author Alan Bigelow, famous for pushing the boundaries of multimedia work for several years, with most of his finished productions available on his website webyarns dot com.

Works Cited: 

Murray, Janet – Hamlet on the Holodeck (1997)
Rabinowitz, Peter – Narrative Conventions ( 1987)
Raley, Rita – Dataveillance and Counterveillance (2013)
Zuboff, Shoshana – Surveillance Capitalism (2015)

How Procedures of Story Progression Lend to the Narrative

There are different procedures for moving through stories depending on the media in question. For books, the typical procedure is to read page by page. However, some books may instruct the reader to jump between pages, reference another page then return, or, perhaps, there is no pre-determined sequence at all. Digital media boasts the capabilities to experiment with novel procedures for moving through and enhancing the story.

In Stuart Campbell’s These Memories Won’t Last, the reader scrolls through the story. However, to better represent the thematic concept of fading memories, texts and images are only transient as they soon fade away. Similarly, there is a maximum rate of progression as faster scrolling does not unravel the story faster. Thus, the reader is limited to a minimum and maximum pace. The reader also encounters an instance where scrolling down no longer yields progression. Instead, the reader is stuck in a WWII flashback, as was the speaker’s grandfather. Stuart Campbell’s application of procedural limitations aided in conveying his narrative.

A screenshot from Stuart Campbell’s These Memories Won’t Last. The reader is stuck at this section and cannot progress further along the rope, just as the speaker’s grandfather is stuck in his flashback.

In Alan Bigelow’s How to Rob a Bank, the reader can use arrow keys to progress. To progress forward, the reader can use the arrow keys. Bigelow does not specify which arrow to use. Typically, we associate right with moving forward just as we would read a line of text. Pressing left on the title screen yields a “wrong way message,” implying that the reader cannot progress backwards. However, pressing left again will bring the reader to the end credits as well as the end of the story. Just as Bankrobr is unsure of how to progress, the reader must figure out how to progress as well. Toward the end of the story, the reader can progress to the next chapter by clicking a link or the reader can press the arrow key again to go to the end credits or even restart from the beginning. Similarly, Bankrobr can progress to the next chapter in his narrative, or he can stop. Again, the applied procedure lends to the narrative.

Is It literature? The popular question

 

A image of data, an important part of our digital world.
A image of data, an important part of our digital world.

Data, a driving factor in our technological world that helps us spread, store and view a wide a range of information.  Massive amounts of data have been being stored over the years on websites such as Wikipedia creating vaults of information, making it no surprise that artist would find their way into them eventually.

In recent years we have been seeing a growing number of bots and procedurally generated text appear on the internet for all the world to see, many of which have their base in these massive pools of data.  Some bots are set to pull information out of these data bases and comprise sentences, the bots of twitter come to mind.  The rising of the bots raises many questions perhaps the most important of which being is the creation of these bots and texts literature?  For many of the creators of these works this very question may be insulting but its an important question to ask.  As  far as literature goes bots and procedurally generated text should be considered legitimate pieces of literature. While they may be comprised of random information pulled from the internet they still form  sentences and stories to read from which people can pull meaning which is the very essence of literature.  As  long as people can derive some form of entertainment or meaning from the work that they are viewing it validates the work. I will leave you with a simple question; some of the greatest art work in the world wouldn’t fit conventional standards of art but does that mean it shouldn’t be considered art?

 

My Strange (Data) Addiction

I was awestruck when I first visited Harris and Hockmuth’s repository, Network Effect. It’s almost inconceivable – I guess you could say sublime, even, just how much there is to absorb, how many possible access points there are for exploration and discovery. It wonderfully illustrates the encyclopedic properties of the Internet, attempting to encapsulate the sum of shared human experience in an aesthetically supercharged interface.

One thing I was curious about – the program identifies your country based on IP address, so do the images, videos, and statistics you see change based on where you’re accessing the site?

The whole thing reminds me of when I was a curious middle school student. After finishing my homework, I remember spending hours surfing Wikipedia and the web in general, researching and gathering all the information I could on whatever off-the-wall topics (like wolf/human relations throughout recorded history) fascinated me that week. We toyed with the “Wikipedia Wormhole” last week, seeing first hand how addictive all the hyperlink-rich text can be.

Apparently now there’s a Wikipedia board game too. Move over, Trivial Pursuit.

With Network Effects, we have such a vast mine of “flotsam and jetsam” that still is able to “invite close rather than distant reading”, uniquely giving it the ability to produce such an addictive quality (Rodley 81). Thus, the art piece’s statement at the beginning that it will block users from accessing it after a certain amount of time is even more powerful. Halting us from satisfying our endless thirst for knowledge reminds us to come up for air after diving in the vast big data sea.

Gender and the Shared Human Experience in “Network Effect”

In exploring Harris and Hockmuth’s Network Effect, I was most interested not only in the social commentaries that this data-driven work provides, but also in the progression of my own interaction with this work. The characteristic of this work that first struck me was its inclusion of gender data. The page tells you what percentage of the information collected by the program comes from women versus men. Rodley mentions in his essay how “writing with data is also a tool for thinking about and critiquing the hegemonic forces that control, monitor, and police the Internet’s information portals” (85). The data concerning gender fits into what one might assume based on societally imposed perceptions of gender – the words associated with emotion, caregiving, and domestic tasks are overwhelmingly connected with women whereas the words associated with violence, physical activity, and assertive behavior are connected with men. My observations support Rodley’s claim in that the portrayal of each gender that this work provides can serve as a mirror for the user to be able to see the hypocrisy and arbitrariness of our society’s predisposed notions of gender.

At the beginning of my time spent with the work, I chose words that I thought would fit into these societal characterizations of binary genders and then tried to see if I was correct. It was a sort of game. However, as the time increased, I kind of forgot about doing this and naturally began to choose words that applied to the overall human experience, such as “learn,” “teach,” and “grief.” While many of these words lean one way or another in terms of gender concentration because of the nature of the way the work functions, this seemed to matter less as time ticked down. The fact that the timer is informed by the average lifespan of people in the U.S. further inspired my progression from focusing on “the hegemonic forces that control . . . the Internet’s information portals” to exploring the ways in which the human experience is shared by all people, regardless of gender.

screenshot of the page for the word “cry” (data is overwhelmingly female)
data in graph form. Coincidentally, these two images come from an article that affirms my points. Check it out here.

Becoming a Product to be Sold

Image result for network effects
This photo depicts data network effects, which means that as people use more data, their patterns are analyzed to create better products for their use. 

It’s no secret that companies like Facebook and Google are watching our every move. One accidental click on a website and then BOOM, the product you clicked on appears to be following you on every other site.

The photo above shows that as more people use data, companies use that information to create better sites, so that they can attract even more users. One example given in the article, “Token Network Effects”, is how Instagram utilizes “your engagement patterns to create a better photo stream”. A better photo stream attracts previous users to stay on Instagram for longer, which creates advertisement for Instagram and entices non-users to create a profile.

How much data is too much though?

When first entering the Network Effect site, I was overwhelmed with data. Each word that I clicked on appeared to contain an endless line of videos and I wanted to watch them all. As time pressed on, I thought that if I wanted to get the most out of the site, I would have to click on a variety of words instead. I did not know what would happen once time was up, which made me feel anxious. Once it was all over, however, I felt a bit frustrated at the fact that I couldn’t re-enter the site. I quickly wanted to go over the work, so that I could have a better understanding of it, but I also greatly appreciated the fact that I could not (no matter how many times I closed the browser and tried to reopen it).

We spend so much of our lives trying to absorb everything that we forget to just enjoy things as they come. We feed into consumerism and commercialism and remain numb to the world around us. We have become a society that is impatient at being patient and as a side effect, we are missing out on socializing with those right in front of us. As I write this, I waved at my friend, but he was so engrossed on his phone that he did not notice me until I said his name. Maybe if we started looking up more, our relationships with each other would improve, but I’m only a millennial, what do I know about face-to-face interactions, right?

Until next time,

Stay hungry, my friends