“Dakota”: Digital Literature That Breaks Its Own Rules

When I first opened the link to Young-Hae Chang Heavy Industries’ Dakota, my immediate reaction was confusion. Was the page broken? Why was it blank? Then, the thrumming drum beat began in sync with the page color lightening gradually to white, and the first words of introductory text, a countdown from ten to one, flashed onto the screen, disappearing as quickly as they’d materialized. No less confused, I focused all of my attention onto the words appearing in front of me and braced myself for a reading experience different from anything I’d read before. And in this aspect, Dakota definitely did not disappoint.

As I got further along into the story, I grew increasingly frustrated. Some of the text flashed by in less than a second, much too quickly for me, or any reader, to be able to comprehend. What’s the point of having this part of the text if you can’t read it? I wondered. But, as I learned from Jessica Pressman’s “Speed Reading,” removing interactivity from the equation was exactly the authors’ intention.

As we mentioned in class this past week, one of the five elements of digital literature is interaction, or a lack of it. There are no buttons in Dakota to allow the reader to stop, pause, or slow down the rate at which the text appears (or even to pause the music), and this is precisely the point. As quoted in Jessica Pressman’s “Speed Reading,” Young-Hae Chang has said, “My Web art tries to express the essence of the Internet: information. Strip away the interactivity, the graphics, the design, the photos, the banners, the colors, the fonts and the rest, and what’s left? The text” (81-82).  This is a very bare-bones approach to digital literature as we know it.

The YouTube video above, though one could argue is convenient, blatantly defeats the purpose of the work by reintroducing interactivity into the work. This is because, due to the way YouTube as a platform functions, the audience is able to pause, rewind, and fast-forward through the text at will. To someone who hadn’t gone through the original text on Young-Hae Chang Heavy Industries’ website and had simply watched the above video instead, the experience and its impact on the reader would be dramatically reduced. This only further serves to emphasize how radically different Dakota truly is from other forms of digital literature.