This is a piece of the research I've made while working on the 'New Line' project.
Try out New Line here.
As the world becomes increasingly reliant on technology, the future of reading seems uncertain. With the proliferation of digital media, it's becoming harder and harder to truly engage with texts and delve deep into their content. Our devices, which were once a means of accessing literature, are now becoming a distraction, as we become accustomed to a constant stream of stimuli. While the digital world offers endless possibilities for content consumption, it turns us from readers into users, constantly seeking out the next thing to grab our attention. In this age of distraction and reactivity, it's important to ask ourselves: what will happen to the act of reading as we know it?
From the invention of the printing press to the present day, lines, paragraphs, pages, and books have remained an integral part of reading. But what would have happened if the art of typesetting was invented in the digital age?
Take the simple example of an internet "page." It is not printed on paper with ink, but rather is a dynamic expression of data displayed on a screen. Yet, it is still arranged in rows and columns according to traditional rules developed during the era of printing.
Despite the evolution of technology and the shift from physical to digital media, the structure and formatting of text remains largely unchanged. It is a testament to the enduring influence of the printing press and the enduring appeal of it's traditions.
What will typography look like in the digital world as technology advances and the internet becomes more prevalent? Can technology that often distracts us be used to improve reading in the digital space? These are questions worth considering as the potential for another 'printing revolution' is making way.
Typography is a unique aspect of culture, especially in Israeli-Jewish culture where the letter and book hold both traditional and revolutionary significance. Throughout history, writing and printing have been linked to dramatic technological changes in typography - from how text is presented to readers, to distribution and consumption methods, and even in the design process of written mediums. In my opinion, typography serves as a common thread that connects us all, regardless of cultural differences.
But as much as I love typography, even I have to admit that reading long texts can be a chore, and I'm not alone in feeling this way. In today's digital era, the focus is on creating an efficient user experience and achieving a specific purpose. However, reading pages upon pages of static, monotonous text is becoming increasingly difficult in a world where we demand immediacy, personalization, and constant stimulation.
In my research, I sought to understand how typography's embrace of pixels, sensors, and code can facilitate an interaction between readers and text, ultimately enhancing their ability to deeply engage with it's content, even during lengthy reads. With the goal is to create a sense of presence and focus, helping readers to fully immerse themselves in the content, It will be interesting to see how advances in technology can be leveraged to achieve this in the future.
Lines in History
When we view writing as a technology, a medium that combines technical means and materials to create the way texts are written and presented, it becomes clear that this can have a significant impact on our reading habits. By examining the development of writing technologies throughout history, we may find inspiration for how to approach typography in the digital age.
Throughout history, different cultures have utilized various organizing principles to arrange written text spatially. The written word, which is meant to translate spoken language into a visual and spatial form, has faced the challenge of converting the linear delivery of oral language into a static, visual format. To overcome this challenge, a variety of solutions and orders have been developed, some of which are still in use today. For example, Hebrew and Arabic scripts are read from right to left, while Latin scripts are read from left to right. Chinese script is arranged from top to bottom. In each of these cases, writers have had to make compromises in order to fit the spoken content into a visual format. Whether writing on rocks, walls, pottery, or paper, and whether writing horizontally or vertically, writers have always encountered limitations in the material on which they are writing.
This material constraint also created a tension between the limitless nature of spoken language and the finite limitations of space and matter. In some cultures, such as ancient Egypt, this tension was addressed by not establishing a uniform writing direction. In ancient Greece of the 6th century BC, a two-way writing order called "bostrophidon" was introduced, in which each line was written in the opposite direction of the previous one, creating a fluid back and forth movement. This writing and reading technique emerged independently in several cultures in the ancient world, but by the 4th century BC, the direction of writing in ancient Greece was fixed as left to right. These examples illustrate how the material constraints and cultural practices of a given time period can shape the development and evolution of writing and reading techniques.
The printing revolution was a significant event in the history of communication and information dissemination. Prior to the development of printing technology, the creation of books and other written materials was a labor-intensive and time-consuming process that relied on the manual copying of texts by scribes. With the invention of the printing press, texts could be reproduced quickly and inexpensively using reusable stamps, or type. This made it possible to produce large quantities of books and other written materials, making them more widely available to the general public. The printing revolution also had a major impact on the way that text was arranged and presented, as the physical and economic constraints of the printing process influenced the design and layout of printed materials.
Hierarchy in typesetting | thinking with type, Ellen Lupton
As a result, a specialization emerged in the way that text was presented and formatted, with the goal of achieving an optimal balance between cost, benefit, and communication. Typography became the art of managing the physical constraints of the printing process like ink bleeding or text running off the page, all while preserving a legible and clear optimum.
Villanova, Rudimenta Grammaticæ - 1500
The printing revolution brought new challenges and conventions to the printing and design professions. These conventions, shaped by reader needs and printing constraints, have formed a typographic landscape familiar to readers. It can be hard to distinguish between reader needs and reading habits formed through cultural necessity. These conventions continue to adapt to changing technologies and audience preferences.
The Xerox Alto, the first personal computer with a graphic interface, was a revolutionary device when it was developed in 1973. At the time, mass production of home computers in the US was still about a decade away. The Alto, which was the size of an office photocopier, featured a keyboard and mouse that were similar in design to those used today. However, its screen was designed in a vertical orientation and in the proportion of an A4 page, with the idea that a screen is an "electronic sheet of paper."
Alto personal computer by Xerox | docubyte
The typographic set of conventions for arranging text that had evolved in the age of print, has carried fully intact into the digital realm. Despite differences between the printing and digital environments, text on screens was to be set as if it was a mechanical printing press.
As Marshall McLaughlin noted, we often look at the present through the rearview mirror of the past when it comes to technological development, particularly in the realm of reading. This is because new technologies are often initially shaped by the principles and features of their predecessors, whether due to the constraints of their young age or the need to make them accessible to the public. However, after years of development, is it possible to imagine the emergence of a new type of text and a new way of reading? a way that is enabled by the full potential of digital technology?
The Direction of Reading
Writing and text are inherently static, as they rely on the imprinting of words and ideas on physical materials in order to convey information. This process of imprinting, whether on hard materials like rock or clay or softer materials like paper, is designed to "freeze" a complex structure of information from different places in time.
The transition of text from print to screens has opened up the possibility of moving text in various dimensions. Today, There are two main categories of text movement:
- Independent movement, which occurs automatically as time progresses - such as subtitles or credits in film;
- User-dependent movement, which is controlled by the viewer. such as scrolling text on websites, which can be moved up or down by the viewer using a mouse or other input device.
Ending Credits | True romance, Tony Scott
These different forms of text movement allowed new types of flexibility and interactivity in the way that we consume written materials.
The examples of text movement described above, have become common conventions in our everyday visual experience. They pragmatically combine the static qualities of text with the movement capabilities of screens, resulting in text that is dynamically arranged in familiar pattern structures such as lines, paragraphs, and columns. While these are the most widely accepted examples of text dynamism on screens, they are not the only ones. There is still much potential for exploration and innovation in the way that we use text movement to enhance the reading experience and convey information in new and creative ways.
Technological developments like Amazon's Kindle word runner allow users to read at a faster pace by displaying only one word on the screen at a time and replacing it with the next word in the text at variable speeds. This method, known as Rapid Serial Visual Presentation (RSVP), has been used in neurological experiments for decades to study how the reading mechanism works in the human brain. Today, RSVP is being used in a variety of commercial applications to enhance the reading experience.
Reading in Rapid Serial Visual Presentation
While RSVP has been shown to increase reading speed, some critics argue that it comes at the cost of the quality of the reader's comprehension of the text. According to research on the reading mechanism, a visual space of words is necessary for proper analyzation of written content, as well as the ability to go back and re-process already-read text. Without these features, the effectiveness of RSVP as a reading tool may be limited.
Despite this - Users of these methods often report an increased feeling of concentration while reading. This effect has been described as almost "meditative," with the engaging "chase" experience of following the text replacing common distractions like losing attention or re-reading without comprehending the written content. This sense of presence and focus while reading may be a desirable outcome for some readers.
The study of eye movement, or tracking the movement of the pupils, began in the early 19th century. The first devices for measuring eye movement were developed in the early 20th century, and have helped researchers understand the way the eyes work, particularly during reading. These insights have had significant implications for the field of vision and have led to the development of new technologies and techniques for studying and improving eye function.
In the 1980s, the combination of eye-tracking equipment and computing led to the development of human-machine interfaces, primarily for making computers more accessible to users with motor disabilities. As tracking technology improved, it became increasingly common in academic and commercial research. Today, eye-tracking devices are used in a wide range of fields, including psychology, marketing, and user experience design. These devices allow researchers to study how people interact with technology and other visual stimuli, providing valuable insights into human behavior and cognition.
Gaze tracking technology has been improved by machine learning and AI, and is used in fields such as medicine, traffic, and education. Its potential applications are expected to continue growing.
Eye tracking Illustration | Tobii
The development of gaze tracking technology has made it possible for these devices to be available as off-the-shelf products for home users, rather than being limited to academia and corporate settings. This has also facilitated the integration of gaze tracking into webcams on personal computers, allowing users to access these capabilities without the need for special equipment. As a result, gaze tracking technology is now more widely available and accessible than ever before.
Between the Lines
In 1967, French literary critic Roland Barthes published his influential essay "The Death of the Author," which proposed a new approach to literary criticism that focused on the role of the reader rather than the author in determining the meaning and intentions of a work. Barthes argued that the reader is free to interpret a text personally and that this interpretation is shaped by the reader's own views and connections. In this view, the reader becomes the key figure in unlocking the subversive potential of the text and transforming it from a finished "work" into an open "text." Barthes's ideas have had a lasting impact on literary theory and criticism.
According to this concept, the reader is free to engage with a text in a similar way a child makes use of a game - he 'plays' with it in his imagination and out of his inclinations, without commitment to the creator's intentions. This idea has been further amplified by the development of the internet, which has made it possible for unprecedented amounts of content to be presented in an open, boundless, linked manner, without clear beginnings or ends and often without clear authorship. Internet users have the ability to copy, paste, merge, link, and build new texts according to their own views and inclinations. This has created a new landscape for textual creation and interpretation, one that is driven by the reader rather than the author.
In the 1990s, a new concept emerged that challenged the centrality of the author in the digital age. This concept, known as "the user," arose from the field of human-computer interaction and argued that the main characters of the current era are not authors or readers, but users. Users have unprecedented autonomy, as they both create and consume content, and their needs and limitations are the focus of constant research and examination. This shift towards the user as the central figure in the creation and consumption of digital content has had significant implications for the way we think about communication and interaction in the digital age.
The user has created a culture that values usefulness over meaning in text. They have come to expect texts on websites to be practical, rather than in-depth, and to be actively searching, rather than present. This has led to a culture of distraction, where it is increasingly difficult to be a "reader" in the digital environment. It is often said that reading text from a screen is more difficult than reading from paper, but this difficulty is not due to technical or physiological reasons, but rather to cultural shifts that have occurred as a result of the widespread use of digital media.
In his book 'Species of spaces and other pieces', French Jewish writer Georges Perec explores the relationship between text and space and between writing and wandering. In the chapter "The Page," he reflects on the role of space in our thinking as humans, asking how the page - with its dimensions and boundaries - serves as a space for thought. Is it an extracorporeal space where we have experiences and perform internal actions? Is it a place where we find our way? Perec's insights provide a unique perspective on the connection between text and space and the ways in which we engage with both.
These reflections become even more relevant when we consider new formats of reading and writing, such as those found on screens. The page has fixed dimensions, while the screen offers an endless space. The page is static, while the screen is dynamic. The book is a closed, self-contained object, while the computer is connected to a network of information sources. These differences highlight the unique qualities of each medium and the ways in which they shape our reading experience.
The bottom lines
There are several reasons why it may be valuable to move beyond the traditional boundaries of the page and explore new ways of arranging and reading text. The "New Line" project offers motivations, possibilities, and practices for doing so, focusing on a range of decisions and areas. Some examples of these decisions include:
The "New Row" project investigates the use of parametric fonts, which are fonts that can adapt and change their shape in response to user behavior, to create a more interactive and engaging reading experience. These responsive fonts can move slightly towards the reader, highlighting the text and making it more prominent. The use of parametric fonts allows for a wide range of possibilities and behaviors, allowing the text to become a "living" element with different patterns of interaction. By experimenting with these responsive fonts, the project aims to explore the potential for creating a more dynamic and personalized reading experience on screens.
Also, the infinite and dynamic nature of screens is taken into account by presenting content within a scrolling page. This approach allows for the use of the unlimited space provided by screens, while also drawing on the paradigms of writing and printing that have carried over into the digital era. To make the most of this space, the project proposes a horizontal scroll that utilizes the full width of the screen, but reduces the amount of visible text in order to avoid clutter and provide room for the eyes to move. By using this approach, the project aims to create a more immersive and intuitive reading experience that takes advantage of the unique qualities of screens.
The interface between humans and machines has advanced significantly in recent decades. The shift from key-based control to touch and gaze tracking has strengthened the connection between us and the devices we use. While this advancement can enhance reading abilities, increase accessibility for those with disabilities, and enable new and creative interactions with text, it also raises concerns about privacy. The recording of information about our eyes and their movements can be a privacy violation, with the possibility of this information being traded without our knowledge or consent.
The "New Line" project is based on the assumption that the way we read can shape and transform us, our culture, and society. Every technological change brings with it the potential to enhance human well-being as well as the possibility of causing harm. It is important to carefully consider the implications of these changes and strive to find a balance between the benefits and risks they bring.
This line marks the end of this text, but it could also mark the beginning of something new. I encourage you to continue thinking about the ideas presented here, raise questions, and consider how the "New Line" reading paradigm could be further developed and used. What other applications can be imagined for this approach? Who might it benefit? What might be particularly exciting or interesting about it? I welcome your thoughts and experiences and look forward to discussing these ideas further.
Try out New Line here