Hacking Literature: Reading Analog Texts in a Digital Age
Smith, Martha Nell
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Evangelists of the digital age, in the immediacy of its adolescence, often describe digital technologies as "revolutionary" (e.g. "the digital revolution") and as having a world-changing impact on human cultural interactions. However, by considering digital media from a temporally scaled vantage point spanning thousands of years, Hacking Literature proposes ways in which the digital age might also be introducing "world-saming" technologies that are as likely to reinstantiate cultural norms as they are to create new ones. Hacking Literature finds evidence for its arguments by considering examples of similar technological innovations prevalent in "revolutionary" technologies of information storage and dissemination: that of differently mediated literary texts. Using arguably iconic examples from Homer, Shakespeare, Eliot, and Dickinson (an epic, a drama, a novel, and poetry), and creating analogies between those texts and, respectively, the Linux kernel, Internet security protocols, the history of the World Wide Web, and the world's most successful blogging engine, Hacking Literature describes ways in which literary media and digital media appear to undergo similar kinds of technological transformations. The project then analyzes these similarities to suggest possible opportunities for using software development concepts as entry points for literary analysis, as critical lenses for reading that meld technology and humanities.