“NSA Files Decoded,” “Snow Fall,” and “Love Letter”: Reckoning with the Power of Multimedia Digital Publication

Playing around with “NSA Files Decoded,” “Snow Fall,” and “Love Letter” (from the Viral Texts Project) has allowed me to explore new ways of presenting research and constructing an interactive narrative. As I click through all the features in these publications, see the videos, read the text, and engage intellectually with the ideas being presented, I find myself both immersed as well as persuaded. In direct contrast to reading yet another op-ed explaining why Edward Snowden is a saint (or a sinner), I find the trifecta of interactive visualizations, text, and videos in “NSA Files Decoded” to be much more refreshing and stimulating. Digital publications like these provide a new way to cover old territory, to resurrect narratives and events that have been discarded by the news-cycle and re-present them with even greater rhetorical force. Similarly, “Love Letter” makes 19th century newspapers interesting to a non-academic audience. I’ve shown it to many of my friends and family in India, who would have never guessed how whacky old newspapers can be, and who would have probably never encountered an artifact like the The Raftsman’s Journal. Digital publication makes scholarship interesting to the world outside academe. If there exists a similar representation of the big ideas in Judith Butler’s Gender Trouble, please let me know. I’m looking for a fun (and watered down) way to explain performativity to a lay audience.

While these publications effectively display the power and potential of contemporary digital publication, the foundational philosophy that seems to motivate these publications is very Aristotelian in nature. Ultimately, the use of fancy images, videos, non-linear interactive layouts, and all the bells and whistles that digital publication provides seems to stem from a fundamental desire to delight and instruct, a concept that Aristotle developed in Poetics waaaay back when. In this regard, there is nothing “new” about digital publication. Digital publication allows us to re-package old ideas with the hope that in their Web 2.0 avatar they will be disseminated much more quickly, they will reach a wider audience, and the audience reading these publications will experience pleasure as well as learn something new along the way. Furthermore, these new-media publications are crucially dependent on older forms of media like the written word, the spoken word, and visualizations to communicate their ideas, which again problematizes their status as being something “new.” Without the use of language (which is probably the oldest form of media), none of these publications could have even been conceptualized. Alan Liu’s claim that “New media are always pagan media: strange, rough, and guileful; either messengers of the gods or spam” seems to hit home as we problematize the newness of digital publications. These publications can be construed as messages that display and perform the wonders of computational technology, they can also be thought of as “spam” – nothing new, nothing interesting, and subversively deceptive.

I'm a first year English MA student interested in the digital humanities, critical and cultural theory, and postcolonial studies. Follow me @paramajmera

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One comment on ““NSA Files Decoded,” “Snow Fall,” and “Love Letter”: Reckoning with the Power of Multimedia Digital Publication
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