George Landow and other textual theorists have been observing for nearly twenty years now that digital information technology both empowers and embodies Jacques Derrida’s concepts of (con)textual instability as well as his powerful conundrum of the simultaneity of authorial presence and absence in all written texts. However, other than a few more or less esoteric examples of hypertext writing that really begin to utilize the potential of this new medium to provide readers with uniquely (w)readerly experiences (such as Shelley Jackson’s “Patchwork Girl”), most digital writing has been confined to online ramblings of obscure personalities such as those contained in this blog and countless tweets by celebrities and others, unauthor(iz)ed postings in wikis and endless commercial sites, and e-text versions of works written by and for the old print media culture but presented in an accelerated and paperless format. But these instances are hardly hypertext as our theorists and futurologists would have it. Indeed, we have yet to see truly ergodic texts.
Further, while the electronic tools of the modern age have turned us each and every one into his or her own Prospero, our writing and our reading and our thinking about how and why reading and writing happen and how they relate to each other all still remain hopelessly mired in old notions based on print culture. In fact, we really need to start asking ourselves whether those of us raised on good old-fashioned books and paper and pencils will ever be capable of fathoming (or fashioning) truly new texts. We were born under Gutenberg and our thinking remains hopelessly Gutenbergian. Perhaps only those born into the electronic age will be able to think outside the book.
Those manically-texting kids with their flying thumbs and their seemingly anti-social propensity to text the person next to them rather than looking up from the cell phone to speak a few words, they are the writers scriptors and readers of this brave new world. They have already mastered the art of simultaneous presence and absence.