If we consider writing as part of a dynamic ‘ecosystem’, what new possibilities does writing in a digitally networked environment open up?
The concept of writing ecology presents innovative opportunities for audiences to interact with multimodal platforms and create new exhilarating experiences. It is the understanding that writing is an environment where writers, readers and sharers co-exist, collaborate and communicate and adapt to technological advancement and the evolution of human cognition. Multimodal literacy involves communicating meaning through a combination of two or more modes. Modes include written language, spoken language, and patterns of meaning that are visual, audio, gestural, tactile and spatial. The purpose of technological change and advances in communication technology is to impact the potential of writing in a digitally networked environment such as through the interactive web documentary Welcome to Pine Point as a result of the expansion of a dynamic writing ecosystem. The interactive web documentary by Michael Simons and Paul Shoebridge chronicles the story of a mining town called Pine Point and the memories of the people who used to live there. The text is an exemplar of the interactive possibilities for writing that have been enabled by technological change through the use of multimodality, interactivity and remediation.
Welcome to Pine Point indicates the changes in writing style, presentation and articulacy. The level of interactivity in digital texts has shifted alongside technological change but is not a new concept for writing, as flipping through pages in a book is an interaction between the reader and the text itself (Horowitz & Leland, 2015). It is the immersive nature of interaction that sets digital texts and printed texts apart (Page & Thomas, 2011). The interactive web documentary falls into the level 1 category of “Peripheral Interactivity” (Ryan, 2011). It is on this level where the digital text allows the audience to control the pace of the story; choosing when to interact with objects such as playing video clips, looking through photographs, and reading onscreen text. When interacting with the web documentary, the audience becomes unaware of the interface. It is not transparent, but it does require active participation. However, this level of interaction does not affect the outcome of the story as it only permits minimal control over the order of presentation. Despite the lack of control, the reader is still able to connect with the town’s story and its former residents in a unique way, possibly on a deeper level than more traditional modes of communication. The original part of the attraction of digital texts is interactivity because it helps “to counter the passive experience of watching by requiring audiences to make decisions at regular intervals” (Butchart, 2013). This interaction means that the audience has fully immersed themselves in the vital continuation of the digital text. The development of communication technology has enabled peripheral interactivity between the audience and the web documentary and demonstrates the change of the dynamic nature of the writing ecosystem in what it means to read and write.
The emergence of new media writing has brought into being the combination of the multimodal use of new digital technologies. The interactive web documentary involves a unique grasp of language and contexts that transform the spaces of writing but also our sense of space and our place within it. Multimodality plays an essential role in distinguishing between pre-digital and modern texts and provides Welcome to Pine Point with an engaging and nostalgic experience of revisiting and immortalising the past. Ecologies are inherently dynamic; in real time, their structure and content are continually changing, limited only by parameters subject to change over a long period due to technological change. In interacting with this text and its multimodal elements, the audience has a sense of falling into Pine Point itself and creates an experience where the audience can actively participate in the interactive documentary. Through the use of new digital technologies, Welcome to Pine Point provides the opportunity to engage in the text through the possibility of developing an intimate relationship between the reader and Pine Point itself. This effect is heightened through the combined media style to evoke emotion through the use of music, voice-overs, video clips and photographs so that the audience can connect with their senses to see and hear the residents of the town – and provides a sense of social reality. The domain of ideas activated and supplemented in the digital text creates an interpersonal interaction despite not providing direct links to other sources. Digital works “recall the corporeal energies that drive inscription” (Noland, 2009) and calls forth the possibility of associating memories with behaviours suppressed or sublimated by typographic cultures of text. The use of multimodality and new media writing creates a visual and aurally engaging experience for readers to interact within a digital environment with all their senses, something not achievable through more traditional means of writing.
The creation of digital texts similar to Welcome to Pine Point relies on previous forms of communication technology to develop innovative ways of writing. The process of remediation “ensures that the older medium cannot be entirely effaced: the new medium remains dependent on the older one in acknowledged or unacknowledged ways” (Bolter & Grusin, 1999, p.47). It is the expansion of writing ecologies and pre-digital modes of communication that the web documentary “could have been a book, could have been a movie, could have been a website” (MacKie, 2011). The storytelling project draws its inspiration from these media forms to create an interactive platform in a digital environment. It is through the combined use of interactivity and multimodality in which the process of remediation of media ensured the effective communication of the text. The project became a book, photo album, and a film all at once and even echoed the design imitating scrapbook form. These forms of media expand on writing as part of a dynamic ecosystem, one influenced and shaped by technological change, offering new possibilities of interaction in a digitally networked environment.
Ultimately, Welcome to Pine Point provides a sense of social reality to exchange ideas through a new textual form that will affect other communications as time alters with the expansion of writing ecology. Although little more than eight years old, the interactive web documentary continues to offer an exciting experience for internet users to engage with story and multimedia as a result of the advances in communication technology. The multi-platform storytelling project in the form of a ‘liquid book’ is an incredible narrative work that incorporates text, music, videos, and images into an interactive, utterly engrossing digital story. While some might desire a non-linear narrative with more open interactivity for the audience, Welcome to Pine Point’s strength mostly lies in its narrative form, and visual presentation as the documentary examines objects, time, and place. New possibilities for interactivity and multimodality have presented themselves through the process of remediation to create this exemplary digital text to capture the attention of the audience through a vital and innovative form of storytelling.
Angel, M., & Gibbs, A. (2013). At the Time of Writing: Digital Media, Gesture, and Handwriting, Electronic Book Review. Retrieved from http://electronicbookreview.com/essay/at-the-time-of-writing-digital-media-gesture-and-handwriting/
Bolter, D., & Grusin, R. (1999). Remediation: Understanding new media. Cambridge, Mass: The MIT Press.
Butchart, G. (2013) Camera as sign: on the ethics of unconcealment in documentary film and video, Social Semiotics, 23(5), 675-690, DOI: 10.1080/10350330.2012.740205
Cooper, M. (1986). The Ecology of Writing. College English, 48(4), p. 364-375. https://www.jstor.org/stable/377264
Dobrin, S. (2011). Ecology, writing theory, and new media : Writing ecology. Retrieved from https://ebookcentral.proquest.com
Gulbrandsen, I. T., & Just, S. N. (2011). The collaborative paradigm: towards an invitational and participatory concept of online communication. Media, Culture & Society, 33(7), 1095–1108. https://doi.org/10.1177/0163443711416066
MacKie, J. (2011). Welcome to Pine Point: Interactive online documentary nominated for two Webby awards. Postmedia News. Retrieved from https://search-proquest-com.ezproxy.uws.edu.au/docview/86217743?accountid=36155
Multmodality, (2014). College Composition and Communication, 65(3), 514. Retrieved from http://www.ncte.org.cccc.ccc
Nicotra, J. (2009). “Folksonomy” and the restructuring of writing space. College Composition and Communication, 61(1), W259-W276. https://search.proquest.com/docview/220693976?accountid=152970
Noland, Carrie (2009). Agency and Embodiment: performing gestures/producing culture. Harvard U Press.
Page, R., & Thomas, B. (Eds.). (2011). New narratives : Stories and storytelling in the digital age. Retrieved from https://ebookcentral.proquest.com
Simons, M & Shoebridge, P. (2011). Welcome to Pine Point. Retrieved from http://interactive.nfb.ca/#/pinepoint