Does digital writing need a new kind of theory? (Week 4: Landow and Moretti)


”Hypertext here permits one to make explicit, though not necessarily intrusive, the linked materials that an educated reader perceives surrounding it.”  (55)

“anyone who uses the hypertext makes his or her own interests the de facto organising principle for the investigation.” (56)

New reading in practice

1. Anti-abuse advert:

2. 3D TV to eliminate splitscreen gaming:

What would a new digital theory look like?

We felt that a cohesive new theory to work alongside new writing and reading practices can only be formed retrospectively. But questions and areas that theory may have to address include:

1.       Barriers of access and representation in/around digital texts

–          Money-based

How will digital texts avoid excluding those without access to digital media? How will society utilize the potential of digital texts when not everyone is able to access them? What level of digital literacy can we assume in others? What quality of internet service can be assumed when creating digital texts? Is the internet a human right? How much should digital texts cost?

–          Ability-based
Should digital texts be created in a way where they can be translated into braille, or read aloud by software? How will we ensure that poor digital literacy doesn’t entail social exclusion?

–          Representation and diversity

Is the internet as egalitarian as it seems? Are DH projects and digital texts inclusive and representative, or are the biased towards particular groups?
How are cultural and national differences reflected in a medium in which the author has minimal choice of audience? (E.g. a hypertext may not be packaged and edited for each national audience in the same way a print book might be). How are digital texts translated, and how does this process affect reading?
Who is making the products or texts aimed at improving access, and are they qualified to do so? (E.g. mental health apps are often produced and sold by developers for profit without any input from medical practitioners).

2.       Privacy issues, surveillance and the ownership of data

–          What are the limits of intertextuality? How will copyright law develop to cover emerging digital texts?

–           Spiro says “for the DH, information is not a commodity to be controlled but a social good to be shared and reused” (22), but the information on the internet is influenced by large corporations such as Google.  To what extent should corporations be able to profit from our data?

–          How is privacy defined in the digital realm? Is the internet as anonymous as it seems? Do users have genuine control over their online privacy?

–          What social pressures are emerging surrounding the internet? How are these shaping existing discourses (e.g. internet feminism, LGBTQ support, cyberbullying, ‘performance’ f self on twitter, etc)

–          Are social networks a form of panopticon? Is the ability to present yourself as you desire oppressive or liberating? How are corporations intervening with the performance of the self? (e.g. facebook closing down “fake” accounts but leaving up accounts of dead people)
See this blog series on Foucault and social media

3.       Ethical issues

–          The platforms from which we access digital texts are commodities, made and sold by large international organisations for profit. There are labour and economic issues embedded in the technology that we use. Is the purchaser of a tablet responsible for the origins of it? What would constitute an “ethical tablet”? Why do we, as western consumers, not care more about the origins of our digital products?

–          The tension between aesthetics and accessibility. E.g. a website having simple text and design to enable it to be translated onto a digital braille platform. To what extent should we sacrifice the enjoyment of the majority in order to enable the access of a minority?

–          Should the police have access to our cloud storage and online accounts without our permission or knowledge?

4.       “Biological” access, adaptation and evolution

–          Cyborg issues. How far can we edit the human body and still call it human?

–          Where do we draw the line between “improving accessibility” and “giving an advantage”?
E.g. “Attention Trainer”, a game to improve your concentration.

–          How do we respond when people are unable to engage with new digital media (e.g. getting headaches from watching 3D films)? Is there a “survival of the fittest” for technology, where those most able to adapt to new products/services will succeed?


Spiro, Lisa. “’This is Why We Fight’: Defining the Value of the Digital Humanities”. Debates in the Digital Humanities. Minnesota: Minnesota UP, 2012. 16-35. Print.

Other resources 

Internet and access:

Apple and ethics:

Social media and performance:


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