The invisible world

For this post I’ll be looking at the article ‘How We Read: Close, Hyper, Machine’ from 2010 by N. Katherine Hayles. In the article she looks at how we read text on a digital platform, and the ways in which we can exploit the tools of our digital environment to improve engagement with text and re-imagine a new definition for reading today.

Hayles examines and explains the concept of ‘close reading’, which would have been my association with reading of a literary text in school. Close reading refers to the process of critically analysing a text, where we try to notice patterns or aspects of the work that can uncover a deeper meaning or understanding of the text.

This method of ‘close reading’ is then juxtaposed to forms of digital reading, such as ‘hyperreading’ defined as “reader-directed, screen-based, computer-assisted reading” which basically refers to the ways we explore text online, defined more by a certain quickness and immediacy, where relevant information can be found and assimilated from a variety of sources and media, and where the more time consuming and critical process of ‘close reading’ is often not applied. ‘Machine reading’ is also explored, and refers to the myriad of ways in which computer software programs can analyse and read text. Today we obviously have a multitude of Apps at our fingertips that offer advanced versions of many of the software programs that are referenced in the article.

The pros and cons of each of these reading practices are looked at, and the need to form a holistic fusion of the collective benefits of close, hyper-, and machine reading methods is put forward.

I think that in certain environments, such as colleges and universities, we have definitely started to create this new way of reading and analysing text, where students have access to a host of digital tools and are able to take advantage of a combination of the strengths that each reading practice offers, not only helping with understanding, but also opening up new ways of engagement, and making life a bit easier! (I’m thinking of my own exposure to programs like Voyant, Zotero,, TAPoR, Project Gutenburg, Merriam-Webster app, and many more )

I’m not so sure how much has changed in the school environment though, and possibly more traditional methods of ‘close reading’ of literature aren’t combined with digital methods of reading to the extant or with the same ease as they are in the college or university setting. This could obviously have to do with lots of economic and social reasons, where many of the students might not have access to a computer, tablet, or even the internet.

I think an important thing in relation to the article though is that I don’t feel that we need to argue the importance of what Hayles is advocating for, and her call for action in this area has for the most part been heard. A multi-media approach to reading and learning is the goal for most educational institutions and bodies in most parts of the world that have the resources to pursue it.

There is a quote in the article from Maryanne Wolfe that eloquently sums up this goal:

We must teach our children to be bitextual or multitextual, able to read and analyze texts flexibly in different ways…Teaching children to uncover the invisible world that resides in written words needs to be both explicit and part of a dialogue between learner and teacher, if we are to promote the processes that lead to fully formed expert reading in our citizenry

Maryanne Wolfe, Proust and the Squid: The Story and Science of the Reading Brain

There were also some fun and interesting projects discussed as examples of new approaches to reading and examining traditional texts, such as the dissection of a piece of electronic hypertext fiction written in Storyspace from author Shelly Jackson called Patchwork Girl.

The following description is taken from the Eastgate website:

What if Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein were true?

What if Mary Shelley herself made the monster — not the fictional Dr. Frankenstein?

And what if the monster was a woman, and fell in love with Mary Shelley, and travelled to America?

Copyright © 2016 by Eastgate Systems, Inc

How could you not want to read that!

Another really interesting project was a student project called Romeo and Juliet: A Facebook Tragedy” which you can follow the link here to read more about. Basically though they adapted the Shakespeare play to a Facebook model, creating maps such as the one below of a social network Friend Wheel.

Its also great that the content for the Romeo and Juliet Facebook project is still accessible online, and highlights the importance of accessible data that we talk so much about in the course.

Image taken from Romeo and Juliet: A Facebook Tragedy website

Also worth a look is the TAPoR website, or Text Analysis Portal for Research, which has a very interesting and engaging way of displaying its content, and is really fun to explore:

Screenshot taken of TAPoR 3 website on 30-10-19.

In conclusion, the article by Hayles was an interesting examination of the ways in which we read and analyse text, both in print and online. Much of what she is referencing in the digital side of things has moved on quite a bit in the years since the article was written, but the fundamental aspects of close, hyper-, and machine reading practices as described are still relevant and important to understand. It allows us to be aware of how we can better use these practices collectively, and foster exciting possibilities for new ways of reading and learning.

Hayles, N. Katherine., ‘How We Read: Close, Hyper, Machine’ADE Bulletin, Number 150, 2010.

Wolfe,Maryanne., ‘Proust and the Squid: The Story and Science of the Reading Brain.’ New York: Harper, 2007.

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