Electronic Texts are Computations are Electronic Texts

Journal of Philosophy of Education 34 (1):169-181 (2000)
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The notion of ‘electronic texts’ has gained universal currency. What, exactly, does this phrase refer to? Most authors answer by describing a set of surface characteristics resulting from the application of computer technology to traditional texts. Such depictions, I want to argue, can be seriously misleading. They presuppose a conventional understanding of ‘text’ in order to make sense of the phenomenon of digitised inscriptions. The simple choice of the phrase ‘electronic text’ suppresses the radical challenge raised by the new medium. Its impact is supposedly captured by modification of an existing concept, so it is hardly surprising that most accounts end up with a typical ambivalence. Electronic texts, we are told, are quite different from—but, at the same time, comparable to—their traditional precursors. Some things that could not be done in the entire history of literacy have become possible nowadays. Yet, it is this very history that provides the background for the understanding of digital processes. Describing something previously unknown by means of well-known categories is bound to lead to these kinds of mildly schizophrenic pronouncements. This chapter discusses their initial plausibility and probes their underlying logic.



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Herbert Hrachovec
University of Vienna

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