Going Digital

Johanna Drucker takes this discussion of cognitive processes, which are closely tied to the imagined experience, or phenomenology of reading, to the digital realm. Even as Ong discusses the printed book as reified, Drucker follows society’s movement away from the book as an object, and instead she puts "ideas of performative materialities into the context of networked environments” (Drucker 2014). In other words, with the rise of the internet and the digitization of materials, books and their words once again become decontextualized as independent objects, and recontextualized as interconnected digital objects. In this way, the book and its content once again become community-oriented, though not in the original sense. Instead of being read aloud to a group or audience, the book is consumed by multiple people online at the same time, while also being interconnected with other texts, materials, authors, and images. This thematic essay is an example of the new interconnectivity that Drucker discusses. Even as we read these words, we are aware of their context and spacing on the page, as well as their relationship to related images and hyperlinks. We can navigate away from this page easily and return to it just as quickly. We can copy and paste whole passages and images with the click of a finger, and we can delete the material almost as quickly as we can navigate away from it.

All of these changes work together to form what Drucker considers a new early modern period (Drucker 2015). This new early modern period parallels the one which took place shortly after the invention of the printing press. Just as the ability to quickly and cheaply print identical texts changed the way humans collected and consumed information, the ability to interact with a text online has also changed the way we think about information and interact with text. Drucker argues that with an increased use of the World Wide Web, graphic devices have become inextricably intertwined with narration. In this way, her work on the materiality of text and its transition to the digital realm closely parallels our movement from text-oriented pulp fictions to the text and fixed image media forms of the comic. Just as we are unable to navigate a website without recognizing and using its graphical cues (Drucker 2007), we are unable to read comic books and graphic novels without understanding the conventions dictating how words and fixed images interact to create complex stories. 

In 2015, 84% of American adults have access to and regularly use the Internet (Perrin 2015). By extension, McLuhan, Drucker, and Ong have outlined how this change has shaped modern society and altered the way we read, perceive ourselves in relation to narratives and the world, as well as how we understand the the printed word. While McLuhan focuses primarily on technological determinism and the ways in which technology has physically and visibly altered human behavior, Ong examines the cognitive processes involved and how these changes have altered human behavior on a less tangible level. Their work is combined, in many ways, by Drucker. She examines both determinism and social cognitive theory as she maps the new early modern period of today. However, Bruno Latour and other sociologists are the ones who took the combination of these two extremes and began exploring them as a continuum. In actor-network theory we begin to see various technologies taking on agency and participating in social networks and systems (Latour 1988). The idea that technologies have agency further complicates or problematizes the teleologies that Gabilliet and McLuhan put forward. In essence, Latour argues that humans and objects interact with one another to create meaning. He places himself in the center of the continuum between technological determinism and social cognitive theory, with a successful exploration of ways in which objects dictate our behavior, even as we create, modify, and control the development of new objects and technologies (Latour 1988). Actor-network theory adequately demonstrates our central argument, which is that a reductive teleology using technological determinism cannot tell a complete story of the development of the American comic book and graphic novel.