“Strings” by Dan Waber was, to say the least, not an interactive piece of electronic literature, but the feelings evoked and visual effects from viewing it were pretty amazing. Other than clicking on each individual string, it did “not require any action from the user” of this media. Strings was created using Flash and conjures images of human behavior and the give-and-take of the behavior/relationships between humans, as well as handwriting and communication. I was unable to find any literary criticism on this piece published in 1999. (Perhaps it is too old for the current databases?)
Upon first examination when viewing the “argument” in “Strings” a fun feeling was elicited in my brain. It was fun to watch as a single string morphed from YES to NO and back again. It felt as if there was an argument between two people ensuing in this visual. It looked like a tug-of-war between the words. Imagining that two people were having an argument with a constant back and forth of the YES and NO until the piece was stopped could have meant that the argument was never ending until a third party (me) stopped it. What an interesting concept. I had to see more!
In “argument2” another argument ensues between YES and NO, but now MAYBE has entered into the conversation. The words aren’t morphing from one to the next but are stable images, which move through the screen. This time my imagination is running with the idea that a child is involved in the conversation between his/her parents. A fast YES moves in and out of the screen, while the NO seems to be steady in the middle for most of the argument, with the MAYBE close to the NO at most times. I conjure the idea that a Dad quickly said YES, Mom said NO, and the child is saying, “Aw, come on. How about MAYBE, which will turn into a YES?” When my children were young they would almost badger me until I gave in to say YES. It didn’t happen much, to say the least! This argument was a little more fun to watch, since the words were already created and not morphing, so the implication of the words was immediate.
As I went from screen to screen viewing all of the Strings, the one I liked best was the last one, which was titled “poidog.” Upon investigating what a poidog is, or should say WAS, I found that it was a now extinct Hawaiian dog, which was fed poi—a kind of thick paste made from the taro plant. What does an extinct dog have to do with the words “words are like strings that I pull out of my mouth” in this electronic literature piece? The graceful movements of the words morphing from one to the next produce questions about the meaning. This may have been Waber’s first thoughts about creating the piece, since when we talk we do string words together to form sentences, though single words, like NO are also complete sentences without being strung to another word.
Perhaps this last thought on “Strings” is that words coming out of our mouths may become extinct with all of the electronic media now being used and explored. For example, I look around while in an elevator full of people, and on any given day most of the passengers are looking down at their electronic devices and not speaking to anyone nearby. Will the spoken word become extinct with the constant overuse of electronic forms of communication? Should it? This thought brings to mind a Star Trek episode of many years ago (from the original 1966-1969 series). In this particular episode titled “The Cage,” the race of beings encountered by the crew of the Enterprise communicate solely through thought and no words come out of their mouths. The current generation of people may not be able to communicate via brain waves and thoughts, but through the object in their hands, so, essentially, these people, their hand(s), and their electronic hand-held devices will replace the mouth when it comes to forming words, albeit on an electronic device in order to communicate. I may be old-fashioned, but I think that there is no better form of communication than actually speaking words, since there is no inflection of the voice through the written word, in all of its forms, electronic or otherwise written. Let’s talk about it.