Reading in the digital age

Delphine Chapuis Schmitz

Are you looking for something in particular? The chances that you ended up here intentionally are rather low – which of course does not mean that it is to be excluded. In any case, now that you’ve made it, I wonder whether there is anything I can do for you. Do you have specific expectations? Last week I was sitting in a deep leathered armchair, looking at the late afternoon traffic over the bridge, at the light faintly changing from pale grey to dark grey, starting or rather trying to start writing this text, when I realized the glass panels going from floor to ceiling made me feel strangely floating above ground. I soon found myself drifting away from the open library, reaching over the cranes and jackhammers, looking from above at the blind towers and at the wide asphalt fields on which crowds of white-collars were hurrying to catch their train at the end of the day. This is when I started wondering how you would end up on this page. Would you be trusting fate? Would you be (mis)guided by chance? As for me, I visited many places since the beginning, and somehow I had landed at the crossroads of virtual paths, somewhere between conceptual writing and concrete poetry, trying to find the meeting ground between language’s limits and its capacities. Would you follow me there? Thinking about it from the present perspective, this might be the reason why I did not notice at first the water growing around my feet. It was coming from the other side of the room, slowly reaching the glassy corner where I had found shelter together with other fellow drifters, most of them already swallowed by the black leathered seats whose smell reminds me of fancy new cars and makes me feel sick on days when I inadvertently eat fish before coming here. Could there be a way of recognizing distance that perversely makes us feel more connected? In order to check this out, I started to trace back the tortuous ways that had led me to this ephemeral position. With no success.

Last week I was starting to write this text, or rather trying to, looking at the late afternoon traffic in a transient neighborhood, where cranes and jackhammers give way to blind towers and wide asphalt fields where white-collar hurry to catch their train at the end of the day, when I suddenly realized I was surrounded by water, it was reaching my ankles – I never wear socks despite the air-conditioning – and growing fast around me. And now I wonder again: How many turns did you make? How many links did you follow? Is this something you can tell? Of one thing I am almost sure: you did not enter the address in the omnibox. This would be very surprising indeed. Who bothers to do this in the time of Google Chrome (when precisely the address bar has become an omnibox, as I have just found out)? Which is part of the issue here – as well as the fact that you can choose to change your course of action at any time. Which does not make it easier on me. Is there a way you could still be here, and stay all along? Be as it may, if you have kept reading until now, this could mean that you still have a slight faint of hope. But it might as well be that I have disappeared long ago, swimming like everybody else in the cloudy aquarium of Friday’s afternoon thoughts – scattered –, the view on red lights in the late afternoon traffic having dissolved, the towers having long fell into sharp-edged particles the dust of which covers the endless grounds, up to the mountain peaks in the fuzzy horizon. The texts themselves have been smashed into pieces – into light pieces – to the effect that they are now easy to digest and to forget in one and the same movement. The arm describes an ample circle on the right side of your body, and we are both aware of the fact that there is not much I can tell that you don’t already know. Which is of course another part of the issue at play here. Going from (1) the discussed issue: matter, matter in question, question, point, point at issue, affair, case, subject, topic; problem, bone of contention to (5) an issue of water: discharge, emission, release, outflow, outflowing, secretion, emanation, exudation, effluence; technical efflux.

Dictionaries provide a healthy ground on which to base our daydreaming – which is not to be underestimated in the busy times we live in do you still need a reason to keep going on? The future of reading is not reading anyway. Which is good, since it makes space for new forms of meaning production – or alternatively: new kinds of meaning processing – on both sides of the coin – yours and mine.[1] This is at least what I will pretend for the rest of the journey –without knowing for sure whether it makes any difference.

The whole surroundings have disappeared by now. We’re getting closer to the end. The dust, the pebbles, the particles, the pieces of light, every single thing has turned into past memories, soon to be evaporated without any tangible traces. And in the middle of all this, there appears a wall. A huge wall made of black concrete that has thousands of faucets installed at regular intervals at shoulder height, each of them going full blast. We soon see ourselves rushing from tap to tap, trying to absorb as much as we can of the precious flow. But in spite of all our efforts, all we can do is transfer a small jumble of drops from different faucets. A continuous, coherent stream is definitely out of reach. There’s nothing wrong with absorbing quickly and in bits and pieces. Are you still here? The problem is that skimming is becoming our dominant mode of thought. Note that the last few sentences, as many others before, are taken from places I do not always remember – I thought I had to make this clear, for the sake of accuracy. So let’s begin now. Last week when I was starting to write this text, sitting in a deep black seat smelling like the fancy car I will never have, I was trying to be smart, I was trying to impress you so that you would have no other choice but to keep reading until the end. I struggled for a while, before realizing the chances of failure were not low, which led me to stop playing games and start being myself – despite all appearances, this is not as straightforward as it seems. In the end, it is no easier to get into reading this text than it is to get into writing it.

[1] At this point, one could also invoke a shared thinkership as a new form of aesthetic reflexivity.

Delphine Chapuis Schmitz ist Künstlerin und arbeitet als künstlerisch-wissenschaftliche Mitarbeiterin am Master Transdisziplinarität der Zürcher Hochschule der Künste (ZHdK).