Sentient Text

Some books are beloved from childhood or adolescence onward to be reread over time. Some books read in college return years later different as life has shifted. There is a palpable connection. The magic of a book as a child can be a new fantastic world to be able to enjoy and return to. It can also be a beloved character be it human, animal or the fantastic. The joy of story later in adolescence can be a sort of mirror to the new forces of life, the world, great joys and feared personal and global potential tragedy. Novels and stories later in can retain all these elements and also be an escape or the enrichment of seeing through another’s (the author’s) eyes and their ideas and imagery. The text is hallucinatory by nature, images and emotions triggered by an architecture of code (language read).

Text is companion

1997 Tamagotchi

The Tamagotchi is a virtual companion that had to be cared for and shown attention over time. The name is a fusion of words for ‘egg’ (tamago) and ‘watch’ (uotchi). It must be fed and entertained or it will die. It goes through phases of life too and in later models has old age and can die of age not just lack of care. Newer models also unlock elements to assist the ‘pet’ like Easter eggs in video games.

An electronic text can be a form of Tamagotchi. Text can live and die. A story or novel online can be a companion over time and grow or fade based on levels of active engagement. The story can even live a long life then the reader and it can say their goodbyes when it is time (or in other modes it can live on). The use of AI and external databases and internal mechanics make all of this possible and needed. Perception changes over time as the reader lives through new periods in life and the text can adapt or even fret over the shift in bond. The book also can begin as a singular text with internal dynamics at the ready and external databases and then shift individually with every single reader to where no text is what it began as when made available.

Every reader brings their taste, sensibilities, aesthetics, psychology and interests to all things encountered and perceived as is. The fascinating possibility now is that the text reacts and reacts more deeply over time to each individual person as they read and re-read. The bond becomes a true authorial force. The psychology of engagement now is possible to be an aesthetic authorial internal system beyond just engagement levels and frequency. A text can grow shy, sensitive or emboldened and more mature over time and each will be different.

Code is language and language is code


Reading is active not passive. There is a myriad of layers as to the level of and depth of engagement. Just as code is languages, languages are a sophisticated and resonant methodology of encoded data of many forms at once in a system. Early pictorial languages encoded visual sequences to engage concepts, ideas and voice. Modern letterforms encode dialects, slang, imagery, psychology, forms, aesthetics and world making as well as immersion in code (typography). Authorial voice can be sometimes instantly recognizable by stylistic flair and manipulation of base tools despite all languages only consisting of a certain set of letters and words, and base rules of speed and motion control in grammar and punctuation.

The internal scaffolding with prose is encoding by mathematical equations of collision, causality, variable engagement, order of operations and even the parenthetical/internal subset. The story with all character engagements and internal and external conflicts fully resolved is boring, cliché, pat, unsatisfying upon consumption, stale, dead on arrival. The strong narrative leaves ambiguity, subtlety, spaces and areas of great intense detail, focus on key elements among the crowd for thematic and symbolic resonance. This infers that text is flexible, contains great potential for internal variability and potential for specific areas of expansion or contraction based on triggers and variation (like the body and mind shifting over time the text within can shift, shift areas of priority, grow algorithms of detail and decay within the whole) and can “live” over time far for static.

Chatting with a text and its inner psychology and personality

Text chatting with reader

Another interesting area is that of the text also fully encoded as a deeply self-aware chatbot tied to the text body. The reader and the text can discuss reactions to the text, thoughts on content, reflections on related topics and even larger existential issues of things like self, identity, mortality, passage of time and what it is to have a “body” This also will aid internal editing software as the text processes the desires and needs of the reader and the deeper reflections of each conversation over time and can choose to shift , add, subtract or remix itself accordingly.

The text and reader will potentially grow a deep relationship like that of one with a beloved book and this bond will build and shift over time or may fade, sending the text to react by reducing itself, shifting intensity of symbolism and vocabulary, aesthetics etc due to perceived loss of interest or even neglect and sense of inner mortality. A return over time may also revitalize the text and bring a shift in “age” and “body” engaged a new level of self-editing and database scraping anew with new vocabulary, content and sense of context. The relationship like with two humans will shift over time in troughs and waves as time passes as it does.

The time is here for texts to explore psychology, cognition, the micro to macro balance and imbalance of a body, of sentience, of mortality, of the body over time and of relationships with each reader. The text has never been static nor has typography simply been tools to make language like brick and mortar, hammer and nail. How might it feel when a beloved book says farewell? How might the conversation be about identity and self with the beloved story upon re-reading years later? How will it feel to see a favourite book share more over time of itself with a growing loving trust? Text must live and be given the life of internal being.


Jeremy Hight is a locative media/new media artist and a writer. He is credited with inventing locative spatial narrative in the first locative narrative project 34 north 118 west. His essay Narrative Archaeology was recently named one of the 4 primary texts in locative media. A retrospective look at his work and a look at "reading" the landscape is in volume 14 issue 08 of Leonardo. He has published over 20 theoretical essays and exhibited work in festivals and museums internationally.