Another awkward internet juxtaposition

27 Nov

In Nicholson Baker’s review of Ken Auletta’s new book on Google, technology imitates text.

Well, sort of. Better yet, elucidates text. Arbitrarily.

Award juxtaposition

Read text on left, see right

In the Times article, Baker notes why, according to Auletta, media execs resent Google: their advertising programs, AdWords and AdSense, rake in an unwieldy proportion of consumer revenue. “Last year almost all of Google’s revenue came from the one truly annoying thing that the company is responsible for: tiny, cheesy, three-line text advertisements,” Baker writes. Meanwhile, to the right of his text, is a little bulletin titled, “Ads by Google.”

I love it when things like that happen. I’m not sure if the placement of the ad undermines or enforces Baker’s point. Either way, it is illustrated in a unique multitextural manner, a way that Baker had probably not anticipated while he was writing the piece.

Makes you think a lot about changing notions of textuality. Let’s think of author intent for a second. Baker was writing a straight book review, and, in this paragraph, elucidated Auletta’s point on Google’s ads. What he didn’t know was that those very ads would be on display after he published them. So in Baker’s head, all the reader intakes is the content of the article. That’s well and good. But, as the reader, I can’t be relied on to only focus on the text that Baker intends for me to read. In this case, I’m momentarily distracted by the Google ads on the right. He can’t know that I’ll be evaluating the annoyingness or lack thereof of the ads as I read his words on them. If he did, what would he have written?

I don’t see a real historical analogue for this type of content consumption. One might suggest that manuscript glossings are similar. To which I’d say, fine, from the authorial intent perspective, sure. You can’t know what someone will scribble in your margins. However, the internet is different in that the placement is more arbitrary, more coincidental. (In this case, Google connects ads to text with keywords). This causes the reader to evaluate the juxtaposition differently. Perhaps to give it more weight? Who knows. Obviously, many have thought about this before me. But this struck me, right now.

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