Spirals of Meaning: Exploring Nonlinearity through Prezi’s Infinite Canvas

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Our linear expectations of digital presentations (and the scorn associated with “Death by PowerPoint) have been transformed by the availability of tools such as Prezi, an editor that allows for the juxtaposition of images, text, and other media on a telescoping canvas that relies on linear paths for exploring nonlinear content. Prezi acts an infinite canvas, recalling Scott McCloud’s model for a future of sequential art on the web defined not by pages but by the screen as portal to an expanding and linked storyspace, allowing for continual layering of meaning and data using the methods of what Henry Jenkins describes as environmental storytelling. Alexandra Saemmer's use of Prezi as a space for experimenting with electronic literature breaks our expectations of a tool originally designed for presentations. The adaptation of tools of this kind towards the development of literary experiences reveals the fundamental transformations of procedural expectations and linked structures in online spaces: the co-location and linking of ideas to create meaning is now a matter of course. A similar limited model of the expanding canvas is used in Jason Shiga’s Meanwhile, a work whose digital iPad form more clearly conveys the extent of its connected and intertwined threads than the pages of its corresponding codex can contain. In considering the evolution of text within electronic literature, the nonlinear and interactive natures of a work often make even the most textual of electronic literature defy easy translation to printed codex. I’ll examine the juxtaposition of linear and nonlinear in these works, and suggest how we can see the impact of evolving conceptions of meaning in web spaces on electronic literature (and vice versa) through probing at the construction of text through rejection of the page.