Materializing Invisible Text

In a recent post, I discussed using key logging software to record keyboard-based input. That study focused on vocabulary over time. Looking at the file generated after a week, I was particularly intrigued by the way it illustrated non-linear working methods and navigation between screen-based activities. This accumulation of data seemed well-suited to inquiry through design.

Keystroke Semiotics examines the process of electronic text composition by making visible all of the keystrokes that go into writing and interfacing with a laptop computer. By mapping the input pertaining to deletion, cursor movement, copying and pasting, etc. to representative symbols, a revealing chronology is constructed. The resulting book materializes all my keyboard activity from October 14 to October 23.

Printing the text on newsprint elevates the process of writing while recognizing its ephemerality—and, ultimately, invisibility in its final state. I was surprised to see just how much I edit the sentences I type. It was curious to notice strings of cursor arrows forming entire blocks of text. And while the cognitive interplay between writing multiple email messages, navigating through Web pages, and working on a project informs these activities in ways that are not easily quantified, Keystroke Semiotics offers a kind of display.