scriptio continua & RSVP

by Paul Maharg on 05/01/2006

Gave a paper today at the LILI conference on glossae and hypertext — .ppt version to be put up on the site soon, and it’ll form a chapter of the book on legal education I’m writing.  It occurred to me as I was actually speaking (as you do..) that there was an interesting comparison between rapid serial visual presentation (RSVP) and scriptio continuo — continuous writing without spaces between words or sentences.  In late antiquity, from around 200AD onwards, it was the main form of writing.  As M.B. Parkes has pointed out, word separation, was first used in the West by Irish scribes, whose first language would not have been a Romance language, and to whose readership Latin was an alien language:

Since Irish was not a Romance language, its speakers tended to regard Latin primarily as a written or ‘visible’ language used for transmitting texts: they apprehended it as much by the eye as by the ear.

It sort of looked like this:




As a result, Irish scribes developed new graphic conventions which, as Parkes points out, relied on the ancient grammarians Donatus and Priscus, who gave them a sense of the word as ‘an isolable linguistic phenomenon’.  The scribes arrayed these isolated parts of speech on the page by separating them with spaces

RSVP, as I understood it, was developed in the early seventies for reading research purposes, and now it’s being used as a form of reading for mobile devices.  Research has shown it can be useful, but what it can be useful for perhaps needs further research.  The same research problems arise in both contexts, eg same-word blindness.  What interests me is the extent to which these two technologies, over a millenniaum apart, are similar in effect.  Much more needs to be said, I can’t think of it at the moment, so I’ll leave it there…

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

1 John Mayer January 6, 2006 at 11:31

What an interesting connection?
Your post made me think of this presentation…
…which has gotten wide play – not just for its content, but for the way it is constructed. I have shown this to faculty want to find out how to create such a presentation. Some have commmented that it’s a form of Powerpoint that communicates more effectively to the MTV generation – and that this may or may not be a good thing.


2 Paul Maharg January 11, 2006 at 20:02

Great performance by Dick Hardt, John — thanks, I loved it. And as you say, it’s the form that’s bewitching. One thing I liked about it was the way it was composed of visual loops & sub-loops, eg the routine about Dick’s ID evidence. Actually, not so far from the oral routines of stand-up comedy or the methods of Homeric poets. Don’t know enough about the tech side to say if this was lovingly crafted slide by slide, but I guess that once you get into the way of synching speech so closely with slide it gets easier to put together. And you can re-use sub-routines. I loved the inventiveness of the images (Grizzlies logo, then SOLD slapped over it) so that he seemed to be led by visual cues, not aural or logical. Then there was the type-text that summarised his spoken words, but paired right down, whereas in the usual PP style it’s the other way round: speakers use the bullet point or page as a mnemonic, and elaborate on the point. That’s where RSVP comes in. I don’t know of any research that proves that rapid serial visual presentation results in better memory for text or concept. I guess it might be worse because there isn’t the visual graphic of the page to cue concept. Dick, though, uses RSVP with images, and I found that watching it a second time, the images cued my memory not only for where I was in the presentation, but what he was going to say next.
Whether or not it contributes more to learning than more pedestrian routines is another matter. Why should it? Maybe because image is a really neat fit to the words, and more memorable because of that. There were moments when it felt like full-throttle in a twenty-zone, but rewind was a button away, and roller-coaster was too much fun to wish for anything different.
So when are you putting on the first course for faculty?!


3 Paul Maharg January 11, 2006 at 20:31

Wrote too soon re the technology. Followed up a mention of Lessig’s blog by my colleague Karen Barton, and sure enough he gives a recipe — Thanks Karen.


4 David Muir March 8, 2006 at 15:38

I’ve just recently posted stuff on Lessig style presentations on my blog following my first experience of trying to deliver one. I found both the creation of the slideshow and the delivery tricky because they are so different from my usual style.
If you want to distribute this type of presentation (for example to students) I’d say an audio track was essential and the link Paul gives above is a good introduction on how you might do it.


Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post:

Follow me on