Active Essays

Computers make possible a new form of narrative expression, in which manipulable computational objects are embedded within text. Alan Kay coined the term active essay to describe this new form of expression.

Through the use of the Java programming language, the Web is becoming a good medium for active essays. Before Java, most Web pages contained only "passive" objects, such as text, graphics, and video. Java makes it possible to mix "active" objects, such as user-controlled animations and simulations, with other media forms on Web pages.

This combination opens new possibilities for creative expression. For example, the text description of a scientific concept can be connected to a simulation that enables the reader to explore that concept. In this way, "reading" a text can become a truly interactive experience.

We created the Exploring Emergence active essay to get a better feel for this new form of expression. Only by experimenting with this new form, and creating concrete examples, can we get a better sense of its possibilities and limitations.

Go to the start of the Exploring Emergence active essay.

Mitchel Resnick and Brian Silverman
Epistemology and Learning Group
MIT Media Laboratory

Last modified: 2/4/96