Googled *New Media Studies* yesterday and ran across the “Media Effects Research Laboratory at Penn State, where they're doing lots of interesting empirical or semi-empirical research on how people are behaving in their interaction with computers and the Internet. Lots of interesting research questions, such as whether hyperlinks and and site maps make a site more or less memorable, whether the interactivity of a politician's website will build voter affinity with him or her, a study showing that users of a compuer lab tend to visit the same terminal each visit, and thus “anthropomorphize” the machine, and so on. Most of these studies have small sample sizes, so they probably wouldn't hold up to AC Nielsen standards, but they're a worthwhile diversion. This kind of research is interesting to think about in the context of electronic literature, particularly in relation to the ideas of “embodiment” — reading/viewing/interacting with e-lit and digital art is a physical interaction between a human and a machine. This is the kind of thing that writers for the electronic media (or critics) should maybe think about (though probably not get preoccupied with) — for instance, what kind of “skin conductance response” is your typical hypertext fiction reader exhibiting?
It's just funny to think about the kind of writing workshop sessions this type of research could generate. Not that I think we should be outfitting English 101 students with skin temperature monitors. . . .