Hypertext purpose, scope, and reader

George Landow sees hypertext as a democratizing force, a way to improve scholarship, a way to attain new levels of cooperation during the writing process, and an entirely new form of the text that can continue to change long after the author has finished typing the original words.1

Landow seems to be suggesting that every link to every page a reader could possibly follow from this paper to any other document would be included within the definition of what the original document (in this case, this very paper) consisted of.  I do not agree with anything of the sort.

The study of a poem that incorporates allusions requires a knowing reader, or least a reader with a willingness to know, while the use of a hypertext document requires an active reader.  By active reader, I mean one who is willing to follow the connections with which s/he is presented.  This requires neither previous knowledge nor excessive effort.  For a reader of a traditional text who is not inherently knowing (that is to say that he or she does not recognize and understand the allusion on his or her own), action is also required


Hypertext in the Web – a History

That original 1989 proposal noted that “generality and portability … [should be] more important than … complex extra facilities” [Berners-Lee 1989]. Generality and portability were unquestionably the basis of the early success of the Web. And, in some cases, it dispensed with the complex extra facilities, including much hypertext functionality, although one hypertext feature, typed links, was included in the proposal but did not subsequently survive into the Web today

.. Its widespread adoption should be assured, not necessarily because it gives “better hypertext” but because XML is seen as the new standard for the Web, allowing vastly different document formats to be defined and exchanged, all within the Web infrastructure. This includes more sophisticated linking – adding “one-to-many” links (links that point to more than one destination)

Hypertext and the Role of the Reader and Writer

Landow, citing Genette, maintains that hypertext is a means of escaping what Genette refers to as the idolatry or idealization of the author. Hypertext, because of its openness, its fuzzy borders that are so easily permeated, makes the author’s role as diffused as the boundaries of the text itself.

.. And though Ong seems to go astray when he talks about computers and sequential processing, he (and Landow) make the interesting point that books and their authors cannot be challenged in any immediate sense.

Hypertext readers, however, can challenge a text immediately, or as immediately as the reader can write a response and link that response to the author’s text.

.. Birkerts, of course, is distressed by this and blames hypertext for “delivering a mighty blow to the long-static writer-reader relationship. It changes the entire system of power upon which the literary experience has been predicated; it rewrites the contract from start to finish” (163). Birkerts warns that hypertext is ruining literacy and literature, along with killing the author. Birkerts argues that the “subjective ecology of reading” allows him to feel the power of the words on a page, and that this power cannot be felt with hypertext.

.. The cognitivists call for hierarchical overviews and more “ordered” progressions through hypertext webs seems much like the calls for order that were heard when the printing press began making an impact on how people thought about readers and writers. Landow, citing Tom McArthur, points out that, first, there is nothing natural about the book. It took four thousand years for it to come about, and that evolution disrupted the previous “elites” , the scholastics, who had worked hard to conventionalize the plots and themes, not to mention the structure and look of the books of their time. The printing press, Landow points out, presented the scholastics with a different order, a different way of organizing knowledge.

The Hut Where the Internet Began

A crucial component of the Memex was that it helped the brain’s natural “associative indexing,” so “any item may be caused at will to select immediately and automatically another.”

.. Bush’s article went far and wide, and if I can brag for our magazine a little, is considered one of the most influential magazine articles ever published about technology, and perhaps in any field.

..Bush and Engelbart did have distinct visions. For Bush, scientific knowledge itself provided salvation, as if units of wisdom could be manufactured for the preservation of the human race. Engelbart’s view was, befitting its time, more cybernetic: people and technology fed one into the other in a spiral of improvement.