The last set of readings were speculative writing that are some of the most important writings for the ‘prehistory’ of the World Wide Web. Why? Well, prior to the Web we have hypertext (for example I was writing using hypertext software before the World Wide Web was created). One of the very interesting (and unusual) things about hypertext is that there has always been a very strong interdisciplinary cross over between the computer scientists who write the hypertext software, and humanities scholars who used it – and in many cases these were the same people (the programmers were also humanities scholars). So hypertext has an unusual mix of computer science and humanities theory. This means the thinking about hypertext was speculative, which became real things, that were in turn informed by recent theories in philosophy and critical studies, an exciting mix. As a result these programmers knew Ted Nelson’s work, and Bush’s idea of the ‘memex’, and so wanted to build tools that helped develop our ability to think, argue, make.
Hypertext then became a sort of intellectual techno–computer vanguard of radical thinking. Finally, Tim Berners–Lee, who wrote the first Web protocols (so the first version of HTML and HTTP), was familiar with this work too. And so the Web, when it was born, was not just a technical specification about sharing documents but had built deep in its very DNA a culture of making, sharing, distributed knowledge, and acentred knowledge creation. Not because Berners-Lee was a scientist who worked at a particle physics laboratory, but because the work he read about hypertext also had, in it, this humanist inspired centre.
So, this work on hypertext, which originally appeared before the Web, are the children of Bush and Nelson (last week’s reading), and deeply informed the humanities side of the World Wide Web when it was first written. This part of the Web’s history is important as it is Nelson’s deep vision that has ensured that the Web is technically open (it is what we call a stateless protocol) and so has made it so very effective in being adopted, used, and then changing so many things so dramatically.
Hypertext, the First Blush
Landow, George. Hypertext 3.0: Critical Theory and New Media in an Era of Globalization. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2006. Print. (extracts, PDF)
Bolter, Jay David. Writing Space: The Computer, Hypertext, and the History of Writing. Hillsdale (N.J.): Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 1991. Print. (extract, PDF)
Optional (for variety) though HIGHLY Recommended
This is a very easy read that is an elegant summary of the history of the essay and how it has been, well, butchered, through its tortured entry and standardisation in English curricula. Think of it as a counter (alternative) history of the essay and a way to help give you permission to write differently. In your blogs, niki, and so on.
The original and possibly hypertext fiction was not web based, and we once had copies that could be read via our network, but things have fallen into disrepair on that front for now. So, here’s a couple of selections of hypertextual work:
Geoff Ryman’s early “253”. This is an early web specific hypertext, pretty simple conceit where it is set on a train on London’s Tube. Another early one (1996) from the ‘grandfather’ of hypertext fiction, Michael Joyce, this is web based and called “12 Blue“. And, then, to change track dramatically, a couple of interactive movies that uses the same ideas and principles as hypertext (we make these in second year): Matt Soar’s Ceci N’est Pas Embres, and Nicole Robicheau’s The Border Between Us, only because it is just about a bloody odd story and uses sound more than vision.