What is hypertext?

We’ve spent the last few weeks talking about hypertext, analysing the way it has developed and effected fiction writing and the internet and what not, however I think there has still been a lack of understanding amongst some classmates about what hypertext actually is. I heard a couple of times in class yesterday “but what even is hypertext?” I’d say I’m in this group myself. So I headed over to the trusty Google machine and searched “examples of hypertext”. In my trawling I came across a piece of hypertext fiction called 24 Hours.

Firstly, the story starts off at the house, and I had the choice of entering or leaving. In my first attempt at the story I left. And then I got kind of stuck in three places, I went from the book shop, to the candle shop, to the florist and I felt kind of trapped, I could go back and forth between the three, but neither led to a new narrative. It wasn’t until I went into the café that the story continued. Weirdly, when I was trapped in these three places, I felt kind of anxious, I wanted to press the back button on the browser and go to the start again and go in the house. However I clicked through and met Polly, the girl who lives in the house, and as I continued to click through I ended up back at the house anyway. To cut a long confusing story short, I kept going through the story and made my way to the end of the 24 hours.

While it was interesting, and there were so many things to discover, I don’t think I enjoyed the story as much as your usual sequential narrative. There was a build of tension in many stages, but the tension never really reached its peak, and the protagonist’s angst never really eventuated or was resolved. Jess arrived, met some people and left, without her questions really being answered, it all felt slightly mundane. Maybe if I try it again it will be better, but I don’t think the narrative actually went places that were exciting and interesting, the tension would build and then drop off quite quickly. I guess I don’t want to sound too critical of hypertext, because this is only one example of hypertext fiction, my understanding is quite limited, and we’re probably going to spend a fair bit more time learning about it so it must be important to networked media, but this example doesn’t quite grab me.

Landow outlines four elements of hypertext which make it more effective and engaging:

  1. Reader choice, intervention and empowerment
  2. Inclusion of extra linguistic texts
  3. Complexity of networked structure
  4. Four degrees of multiplicity and variation of literary elements such as plot, characterization and so forth.

I think 24 Hours perhaps was lacking in these areas, and as not as complex as effective hypertext can be. I guess I will have to keep searching for more examples, and explore the genre more to gain a better understanding of how hypertext is meant to work as a form of narrative.

Books without endings…

There’s something incredibly poignant about this prompt. It’s whimsical and it provokes imagination, a kind of ‘what if’ though goes off in my mind. What if I could continue to write a book that somebody else had started? What if the writer thought the book was finished? Can I continue the story in my own way, taking the narrative on a new path? It evokes a real question about whether a story is ever really finished.

The story we live, in our everyday lives, never ends. Some parts of our own personal narrative are more interesting than others, some parts we tell our friends about or blog about or tweet about, but the mundane and everyday continues to continue until we’re here no more. But even after that in ways, our stories continue, through our family, friends, our achievements and the impact that we’ve had on others. I’m reaching a pretty morbid place here, I know, but it has to make you wonder whether a book or a film, or some inception of storytelling, actually tells the narrative from start to finish, or does it just pick up at one point and finish at another. Can there really be a beginning, middle or an end to any narrative we create? Fiction or non-fiction, the stories we tell and we experience always have space.

I use the term space to describe the narrative before the film or book kicks off and after it ends, it’s the area that isn’t explicitly there, but you could easily fill it with something of your own imagination. You could easily write narrative about the life of the character before the book started, and you could continue the narrative after the book ends, even if all of their angst and issues are resolved. Of course it might not be very interesting, and bringing in new issues to their lives might get slightly boring and repetitive (i.e. the majority of crap movie sequels ever made), but there’s still an opportunity there to fill the space on either side of the story. The Star Wars movie franchise is a clear example of filling the space, with films one to three running in sequence, and film four, five and six running in sequence, however if you were to sit down and watch all six movies in a row, for the films to be sequential by time you’d start at four, then watch five and six before going back to one. Star Wars filled the space in front of the first film, and I’m sure there would be potential to fill the space after number three.

The book may finish, but the story most definitely does not have to.

The application of science to the modern networked society

Vannevar Bush’s article, As We May Think, looks at the way science has been used and applied throughout history, and how scientists have focused on inventing things that improve a human’s physical capacity. Science has given us tools, shelter, clothing, food, weapons against disease, and weapons against eachother. A list of things that are becoming increasingly necessary for human survival, and the lengthening of the human life span.

Bush, however, writes about the importance of refocusing scientific studies, and not looking at the ways we can improve physically, but how science can be used to store and share knowledge, to speed up the sharing of information between humans. This piece came well before the creation of the internet, when knowledge was stored in the minds of scholars and on paper. Knowledge was stored physically rather than digitally. In 1945, Bush speculates about a way to improve the human knowledge bank, and I guess you could say that now in 2013, his speculations have become somewhat of a reality with the internet and the networked society. We still have to read or view and then interpret the information at the same pace as humans did in 1945 to absorb it fully, however knowledge is readily available to everyone and anyone who has access to the internet, and knows how to use it. His speculations on a form of dry photography is particularly poignant, with digital cameras allowing for the capturing and viewing of images, without printing or ink.

The access to the internet though, and to this network, the digital knowledge bank, is incredibly exclusive. Firstly you have to access too it, it is not everywhere and for the majority of the World, is not readily accessible. And secondly, you need to have the capacity to be able to use it. Gaps between human beings in term of generations and languages means that it can often be difficult for even those who have access to it, to understand it, and use it too its full ability. Slowly generations are learning, however significant gaps exist between groups of human beings, restricting some from accessing the network. This is the area where I believe science now needs to work in order to improve the networked community, making it more accessible, making it faster. Bush’s article inspired many internet pioneers such as Ted Nelson to create a network of information, and now that we have that, to continue to realise the speculative writing of Bush’s article, the knowledge network needs new technologies to make it more accessible.

Some ramblings on Design Fiction…

So I’m finally going to blog about the course…

Okay, so I have to admit, it’s week three and I really haven’t yet engaged with the course to the best of my ability. I’m not really sure, but something about it just hasn’t grabbed me the way my other classes have so far this semester. It could be because the course started off really vague and I have a short attention span for things I’m not interested in/can’t get my head around (working on it), it could also be because I had some kind of fear of blogging and people actually being able to read what I write which I’m really going to have to overcome. I’ve had my twitter account for 18 months and I’ve never really tweeted anything. Occasionally I retweet things I’ve found of interest, and I only reply to the tweets to people I know in real life, and have had face to face relationships with. For some reason I’m completely frightened of what people I’ve never even met think.

And I love twitter. I spend a huge amount of time on twitter, I love having continuous access to people’s opinions, breaking news and a range of articles and blogs that I’ve found all from one little feed on my phone. And I’m going to forgive Twitter for its little “Hirds getting sacked, not getting sacked, now we’re all confused” meltdown last night, because as awesome as Twitter is for keeping up with the news and assessing opinion, it does have a tendency to misinterpret rumour as fact and then self-implode until someone of authority, in last night’s case a range of journalist’s and Essendon’s media manager*, comes in and tells everyone to basically “calm the [insert word of choice] down, this is what’s happening”.

But back to my original point, I love Twitter. In fact, I love the internet. I’ve watched networks of people and information evolve, but I’ve never really participated in these networks outside of Facebook, I’m not really contributing, which I guess if there’s one thing I’m really starting to pick up from this course, is that to be successful in the future (as well as this course), to be noticed, I need to contribute to these networks in a way that is meaningful and productive. I need to produce media that is interesting and relevant and fits within the networks I want to participate in.

So to kick of my blogging about the course itself (please note I’m still kind of confused) I thought I’d work my way through some readings on the blog, and basically spew some thoughts on the things I’m seeing, hearing and reading and try to engage and focus my attention span.

The topic for this week is Design Fiction which from what I can gather is about imagining and creating things that basically don’t exist yet. It’s a process of envisioning, designing, animating and perhaps prototyping inventions that could well be created and of use in the future. Sci-fi writer Bruce Sterling talks about design fiction as “the deliberate use of diegetic prototypes to suspend disbelief about change.” What this means, I don’t really know, however according to old mate Wikipedia:

Diegesis is a style of fiction storytelling which presents an interior view of a world and is:

  1. that world itself experienced by the characters in situations and events of the narrative
  2. telling, recounting, as opposed to showing, enacting.

Sort of, kind of, okay. The two videos presented in the interview with Bruce give a much better understanding of what design fiction actually is. Interestingly, a video similar to “A Day Made of Glass” appeared on the project a few weeks back. The segment presented was about a new type of substance that had been engineered by Australian scientists made from incredibly thin layers of graphite. The substance, which appeared as a type of glass had an incredible capacity to conduct electricity, was flexible and strong, with scientists imagining in the segment just what the material could be used for.

The Ward reading presents what I’m going to call a slightly more cynical view towards the concept of design fiction. He says there is no such thing as design fiction as design is a form of fiction in itself. My favourite quote from the article is: “We always design for a world that sits, sometimes just slightly, out of sight”. Ward’s 14 points on fiction in design are incredible poignant in the understanding of how design fiction does not exist as niche, but is fundamental to the design process.


*irrelevant high five to Justin Rodski for not releasing a two sentence, and in cases, poorly worded statement (here and here ) as done in recent Essendope related media meltdowns, and simply tweeting from his account as well as the official Essendon account that the rumours were not true. It was simple and on message and didn’t make Essendon, once again, look like defensive heap of crisis management.