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.

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.