Multi-linearity, hypertext and disembodiment

Week 5’s reading¬†¬†by George P. Landow helps to make sense of the linearity of print mediums and the multi-linearity of online mediums (as result of hypertext). In regards to writing on the internet, Landow mainly uses blogs as an example, reiterating a lot of what Adrian Miles has been going on about in our Network Media Symposiums.

As most computerised programs are a simulation of something real and physical, the blog is essentially a simulation of a diary or journal. Or is it? The blog does a few things differently. For one, it organises posts in reverse chronological order, going from the most recently dated post to the oldest post – very much unlike the sequentially ordered book. Not saying that you couldn’t do that with a diary if you wanted to, it is just that the materiality of a physical book and the conventions of reading seem to go against the ‘backwards’ ordering of entries. However, the biggest difference between print and the internet is the enabling of hypertext: the idea that a blog can link you to anywhere else on the web, but maybe most helpfully, it can directly link you back to other entries that have been posted on the same blog previously, giving the reader the ability to put events into greater context. On the other hand, in order to give readers a deeper understanding of a subject, a journal would have to explain the whole story again, or reference a text ‘outside’ of the text the reader physically has in front of them – which they might not be able to get their hands on. In this way print can be seen as a rather ‘closed’ medium and the internet a more ‘open’ one. This concept allows for the idea of multi-linearity; hypertext let’s the reader chose their own ‘pathway’ through a piece of writing by providing them with links to sites ‘outside’ of the dominant text.

Another element of the blog that is different to the diary is that fact that it is public. It has taken me a while to realise that when I am writing for my blog I am writing, not only for myself (which is the main and generally the only point to a diary) but with the intention that it will be read by someone else. I think this is because it doesn’t feel ‘completely’ public, there is still a facade between myself and the readers of my blog. I am not physically saying this stuff to their faces, I don’t really know there’s anyone else ‘there’ reading my blog, I am just writing this stuff on a webpage in the hope that someone might be vaguely interested in what I have to say. So essentially I agree with McNeill when he says that web diaries ‘blur the distinction between online and offline lives, ‘virtual reality’ and ‘real life’, ‘public’ and ‘private”. Another part of blogging that differentiates itself from print/written form is the idea of participation – if someone comments on my blog I know they have read that post, but if someone bought a book I wrote for instance, I wouldn’t actually know that they’ve read it, because there is little chance for readers to provide book-writers with feedback. In saying this, readers and writers of blogs still have the problem that their identities can be quite anonymous online – they are ‘disembodied’ participants hiding behind the ‘grille’ of the internet. Although the mixture between a virtual identity and the publicness of a blog can cause problems online (take trolling as an example), it also creates an opportunity for people to expose themselves a lot more through their writing and personal taste, which is a good thing right?

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