In this final reflection, I want to connect some of my own thoughts to key blog posts made by fellow students in this course regarding the association between writing technologies and the mind, specifically Web 2.0 hypertext and writing and reading.
I have grappled throughout the course with the following questions: How does the mind shape writing technologies? How do writing technologies shape the mind? What is the relationship between the two? How does this affect the relationship between the writer and reader? These themes and others have been explored in Ong’s and Bolter’s books and in the writing of several of my fellow students on this blog.
The first point I would like to share is that I have come to think that all written texts (in any format) are approximations of mind that can never fully convey the interconnected thought underlying them. And I think that new remediations of text, as have occurred already, and as will continue to occur so long as humans are around, are the result of the pursuit to develop better and better representations of mind. Connections between thoughts are one of the biggest distractions to me as I write. I am continuously making choices about what I include in my writing. But hypertext allows writers the option to communicate more information in the form of connections without disrupting the flow of the text. It adds potential to the text, especially if I am also the author of the linked text.
As a writer, I am constantly tasked with choices. The flow of my words and sentences on paper or the screen is a construction of my thoughts at that moment of time. Hypertext affordances allow me to add connections and other related thought trails the reader can choose to follow when or if they want to. But, here we have more choices also for the reader. An author’s written construction, which is captured in hypertext, can be read in different ways depending on the choices of the reader. Hypertext, while giving the writer a better approximation of connected thought, can also threaten that approximation because the very structure of hypertext allows the reader more choice regarding what is read. Angela discussed a similar effect, as she discussed Kress’s (2005) gains and losses, with the addition of images to text. Angela noted: “New practices of reading and writing are emerging from the engagement of text with image and/or depiction. Within this engagement the reader designs the meaning from materials made available on the screen, on the new kinds of pages.”
So, as became obvious in this course, the addition of new affordances to writing in the digital space not only gives the writer more options but also gives the reader more options. The more adorned the text becomes with images and hyperlinks, the less control the author has over what the reader will read, and subsequently, what meaning is made from the writing. In his Commentary #3, Ken frames this loss of control caused by hypertext and embedded media more positively as a ‘participatory’ media: “In this creative space, Web 2.0 digital stories move beyond the linear construction of the printed book into a more unpredictable, open-ended, participatory, hyperlinked and flexible form of media.” Of course, the really exciting notion that Ken develops in his commentary is the idea that hypertext and flexible digital text formats are connecting our minds together in a digital space: “I would suggest that digital stories, in their open, flexible and hyperlinked rich media formats are based on distributed creativity and therefore are reliant on distributed cognition.” The conclusion here is profound. Hypertext as realized in the Web 2.0 space is not just a read-write web where content authors and consumers can participate equally. Web 2.0 affords the intermingling of meanings between the writer and reader. So, when Bolter (2001) writes about “the notion that text unifies the mind” (p. 195) perhaps one could remediate that statement as the notion that Web 2.0 hypertext unifies minds.
In addition to extra choices for the reader, which are provided by the writer in the form of hyperlinks and embedded media, the read-write web, of course, even provides a way for readers to contribute their own text to the text being read, thus creating a new text. Steph also noted this point in her blog post chronicling the progression from scroll to codex to print: “A benefit of digital text is that it affords debate and collaboration between readers and authors, similar to how the codex used to be shared orally with others.” This greater connection between writer and reader is one of the hallmarks of digital text and is a further illustration how Web 2.0 hypertext unifies minds.
Bolter, J.D. (2001). Writing space: Computers, hypertext, and the remediation of print. Mahway, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
Kress, G (2005). Gains and losses: New forms of texts, knowledge, and learning. Computers and Composition,22, 5-22.
The ETEC 540 Weblog Community (see embedded links).