Hypertext: The Drive for Immediacy

Introduction

In Chapter 3 of Writing space: Computers, Hypertext and the Remediation of Print, Bolter (2001) states that, “Hypertext, in all its electronic forms…is the remediation of print” (p. 42).  In fact, he contends that hypertext is a distinct genre that takes the printed text to a new level, remediating other printed genres. He describes the old genres as “linear,” “hierarchical,” and “static,” while hypertext turns them into something “multiple,” “associative,” and interactive (p. 42).

Remediation

Bolter’s (2001) use of the word “remediation” implies that something was wrong with print.  According to the Oxford English Dictionary, remediation is “the action of correcting or remedying something.” To discover then what motivated the “cure” of hypertext, we need to explore the perceived deficiencies of print.

Print in the form of digital word-processing has granted useful affordances over its predecessor, the typewriter.  The typewriter, compared to industrial printing, offered speed and individual use. Although an improvement, it did not offer flexibility in arranging one’s thoughts. Manual typewriters were replaced by digital word processors.  This new remediation kept part of the old (typing), but offered a new affordance: the ability to manipulate the text with ease. The text could now be reworked according to the writer’s thinking before being fixed on a printed sheet (Bolter, 2001).

According to Bolter (2001) past remediations were likely based on the “sense of the medium failing one’s thoughts” (p. 33).  However, he maintains that the current remediation of print in the form of hypertext, is based on the fact that “we are now overwhelmed from without” (p. 33).  There is a plethora of information available, too much for our minds to process. The creation of the index sought to address this informational abundance, offering a more relaxed, personal reading of some texts. However, it was inadequate in the face of the sheer volume of knowledge available. Driven by the need to somehow manage our information, we have turned to hypertext and ultimately hypermedia.  Digital technology expands on the use of the index, making associations easier.

Hypertext is based on the notion of interconnectedness or associations (Bolter, 2001). According to editor of the Atlantic Monthly, in his comments on Bush’s vision, he asserted that it required “a new relationship between thinking man and the sum of his knowledge” (Busch, 1945, p.1).  Bolter (2001) describes it as  “layered writing and reading,” “places along a path,” and “a new form of writing” (pp. 27-29).  Through the affordance of hypertext, man now has ready access to information outside of his mind rather than within. The reader is now in control of the text, following his/her own “paths of meaning” (p. 35).

So far, I have established the fact, through Bolter (2001), that print is currently being remediated by hypertext, based on a need for something better able to handle the mass of information available.  However, remediation is never that simple. Although there are likely multiple socio-cultural factors involved, Bolter (2001) focuses specifically on the one main reason: the handling of information. I would now like to offer a closer look at what he refers to only in passing in this text (he addresses it more fully in another): immediacy (p. 70).

The Value of Immediacy

Our culture places great importance on immediacy.  One only has to watch a few television commercials to realize that we prize, efficiency, speed, and instant results. This value has driven our technology evidenced by the push for timesaving housework gadgets, cars to replace walking or the horse, automated factories to improve efficiency, and of course digital media that allows instant publishing.  Phenomenon such as embedded news reporters in war zones and “live point-of-view television programs” are evidence of our “insatiable desire for immediacy” (Bolter, 2000, p. 64).

Hypertext responds to this value by breaking down knowledge into “smaller pieces of information,” something Engelbart noted back in 1962 (p. 57). Bolter (2001) refers to these “discrete units” (p. 29) as “topics and their connections” (p. 35). These topics may take the form of  “paragraphs, sentences, individual words, … digitized graphics and segments of video” (p. 35). Images, said to “paint a thousand words” are now ubiquitous. They offer instant access to meaning, saving time by negating the need to read those 1000 words.

Hypertext as a remediation of print offers immediacy. We no longer need to go to the library, or rely on memory, or even read copious amounts of text to find information.  We are already seeing what Bolter (2001) envisioned: readers not being willing to look anywhere but the Web. Hypertext signifies the act of skipping stones through water. One can move through virtual space, skimming here and there, touching down only lightly to pick up things of interest. In this environment, pages that offer less (white space and visuals) will compete with those that offer text only. Speaking of the “buttoned style, “ Bolter (2011) states that “to place more than a sentence or two of text on screen is an admission of failure” (p. 72).

Implications

Engelbart (1962) envisioned hypertext as a way to “augment human intellect” (p.1). To him this was not just a means of obtaining more information but rather a path to a deeper ability for comprehending and solving complex problems.  In theory this sounds feasible, although I wonder whether the value of immediacy conflicts with the requirements of complex problem solving.  Hypertext offers a breadth of knowledge, an opportunity to flit here and there, but not necessarily depth.  Will our students be able to piece together that which has been “attacked by scissors and cut into convenient pieces” (Bolter, 2001, p. 35) in order to solve complex problems? This is something that we are going to have to decide as we progress deeper into the late age of print and the preponderance of hypermedia.  If the medium fails us, it will lead to the remediation of hypertext in the not too distant future.

References

Bolter, J.D. (March, 2000). Remediation and the desire for immediacyConvergence: The International Journal of Research into New Media Technologies March 2000 6: 62-71. doi:10.1177/135485650000600107.

Bolter, J.D. (2001). Writing Space: Computers, hypertext, and the remediation of print. Mahway, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Bush, V. (1945). As we may think. The Atlantic Monthly, 176(1), 101-108. Retrieved October 21, 2012, from http://www.theatlantic.com/unbound/flashbks/computer/bushf.htm

Engelbart, Douglas. (1963). “A conceptual framework for the augmentation of man’s intellect.” In Hawerton, P.W. and Weeks, D.C. (Eds), Vistas in information handling, Volume I: The augmentation of man’s intellect by machine. Washington, DC: Spartan Books. Augmentation of human intellect: A conceptual framework. Retrieved October 21, 2012, from http://www.dougengelbart.org/pubs/augment-3906.html

Remediation. (2012) In Oxford English Dictionary Online (2012).  Retrieved from http://www.oed.com/view/Entry/162121?redirectedFrom=remediation#eid

 

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