The Changing Spaces of Reading and Writing

Commentary #2

Commentary #2

Writing Spaces: Hypertext and the Remediation of Print Re-examined

Erin Gillespie

ETEC 540

November 15, 2009


The debate surrounding the future of text is never more exciting than when considering the relationship between print and hypertext.  It is in the middle ground that the debate over what is the future of text, hypertext or print, is nicely packaged and tagged as “both” by Bolter (2001) due to one process: remediation. Bolter (2001) contends that interactivity and the merging of text and graphics are strategies inherent in electronic writing that create a more authentic experience for the reader, yet they are dependent on the knowledge of print. In chapter three of Writing Space, Bolter (2001) presents hypertext as the remediation of print, not as its replacement.

Bolter’s (2001) remediation walks a fine line between enthusiasts of new electronic writing and the old guard of traditional print. He argues soundly that hypertext remediates print because it is historically connected to print, while at the same time the two are easily distinguishable from each other (Bolter, 2001). According to Bolter (2001), electronic writing affords movement amongst visual space and conceptual space, and these spaces are different from the space in a book, yet knowledge of a book helps us recognize these affordances.  To optimize our experience when writing electronically, we depend on our former knowledge of print (Bolter, 2001). In other words, hypertext does not stand alone, uninfluenced by the history of print technology. Bolter (2001) argues that this fact is what makes electronic hypertext, ironically, new: Our dependency on and confrontation with our knowledge of the printed book when processing hypertext.  

Remediation may be difficult to apply to the field of text in a few generations, a possibility Bolter (2001) does not explore in chapter three of Writing Space. It is interesting to consider this extreme, and contrast it with Bolter’s (2001) middle ground theory by examining the field of education from an ecological point of view.  One way to re-examine the argument surrounding print and hypertext is to consider Darwin’s theory of evolution. Complex organisms evolve from simplistic organisms over time in an undirected progression of modification (Futuyma, 2005). Continuing with this theory, Darwin’s  natural selection suggests that a member of a species develops a functional advantage and over time, the advantaged members of the species survive to better compete for resources (Futuyma, 2005).

Consider print the simplistic organism: the reader and writer have one entry and exit point and information is linear and fixed, according to Bolter (2001). Less simplistic is hypertext, which can be read from a variety of entry points, is fluid and associative (Bolter, 2001). If we continue with this metaphor, the advantaged members of the species of text will be hypertext if we evolve to value fluidity and associative characteristics in text. Considering the popularity of hypertext and the flow of microcontent in Web 2.0 applications as described by Alexander (2006) and the speed of Jenkin’s (2004) media convergence, this direction in evolution is not unrealistic. Hypertext may survive in the place of print. However, the survival of a species is still dependent on the balance of its ecosystem, an in this metaphor the ecosystem is the student.

It is not illogical to apply an ecological perspective to the pedagogy of a school when discussing the adaptation hypertext. In an examination of factors that affect the use of technology in schools, Zhao and Frank (2003) used an ecological perspective and found it to be an effective analytical framework.  Zhao and Frank’s (2003) framework considers students as the ecosystem, computers a living species, teachers as members of a keystone (the most important) species and external educational innovations as the invasion of an exotic species. It is fair to consider hypertext an external educational innovation in this framework due to its very recent introduction to the field of education and thus, the student. Print, on the other hand, would be a species comfortably functioning in the ecosystem as a textbook. Consider again Bolter’s (2001) contention that hypertext is distinct from yet dependent on print. As an invading exotic species, hypertext is initially dependent on the pre-existing species of print for survival in the ecosystem. Students need to know how to read and how to write text in order to understand hypertext.

However, Bolter’s (2001) theory of remediation holds true only if the ecosystem, or student, is dependent on the species of printed text prior to the introduction of the exotic species of hypertext. However, Bolter (2001) does not look further ahead than remediation. It is possible that in the future, students will be introduced to hypertext prior to developing a dependency on print knowledge. Currently, hypertext is functioning as the exotic, invading species for Tapscott’s (2004) Net Generation and Prensky’s (2001) Digital Natives. However, these same students will produce the Net Generation 2.0.  As parents of the Net Generation 2.0, they will function as Zhao and Frank’s (2003) keystone species, a species already adapted to survive with hypertext. In chapter three, concerning remediation and hypertext, Bolter (2001) argues that print is the tradition that hypertext depends on. However, Bolter (2001) did not consider hypertext as being dependent on previous versions of hypertext. Bolter’s (2001)remediation does not project far enough into the future. The ecosystem, as Net Generation 2.0 students, will remain balanced as the functional advantages of hypertext ensure survival of this exotic species through displacement of the disadvantaged species, traditional print. Remediation of print may lead to the extinction of a dependency on print itself.



Alexander, B (2006). Web 2.0: A new wave of innovation for teaching and learning? EDUCAUSE, Review, 41(2), 33-44. Retrieved from

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

Futuyma, D. J. (2005). Evolution. Sunderland, MA: Sinauer Associates.

Jenkins, H. (2004) The cultural logic of media convergence. International Journal of Cultural Studies, 7(1), 33-43. doi: 10.1177/1367877904040603

Prensky, M. (2001). Digital natives, digital immigrants. On The Horizion, 9 (5), 1-6. Retrieved from,%20Digital%20Immigrants%20-%20Part1.pdf

Tapscott, D. (2004). The net generation and the school. Custom course materials ETEC 532 (pp. #2). Kelowna, B.C: University of British Columbia Okanagan, Bookstore. (Reprinted from Milken Family Foundation,

Zhao, Y., & Frank, K.A. (2003). Factors affecting technology uses in schools: An ecological perspective. American Educational Research Journal, 40(4), 807-840. Retrieved from

1 comment

1 Clare Roche { 11.29.09 at 9:11 am }

What do you think will be the effect on third world countries, especially those groups who do not have a digital connection?

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