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In "Hypertext, Hypermedia and Literary Studies: The State of the Art", Landow and Delany suggest that "hypertext can be expected to have important institutional as well as intellectual effects, for it is at the same time a form of electronic text, a radically new information technology, a mode of publication, and a resource for collaborative work… Hypertext historicizes many of our most commonplace assumptions, forcing them to descend from the ethereality of abstraction and appear as corollary to a particular technology and historical era. We can be sure that a new era of computerized textuality has begun; but what it will be like we are just beginning to imagine."

This passage was written in 1991, at a time when hypertext systems were available in somewhat limited forms such as Hypercard and Intermedia, use of the Internet was largely confined to academic institutions, and the term "World Wide Web" had only just been coined. Now, 15 years later, comment and reflect upon the impact hypertext has had on the world.

(Quick trivia: George Landow was the founding dean of USP from 1999 to 2001, during its transition from the Core Curriculum, and he taught some pretty cool modules while here.)

Hypertext is so ubiquitous nowadays, such that in attempting to answer the above question I am hard-pressed to recall what pre-hypertextual(if there is indeed such a period) times looked like. Well, for one, students hardly need to spend long hours in libraries swimming through books looking for a particular piece of information. The internet allows of any studious scholar to save time by quickly and efficiently seeking out the text, the information that he desires. Today, students and readers are empowered without realising it. We know nothing of the "boundedness" of a physical text, for a large of the reading we do nowadays is online. Hypertext, as Landow and Delany presciently point out, allows for unprecedented kind of collaboration, different from traditional notions of working together on a text. Today, given the ubiquity of hypertext and hypermedia, I would suggest that any reader of the text is a collaborator, for he constructs a particular narrative discourse while navigating through the given links between the texts. Collaboration thus becomes integral to the hypertext. Wikipedia embodies this, whereby authorship is fluid and dynamic. Internet chat programs, beginning with IRC and now with MSN, allow for a realtime synchronous construction of narrative - the chat, between multiple authors/readers. Such roles become less-defined in hypertext today.

Also, the advent of hypertext has fostered in an unprecedented paradigm shift in the way people process and handle information today. It has made possible the creation of a metanarrative, or a metatext by linking the entire corpus of knowledge and experience and literature created by and known to mankind, into one intertwined network that grows as long as there is one person writing in relation to another text.

And so perhaps the most immediate and long-lasting effect of hypertext is most generally observed in our day-to-day treatment of information. If your civil engineering lecturer casually mentions an interesting peice of trivia about a suspension bridge built in 1973 in San Francisco, one could possibly Google that bridge to read more about it, and perhaps go on to discover, on a Wikipedia article, that its chief engineer was a Hare Krishna and good friends with Steve Jobs. You could then go on to find out how his religious beliefs manifests itself in his structures, or read up more on how this engineer was one of the select group of people in the Bay area to use Apple Computers. And so on... you get the idea. That piece of trivia at the beginning of this post is a good example as well. Knowledge,(which is what blocks of text eventually represents, yes?) becomes a dynamic intertwining network as hypertext, empowering the reader to fetch linked information, effectively widening and deepening his experience of reading one text. My reading of Landow's text is broadened now that I know he was once in the same classroom as us. (I am all the more in awe.) Hypertext shrinks the physical world by enlarging the virtual text to encompass it, from the inside(of the computer) out(into the world).

In time to come, there might be truly nothing that we cannot know.

About me

  • I'm lucasho
  • From Singapore, Singapore
  • slow down, hold still
    every crooked line of this sad city.
    down by the river; we'll play awhile,
    looking for that elusive goldmine;
    maybe i'm a little weak to dance.

    it's a beautiful piece of heartache...
    yeah, we're gonna be alright.
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