Hypertext: the Links We See

The World Wide Web is quickly becoming the most-used medium for transmitting electronic text worldwide. Text on the World Wide Web is published using HyperText Markup Language (HTML). Hypertext is a special application of electronic text and thus deserves some individual consideration in e-text research.

However, unlike many of the other areas of interest in e-text study, hypertext is already the subject of much research. Instead of discussing and problematizing hypertext further like I have the other topics in this web, I'm going to treat hypertext with a simplified overview of some of the research already published.

Hypertext is significant in it's greatly enhanced ability to point out relationships between documents. In fact, Dave Clark writes that this ability is so enhanced that it is embarrassing to authors. Hypertext can show the extent to which a document depends on other documents for information, ideas, and research.

In the introduction to Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man, Marshall McLuhan relates a story about a conversation with one of the editors of the book. The editor "noted with dismay that 'seventy-five per cent of (McLuhan's) material is new. A successful book cannot venture to be more than ten per cent new (19).'" Imagine a writer's discomfort if he or she wrote a "successful book" using the ten per cent guideline, then the other ninety per cent of the ideas were linked visibly and instantly to the documents they were borrowed from. The new material would seem very insignificant within the large context of the founding works. This is just one possibility that hypertext allows.

It is important to note that hypertext is more than text with explicit links and ways to navigate such as the World Wide Web provides. Jay David Bolter promotes the concept that hypertext has three main characteristics: fluidity, multiplicity, and dispersed control (8). His definition includes e- mail, textual databases, electronic encyclopedias and hand books, presentation programs, computer-assisted instruction, and "all those applications that promote the topical division and interrelation of texts as well as dispersed access and control (9)."

Other theorists might widen the definition of hypertext even further by using hypertextuality as a synonym for intertextuality. If one considers a footnote or citation or allusion in a printed text as a link, a library quickly becomes an immense hypertextual document.

With the possibility of this much larger definition of non- electronic hypertext in the back of the mind, it is interesting to explore the changes in the relationship of reader and writer that electronic hypertext encourages. Bolter writes, "In hypertext, the reader assumes something of the role of a traditional author; that is, the reader constitutes the text in the act of reading. In a hypertext of any significant size, each reading and therefore each text is unique (10-11)." By choosing which links and routes to follow, the reader of hypertext blurs with the author. It is the interaction of the reader with the author's links and text that creates the text read. This has a sort of leveling effect: the reader can no longer be considered less important than the writer when the medium allows the reader so much freedom.

[Index] [Pages/Monitors] [Authority] [Hypertext] [Society] [Bibliography]

Created by Jonathan Stade, 1996.