Hypertext is one of the fundamental ideas behind the much-hyped wired world of cyberspaceand the information super-highway. Hypertext is a collection of ‘texts’ interconectedby references to one another at appropriate points, the ‘texts’ being video clips,audio or plain old written words. The ultimate aim of hypertext devotees is the codificationof all texts in a vast database representing the sum of human knowledge. Such a databasewould serve as oracle and library, accessible to all with a point and a click. Itis a goal that portrays hypertext as one of the greatest tools developed in mankind’squest for knowledge.
This view, however, ignores some of the effects that hypertext has on the very processof reading, understanding and learning. The ease of use of the hypertext systems,with all associated references available instantly – each one leading to countlessfurther connections, promotes a culture of ‘browsing’ rather than ‘reading’ in thetraditional sense. What results from hypertext searches is a breadth of knowledgerather than a depth. The hypertext browser gains a superficial knowledge of many subjectsand understanding of none.Hypertext browsing promotes the acceptance of simplistic arguements and models. Wheneven one paragraph in a text contains umpteen references to other texts, what arethe chances that the browser will wade through an entire text before clicking thatmouse and info-surfing away?
Elements of complex arguements will be misunderstood due to a lack of context gainedfrom in-depth reading. That which cannot be expressed simply in short passages willbe ignored or mis-used. Learning becomes ‘soundbite scholarship’ and politics is designedto fit in between the adverts. With hypertext, the processes involved in the searchfor knowledge become more important than the knowledge itself. The ease of browsingthrough hypertext, collecting more and more references overcomes any desire to reachconclusions. The ‘medium’ of hypertext truly becomes ‘the message’. Users are contentto cruise in circles on the ‘superhighway’, they may not be getting anywhere – but,it doesn’t really matter as it’s such an easy drive.
I think we can all sympathise with Rod G’s antipathy to all the tosh being bandiedaround about the information techhnology ‘revolution’. Agreed, the Micrsoft advertis the best reason for not even bothering to turn on the television (and there’s alot of competition….). But I was saddened by the cynicism that lay beneath the piece.It’s all to easy to be cynical. Yeah, it’s sometimes a good mask to wear, a shieldto bear, to weather the sucking vortices of advertising and mass media. But look alittle deeper and you’ll see that weary cynicism is another round in their game….
Cynicism is a loss of faith. Disillusionment. Looking back over the history of informationtechnology, there’s good reason for disillusionment. Everything, radio, television,newspapers… it all seems to become a tool for the various Establishments to perpetutetheir control over the populace. But we still have remember they’re still tools. Sowhy can’t they be used towards more constructive ends? Des everyone really want tobe led blindly along to a sad death? That seems to be Rod’s view… A weary fatalismborn of too much disillusionment in the past, creating a vicious circle.
New technology! New possibilities! Then- perversion of possibilities…. Disillusionment…Loss of faith… And, next time around- New technology! New possiblities! “Yeah, Right,look at what happened last time. Forget it.” And there we go. The fact that it isup to us all to utilise emergent possibilities in the present is masked by ther catastrophicillusion that nothing changes, that it always has to go the way it went in the past.Rod points out that people don’t make their own movies with ever cheaper cam-corders,they still want slick Hollywood pap. But what about the use of cam-corders in directaction, where they have become highly potent political weapons? Here we have a primeexample of new technology actually being utilised by people to empower themselves-it can happen.
Like it or not, everything changes. And, be they a trauma or a release, going withthe changes is the only way to go…ask Lao-Tzu. And of all the changes in informationtechnology, the rise of home computing and the internet holds most promise for release.As proclaimed by the Out Of Order Order in the pamphlet “All theory is practice”, “Thekind of things we should be takling and really need to root out are ennui and otherpsychological states, such as depression, that are characterised by a profound lossof interest in the game of actually being alive.” So leave your disillusionment where it belongs (in the past), throw away your guilt(how much do you help the ‘Third World” by not having access to a computer?) and plungeyourself into participating with the changes that are flowing through us.We really shouldn’t let anyone break our faith in ourselves. [Gyrus]