Text, Wiki, Hypermedia and…Icebergs?

Ed Folsom, in his article, discusses databases, but his argument fits more comfortably within the hypertext debate.  Interestingly, as George P. Landow explains, “[h]ypertextuality, like all digital textuality, inevitably includes a far higher percentage of nonverbal information than does print.”  Hypertext and text are not equivalent, then.  A new interaction of information such as that found in hypertext does not conform with the old print technology jargon.

Hypertext in Practice

Let’s assume your research question involves researching The Wikimedia Foundation and Wikisource.  If you search Wikimedia in the Bing search bar the internet page “Wikimedia Foundation” is the second result.  You click on it.  You may or may not read the entire page before moving onto the next research question topic: Wikisource.

Wikisource is not mentioned in the first paragraph about the Wikimedia Foundation.  So you scroll down the page and/or you click Command-F (or Ctrl-F if you have a PC and are lazy, like me) and type ‘wikisource’.  You click the hypertext link Wikisource and read the page.  On the Wikisource page you have words, images, diagrams, and a video.  [A useful list of diverse approaches to annotating The Tales of John Oliver Hobbes on Wikisource].

What is everything you just saw and did?  Archiving, scanning, watching and/or reading media and following links describes these actions and information best.  New terminology, which does not use words like “book” or “text”, is necessary.

Hypertext Hypermedia and Print Technology

The brief example above shows as that “hypertext situates texts in a field of other texts.”  In fact, since the term hypertext does not embody this perhaps it would be a good time to start using the term hypermedia?

So, hypermedia as we can see is incredibly porous, like book technology.  After collecting a stack of print texts for a research paper, does one read them cover to cover?  No!  One uses the index and reads sections necessary for ones research.  One utilizes bibliographies to “link” to other works which may be relevant to ones work.

Why is hypermedia such an issue then if it is structured much like the way we have been reading all along?

As Jerome McGann shows us, in a simple and brilliant point, information technologies force us to study print text not with print text but a new medium.  Inevitably, this forces us to think about how print technology works and how to frame it within a different medium.

But, of course, anything that can be turned into “a new phenomenon” by popular discourse becomes delusional, an example being Ed Folsom’s overly optimistic outlook of the database.

The important thing here is not to be delusional: to treat hypermedia as some saviour, or as some insane offshoot of information evolution.  The evolution of information technology from print text to hypermedia is logical.  Hypermedia did not suddenly arrive one day; it exists within a push and pull of pros and cons like any human innovation.

Hypermedia and Freud’s Iceberg 

The original Wikisource logo

Wikisource’s logo is an iceberg.  Wikisource’s old name Project Sourceberg, the logo itself, and all this talk about hypermedia reminds me of Freud’s iceberg theory.

Yes, the connection may be a thin one, but bear with me.

Freud explained the iceberg theory in relation to the id, ego and superego.  ThinkQuest’s Library describes the “visible part of the iceberg” as “the conscious part, which consists of everything we know and remember and the thinking processes through which we function.  The unconscious part is made up of everything we have ever learned or experienced, including that which has been “forgotten”…the largest part of the unconscious has just been shut out, because it would be annoying to be consciously reminded of it.”  What shuts out the unconscious is suppression.

Hypermedia decreases the divide caused by suppression.  Hypermedia highlights the parts of print technology that we have chosen to forget, but mainly, it highlights the information which has been deemed as unattainable: all information.  Access to all information can be overbearing, so it is associated with ‘the basest’.  Accessibility is the annoying thing that has been shut out because its been deemed impossible, and/or base in our society.

What is a Text in Hypermedia?

Accessibility is a major problem facing hypermedia and all other digital reconfigurations of text.  One reason is a lot of digital reconfiguration’s exist outside academia.  The ones that exist within academia are usually inaccessible.  The ones that exist outside academia do not hold enough prestige.  I believe Jerome McGann would strongly agree that this is academia largely standing in the way of itself.

A question like what is a text in Hypermedia or “can any individual work that has been addressed by another still speak so forcefully?” is inane.  Every individual work has always been addressed by another, it is just generally more obvious with hypermedia.  A text has never been what we have assumed it was in the first place.  Digital technologies show us this.  So, what is a text in hypermedia?  Something more visibly varied and complex.

The Future

Landow states that hypermedia “blurs the distinction between what is inside and what is outside a text.  It also makes all the texts connected to a block of text collaborate with that text.”  What is a text that exists in a block that collaborates with other media and is both introverted and extroverted…in the future?  Hopefully a Freudian iceberg that melts as fast as the real glaciers.


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