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How liberalizing is hypertext? September 18, 2006

Posted by McStorian in ClioWired.
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George Landow published his Reading and Writing in a Hypertext Environment in 1992.  It’s interesting to go back and read something about the benefits of the Internet that’s 14 years old because some of his theories seem remedial, some are profound, and some seem off the mark.  This reading was admittedly about the benefit of hypertext publishing, much of which is commonsensical to us today.  But several points seemed quite inflated.  Granted, we have yet to experience the full benefit of the Internet, but two of his major points were that hypertext will evolve text from “saying” to “showing,” and that hypertext is liberalizing academia. 

Granted, I think hypertext has certainly changed the way learn, but 14 years after this article was written, text-based publishing still rules academia.  People aren’t reading full-length books or really even articles on their computer monitors with hypertext footnotes that engulf readers into an endless conversation.  I suppose the primary issue is that visual technology has not yet caught up with the means of production, or that people just aren’t interested in reading so much on a digital screen.  Therefore, mass marketing that technology might not be a good business move.  Museums, collections, and blogs have gone a long way to create these types of communities, but not in the same form as that discussed Landow.

 Another reason why these communities can’t be as expansive as Landow would like is because of the digital divide – a socioeconomic bi-leveling of modern society between those with digital access and skills and those without.  The digital divide is a serious concern, especially if more and more publication is to reach the Internet instead of impoverished community libraries.  As liberalizing as hypertext may be, it has the potential to exclude huge portions of the world’s population.  This isn’t to say that authors shouldn’t choose to post their ideas and writings only on the web, I just think that more needs to be done to close the divide.  Amongst those who have digital access, on-line publishing allows for much greater accountability across a much bigger community.  However, instead of moving away from “saying” and toward “showing,” it seems that one affect is that the Internet is helping to sell more text-based “analog” books rather than displace them with hypertext versions.

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