So with some pointers from Barbara Ganley, I’ve been doing some reading on hypertext theory and over the past couple of days have immersed myself in Jay David Bolter’s Writing Space: Computers, Hypertext and the Remediation of Print. The second edition came out in 2001, just before the blog explosion, but the table is clearly set by what he’s writing. This is probably the first of a couple “capture the main ideas” type posts about the reading.
We’re in “the late age of print” which captures the feeling I have about paper texts so well. Bolter says that the possibilities for print have pretty much been played out (2) and that “Digital media are refashioning the printed book” (3). Inherent in this discussion is the idea, I think, that hypertext is forcing us to shift our thinking as to the value of print.
In the late age of print, however, we seem more impressed by the impermanence and changeability of text, and digital technology seems to reduce the distance between author and reader by turning the reader into an author herself. Such tensions between monumentality and changeability and between the tendency to magnify the author and to empower the reader have already become a part of our current economy of writing (4). [Emphasis mine.]
Echoes of Jay Rosen, no doubt. And echoes of the connective reading that we must do when we are “empowered” by the ability to enter space with the author. As we read, we connect to ideas and personal knowledge with the intent to respond, not simply to passively, internally grapple with the meaning. Bolton connects this to Plato’s Dialogues which “invite the reader to participate in a conversation and then denies him or her full participation” (104). Not so any more.
What I’ve found especially interesting is how he discusses the network necessary for electronic writing.
If linear and hierarchical structures dominate current writing, our cultural construction of electronic writing is now adding a third: the network as a visible and operative structure. The network as an organizing principle has been present in many forms of writing; indeed Homeric oral poetry shows that the network is older than writing itself.After the invention of writing in the ancient world, it became the writer’s task to establish his own network comprised of references and allusions within the text and connected to the larger network formed by other texts in the culture. From that time until the advent of electronic writing, the referential network has often existed “between the lines” of text;that is, in the minds of readers and writers. Now, however, the network can rise to the surface of the text (106).
Digital technologies call into question the traditional treatise in which the writer assumes control over the argument. And this is the way we teach exposition today, without ever thinking that what is written may be connected to other ideas or interpretations.
Why should a writer be forced to produce a single, linear argument or an exclusive analysis of cause and effect when the writing space allows a writer to entertain and present several lines of thought at once? (107)
What a concept. This idea that a text speaks with a singular voice does not as easily stand in these new writing environments:
Publishing is fundamentally serious and permanent; a scholar or scientist cannot even retract his own previously published argument without embarrassment. A dialogue, on the other hand, speaks with more than one voice and therefore shares or postpones responsibility. A hypertextual essay in the computer could in fact be fashioned as a dialogue between the writer and her readers, and the reader could be asked to share the responsibility for the outcome. [Emphasis mine.]
Really good stuff, much of which seems to validate the shift in thinking that we’re going to have to complete in order to fully prepare our kids for what’s out there. That’s not to say that we don’t continue to teach linear forms of writing as well. But we have to begin introducing the idea of transactional writing, of writing in and for networked audiences that are invited into the conversation. The more they understand that writing is a part of a process of learning and not just a product of it, the better off they will be.