Sunday, July 28, 2002

One last angle to explore here on the question of the future of words, and that's the hyperlink. Basically, a hyperlink is a word like this that links to something else, in this case home page. The hyperlink, developed two or three decades ago, changes the fiber of the word more than anything else, and largely for the better. For centuries words were printed on a page, dried and dead until the paper was destroyed. With hyperlinks, the basis of blogging, words take on a new dynamism. They organically connect to other ideas, other words, or images or sounds. The interconnectedness is unprecedented. The downside is that blogs can link without context, fraying the fabric of the text until it is so broken down that all hope of context and coherence is lost.

Literacy Online calls hyperlinks "the computer's capacity to create such fluid textual structures and present them interactively to the reader," and continues:

The computer as hypertext constitutes a new writing space with qualities unlike those of the previous spaces of handwriting and printing. No longer ancillary to printing, the computer as hypertext earns a distinct place in the history of writing. The shift from printed book to electronic hypertext becomes a watershed as important as the shift from manuscript to print in the fifteenth century.

And although I will bemoan the e-book's eventual corrosion of bound books, I will grant the authors this:

Hypertext calls for a redefinition of the book ... A printed book is an artifact that you can hold in your hand; it is a sequence of pages bound between two covers. Physically and metaphorically, a printed book claims to cover a subject. But in fact no book is complete in itself. Any book contains echoes, references, and often direct quotations, from other books.

And that is why the fluid format of the Web, and weblogs in particular, contain a nugget of promise.

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