What is a hypertext?
Is this a hypertext?
I am thinking about a great many things right now, as are you. Most likely, all of these things are in some way interconnected. As I write, I translate these interconnected ideas into a linear string of thoughts on a page. Is this a foreign concept? Why is it that writing, since its birth, has largely consisted in producing these linear strings of concepts? Is there a way of writing that is more attuned to the nonlinear, often indexical way that many people think?
In 1945, Vannevar Bush, an engineer at the Pentagon, wrote an article for Atlantic Monthly titled "As We May Think," in which he set forward a proposal for a machine called the Memex, which would index records in a way more compatible with the human mind. The mind, according to Bush, "Snaps instantly to the next [idea] that is suggested by the association of thoughts, in accordance with some intricate web of trails carried by the cells of the brain." (32) The Memex, in effect, created a system of associative indexing which allowed the reader to quickly move from one word or idea on the "virtual page" to another, related concept, quickly and easily, in a process closely approximating Bush's model of thought.
Although not envisioned as a constructed machine for textual interpretation before Bush, hypertext as a means for interpretation has existed for hundreds, if not thousands, of years. As far back as Mandeville's twelfth-century journey of discovery, which some critics have noted took place mainly in the library, people have been re-interpreting and re-molding texts in new ways to express their own ideas. If we look at the origin of storytelling in the oral traditions of mediterranean and european, as well as african peoples, we discover that oral transmission, as a form for communication, was more fluid, more open to interpretation, than the more widespread accessibility afforded by printed text.
In this essay, I argue two points, which are illustrated by the example of poetry contained elsewhere in the site. The first is that hypertext in its current, electronically published form, allows both ease of access and the flexibility of reinterpretation exhibited respectively in print and oral storytelling. The second issue is that this apparent next step in the history of writing may not be as liberating as has been claimed by previous hypertext critics.