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Article 4: What is Hypertext? 

Author:  Michael Joyce

Source: Joyce, Michael. "What is Hypertext?". Of Two Minds: Hypertext Pedagogy and Poetics. 1993. http://iberia.vassar.edu/~mijoyce/What_s_hypertext.html (10 Feb. 2000).

 

Summary

The article is actually an introduction to the concept of hypertext. It provides basic definitions, an overview of its structure and uses, and a short history of the evolution of hypertext and hypermedia. The basic feature of hypertext is that it is a computer-controlled visual form that can be manipulated by anyone having access to it. According to Joyce, its structure essentially consists of nodes and links, where the nodes ‘contain’ text, connected by the links (though the links themselves may also contain information or are at least labelled). He acknowledges that hypertext dissolves the distinction between reader and author, unlike conventional notions of print text. Readers are able to interact with the text and determine the content for themselves. This is motivated by the alternative structure in hypertext, as well as the medium of the computer, where information retrieval is random and the forms of storing that information are diverse. There is a short discussion on the definitions of hypertext, hypermedia and multimedia, followed by a tracing of the evolution of modern hypertext. In short, its roots were born with Vannevar Bush’s idea to have an information-retrieval system that mimicked the functioning of the human mind (the Memex). This idea was concretely built on by Douglas Engelbart and Theodor Holm (Ted) Nelson, with the NLS, AUGMENT and Xanadu systems. The article is rounded off by then stretching these to of visions future developments in virtual reality – an extension of hypermedia.

 

Review

I chose this text so as to take a look at the basic definitions and ideas of hypertext. It gave me a more technical understanding (structure, nodes, links, windows etc.) without going too in-depth or technological. I found that the point about how readers are able to construct meaning themselves is absolutely relevant and useful to my question. It is interesting to know that they are even able to ‘rewrite’ the text in some ways. What this all means is that a single text provides numerous reading choices – something that ties in with the idea of the writerly text. Although the portion about the history took up much of the article, I felt that reading about Bush’s Memex helped me to understand the original purpose of hypertext better – especially the notions of association and the human brain (they are also some things I had encountered in Essay 1). These are very apt descriptions of how hypertext functions –  where association by words/meanings plays a huge role. On the whole, this was a very concise and straighforward read.

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