Monday, January 16, 2012

Week 2: The Beginning of Hypertext and the Web

What is "new" about "new media"?

What are the characteristics, both technical and social, of new media? 
How does new media transform and "remediate" earlier media practices?

As noted in the lecture notes, here is an excerpt from Bolter and Guisin's Remediation:

Bolter, J. D. and Grusin, R. (2000). Remediation: Understanding New Media. The MIT Press, 1st edition.
 (excerpts selected and titled by course instructor)

Immediacy and Hypermediacy

Immediacy is our name for a family of beliefs and practices that express themselves differently at various times among various groups, and our quick survey cannot do justice to this variety. The common feature of all these forms is the belief in some necessary contact point between the medium and what it represents. For those who believe in the immediacy of photography, from Talbot to Bazin to Barthes, the contact point is the light that is reflected from the objects on to the film. This light establishes an immediate relationship between the photograph and the object. For theorists of linear-perspective painting and perhaps for some painters, the contact point is the mathematical relationship established between the supposed objects and their projection on the canvas. However, probably at no time or place has the logic of immediacy required that the viewer be completely fooled by the painting or photograph. Trompe l'oeil, which does completely fool the viewer for a moment, has always been an exceptional practice. The film theorist Tom Gunning (1995) has argued that what we are calling the logic of transparent immediacy worked in a subtle way for filmgoers of the earliest films. The audience members knew at one level that the film of a train was not really a train, and yet they marveled at the discrepancy between what they knew and what their eyes told them (114-133). On the other hand, the marveling could not have happened unless the logic of immediacy had had a hold on the viewers. There was a sense in which they believed in the reality of the image, and theorists since the Renaissance have underwritten that belief. This "naive" view of immediacy is the expression of a historical desire, and it is one necessary half of the double logic of remediation. (pp. 30-31)
As a counterbalance [to immediacy] hypermediacy is more complicated and various. In digital technology, as often in the earlier history of Western representation, hypermediacy expresses itself as multiplicity. If the logic of immediacy leads one either to erase or to render automatic the act of representation, the logic of hypermediacy acknowledges multiple acts of representation and makes them visible. Where immediacy suggests a unified visual space, contemporary hypermediacy offers a heterogeneous space, in which representation is conceived of not as a window on to the world, but rather as "windowed" itself—with windows that open on to other representations or other media. The logic of hypermediacy multiplies the signs of mediation and in this way tries to reproduce the rich sensorium of human experience. (pp. 33-34)
The logic of immediacy has perhaps been dominant in Western representation, at least from the Renaissance until the coming of modernism, while hypermediacy has often had to content itself with a secondary, if nonetheless important, status. Sometimes hypermediacy has adopted a playful or subversive attitude, both acknowledging and undercutting the desire for immediacy. At other times, the two logics have coexisted, even when the prevailing readings of art history have made it hard to appreciate their coexistence. At the end of the twentieth century, we are in a position to understand hypermediacy as immediacy's opposite number, an alter ego that has never been suppressed fully or for long periods of time. (p. 34)
In all its various forms, the logic of hypermediacy expresses the tension between regarding a visual space as mediated and as a "real" space that lies beyond mediation. Lanham (1993) calls this the tension between look at and looking through, and he sees it as a feature of twentieth-century art in general and now digital representation in particular. (p. 41)

Media Con(Media)tent

Again, we call the representation of one medium in another remediation, and we will argue that remediation is a defining characteristic of the new digital media. (p. 45)
The digital medium can be more aggressive in its remediation. It can try to refashion the older medium or media entirely, while still marking the presence of the older media and therefore maintaining a sense of multiplicity or hypermediacy. [ . . . ] This form of aggressive remediation throws into relief both the source and the target media. (p. 46)
Finally, the new medium can remediate by trying to absorb the older medium entirely, so that the discontinuities between the two are minimized. The very act of remediation, however, ensures that the older medium cannot be entirely effaced; the new medium remains dependent on the older one in acknowledged or unacknowledged ways. (p. 47)
[ . . . ] remediation operates in both directions: users of older media such as film and television can seek to appropriate and refashion digital graphics, just as digital graphics artists can refashion film and television. (p. 48)

What is New About New Media?

Our primary concern will be with visual technologies, such as computer graphics and the World Wide Web. We will argue that these new media are doing exactly what their predecessors have done: presenting themselves as refashioned and improved versions of other media. Digital visual media can best be understood through the ways in which they honor, rival, and revise linear-perspective painting, photography, film, television, and print. No medium today, and certainly no single media event, seems to do its cultural work in isolation from other media, any more than it works in isolation from other social and economic forces. What is new about new media comes from the particular ways in which they refashion older media and the ways in which older media refashion themselves to answer the challenges of new media. (pp. 14-15)

The Reality of Remediation

The process of remediation makes us aware that all media are at one level a "play of signs," which is a lesson that we take from poststructuralist literary theory. At the same time, this process insists on the real, effective presence of media in our culture. Media have the same claim to reality as more tangible cultural artifacts; photographs, films, and computer applications are as real as airplanes and buildings.
        Furthermore, media technologies constitute networks or hybrids that can be expressed in physical, social, aesthetic, and economic terms. Introducing a new media technology does not mean simply inventing new hardware and software, but rather fashioning (or refashioning) such a network. (p. 19)

SEED QUESTIONS - Please Post Comments Here

Q1. After reading Vannevar Bush’s “As We May Think” think about Bush as being considered the “father” of hypertext (although he did not coin the term). To what extent can we see his concept implemented in the World Wide Web that for many people defines their notion of hypertext? What are the differences?

Q2. Andries van Dam encourages us to approach hypertext as a new medium and not copy “old, bad habits.” What are some news ways to think about hypertext? How might we use hypertext in publishing, in writing, in thinking?

Q3. Joe Levy, in 1993 said: “if information is available, then any (authorised) person should be able to access it from anywhere in the world.”What implications does this thinking have to our own notions of publishing and the current online environment? You can use examples from your own experience.


  1. Q2: In journalism school, we were trained to use hypertext as a way to bring deeper analysis to stories that are typically confined to a very small amount of space.
    To take an example from the news, I would try to fill a SOPA/PIPA story with links to videos, in-depth articles and other forms of social media. Ideally, the links would represent both sides of the argument – something that is often lost when you barely have enough space to get through the who, when, where, what and how.
    I think what I like in approaching hypertext from this angle is that it creates infinite opportunity for learning. From a SOPA-related article someone could find a link to an article on Internet privacy, which could perhaps lead them to a social media based conversation they could get involved in. Depending on the content attached to them, hyperlinks can have mobilizing power – they can take someone who is reading a story and turn them into participants in the action.
    Hypertext lends itself to non-linear storytelling, across diverse mediums. Using hypertext we can get a better view of issues from in-depth perspectives that just aren’t possible with static mediums like the newspaper or books, which can only serve to deepen our engagement with media.

  2. Bush’s term is associative indexing (1945, p. 45), and it was a way for him to store his own knowledge and information – the details of which he could not retain all in his mind at once. (I understand his plight!) The memex was really for an individual, since things could only be retrieved through a topic or classification that you had put there and knew it was there, and you defined the associations. Consider the Dewey decimal system. Its system of indexing is based on defined organization of topics. Those who use it follow its structure to find similar topics. But if you organize and associate topics in a way that makes sense to you in your memex, I may not be able to follow your trail, because I don’t know your thought process.

    Generally hyperlinks within a text take a person to information that directly supports or defines the hyperlinked word or object. Additional hyperlinks provided might take a person to associated information (in the same way Bush’s memex could take you to an associated item). In the case of the web, there really is a no need for an indexing system (and you don’t need to know the thought patterns of the creator to follow links) because search functions can deliver potential topic references so well.

    Hypertext or hypermedia on the web could lead one on an extensive (and perhaps fruitless) quest on the web. Likewise, following a chain of associations through the memex might lead you on a wild goose chase as well. Both systems also encourage non-linear thought - which might add value to your quest in unexpected ways

    I find the concept that Bush presents is somewhat distant from the notion of hypertext on the web. His approach in the memex and associative indexing was simply intended to be a solution for storing and retrieving information.

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  4. Since today was Wikipedia's blackout day in response to SOPA, I'm reading question #3 a little differently tonight than I did yesterday. Joe Levy's statement is reminding me of Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales' stated vision of "a world in which every single person on the planet is given free access to the sum of all human knowledge" ( The response to Wikipedia's blackout of its English language site is a potent reminder that this vision is becoming realized - or, at the very least, it's proof that we've become accustomed to our information being accessible all day, every day.

    As usual, Twitter gave some indication of the zeitgeist. More than one student complained about the difficulty of completing homework without Wikipedia, while others responded that, back in their day, young people knew how to use a library. Much of the Twitter banter was lighthearted, with a buffet of absurdity being offered up under the #factswithoutwikipedia tag. However, there also seemed to be a fair amount of shock and disbelief that Wikipedia had chosen to be unavailable for the sake of anti-SOPA protest.

    SOPA seems to be raising an interesting paradox: while we're closer than we've ever been to achieving universal access to information, we're also in danger of seeing heavy-handed legislation that would restrict this access in the US - and, by association, in Canada.

    Early reports on the SOPA protest suggest that some lawmakers are removing their support for the bill in light of the protest. So these are interesting times: a volunteer-run organization, which is devoted to sharing information, and which is barely 10 years old, feels threatened by oppressive legislation. Over a 24-hour period, public response in support of this organization - the evidence of which lives mainly in social media - may then lead to the failure of this legislation. I can't quite get my mind around all the implications of this - the power of social media, how a non-profit, collaborative organization could take on government and corporate interests, how this latest of many upheavals in what we call "copyright" will play out, etc. Lots to think about. Wish I were in a position to understand it all!

  5. Bush’s concept of selection by association can easily been seen in hypertext and web browsers today. Hyperlinks using hypertext is an obvious example, but I would argue that there are more ways we leave trails, such as modern day browser histories. I have often found an interesting web page, closed it, then wished to return to it moments later. Internet Explorer and Firefox now offer the “restore last session” option for just this situation. They also offer “bookmark all tabs” where the browser captures the web address from each page of each tab at once. The third way that we've established our own hypertext linking system is the list of "bread crumbs" at the top of a web page that indicates where you are in the site. I feel that Bush’s concept of trails is actually a simpler alternative to any of these.

    His concept of the memex desk also struck a chord for me as I remembered Bill Gates explaining how one day everything would be a computer and he demonstrated an interactive desk. I couldn’t find the original video, but here is the desk from 2007:

    No levers or buttons, but it does scan in a document and uses a watermark instead of trails.

    I can also see how Bush’s work influenced the current concept of user-centered design. He was concerned with the purpose and need of the technology from the user’s point of view rather than the possibilities of what it could do. For example, he was aware that people do not have a linear way of thinking. Websites built during web 1.0 were rarely intuitive and instead followed the logic of the designer’s mind. They did not focus on how the user will navigate within it. His statement, “man cannot hope fully to duplicate this mental process artificially, but he certainly ought to be able to learn from it,” on page 44 clearly showed his concern for the user’s point of view.

  6. Hypertext has been used to shorten copy for publication by providing hyperlinks to relevant websites and/or information. What may be different now is how hypertexts are viewed, as tools that can create multidimensional narratives. The reader can be connected to websites/pages that provides more depth; leading the reader further into the narrative or taking the reader away from the narrative completely to another narrative.

    Hypertext is also used a classification tool, within data warehouses. Data warehouses store online data that is accessible via key terms or links via hypertext terms. This may be more significant within an individual website. In my workplace (ACSW) I am continually creating links to a variety of pages that are relevant to a news item or event that is taking place. For example today I posted a press release regarding child poverty and I linked a variety of relevant pages (within the website) based on the words ‘child’ and ‘poverty’. These relevant pages included other new items, events and committees (Children’s Issues and The Disparity Campaign).

    I see hypertext as presenting an opportunity for infinite connections to information that can become knowledge.

  7. Q3 - Online publishing is often seen as an easier way to get information distributed compared to traditional publishing. Production costs are lower, distribution is faster and easier and inventory is no longer a problem. However, does this effect the quality of the content being published? Maybe, but I argue that the ability to find niche materials outweighs any concerns about quality.

    Websites such as offer "one-stop publishing" where authors can submit their work and books are only printed when purchased. Lulu also offers eBook publishing. I purchased a dog grooming book for Shetland Sheepdogs from the site and I was pleased with the purchase. The images in the book were a little wonky and the grammar wasn't perfect, but the content was exactly what I wanted. The information was more detailed than anything I found on the web and I was able to save money by avoiding the groomers and performing basic grooming, such as nail trimming, myself.

    As you can imagine, a book with such a specific audience was not available at my local bookstore. Chris Anderson's book, The Long Tail, confirms my experience and explains that niche markets are more easily served by online publishing.