Yesterday’s blog post, where I put links at the bottom of the post instead of putting them throughout the text, forced me to write differently. Without the crutch of a hyperlink, every time I wrote about something, I had to explain what it was. I had to summarize and interpret. I had to provide context.
With a link, the onus shifts from the writer to the reader to provide context. The reader has to click the link and understand what is going on, and then can come back to the original text. I, as a writer, don’t feel obligated to explain what’s going on. I slap a link up, and the reader has to sink or swim. They’re forced into my stream of consciousness. So, they must orient themselves. I invite you into my space, and you must fend for yourself.
Without the links, I had to provide guideposts. Instead of writing what came to mind, I had to make sure I understood the documents that I was linking to as evidence. The reader is given a guided tour, rather than thrown into a stream of thought. I think it made my writing a little clearer.
I had not noticed how hyperlinks assume that they’re context enough.
I think this is part of why the web feels non-linear. Each blog entry isn’t a self-contained node that happens to link to another node. Instead, through the link, the new text interweaves itself with the old text that was linked to.
It reminds me of what I’ve been told about medieval philosophy. They spent a lot of time just annotating Aristotle. Annotations are dependent on the parent text. Our modern texts don’t stand alone, do they? The web is different, though. It is less hierarchical. Instead of footnote upon footnote, we have recursiveness and reciprocity. The texts all meld together, in a non-hierarchical fashion.
Or maybe it’s less like the Aristotlean tradition and more like conversation. I wouldn’t describe conversation as linear. Although you may take turns talking, there are multiple conversation threads and a lot of backtracing. It’s a good way to learn, even! It is, however, very different from learning from a book. I remember Lloyd describing weblogging as more like oral tradition; I think he’s right. Despite being written, it has the ephemerality and tone of spoken word. The blogosphere is a big extended conversation. Maybe.