Writing Space: The Computer, Hypertext, and the History of Writing

Writing Space: The Computer, Hypertext, and the History of Writing

Writing Space: The Computer, Hypertext, and the History of Writing

Writing Space: The Computer, Hypertext, and the History of Writing

Synopsis

This text is a study of the computer as a new technology for reading and writing - a technology that may replace the printing press as our principal medium of symbolic communication. One of the main subjects of Writing Space is hypertext, a technique that allows scientists, scholars and creative writers to construct texts that interact with the needs and desires of the reader. Bolter explores both the theory and practice of hypertext, demonstrating that the computer as hypertext represents a new stage in the long history of writing, one that has far-reaching implications in the fields of human and artificial intelligence, cognitive science, philosophy, semiotics and literary theory.

Excerpt

Because the subject of this printed book is the coming of the electronic book, I have found it particularly difficult to organize my text in an appropriate manner--appropriate, that is, to the printed page. In my mind the argument kept trying to cast itself intertextually or "hypertextually." Electronic text falls naturally into discrete units--paragraphs or sections that stand in multiple relation to one another. An electronic text is a network rather than the straight line suggested by the pages of a printed book, and the network should be available for reading in a variety of orders. Texts written explicitly for this new medium will probably favor short, concentrated expression, because each unit may be approached from a different perspective with each reading. Electronic writing will probably be aphoristic rather than periodic. A printed book, on the other hand, usually demands a periodic rhetoric, a rhetoric of subordinations and transitions.

The printed book also requires a printed persona, a consistent voice to lead the reader on a journey through the text. It has been hard for me to establish and maintain such a voice in this essay. For us in this period of transition, the idea of electronic writing is highly ambiguous. I found myself wanting to be true to this ambiguity by playing the advocate of the new technology in one paragraph and the devil's advocate in the next. In the end I had to remain the advocate, to argue rather cheerfully that the computer is a revolution in writing. I would in fact like to argue just as strongly for the continuity of electronic writing--that this new medium grows naturally and easily out of the late age of print. Somehow, the computer is both revolutionary and evolutionary. Such ambivalence is felt by many, perhaps all, authors, but ambivalence must be suppressed as a condition of writing nonfiction for publication in print. An author can take a position and add qualifications, but he or she cannot both take and reject a position in any convincing way. We shall see that an author can do this in the writing space provided by the computer. Indeed, a many-voiced text that is large enough to contain and admit its own contradictions may be the only convincing form of writing in the electronic medium.

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