Friday, April 30, 2010

Smooth Hypertext

I just wanted to share a few blurbs with you which I came across recently and I thought they might be related to the concept of "smooth space" as Delezue and Guattari described it.

The first blurb is a work by Christian Hubert, which some of you might know already. This theory is in the form a hypertext and "It contains extensive paraphrases of readings, generally, but not always, clearly credited [...] Many come from readings in contemporary developments in science like chaos and complex systems studies, some theoretical biology, and some related philosophical writings, particularly the work of Deleuze and Guattari."

The second blurb is a background sketch on the history of the hypertext. I wanted to mention a text by Critical Art Ensemble to open up the field. It is the chapter 5: "Utopian Plagiarism, Hypertextuality, and Electronic Cultural Production" from the book The Electronic Disturbance. Here is an extract:

"Thinking about a new means for recombining information has always been on 20th-century minds, although this search has been left to a few until recently. In 1945 Vannevar Bush, a former science advisor to Franklin D. Roosevelt, proposed a new way of organizing information in an Atlantic Monthly article. At that time, computer technology was in its earliest stages of development and its full potential was not really understood. Bush, however, had the foresight to imagine a device he called the Memex. In his view it would be based around storage of information on microfilm, integrated with some means to allow the user to select and display any section at will, thus enabling one to move freely among previously unrelated increments of information.

At the time, Bush’s Memex could not be built, but as computer technology evolved, his idea eventually gained practicality. Around 1960 Theodor Nelson made this realization when he began studying computer programming in college:

'Over a period of months, I came to realize that, although programmers structured their data hierarchically, they didn’t have to. I began to see the computer as the ideal place for making interconnections among things accessible to people. I realized that writing did not have to be sequential and that not only would tomorrow’s books and magazines be on [cathode ray terminal] screens, they could all tie to one another in every direction. At once I began working on a program (written in 7090 assembler language) to carry out these ideas.'

Nelson’s idea, which he called hypertext, failed to attract any supporters at first, although by 1968 its usefulness became obvious to some in the government and in defense industries. A prototype of hypertext was developed by another computer innovator, Douglas Englebart, who is often credited with many breakthroughs in the use of computers (such as the development of the Macintosh interface, Windows). Englebart’s system, called Augment, was applied to organizing the government’s research network, ARPAnet, and was also used by McDonnell Douglas, the defense contractor, to aid technical work groups in coordinating projects such as aircraft design:

'All communications are automatically added to the Augment information base and linked, when appropriate, to other documents. An engineer could, for example, use Augment to write and deliver electronically a work plan to others in the work group. The other members could then review the document and have their comments linked to the original, eventually creating a “group memory” of the decisions made. Augment’s powerful linking features allow users to find even old information quickly, without getting lost or being overwhelmed by detail.'

Computer technology continued to be refined, and eventually— as with so many other technological breakthroughs in this country—once it had been thoroughly exploited by military and intelligence agencies, the technology was released for commercial exploitation. Of course, the development of microcomputers and consumer-grade technology for personal computers led immediately to the need for software which would help one cope with the exponential increase in information, especially textual information. Probably the first humanistic application of hypertext was in the field of education. Currently, hypertext and hypermedia (which adds graphic images to the network of features which can be interconnected) continue to be fixtures in instructional design and educational technology. An interesting experiment in this regard was instigated in 1975 by Robert Scholes and Andries Van Dam at Brown University. Scholes, a professor of English, was contacted by Van Dam, a professor of computer science, who wanted to know if there were any courses in the humanities that might benefit from using what at the time was called a text-editing system (now known as a word processor) with hypertext capabilities built in. Scholes and two teaching assistants, who formed a research group, were particularly impressed by one aspect of hypertext. Using this program would make it possible to peruse in a nonlinear fashion all the interrelated materials in a text. A hypertext is thus best seen as a web of interconnected materials. This description suggested that there is a definite parallel between the conception of culture- text and that of hypertext:

'One of the most important facets of literature (and one which also leads to difficulties in interpretation) is its reflexive nature. Individual poems constantly develop their meanings—often through such means as direct allusion or the reworking of traditional motifs and conventions, at other times through subtler means, such as genre development and expansion or biographical reference—by referring to that total body of poetic material of which the particular poems comprise a small segment.'"

I will send the PDF of Critical Art Ensemble around for those who are interested to read further. Related to the above there is also a graphic/map which I have found on the Documenta 12 website through which they tried to visualize the concept behind the 'Documenta 12 Magazines' program. The website and description:

No comments:

Post a Comment