The Emperor's New Clothes
. . . divergences

While multimedia and hypertext share many features, there are considerable aspects of each that distinguish them - hypertext's 'low cost' and 'low' technology requirements, its emphasis on reading and writing, and its realisation of the implications of non-linearity and digitisation that Landow (1992) and others (Bolter 1994; Delany & Landow 1994; Moulthrop 1994; Burnett 1993) describe.

Hypertext is a relatively cheap technology that does not rely on substantial computer resources for writing or reading. The production of a Storyspace hypertext, for example Michael Joyce's (1992) Afternoon: A Story (Figure One), or Stuart Moulthrop's (1993)Victory Garden (Figure Two), requires a single author working in much the same way that authors have been working for the last few centuries.

The Storyspace hypertext authoring software will run on nearly any Macintosh computer, and more importantly the hypertexts themselves can be read on all but the oldest Macintosh computers. The software costs approximately US$125, and is easier to use than any current generation word processor.

At the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (RMIT), Media Studies students are able to produce such hypertexts (non-linear digital documents) within two hours of learning how to use the computer, and within three classes are incorporating still image, digitised video, and sound, into their hypertexts.

The documents produced can be shared simultaneously by other readers, and links to and from a single hypertext can be made by other readers (this can be done over a network). In assessing student essays submitted in this format I embed my comments within their work, with links to the sections I am commenting upon (Figure Three).

In some cases students have then incorporated my work into their work as they not only follow up my comments, but actively link to and from them - sometimes to contest, other times to acknowledge my position. On some occasions a specific critical essay has been made available as a hypertext, and a class freely links to and from this essay as they annotate and discuss the work. In turn all this additional material is incorporated into a single hypertext (though this is optional) and all students can read what other students have done, and in turn create new links within the text, and make further comments.

This simple example ought to illustrate the manner in which the relationship between author and reader, and between reader and text, is actively opened and enlarged by hypertext. It is within this space that the full implications of new media are being developed, and it is this space that constitutes the possibilities of a new mode of non-linear reading and writing.

An analogous example is of course the World Wide Web. Many commentators attribute the extraordinary growth of the Web to its multimedia content, but this is to misunderstand the basic fact of Web publication - anyone can publish and everyone is. It is not content that is driving the Web, it is the ease of publication (this is why there are so many complaints about the amount of 'noise' on the Web) and this is probably analogous to the invention of affordable pen and paper, not the printing press.

A major emphasis within hypertext environments is the process of writing and construction. Unlike most multimedia production systems (which require expensive, resource rich, and 'high-end' programs, computers, and skills) hypertext authoring occurs in the same environment as hypertext reading. The writer literally works in a non-linear environment, in a non-linear manner. Multiple spaces can be open at any time, multiple hypertexts can be open, multiple views of a particular hypertext can be available, and linking can take place across any of these spaces (Figure Four).

In addition, unlike multimedia, there is no particular demand to produce texts that are the digital equivalent of print publishing's 'coffee table' books. A hypertext can be a small essay (such as this), a collection of interrelated works (such as an anthology), or a major project delivered via CD-ROM. They may fit on a floppy disk, be distributed via the Internet, or simply mailed to somebody. This allows hypertext writing to be pragmatically much more of the everyday, and rather than being something that is used intensively it becomes extensive.

This allows, for example, Cinema Studies students at RMIT to write academic essays in a hypertext format. Film extracts are incorporated into their work and these extracts can be linked to each other, to passages of text, to other student essays, and to film stills (Figure Five). This is clearly something that multimedia, in its current model, cannot encompass, and it is, certainly in academic Cinema Studies, a paradigmatic shift in how cinema can be critically engaged with.

Multimedia production on the other hand has generally adopted a studio system of production, which despite all the rhetoric of creative engagement is, at the end of the day, an industrial model. As a result most multimedia development entails the production of content in what might be described as a 'linear' manner, which is then translated into a non-linear structure. However, as I have been suggesting, it is the specificity of this non-linearity that needs to be explored and understood, and for this to happen it needs to become an integral part of the experience of authoring.

Hypermedia, Delany and Landow (1994, p. 7) argue,

takes us even closer to the complex interrelatedness of everyday consciousness; it extends hypertext by re-integrating our visual and auditory faculties into textual experience, linking graphic images, sound and video to verbal signs. Hypermedia seeks to approximate the way our waking minds always make a synthesis of information received from all five senses.
And Bolter (1991, p. 22) argues:
Association is not really prior to writing . . . Association is always present in any text: one word echoes another; one sentence or paragraph recalls others earlier in the text and looks forward to still others. A writer cannot help but write associatively . . . The hierarchy (in the form of paragraphs, sections, and chapters) is an attempt to impose order on verbal ideas that are always prone to subvert that order.
And it is the associational nature of hypertext that is its distinguishing feature, but even more importantly this is not only in its reading, but is realised in its very writing. This suggests that it is of critical concern whether this 'association' and 'everyday consciousness' is being represented after the event, or is made possible within the production of the texts themselves.

As Ong (1982, pp. 178-9) argues in his celebrated work

The highly interiorized stages of consciousness in which the individual is not so immersed unconsciously in communal structures are stages which, it appears, consciousness would never reach without writing. The interaction between the orality that all human beings are born into and the technology of writing, which no one is born into, touches the depths of the psyche. . . Writing introduces division and alienation, but a higher unity as well. It intensifies the sense of self and fosters more conscious interaction between persons. Writing is consciousness-raising.
This suggests that any revolution that new media is apparently making visible for us will be less evident in the nature of the texts we consume than in the texts we create. This is of course the very point that vanguard postmodernists - for example Lyotard, Baudrillard, and Virilio - wish to make. It is less a question of the objects in themselves, and more what is made of them. This is how channel 'surfing,' the quote, and the video clip become emblematic of a 'media philosophy' where 'Post-hermeneutical reading shifts from an economy of production (author) to an economy of consumption (reader).' (Taylor & Saarinen 1994, p. 'telewriting' 10) and 'To be post-literate is not necessarily to be illiterate. The illiterate cannot read while the post-literate read otherwise.' (p. 'telewriting' 2).

introduction | convergences | divergences | rhizomes | bibliography