February 11, 2006

Hypertext Anxiety

More on hypertext and movies: Years ago, when hypertext was still mostly a lab curiousity and the Web was still far in the future, most people thought that hypertext was inherently disorienting. My first papers were full of this, arguing for bookmarks and compasses and breadcrumbs.

And then we looked around and by 1991 we actually had hypertexts, we were publishing afternoon and Victory Garden and Quibbling, and I launched my heresy. Hypertext isn't disorienting: in fact, writers who wanted to disorient you had to work very hard to do it. George Landow reached the same conclusion by a different road. At first, this seemed crazy; gradually, it became conventional wisdom. (The Navigation Problem is still a bogey used to frighten people into hiring information architects, but IA/UX now sees itself as getting people where they want to go efficiently and delightfully, not keeping them from getting stuck in the hyperswamp)

Now -- weirdly for me -- the navigation problem has been turned on its head; Glass Shallot (Adam Baer, please put your name on your About Page) unpacks the confluence of hypertext and Syriana further, arguing that structural complexity is meant to unsettle the old and complacent reader who is not native to the net.

This is, after all, the easiest way to incite anxiety in a viewer like me who had the Internet at age 17 and often has to flood my mind with linear methods of storytelling just to remain a clear writer.

This is, delightfully, my old heretical argument that hypertext is not disorientienting turned on its head and spun like a top.

But there's a catch: doesn't Nashville (1975) work the same way?