September 16, 2015

Why We Link

It is Friday night dinner again, and the Business Professor asks straight out why anyone would want to bother with hypertext narrative. I handle this question badly in social settings. I understand the underlying family traumas; sorry, Freud, but knowing doesn’t help that much.

It’s time for a fresh tilt at that windmill; here are some thoughts for an introduction to Getting Started With Hypertext Narrative.

Comments and improvements welcome: Email me.

The future of serious writing lies on the computer screen. That future, indeed, is already upon us. We compose on the computers, we read our mail on computers, and increasingly we read our novels and textbooks on computers.

Today, most of what we read is written as if it would be read on paper. We no longer write on paper and we no longer read on paper, yet our computers, our tablets, and our ebook readers simulate paper. Indeed, they go to great lengths to copy the inconveniences of paper, the awkwardness of turning the page, or the arbitrary limits it imposes on our margin notes. Most significantly, we still write books as if they were to be mass-produced by factories, one page forever following another in a fixed and inalterable sequence, one size fits all. We don’t use links much, and we don’t use them wisely.

Hypertext is, simply, writing that uses links; hypertext narrative is telling stories (and histories) that use links. Links let us write in new ways for new audiences. Links should let us tell stories that were once difficult to tell. Though links can sometimes let us alter the story, changing “what happens” in different readings, we more frequently will use links to change the plot, changing “how we explain what happened.”

Why does this matter?

These notes explore some lessons we have learned from the first twenty-five years of hypertext narrative.