In this section of the course, we’ve been reading about early design concepts for computing technologies and data organization, as well as a history of one of the basic building-blocks of computer-based writing: hypertext. In this blog post, you might consider Theodor Nelson’s radical vision of “Literary Machines” or Vannevar Bush’s “Memex” machine and how their predictions still impact the word processing programs and computers of today. You could also look at some of those entertaining points where their predictions missed the mark, or consider elements in their prototypes that you wish you could currently use.
We also read more of Lev Manovich’s ideas categorizing and analyzing the creative possibilities of new media. You might consider why the algorithm is such an important aspect of digital media, or discuss some of the fundamental differences between digital and analog media. Marshall McLuhan’s Understanding Media introduced us to a brief history of oral and print cultures and suggested that we might be in a “secondary orality” via new modes of electronic media. What did he mean by this and how does it connect to our discussion of reading and writing online?
Finally, we explored hypertext as one of the fundamental underlying structures of our daily computer use. Why were literary theorists like Landow, Moulthrop and Coover so interested in the ramifications of hypertext-based reading and writing on narrative structures? Can we see some of the non-linear and open-ended aspects influencing texts and writing today? Is hypertext now so pervasive that we barely notice it?
As we’ve discussed, new writing technologies go beyond simply providing us with a new set of tools. They change the very ways we think, interact, and create our realities. How do many of these theorists connect political, economic and social changes to what at first appear to be simple advances in the way we write and communicate? Try to approach your casual internet use as an anthropologist or literary critic: Break down and describe your daily habits, render them a bit unfamiliar, and see what ideas you can generate.