In his chapter, “A Brief History of Hypertext: Origins and Influences,” Andreas Kitzmann traces the development of hypertext, eventually concluding that “what is significant here is the manner in which [Hypertext] is being described and employed as a general paradigm with which to define and structure the very nature of expression itself, especially in terms of the relationship between readers and writers” (29). Particularly, Kitzmann notes the potential for Hypertext to allow reader and writer to escape the tyranny of linearity. The extent to which hypertext transcend the linear paradigm of text, however, is overstated. While hypertext enables a digression from a linear presentation of text, it cannot escape from the necessity of linear narrative(s). The writer and reader must still interact with the text in a linear manner, even if there are multiple possible lines.
Despite Hypertext’s promise to free the author from a linear hierarchical organization (or ranking) of ideas, the various sections of a hypertext story must still be linked together by lines (as literalized in Storyspace’s GUI [Kitzmann 18-19]), lines which the reader must follow. A writer may create multiple links between multiple ideas but each link can point to only one thing. The author must still privilege certain information over others. Further, while the reader might be able to choose which links they will ignore and which they will follow, he or she must still experience the text in linear progression. Regardless of the experimental nature of the content of hypertexts and the ability of the technology to allow multiple story lines to exist within the same text, no person can experience the multiplicity of the text within a single reading.
The choice of the reader to pursue different paths through the text, freeing him or her from the authority of the author, is also exaggerated, as one could argue that hypertext actually limits the potential of the reader because it depends on limited predetermined connections. Although linear text primarily affords linear consumption, it cannot prevent the reader from starting in the middle, or from skipping back and forth within the text. Hypertext, on the other hand, which traditionally offers the reader shorter sections of text with links to further material, constricts the reader to the places the author has linked to. It forbids the reader from experiencing the text in ways the author has not already imagined.
Although, hypertext offers new ways of presenting text, it does not radically change the paradigm of writing or reading text. The author must still prioritize certain connections between ideas, and the reader must still encounter text in a linear progression (even if that line may be one of many possible lines). Although hypertext might afford a greater variety in the presentation of text, the practical experience of reading remains fundamentally the same.
Kitzmann, Andreas. “A Brief History of Hypertext: Origins and Influences.” Hypertext Handbook: The Straight Story. New York, NY: Peter Lang Pub Inc, 2006. 7–31. Print. (link to abstract)
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