4980 text/hypertext

Xanadu project (referring to the magic place of
literary memory in Samuel Taylor Coleridges
poem Kubla Khan), extended memex into a
global archive in which users could write as well
as read. Xanadus multiple styles of hypertext
were at least partially realized in the greatest
hypermedia system to date, the World Wide
Web. Tim Berners Lee introduced the docu
ment description language HTML (hypertext
markup language) in 1989 that made the Inter
net into a hypertext system. Even with the
addition of the graphical browser, created by
Marc Andreessen in 1993, however, the avail
able equipment and its applications have not
approached the full realization of the hypertext
vision. Lev Manovich argued that the most
important creators of the twentieth century are
the people who invented the hypermedia tools,
adding to the names already mentioned those of
Douglas Englebart, who invented the mouse
and windowed interface, Ivan Sutherland,
whose Sketchpad was the first paint program,
and J. C. R. Licklider, director of DARPA
(Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency).
All these figures made their contributions in the
To appreciate the full potential of hypertext
it is useful to place its development in the con
text of the concept of apparatus (social machine)
commonly used in media studies. To say that
hypertext is part of a new apparatus begin
ning to replace literacy helps avoid the fallacy
of technological determinism. A language appar
atus includes not only technology, but also
institutional practices and human identity for
mation. It is possible to grasp what is happening
in our time by analogy with the shift from
orality to literacy in classical Greece, when Plato
and Aristotle invented the institution of school,
and the practices of alphabetic writing, includ
ing logic, method, and the category system of
concepts (metaphysics) that eventually pro
duced modern science. To have a term for the
digital equivalent of literacy helps identify more
easily the full range of inventions in progress
across the dimensions of the apparatus. This
neologism is electracy, combining elec
tricity with the theory of trace used by
Jacques Derrida to describe the operations of
text (Ulmer 1989).
The beginnings of electracy as technology
date from the 1830s, with the invention of
photography and Charles Babbages analytical
engine, an information processor (never built)
based on the punchcards of the Jacquard loom.
The metaphor of textile in the root of text
is worth noting in this context. The separate
trajectories of these inventions converged finally
in the graphical computer, making possible
the mutual mapping between the culture of
mass media entertainment operating through
television and the culture of disciplinary science
supported by the databases of information
Hypertext is not only the result of a history of
technology, but also the most recent manifesta
tion of the ancient dream of a perfect or uni
versal language. To deal with the information
overload caused by manuscript culture, for
example, medieval pedagogy promoted the art
of memory. Mnemonic systems, associating real
or imaginary settings and striking (violent or
sexual) images with bodies of information,
facilitated memorization in service of oratory.
The practice led to attempts to build actual
memory theaters, such as the one designed by
Giulio Camillo in the 1530s. Large enough to be
occupied by two people, the theater was a
hypertextual organization (consisting of cross
referenced drawers filled with slips of writing)
of the oeuvre of Cicero.
Mnemonic learning practices served several
historical currents, including hermeticism and
the trend leading from the search for a universal
language to the creation of the encyclopedia in
the Enlightenment. Jorge Luis Borges, whose
story The Garden of Forking Paths (1941) is
often mentioned as an allegory of hypertext
design, drew upon this tradition of philosophi
cal languages as a source for a number of see
mingly bizarre ideas about writing and memory.
The most influential fictional representation of
what it might be like for an individual to think
with complete access to the entire dynamic
archive of collective information is William
Gibsons cyberpunk novel Neuromancer. In the
two novels following Neuromancer, Gibson, who
coined the term cyberspace, drew upon the
event of possession in Haitian Vodun as a meta
phor for this merger of individual and collective
The key practical issue for those continuing
to invent hypertext as an apparatus concerns the
nature of the humancomputer interface (HCI).