Sunday, January 20, 2013

Week 3: The Beginning of Hypertext and the Web

What is "new" about "new media"?

What are the characteristics, both technical and social, of new media? 
How does new media transform and "remediate" earlier media practices?

As noted in the lecture notes, here is an excerpt from Bolter and Guisin's Remediation:

Bolter, J. D. and Grusin, R. (2000). Remediation: Understanding New Media. The MIT Press, 1st edition.
 (excerpts selected and titled by course instructor)

Immediacy and Hypermediacy

Immediacy is our name for a family of beliefs and practices that express themselves differently at various times among various groups, and our quick survey cannot do justice to this variety. The common feature of all these forms is the belief in some necessary contact point between the medium and what it represents. For those who believe in the immediacy of photography, from Talbot to Bazin to Barthes, the contact point is the light that is reflected from the objects on to the film. This light establishes an immediate relationship between the photograph and the object. For theorists of linear-perspective painting and perhaps for some painters, the contact point is the mathematical relationship established between the supposed objects and their projection on the canvas. However, probably at no time or place has the logic of immediacy required that the viewer be completely fooled by the painting or photograph. Trompe l'oeil, which does completely fool the viewer for a moment, has always been an exceptional practice. The film theorist Tom Gunning (1995) has argued that what we are calling the logic of transparent immediacy worked in a subtle way for filmgoers of the earliest films. The audience members knew at one level that the film of a train was not really a train, and yet they marveled at the discrepancy between what they knew and what their eyes told them (114-133). On the other hand, the marveling could not have happened unless the logic of immediacy had had a hold on the viewers. There was a sense in which they believed in the reality of the image, and theorists since the Renaissance have underwritten that belief. This "naive" view of immediacy is the expression of a historical desire, and it is one necessary half of the double logic of remediation. (pp. 30-31)
As a counterbalance [to immediacy] hypermediacy is more complicated and various. In digital technology, as often in the earlier history of Western representation, hypermediacy expresses itself as multiplicity. If the logic of immediacy leads one either to erase or to render automatic the act of representation, the logic of hypermediacy acknowledges multiple acts of representation and makes them visible. Where immediacy suggests a unified visual space, contemporary hypermediacy offers a heterogeneous space, in which representation is conceived of not as a window on to the world, but rather as "windowed" itself—with windows that open on to other representations or other media. The logic of hypermediacy multiplies the signs of mediation and in this way tries to reproduce the rich sensorium of human experience. (pp. 33-34)
The logic of immediacy has perhaps been dominant in Western representation, at least from the Renaissance until the coming of modernism, while hypermediacy has often had to content itself with a secondary, if nonetheless important, status. Sometimes hypermediacy has adopted a playful or subversive attitude, both acknowledging and undercutting the desire for immediacy. At other times, the two logics have coexisted, even when the prevailing readings of art history have made it hard to appreciate their coexistence. At the end of the twentieth century, we are in a position to understand hypermediacy as immediacy's opposite number, an alter ego that has never been suppressed fully or for long periods of time. (p. 34)
In all its various forms, the logic of hypermediacy expresses the tension between regarding a visual space as mediated and as a "real" space that lies beyond mediation. Lanham (1993) calls this the tension between look at and looking through, and he sees it as a feature of twentieth-century art in general and now digital representation in particular. (p. 41)

Media Con(Media)tent

Again, we call the representation of one medium in another remediation, and we will argue that remediation is a defining characteristic of the new digital media. (p. 45)
The digital medium can be more aggressive in its remediation. It can try to refashion the older medium or media entirely, while still marking the presence of the older media and therefore maintaining a sense of multiplicity or hypermediacy. [ . . . ] This form of aggressive remediation throws into relief both the source and the target media. (p. 46)
Finally, the new medium can remediate by trying to absorb the older medium entirely, so that the discontinuities between the two are minimized. The very act of remediation, however, ensures that the older medium cannot be entirely effaced; the new medium remains dependent on the older one in acknowledged or unacknowledged ways. (p. 47)
[ . . . ] remediation operates in both directions: users of older media such as film and television can seek to appropriate and refashion digital graphics, just as digital graphics artists can refashion film and television. (p. 48)

What is New About New Media?

Our primary concern will be with visual technologies, such as computer graphics and the World Wide Web. We will argue that these new media are doing exactly what their predecessors have done: presenting themselves as refashioned and improved versions of other media. Digital visual media can best be understood through the ways in which they honor, rival, and revise linear-perspective painting, photography, film, television, and print. No medium today, and certainly no single media event, seems to do its cultural work in isolation from other media, any more than it works in isolation from other social and economic forces. What is new about new media comes from the particular ways in which they refashion older media and the ways in which older media refashion themselves to answer the challenges of new media. (pp. 14-15)

The Reality of Remediation

The process of remediation makes us aware that all media are at one level a "play of signs," which is a lesson that we take from poststructuralist literary theory. At the same time, this process insists on the real, effective presence of media in our culture. Media have the same claim to reality as more tangible cultural artifacts; photographs, films, and computer applications are as real as airplanes and buildings.
        Furthermore, media technologies constitute networks or hybrids that can be expressed in physical, social, aesthetic, and economic terms. Introducing a new media technology does not mean simply inventing new hardware and software, but rather fashioning (or refashioning) such a network. (p. 19)

SEED QUESTIONS - Please Post Comments Here

Q1. After reading Vannevar Bush’s “As We May Think” think about Bush as being considered the “father” of hypertext (although he did not coin the term). To what extent can we see his concept implemented in the World Wide Web that for many people defines their notion of hypertext? What are the differences?

Q2. Andries van Dam encourages us to approach hypertext as a new medium and not copy “old, bad habits.” What are some news ways to think about hypertext? How might we use hypertext in publishing, in writing, in thinking?

Q3. Joe Levy, in 1993 said: “if information is available, then any (authorised) person should be able to access it from anywhere in the world.”What implications does this thinking have to our own notions of publishing and the current online environment? You can use examples from your own experience.


  1. Quetion 1.

    Bush’s visionary ideas were amazing to read about. His description of the Memex and his diagram conjures up the desk top computer. His goal was to invent a new information system to help the researcher locate, coordinate and navigate through increasing amounts of research information and to free them from rigid systems of classification and data organization that is not intuitive to how humans think. I could relate our modern definition of hypertext in his description of the Memex, which enables the user to make links, or "associative trails," between documents. Bush proposed the notion of blocks of text joined by links and introduced the terms links, linkages, trails and Web through his descriptions of a new type of textuality. (

    The difference in terms of Bush’s vision for links and what most of us would consider them to be today is that his were not set up by other people’s logic (other peoples “links”) or traditional, classification systems. He felt that documents can be connected for more elusive, individual reasons, and each text “can have many trails leading to it” – so more connections to other data. The key differentiatior here is that the memex was compiling the very unique information and logic of the user. This is expressed nicely in his diagram on page 46 where the individual user of the Memex is making their own personal notes on the screen. The web has delivered on most of Bush's vision, but the core insight—where users create their own “threads of associations” has not transpired in the way he envisioned to the best of my knowledge and limited research ( As I understand it, for Bush, the web should be a way of seeing new relationships, connecting things that might have otherwise been kept separate.

    The differences between Bush and WWW hyperlinks today may flow from the original concepts themselves – Bush was looking at the problem from his perspective as a single researcher to enable more effective storage, retrieval and associations between documents. Whereas as Tim Berners-Lee says when the WWW was created its concept was based on the ability to share information with a disbursed team of academics – it was a team-based inspiration (

    I did read an interesting paper that suggested the semantic web and the growing use of folksonomies online may steer a bit closer to Bush’s original vision of the Memex (

    1. Hi Teresa,

      Great response. I think Bush's work has really paved the way for hypertext systems. Adding on to our discussion in our chat yesterday, the modern system of hypertext also makes use of associative trails to allow people to find related, pertinent information (hyper linking, likes, lists, etc. all help network information together). There is a certain comfort in this memex versus the human mind- it's a mechanized, permanent repository we can draw on anytime (unlike my unreliable memory).

      I think Google has really mastered this idea of information storage and retrieval, as it what we resort to to search information/records quickly from the public memory. The algorithms have enough intelligence to figure out what we might be looking for, even if we don't know the exact phrase based on these hypertext linkages and usage patterns of others.

      One point that resonated with me, is Bush's point on being careful not to "become bogged down by overtaxing limited memory." With the web being virtually unlimited, does this apply?

    2. Hi Sylvia, I liked your point that reinforces the memex as a permanent repository of our thoughts. Even through our Mact courses together I have remembered certain papers / academics points or quotes and go madly searching for them in my files and electronic notes. Very frustrating. The only thing that I can think of that is frustrating with the web sometimes in its current form is the broken links that we sometimes encounter or sites that are no longer available but their links are still active on the web.

      Google is such an amazing brand, they bring me value everyday, and all of us using it just makes it better. I have 100% confidence that this organization will continue to improve their service. My Research Project had me exploring young adults and their use of technology and one Pew Internet Research project described the internet as their “external brain”. That really stuck with me. Also, from the same research report this quote: “Memories are becoming hyperlinks to information triggered by keywords and URLs. We are becoming ‘persistent paleontologists’ of our own external memories, as our brains are storing the keywords to get back to those memories and not the full memories themselves,” argued Amber Case, CEO of Geoloqi (

    3. Interesting points Sylvia. I wonder if really anything is permanent... I know people/orgs are trying to give us that sense of permanence but still when we trawl the net there are lots of 404s - missing pages just like a faulty memory?

  2. Before answering seed question #1 relating to "As We May Think", I had to share a thought that jumped out at me relating to creativity. Reading Bush's progressive ideas of what technologies of the future would like like had me fascinated. Outside of looking at it as eerily prophetic, it was grounding in it's description of the future of web technology, especially considering it was based on technology of the day (1945). Bush's ideas and description of the "memex" seeded Ted Nelson's work (based on non-sequential writing) that he subsequently coined "hypertext". Looking at biographies of Bush, he was a mathematician and engineer, typically associated with solving problems and left brain learning attributes. Bush's vivid ideas and blueprint of the memex as a type of storage for published information expresses creativity - generally seen as a right brain function. Creativity as a valued and measured competency in current educational models is slow to emerge. Promoting creativity and risk taking in education would support us profoundly. Case in point, as a result of Bush's ideas, Nelson, and Tim Breners-Lee were able to bring to life the world wide web we know today.

    1. I really like your comment about creativity in the education system. I think the education system needs an overhaul – it’s like trying to turn the Titanic. The way we test for example -- kids don’t really need to memorize anymore – the emphasis needs to be on finding, managing and synthesizing all the information out there on that “external brain” that is the internet and yes, to your point being creative in terms of what they do with it. We are guilty ourselves as instructors – for example we give them rubrics so they know how they will be marked and what we are looking for – I really question how independent thinking and creativity isn’t inhibited by these types of tools in education.

  3. What defines the notion of hypertext for most people is that it linked what was becoming an explosion of published information on the web. Hypertext addressed problems with accurately accessing, retrieving and sorting information. Bush writes "there may be millions of fine thoughts, and the account of the experience on which they are based, all encased within stone walls of acceptable architectural form; but if the scholar can get at only one a week by diligent search, his syntheses are not likely to keep up with the current scene" (29). Outside of the massive storage and retrieval issues, Bush also considered there was a need to find a way to mirror the way the mind works for classification, memory expansion, and "associative indexing" (34). The hypertext or "links" that most people identify with today are described by Bush on page 34, "any item may be caused at will to select immediately and automatically another".

    Teresa, I would have to agree with your thoughts on the differences conceptually with the "memx" and the web. The memex being designed to navigate and retain trails of thought of a single user, and the web of the collective. Sylvia, I think you identified a great example with Google.

  4. Q2.

    The poem by Judy Malloy -- spring day notion -- I sourced off the site that housed her reading for this week and I have never experienced anything like it ( It certainly opened my eyes to one artist’s expression through use of hypertext. It is something that takes getting accustom to for someone like me who has always experienced poetry in a linear manner. But it is unique and underscores the new opportunities.

    A google search also turned up this timely blog post Once Upon A Click – Hypertext and new ways of reading which speaks to and demonstrates the “kaleidoscopic nature of storytelling” ( It helps me to see the opportunities in more actively engaging readers than linear text. It made me realize that in this format, I would likely be motivated, to stay longer with the story in an effort to uncover all the twists and turns. What a great opportunity for education, and for teaching people to expand their thinking.

    When I see an active link within digital text it is very hard for me to resist going through that door. It’s just too tantalizing. Usually it is a very logical connection that will lead me to related information– or as quickly as my internet connection is working. In the same article that he refers to “old bad habits” Andries van Dam also warns us about avoiding “linkitis” when people with no graphic design experience are “throwing stuff together”. Maybe he is warning against overuse of linking, or non-strategic, non-thought out use of linking. Using links for hypertext is a fairly new phenomenon for me – both as a reader or creator of digital text. But that comment hit home for me – I related it to anyone who has cracked off advanced PowerPoint features for the first time in their presentation and hence overuses the tools to the point of distraction and annoyance for their audience.

    I use hyperlinks in my online Public Relations class as a navigation element in my digital text to another section in the course that may be relevant – or to other related content, for example, the rubric for an assignment and also to external content like websites or videos. It saves me from having to be repetitive and adds some dimension and interest in escaping the typical linear approach to reading. Students I teach will be honest in saying they don’t appreciate reading textbooks and long blocks of straight content. As instructors we can keep trying this approach – but I’m not sure this traditional approach isn’t like banging our heads on a wall – we need to recast this information in a way that is manageable, digestible and interesting to them. Using hypertext is the right strategy for this.
    So the future e-book is an exciting prospect given all the rapid progress and focus by players like Apple and the rest of the big players in the publishing industry for that matter.

    1. Interesting storytelling link you stumbled on, Teresa. That reminds me of Choose Your Own Adventure books, but in a digital format. It allows readers to follow the story, until they want feel compelled to change the narrative. The electronic publishing industry will definitely continue to evolve. What started as just text on a page is becoming a more immersive experience with hypertext to define words, learn a bit of background/history, hear how it is pronounced, and even buy from an e-commerce site. There's a book I'm reading about cooking where suggested kitchen tools, vitamins, and specialty products link to Amazon. (The integration of publishing and e-commerce is powerful... after clicking into it, I'm already on the Canadian site, logged in, and so I may has well, right?)

    2. That is really brilliant marketing isn't it? , It just adds so much more value and convenience - in the moment that the consumer is thinking about it - it would be interesting to see the conversion rate on these "inside the book" amazon offers. So cool, thanks for sharing.

    3. That is really brilliant marketing isn't it? , It just adds so much more value and convenience - in the moment that the consumer is thinking about it - it would be interesting to see the conversion rate on these "inside the book" amazon offers. So cool, thanks for sharing.

    4. Ah Teresa, that's wonderful that your students are so forthcoming. However, I don't think this is a recent phenomenon. I think perhaps it has more to do with learning styles (and now that we recognise that there ARE different learning styles) we (as educators) realise big chunks of text are not conducive to learning. Of course there is a history of authors who played with linearity (Calvino, Pavich, Sterne, Joyce, Borges, Nabakov, even some of Emily Bronte's work) so I don't think that it's such a new idea but I agree Teresa that linking can add dimension and is a good way of visually breaking down text.

      Sylvia - your reference to CYOA is a good one, almost every early paper on hypertext fiction noted its similarity to Choose Your Own Adventures! And, you're right, reading and buying co-exist in the same spaces now when we read on our digital devices. But, could this become a feature of transliterate individuals - stopping oneself from clicking through to buy the suggested item?

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  6. A few thoughts on Question 3:

    I agree with Levy's statement and I've taken this for granted in the past decade of using the web for work, school, and personal interest. We write in blogs, share information in social networks, log on to VPNs, read e-books, participate in forums, and take classes online. As Judy Malloy says in her article, "commercial sites are intermingled with literature, hyperactivity engenders a diffuse contemplation, and everyone has the opportunity to be a publisher." There are implications for the publisher and the audience - with freedom comes great responsibility, as they say. In my work (communications department in a college), we have thousands of students following us on our website, portal, and social networks. While we try to use these tools with vigilance, there have been times where information has been inaccurate and/or not worded with political correctness. With distributed access of publishing (more than 200 faculty and staff can make updates to the website using our content management system), one person's error can become an issue (ie. annoyed parent, student newspaper reports on it, etc.). That being said, responsibility also falls on the reader/consumer. With the sheer amount of content online, it takes a critical eye and diligence to wade through the information to find credible information. This is something Gail touched upon in our chat as well.