Differences between text and hypertext

March 2002, English revision 28.08.04

The HyTex project asked challenging questions: what precisely are the most important differences between text and hypertext?

I would look for the differences in extreme considerations that do not only see a value-neutral transformation but who either fear or hope that the new medium will restrict or expand the affordances of text.

Both fear and hope is encountered when considering the affordances to handle argumentative interrelationships.

  • in his essay on Encyclopedestrianization (see #18), J. Souttar fears contextless, atomized content.
  • The Karlsruhe Manifesto (see #04) expresses high demands towards the multimedial argumentation and expects a new grammar to clarify questions of discursivity and argumentation.
  • Silke Müller-Hagedorn in “Wissenschaftliche Kommunikation im multimedialen Hypertext”, Stauffenburg-Verlag, 2002, emphasizes argumentative interrelations already on page 31 (in the section on links), and compares the selection of link types with the selection of subordinate clauses and conjunctions.

Argumentation seems to be one of the most difficult challenges for hypertext.

Some hope and euphoria is related to hypertext’s potential to relinquish the restrictions of the “funnel” text.

  • S. Müller-Hagedorn (see above) addresses “rearranging knowledge during the writing process” as a process of linearization (p. 37), and, vice-versa, the integration of new knowledge as delinearization.
    (However, the hope of doing the “transport” of nonlinear knowledge structures with less distortions without linearization and delinearization, is frequently seen as naive misconception, and it is in fact quite difficult to imagine more concretely how such a transport would work, since cognitive research still depends much on language, simply because access to the structures in question can hardly bypass language.)
  • Some of the vanishing restrictions of the text era are can be nicely illustrated. The metaphor of the “funnel” (see #14) shows how the abundance of colorful culture phenomena had to squeeze into the funnel (and if you also associate a dark “tunnel” you may think of dark ages that are now soon over). Our Indo-European predecessors, in this respect, lived before that dark tunnel and had more “multimedial” words (see #16).
  • A great deal of our knowledge is not conveyed via textbooks and language, but through showing, supervised imitation, and apprenticeship. This sort of learning could not be fostered in the text-oriented envirinment, and it is waiting now to unfold, using simple techniques as the vitual pointer stick (see #12) rather than technical overkill.

So, the other major challenge to hypertext seems to be the handling of nonlinear structures.

The HyTex project also asked for appropriate link types to distinguish. My favorite two link types (hierarchical and cross-reference) are not totally congruent to the above two major challenges of hypertext, argumentation and nonlinear structures. But they reasonably approach them: knowledge structures are often encountered as hierarchical concept-maps, and argumentation often as cross links constructing a contextual relationship. This confirms, IMO, the usefulness of these basic link types.

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