If this study is going to discuss hypertext, the first place to go is to the writings of George Landow. In his books, Hypertext (versions 1.0 and 2.0), Hyper/Text/Theory, and Hypermedia and Literary Studies, Landow and others look at the potential of the realization of a post-structuralist theory of reading. Hypertext does not necessarily kill authors, but it does make readers authors unto themselves. That being the case, Landow puts his money where his mouth is and advocates that we use hypertext to express ourselves in ways that were not possible before (Hyper/Text/Theory, 36). Like I do in this study, Landow tries to make use of the medium itself as well as to analyze it through traditional textual writing. Now, looking at texts in other media (film, print, audio, etc.) one can talk of how they inter-relate in a hypertextual manner and how any open-ended and intertextual reading is hypertextual as well. Unless I note differently, I will be using the term hypertext to refer to the electronic, computational medium with active links.
Hypertext as an electronic medium started in 1945 with Vannevar Bush’s memex system (Berk and Devlin, 13). For Bush, memex is an associative storage system similar in function to how our brains store information and how we remember things. In the early Sixties, Douglas Engelbart, like Bush, conceived of an electronic medium with links between texts that could augment our intellectual capabilities (13). In 1965, Theodor Nelson coined the term “hypertext” and invented the hypertextual operating system, Xanadu (14). In the late sixties, Andries Van Dam worked with several hypertextual systems at Brown University in order to help teach classes. His latest project is called Intermedia (14). In the early seventies, ZOG was developed at Carnegie-Mellon and was one of the last of the first generation hypertext systems that ran on mainframes only (14). In the early eighties there was the emergence of second generation, workstation-based hypertext products, such as Intermedia and KMS (a new version of ZOG) (14). The faster computers allowed more people to utilize hypertext technology. In 1985, Peter Brown introduced hypertext to personal computer users with Guide (15). A year later, Xerox released Notecards that supported graphics and animation as well as text (as did Intermedia and KMS at this time) (15). The next year, Apple bundled Hypercard with all its Macintoshes, allowing millions the chance to explore hypertext documents (15). In the nineties the explosion of the internet and the hypertext-based world wide web has opened the floodgates to a plethora of products and browsers that allow users to read and write in hypertext (15).
Landow notes that hypertext is composed of words, images and sounds linked by multiple paths in an open-ended perpetually unfinished form (Hypertext, 3). In general, hypertext occurs on a computer. Words and images are not only a part of the “page” in front of you but can serve as a link to another page and so on and so forth. You follow these links by pointing and clicking with a mouse or some other input device. A seminal example in hypertextual storytelling is Michael Joyce’s “Afternoon: A Story” in which readers click on words to work their way through the story. Harry Goldstein quotes Stuart Moulthrop in noticing that there are two kinds of hypertextual documents, “exploratory and constructive” (131). In exploratory, you follow alternative paths or links while the hypertext, “retains its fundamental identity under all transformations” (132). In constructive, you add your own words to the hypertext, so readers become writers (132).
Hypermedia and hypertext are two closely related terms with a subtle distinction. Hypermedia refers to dynamic multimedia objects that have hypertextual aspects. As Landow and Delany note, hypermedia is a multimedia extension of hypertext that is more complex and interactive, integrating visual and auditory experiences as well as texts and links to give a more contextual synthesis of the information explored (7). For example, a web page with just regular HTML links is a hypertext even if it has graphics, a little video and plays some music. But a web page with java scripting and interactive graphics, videos and sounds is more of a hypermedia object. Myst is hypermedia, because it has an immersive environment with sight and sounds galore and many different potential (hypertextual) actions to take. But a DVD that has a movie with lots of action and adventure and some other trivia added on, but has few active choices for the viewer, is a multimedia piece. Hypertext offers the reader a myriad of associative links, multimedia combines graphics, sounds and such; hypermedia is hypertextual multimedia. The user is immersed in a world and can interactively explore it. The performative nature of hypertext and hypermedia on computers has led Brenda Laurel to look at computers as theatre. For Laurel, computers have the “capacity to represent action in which humans [can] participate” (1).