Thursday, February 11, 2010

Hypertext: Permanent or Not?

Computers and the infinite space of the internet have allowed us to archive anything from pictures to music to literary works. Our information is backed up and in our hands. What was once only available to a few privileged can now be easily distributed. In this time of day, Google can find Edgar Allen Poe poems in German in under 0.29 seconds. Something that was once rare is just seconds away from me.

Hypertext allows us to become active and engaged participants of the documents we find online. We can reconstruct the text or read it in the traditional linear text. Whatever we choose, we have the ability of perceiving the information we received in an untraditional way. However, as permanent and as active as hypertext seems to be, how permanent is it in our minds and our hard drives?

Assembling these patched words in an electronic space, I feel half blind as the entire text is within reach but because of myopic condition I am only familiar with from dreams, I see only the part most immediately before me, and have no sense of how that part relates to the rest. When I open a book I know where I am which is restful. My reading is spatial and even volumetric. I tell myself, I am a third of the way down through a rectangular solid, I am quarter of the way down the page, I am here on the page, here on this line, here, here, here. But where am I now? I am in a here and a present moment that has no history and no expectations for the future.

Or rather, history is only a haphazard hopscotch through other present moments. How I got from one to the other is unclear. Though I could list my past moments, they would remain discrete( and recombinant in potential if not in fact), hence without shape, without end, without story. Or as many stories as I care to put together."

As we can see in this text from Patchwork Girl, we don't have a solid grip on what we read in hypertext. In some cases we cannot retrace our steps and see how one sentence relates to the other. We only see what is immediately in front of us. Not only that but revisions to text in the internet can happen without leaving a trace. We lose information that could help us understand change in history. It is not as permanent as it could have been written on a piece of paper.

Also information can be perfectly stored in the internet, but where exactly is it? We have no sense of its location. Yes, Google was capable of handing me information that I may have never been lucky to find, but in the way that Google presents it to me, I only see the first few options. No one ever checks the last search results. Google could simply delete that information without us ever noticing. In fact, if we don't know where it is located, did it really ever exist? We are more likely to see a room full of books missing than most of the information we believe is so well stored online.

No comments: