Saturday, December 5, 2009

#28 - Hyperlinks

It was the decade when...

If you liked it then you shoulda put a link in it.

In the Aughts, sentences weren't just sentences, cold flat words arranged into coherent ideas, no! That's dull. Now, embedded into the very fabric of language was a new kind of textual device, for use only on the Internet. Behold the Hyperlink.

Once a binary world of black on white, with the hyperlink words popped off the screen in tantalizing colors. Passively reading became an impossibility; hyperlinks beckoned your participation, drawing you ever closer to the moment of contact, like Sleeping Beauty towards the enchanted Spindle. Suddenly, any phrase could become pregnant with possibility. Like a linguistic Christmas cracker or syntactic piƱata, the hyperlink fills a word or phrase with a hidden surprise, a jack in the box waiting to be sprung.

Beneath what we read on the Internet there is a labyrinthine network of information loci; the hyperlink cracks through the floor boards letting us begin to traverse the ever expanding maze of content that is the information superhighway. The hyperlink is a kind of gift from writer to reader, a guide map pointing the latter toward his next destination, helping him avoid the pitfalls that can come from cold searching through the entirety of the internet.

Why use the hyperlink? The reasons are legion. The hyperlink's versatility is its greatest feature. In its most boring form a hyperlink can be an unambiguous and straightforward way to direct a reader to another webpage on the internet. For example, see here. (Which is itself an example of such use. Meta.) But hyperlinks really gain purchase when their use is more subtle and the interaction with the reader is more nuanced. Factual statements asserted in a primary text can be justified and referenced with an appropriate hyperlink, a kind of footnote on steroids. Or, a piece of text can make little sense at all without reference to its link, the linked site's content re-contextualizing the original pages meaning. Thanks Timothy Berners-Lee.

Of course, hyperlinks are destroying the art of reading. They're everywhere and they are irresistible. You can't even read short passages online without a hyperlink invasion. Try to make it through an op-ed article in the New York Times Online Edition without being teased away numerous times before getting to the end. (Frank Rich's most recent column had 18 links.) Incessant linking is recalibrating how our minds process written information. What once was a vertical activity has turned lateral; one doesn't read down so much across. Tabbed browsing allows one to link away from one page and onto the next, leaving a digital trail of breadcrumbs strewn on your computer desktop. Extended argument and cohesive thought are no match for the new information overload supplied by the internet, a glut facilitated in no small part by the advent of the hyperlink. We may be reading more words than ever before, but we're finishing what we start less and less, the hyperlink always beckoning us to abandon our current paragraph and seek out more exciting pages elsewhere. If you made it this far without so much as a trip away on one the hyperlink passports I've supplied, I'd be impressed.

You AUGHT to remember...

1 comment:

  1. you aught to be kidding. for real? hyperlinks?

    rather had seen a post on filesharing or facebook.