Torill @ Seton Hill University — 'Intro to Hypertext Theory'

On the same day she spoke about media panics to my journalism class, Torill Mortensen introduced my “Writing for the Internet” class to hypertext theory. (This is going to be a long post and I’ll probably be too lazy to link everything properly, so see Torill’s online lecture notes, “Hypertext, class and power.”)

She began by asking the class to visualize taking a book and cutting it up, line by line, and gluing the words all together — you could read the whole thing in one very cumbersome, very long, line. (She corrected herself — actually, you would need to cut up two books!)

She introduced Vannevar Bush, an American scientist who had worked on the Manhattan Project, who felt the need to find something constructive for the scientists of the world to do once World War II was over. (This reminded me of the passion of Mr. Antrobus in Thornton Wilder’s The Skin of Our Teeth.)

She introduced Bush’s Memex, and noted that its strength was that it organizes information not according to random order such as alphabetization, but the way our brains function — by association. Even the most disciplined thinkers don’t think according to a relentlessly rational, linear argument. (Here, I thought of a passage in Virgina Wolf’s To the Lighthouse, which presents male thought as rational, attempting to progress firmly from A to Z, but shows a male character becoming frustrated because when he tries to move from A to Z by firmly focusing on each letter in his mind’s eye, by the time he gets somewhere around Q or R, he finds his mind wandering.)

Torill worked her way through Englebart’s “Mother of All Demonstrations,” Ted Nelson’s Xanadu, and Habermas’s didactic philosophy of the media as a democratic conversation (rather than as a one-way flow from the aristocracy downward). She compared sophisticated, painstakingly constructed blogs which “reek of cultural capital” to the “bararian blogs” which have no cultural pretension.

She also shared a few stories from blogging lore, including “Damn the Pacific” — the joint blog of transoceanic lovers, one of them dying from cancer, who begged for donations to fund plane tickets. Google actually caches at least some of the pages from “Damn the Pacific” — so the story hasn’t completely vanished from cyberspace. (I was rightfully booed by my own class when I asked whether Lane’s new boyfriend also has cancer. Sorry about that, everyone.)

The saga of Kaycee Nicole also helped concretize the theory. Kaycee was the imaginary cancer-striken daughter of a blogger who doubly traumatized her audience — first by killing off her daughter, and second by admitting the daughter never existed. (Here, I thought of Edward Albee’s play, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, which features an imaginary son, created by a childless couple as a means to cope with their psychoses, and also as a weapon to use against each other.)

We also talked about Jill Walker’s posts in which she makes oblique references to her breakup with another blogger, and Torill pointed out a current message on Jill’s blog that is a coded announcement (for those who can read between the lines) that Jill is seeing someone new and is very happy about it. Jill says that, while her blog may appear to reveal quite a lot about her personal life, she still chooses what to reveal and how. The way I see it, her autobiographical blogging gives her control over the events in her life — or at least over the way the readers of her blog perceive her life.

After Torill’s lecture, I introduced her to Julie Young, whose blog I discovered while I was still competing for my current job. The content of Julie’s weblog on “blogs.setonhill.edu” is a little different than her earlier blog, and she has admitted that she also keeps a “secret” blog where she can write juicier gossip than she wants to post on her academic blog.

“Doesn’t everybody keep a secret blog?” Torill asked.

I don’t have a secret bog… this is it, folks.Torill @ Seton Hill University — ‘Intro to Hypertext Theory’Literacy Weblog)