Wingert: HT 2000

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The Pragmatics of Linking

The session to be discussed below was titled "Links and Relations," which is absolutely correct as a description and also intellectually inspiring because it at least raises the question whether "links" are "relations" and, if so, of what type. Or, to put it differently, exactly when and from what state of exploration on a "link" is seen as a "relation." This certainly does not apply to a first discovery of the link anchor promising a relation; at this stage, it is in no way certain whether that promise will hold. The four contributions presented in this session can be seen under this aspect of modeling of expectations, and inspiration can be taken from the contribution at the beginning, which won the "Newcomer Award:" "A Pragmatics of Links" by Susana Pajares Tosca (University of Madrid). She and Mark Bernstein dealt more with this aspect of micromodeling, while the two other contributions, by Licia Calvi and Locke Carter, discussed macromodeling. Let us move on from the big things to small ones.

Licia Calvi’s contribution (Trinity College, Dublin) was not presented at the congress, but should not be disregarded here for that reason, for she deals with an important aspect of media difference between a "book" and "hypertext" on the basis of a short story by an English author available both as a book and as internet HT. So, if the content is more or less the same, how does the medium change experience with the text (and hypertext, respectively) and, perhaps, even with the content? In this case, the content is about a ride in a London tube as presented by descriptions of the maximum possible number of 253 passengers (7x36 plus the driver), which adds up to one fate per page of the book version. Calvi arrives at the finding that, of course, the reading experience will be different as a function of the medium, but the contents will not be affected by the medium. In this case, however, this was due to the less than optimal conversion into HT.

"When faced with the task of constructing single-author, self-contained arguments in hypertext environment, ... authors must overcome the expectation of order." Thus, anyway (Proceedings, p. 85), the usual expectation of a connection between a logical chain of arguments and the disappearance of order in the HT as a result of the design principle could be described (as explained by Bolter or Landow). However, and this is the gist of this contribution by Locke Carter (Texas Tech University) about "Arguments in Hypertext," this connection no longer has such a dramatic impact if one looks at more recent approaches, for instance in the area of "informal logic" (Toulmin, Perelman) or the "stasis theory" (Fulkerson). In that case, it no longer mattered in what sequence arguments appeared; what mattered was that they appeared at all, as one was able to observe in arguments exchanged in court (Proceedings, p. 88): "Since stasis theory views the entire 'argument act' as one set of items with little regard to order, hypertext argumentation may profit from adapting the classical stases and developing new ones."

What is the purpose of a link anchor in communication? This question was examined by Mark Bernstein, an untiring, always inspiring HT propagandist with Eastgate Systems. His contribution contains the argument with an ironic twist already in the title: "More than legible: On links that readers don't want to follow." However, it was the dual purpose of a "link" to make readers follow the link and to branch logically from the existing context. Exploiting this leeway had been the main content of innovations in the past few years. In Bernstein's view, a prototype of an input-sensitive dynamics of a link anchor is an approach which Jim Rosenberg presented at the last conference in Darmstadt with his "intergrams:" layers of text superimposed to the point of illegibility which, after a number of mouse clicks, gradually became disentangled, thus revealing their contents.

Susana Tosca argues explicitly on the basis of contributions by Jim Rosenberg (at the '96 conference in Washington), Mark Bernstein (at the '98 conference in Pittsburgh) and by Wendy Morgan (at last year's conference in Darmstadt) and, in this way, indicates that this series of conferences indeed represents a community of discourse. She is interested in shedding light on those processes which occur in the microrange of deciding about the conformity of expectations held vis-à-vis branching offers: to click or not to click? This largely parallels my own approach based on reception psychology. It marks a level far below the large patterns on which Bernstein worked, also the agglomerations of (clicking) actemes studied by Rosenberg, and ranks even above the assessments which Wendy Morgan made her topic. Tosca argues: "... links force us to make meaning before and after traveling them." Which means that, when encountering a link the very first time, the reader must form expectations about what the link may produce, can then formulate the appropriate alternative (as Tosca does in following a specific approach, the "relevance theory"), and then see, after reading, whether these expectations came true or not. This intensive search for meaning and a context developing the interpretation, turn links "poetic."

This two-step semantic exploration of meaning could be the main point in the experience of reading hypertext. This, at least, was the message one could take home. On the other hand, it makes you wonder why Tosca meanwhile discontinued her ambitious reading experiment, announced in Darmstadt last year, with a text by James Joyce. Also William Collin no longer pursues his experiment of reading the "Cantos" by Ezra Pound. In my view, both cases are indicative of the fact that reading hypertext really is not easy.

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