The transformation of digital writing through hypertext

  • Drawing from George P. Landow’s Hypertext2.0
  • Returning to Nicholas Carr’s article. Who does Carr “collaborate” with to compose this text, and why would he choose these authors or materials as collaborators? What is his purpose in using hyperlinks? How does Carr’s hypertext version alter or change the argument, claims, evidence, or details he brings forth in the article? How do hypertexts change the way we traditionally think about “writing” and “writers”?

In Nicholas Carr’s “Is Google Making Us Stupid?” he collaborates with several different sources to compose his text.

By Guy Billout

To begin, Carr works in partnership with illustrator Guy Billout, whose drawing heads Carr’s article.  I did some research and found out that Guy Billout is a French artist and illustrator whose work often involves irony. This irony reflects well in Carr’s discussion of how we as humans depend on a technology that is actually changing our brains. Billout’s drawing depicts an average internet user, pulled over on the side of the road by the “internet patrol.” This drawing illustrates just how strong a hold the internet upon its users. We may think we are in control when we use the internet, but are we, really?

Carr also collaborates with The Atlantic in the publication of “Is Google Making Us Stupid?” This reputable magazine has a section dedicated to the discussion of technology. It also covers news and discussion on politics, business, culture, and national and international topic points. Carr’s article discusses the way that technology shapes our culture. For these reasons, Carr’s article is a good fit for the magazine. On a simpler note, having an article in The Atlantic is great publicity for Carr.

Additionally, Carr backs up his claims by threading in arguments from authors such as Maryanne Wolf of Proust and the Squid: The Story and Science of the Reading Brain, a quote from critic Lewis Mumford of Technics and Civilization, and an excerpt from Clay Shirky. These are just a few of the outside materials that give breath to the validity of Carr’s argument, making them good sources of collaboration.

George P. Landow

As illustrated by George P. Landow, hypertext linking is a method that “automatically produces collaboration” (111). Nicholas Carr’s use of hyperlinks works to reinforce his argument by providing the reader with the option to explore, in greater detail, the information that validates his claims. By bringing in outside sources, Carr’s argument no longer stands alone. Providing these outside sources in the form of hyperlinks allows for the reader to  easily access information that further proves his point. It is an easy way for readers to explore their interests in more detail, better comprehending Carr’s conclusive argument. In sum, hyperlinks allow for Carr’s readers to make connections in a sort of collage manner. Without the availability of things to connect, an individual is unable to make connections. Therefore, the presence of the hyperlink makes connections possible with the simple click of button (171).

As stated by Landow, “by forming electronic pathways between blocks of texts, Intermedia links actualize the potential relations between them” (111). Landow believes that it is important to keep in mind that a “hypermedia environment” can make the authorship of digitalized texts more complicated (114).

I will now analyze how the hypertext version of Carr’s article alters and changes the argument, claims, evidence and details he brings forth. To begin, Carr has inserted a hyperlink about German literary scholar and media theorist Friedrich A. Kittler. In Carr’s article, Kittler comments upon the startling changes in Friedrich Nietzsche’s writing after his purchase of the typewriter. By clicking on the hyperlink, the user is able to immediately find out more about Kittler.  I immediately learned that Kittler has dedicated his life to studying the relationship between technology and the user. Therefore, his observations of Nietsche’s change in writing style seem more concrete. In turn, Carr’s usage of this information is validated. However, I would like to point out that this hyperlink connects to Wikipedia, which is not a reliable, nor consistent source of information.

A second hyperlink in Carr’s article provides the reader with more information on a study of online research habits conducted at the University College of London. This material works in collaboration with Carr’s argument as the findings prove that humans are likely in the process of changing the way they think and read as a direct result of internet use. The extensive, five-year study revealed that people using scholarly-based research web sites tended to “skim” instead of engage in a source. Users rarely read more than a page or two of an article before moving on. Therefore, this study reinforces Carr’s claims about the malleability of the human brain and the fact that whether we like it or not, our thinking is shaped by our internet use. In sum, the hyperlink provides hard evidence for Carr’s claims. In my opinion, providing a research study within the article was one of Carr’s most tactical moves.

If Carr’s article did not provide these mentioned hyperlinks, his claims would stand alone. The presence of the hyperlink allows for the article to be a collaborative effort, providing evidence from a number of different sources.

The hyperlink makes outside connections possible, drawing in various perspectives from respectable sources. As illustrated by Landow, the most radical change encouraged by hypertext is the reader’s relationship to the text. This relationship does, however, call for the reader to be more active, taking more initiative. As the boundary between the reader and the writer becomes blurred, the reader must make active choices, deciding to explore hyperlinks and engage with the reading further.

Connected writers

I believe that hypertexts do change the way we traditionally think about “writing” and “writers.” Landow agrees, explaining that the presence of a hyperlink changes the reading and writing experience because it is a way of implanting the reader into the text. Due to the fact that digital writing is presented on a screen when its reader wants it to, the availability of the hyperlink serves to draw the reader in closer. In terms of writing, hyperlinks are a collaborative effort involving many writers. Landow refers to this effort as a sort of ‘collage.’ The main text contains offshoots of various branches of information which give breath to its claims. In this way, texts are no longer limited to just a few writers, but invite the possibility of many contributors.

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