Tuesday, May 09, 2006

The linking habit

Last week, Megan, a student in my blogging class (who was blogging long before she took the class, btw), mentioned that she had the urge to create a link in a traditional text she was writing for a class:

I’m writing a paper and I suddenly have the overwhelming urge to link “Newark Public Library” within in my paper, so that my readers can get more information about my reference. Footnotes are new to me this semester. I’ve never used them before in my papers. But now I’m making a leap to virtual footnotes, an inherently bloggish technique?

Now she's created a really neat image to represent that urge. And she suggests that linking allows for more creativity, giving the reader more original writing with relevant links, should the reader wish to see the "background" for a given idea:

A link does not intrude or interrupt the flow of what I’m saying, but should my reader be sufficiently interested in finding out more information, they can click at their leisure. The interactivity of a blog post also puts more onus on the reader to extract the full experience of what they’re reading. The reader can read through what’s posted, or they can take more time and click the available links to give the post more breadth. Because the burden of finding out the background or ancillary information is shifted to the reader, the poster can focus in on what they want to say and write a briefer, more succinct, meatier post which gives their opinion without having to sift through a bunch of summary, etc. In this way, readers who are already familiar with the topic are not burdened with having to filter the post for only the unique parts and readers who have no idea what you’re talking about can get all the information they need to sufficiently “read” your post.

And I'm thinking that all this suggests so many possibilities for teaching writing. I've previously tried asking students to create hypertext documents so that they could get at this basic idea of using links to represent the sources without getting bogged down in the sources themselves. But active blogging probably teaches that practice much, much better than assigning a somewhat isolated hypertext document. Active blogging develops a habit, whereas trying out hypertext seems simply like a novelty.

Another thing to remember, to keep in my writing-teacher toolbox.


Nels P. Highberg said...

Would footnotes or endnotes be a very basic form of printed hypertext?

Megan said...

I'm so honored, it's amazing that I finally make a blogging breakthrough and it's after the semester is over. Oh well.

Mike @ Vitia said...

Absolutely, Nels; Mark Bernstein has made precisely that argument.

Consider, also, the hypertextual qualities of rhyme in poetry; the way it calls to mind the line with which it rhymes.

Anonymous said...

Very nice image, too. I think the paper and the 3-D tilt to the image represent the linked or layered mindset you're telling us about with the writing habits that can be developed through blogs. And then, yes, the connections with the same linked thought in these other forms becomes clear.

John Walter said...

Very cool. I need to remember this (link to it).

And to build off what Mike has said, intertextuality is itself what we might call pre-digital hypertext. Or, to put it another way, the hyperlink is a digital means of creating intertextuality. Linking--intertextuality--is a fundamental process of thought.

Anonymous said...

This is such a wonderful teaching idea! Not just because of the idea of hypertextuality, but because it raises footnoting (or citation of any form, for that matter) from a task of correctness and plagiarism avoidance to an acknolwedgement of interest, or an invitation to be more interested. I like that shift a lot.

bdegenaro said...

Ditto about this being a great teaching tool. Thanks for the link.

Donna said...

Thanks, all. Reading your comments here has helped me to better think about why I like this idea so much for teaching, and, ultimately, at least part of what I like so much about blogging. Given that, as John points out, linking is something we just do, hypertext gives us an opportunity to make that linking visible. Collin (elsewhere, not here) talks about the centrifugal and centripetal aspects of blogging, and it seems as if you might say that the centripetal is part of any text: many sources coming together to create the illusion of unity. What linking (and foot/end noting) does is to open up that illusion to the centrifugal: it takes you beyond the text at hand into other texts. Or at least invites you beyond. (At I must note here, that this is exactly the wonder of Burke: the amazing way in which his texts open up not only out to a myriad of "source" texts, but also across his own texts. This happens, of course, with any writer, but with Burke it becomes crucial to the way we read him: it's a performance with intensity. And, in creating an index for the third edition of The Philosophy of Literary Form, Burke noted among his entries "a troublesome centrifugal tendency towards items wholly out of line with alphabetical placement" (v). Troublesome? Only if you care overmuch about such centripetal devices as alphabetization.) And now that I've mentioned intensity, I should say that one way in which hyper-linking ups the ante of good old everyday intertextuality is through immediacy: we can move out from the text right now. You can move out from this text right now. (Just click on any of the names on this thread and find yourself at someone else's blog.) Blogging (and hypertext more generally) offers constant moments of intensity, moments in which our minds (with our hands and eyes and even our ears) can move off into any direction, looking for meaning, looking for another intensity to move us yet again. So, yeah: why not use this in classes?