The one where I don’t add to traffic
January 18, 2010
A long while back, about one third a diggety-years ago, I was talking to dailysalad about how some of our classmates from high school were fairing. He mentioned that one of our old chums, who had a knack for fiction, was learning all kinds cutting-edge techniques at his new university, one of which was hypertexted-fiction, which is just as it sounds — fiction shot through with hypertext links. Dailysalad thought that it was a neat conceit. I was a little less enthusiastic, as I’m a sucker for narrative flow, and in a pre-Kindle era, the idea of a novel that you *had* to read on a computer just didn’t seem appealing.
Although I don’t think that the hypertexted novel ever took off, the format of prose shot through with hypertext has. Most blog postings reference other blog postings, or news stories (this is true of most posts which build traffic), and to truly *read* a blog posting, the reader has to slog through a bevy of links. While this is a useful method of orienting the reader, it interrupts the flow of reading, and as quite a bit of recent psychological research has shown, once distracted from a task, it takes people quite a bit of time to reestablish their focus.
One could reasonably argue that although the technology of hypertexting is new, the function of hypertexting is not. The lowly footnote has long existed to provide reference and context to the unfamiliar reader, whether they are digesting a scholarly article, or attempting to read Nabokov without a ready command of French, Russian, and the collected works of Prosper Mérimée. However, in much good literature and scholarly writing, footnotes enhance our appreciation of a piece, rather than being essential to understanding it.
So to get back to what I was saying before, what I says to dailysalad, I says, “maybe it wouldn’t be such a great idea to have a lot of hypertexts in our posts. I figure that it might be nice if people see the posts more as essays, rather than as just blog postings. You know, it could fit in that “slow movement” trend I keep hearing about these days.” To which dailysalad said, “hmm. Locavore, slow food trends, slow transport trends… sounds good. Why don’t you write a piece on it?”*
*Note: This conversation did not actually happen.