Written by Lee Schneider, founder of DocuCinema.
Do blogs have too many links? Links are someone interrupting when you’re trying to talk or worse, your own thoughts interrupting you when you think. Something like this happens when you sit cross-legged in yoga and the aching knees start talking to the mind. Your consciousness loops back upon itself and you work to quiet what is known as the “monkey mind.”
But I digress.
In 1960 Ted Nelson, a graduate student at Harvard, created Project Xanadu. The project was going to be a word processor capable of creating nonlinear documents. Every quotation would be linked to its original source and every thought annotated. Funny thing, Ted Nelson never finished the project. That tells you something right there about nonlinear thinking. Ted Nelson would have liked Yogi Berra, who said, “When you come to a fork in the road, take it.”
Links dare me to click to see where they’ll go. If I don’t have time to write about the British post office employee who developed the technology of the link you’re using now, I just link to him. Links are an intellectual weapon. If I write about differential calculus and you have to click, you prove you don’t know what kind of calculus that is. By linking to special relativity I can seem really smart. But I’m not so smart if I link to Wikipedia. Here’s why.
I was interviewing a pharmacology expert about the stuff voodoo priests use to turn people into zombies. Armed with my Wikipedia fact sheet, I began talking about witch doctors gathering neurotoxins from puffer fish and toads and feeding those chemicals to their victims. But as the professor kindly explained and the camera rolled on my discomfort, no puffer fish are required. He told me, correctly, that you turn somebody into a zombie by feeding them jimson weed, a plant that grows wild in California and has a lot of scopolamine. Huh. If you click on Wikipedia and How Stuff Works the wrong answers are still up there.
Some contend that such multi-tasking is great for parallel processing computers, but not so efficient for people. I’m not sure: I haven’t actually read those books. I’m just linking to one of them so it seems like I’ve done the research.
Good writing has its own hypertext. Edgar Allen Poe wrote about “the tintinnabulation that so musically wells … from the jingling and the tinkling of the bells.” With tintinnabulation in the poem, derived from a Latin word for bell-ringer, you get to hear the bells without clicking on anything. James Joyce wrote about “the light music of whiskey falling into a glass,” which makes me want to get a cocktail.
Before I go into the kitchen, let’s stay on track. I believe I am passively using technology but in fact technology is using me. Using a computer to help me think changes the way I think. Clicking on links as I read changes the way I read. I started this with Yogi, yoga and the monkey mind and hyperlinked near and far. I’ve realized that if I want to read a sentence to the end, I might need to do it with a book.
Stay curious and see you next Thursday.