Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 15. No. 2.
Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
Date: Mon, 07 May 2001 09:09:20 +0100
From: "Fotis Jannidis" <email@example.com>
Subject: Re: 14.0837 methodological response: hypertext
> From: Patrick Durusau <firstname.lastname@example.org>
> I seem to have started a rabbit chase with my reference to the mental
> processes of a reader who encounters a traditional footnote or a
> hyperlink. Perhaps the analogy was poorly choosen or inadequately
> In terms of specific responses:
> > From: "Fotis Jannidis" <email@example.com>
> > Maybe it is useful to apply the distinction between material text,
> > that is some marks on paper or some structured bits, and mental
> > text, that is the text as it is represented in the mind of an author or
> > a reader. If we use this distinction to look at a hypertext link, it
> > becomes obvious that the mental text is quite similar to that of a
> > footnote or a similar reference whose target is readily available, but
> > the material text is quite different, because the reference
> > mechanism has to be coded in a way which is not only
> > understandable to a human but also to a machine.
> I am contending there is no meaningful difference between footnote and
> hypertext links. Willard has asserted the contrary to be the case but I
> remain unconvinced. Hypertext links may be more accessible (assuming no
> "404 - not found" errors) but that does not strike me as a fundamental
> distinction between footnotes and links.
It certainly depends on your definition of 'meaningful'. I wanted to
start with a more basic description of the differences between
footnotes and hyperlinks to have a sound basis for further
discussion. 'more accessible' is just one aspect of this. The fact
that links are machine readable is probably more important,
because it is the fundament for totally new approaches to
knowledge management. All internet search engines mainly rely on
hyperlinks to create their map of the internet and the same applies
to new approaches like Tim Berners-Lee idea of the semantic web
("The Semantic Web is a vision: the idea of having data on the
Web defined and linked in a way that it can be used by machines
not just for display purposes, but for automation, integration and
reuse of data across various applications."
http://www.w3.org/2001/sw/Activity) or the topic maps. All these
developments are based on features of hyperlink which are
marginalized, if you focus the discussion on the mind of the reader.
> > Another concept can be used to refine this picture: the amount of
> > work to resolve a link. That this is an important factor becomes
> > obvious if you don't look at one link but many. Even in the case of
> > footnotes or endnotes the almost unnoticeable amount of work to
> > move your eyes to the footnote and back to the main text amounts
> > after a while to something noticeable. These becomes even more
> > obvious in the case of links to very different texts. The work to
> > resolve a conventional reference becomes part of your mental map
> > (all people working with books are full of stories about the
> > difficulties to get some of them) and the main consequence is that
> > you only follow references which look promising enough to
> > undergo this work. This really changes with hypertext links. The
> > work to resolve the link is almost null, so only the time to read the
> > target text remains to be taken into consideration. So it is not only
> > a little bit easier, but from this difference a new praxis of reading
> > results.
> Interesting. I assume you would contend the praxis of reading changed
> with the transition from scrolls to codex?
Actually I don't know, but I would have chosen the comparison with
the development of punctuation marks and I do think that a wider
spread of changes like using space between words or clearly
seperating sentences or paragraphs indicates a change in reading
practice and also further stimulates change.
> At least in the current
> environment we have the opportunity to study reading practices as they
> develop for hypertext. But it would be from such studies, not simply
> contending it to be the case, that evidence of "a new praxis of reading"
> would emerge. Even if such a demonstration exists, it does not address
> the question of a qualitative difference between hypertext links and
Empirical studies like the one collected by Jean-Franois Rouet u.a.
(Hg.): Hypertext and Cognition. Mahwah, N.J.: Lawrence Erlbaum
1996, do indicate that there are differences in the use of hypertexts,
p.e. the 'lost in hypertext' symptom and the possibility to overcome
it with training. The authors very decidedly denounce the parallel
between hypertext reading and the working of the human mind.
The mere amount of links in larger hypertexts, especially the
internet, creates a qualitative difference (at some point quantitative
changes become a qualitative one).
> At the risk of starting another false trail, consider the difference
> between the quoting of a work under discussion (examples abound in the
> Church Fathers) versus a reference to such other work in a footnote. The
> latter presumes the rise of collections of works with some method of
> reference that can be resolved by the reader (more or less) but serves
> the same function as the earlier practice. Much like the footnote versus
> the hypertext link, I don't see a qualitative difference between the two
> practices, although the demands upon the reader are greater in the
> latter case than the former.
In a short text of the young Goethe there are lots of footnotes and
in the footnotes are references to the special verses of the bible.
Every professional reader will probably follow all footnote reference
to the bottom of the page, but only a very few will go on and follow
the reference to the bible - there seems to be a stable economic
trait in humans. With a hypertext edition containing the Goethe
text and the bible you can read all reference in a few minutes and it
seems to me to be sound guess that more people will do this. Just
a quantitative difference, but at some point ...
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