Brent, Doug. "Is Hypertext Formless?" in Rhetorics of the Web: Implications for teachers of literacy. (http://www.acs.ucalgary.ca/~dabrent/webliteracies.formless.htm)
As the title suggests, this essay explores the question of whether hypertext is formless. The author starts off by first defining what 'form' is. He borrows from Coe, and quotes him:
He concludes that form, therefore, is a "socially significant way of thinking".
Next, he discusses how hypertexts have no formal shape on one hand, and how they can be seen to have a form on the other. By following the links in a hypertext, a reader creates is or her own unique paths through the text, resulting in a nonlinear web of paths. In this sense, hypertext is formless. Subsequently, he goes on to question whether this is a good analysis of hypertext. He argues that if one defines form in terms of linearity, there is no doubt that hypertext lacks form.
However, he feels that this definition is too narrow, and according to him, hypertexts have forms because there are already some conventions as to "how information in a hypertext may be structure". In addition, he argues that although a reader's choices are varied, there is, however, a limit to the number of choices available. These so-called choices are created and determined by the author via nodes and links, and therefore, constrained in a particular way i.e. how nodes and links are being used by the author.
Quoting Barnes, he argues that "hypertext designs eliminate alternatives" by "making it easy to follow preordained links and harder to chase after other material". Finally, he concludes that "non-linearity is itself a form", and suggests that this form is perhaps more appropriate for teaching because of its exploratory and associative nature.
This essay is good in the sense that it is very concise, with straight-to-the-point arguments. I especially enjoyed reading this because it was easy for me to tease out the author's main arguments, most of which are useful for my essay topic. The author is very clear about the points he is making. The bad part about this essay is, it is a bit too short, and therefore, some of the points that I feel he could have elaborated on are left untouched. Nevertheless, in spite of the brevity, I have no problems understanding him.
One other thing that is lacking is his treatment of 'form'. He embarks on his essay by defining 'from', but the rest of his essay is not connected to the definition clearly. Even though I went through the essay a couple of times, I still fail to see the link between his first paragraph with the rest of his essay. This is quite confusing for me, for I keep wondering, "What exactly is his purpose of defining 'from in that way? I don't see the connection!"
This essay is useful in that it creates an awareness, especially for the readers, that hypertext is not as formless as one may typically, or what I call, 'naively' think. Perhaps if we bring in his definition of 'form' as a "socially significant way of thinking", we will be better able to see why hypertexts have form. The fact that we view hypertext as a kind of 'formless' text because of its non-linearity is iteself a form! This view is a form because it represents certain conventions about what hypertext should be, and because it is a (to quote Brent again) "socially significant way of thinking".
Summarized and reviewed by Tan Lee Peng
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