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The Joys of Hypertext

I realize that the title of this satellite page is a bit overdone, especially since I've only been composing in hypertext for a few weeks. But because I frequently mention how hard it is to write in hypertext, I want to also take a moment to discuss what fun I've been having creating this site. It is this sense of fun that I hope to be able to communicate to my students.

I'll sit down at the computer in the morning, intending just to work for a few minutes and the next thing I know it will be late afternoon and I haven't eaten and my patient dog hasn't been walked. She's getting her own home page soon--a high tech project that will have all the bells and whistles that I can learn how to create because I don't imagine anyone will want to visit it but me.Isn't the web an absurdly wonderful medium in that a silly page I create for my dog can exist virtually side-by-side with any other page? And I think that points to the play (both traditional and Derridean) that is inherent in this medium. Because of the ease in which images and text can be juxtaposed and because of the virtually limitless ability to link, possibilities for meaning-making (and un-making) abound. And that's what I find so joyful as I compose and think about composing in hypertext--the possibilities seem limitless.

Of course, in those possibilities, I also must ask what might be lost. While links can be liberating, they are also fragmenting. They can enable a writer to sidestep some of the more difficult (and more important) aspects of traditional essay writing, and that is bringing a sense of meaning--or at least a slice of one person's sense of meaning--to disparate bits of experience and information. In his essay, "Saving a Place for Essayistic Literacy," Hesse (1999) argued that the essay serves to bring an ordered way of knowing out of the chaos around us in ways unique to its genre and that "for reasons rhetorical, intellectual, political, and psychological, we ought to save a place for essayistic literacy, in our writing and our teaching"(p. 48). And this I agree with. I certainly do not want to see the essay (in all its manifestations) be replaced by hypertext. Rather, I think both can and should exist together, so that when writers contemplate how to convey an idea, they have the option and the ability to think both/and, not either/or.