The Cultural Metamorphosis of the Internet:
Hypertext and Publishing in the 'Digital Culture'
(Notes regarding Communicative Convergence)
Written and translated from the Spanish original
by Marta Graupera Sanz
Proofreader: Malcolm Lawrence
6. Hypertext, periodical publications, research and teaching
Since hypertext is a vehicle of knowledge, the same as a book, it introduces changes perhaps as notorious as the ones brought by the invention of the printing press into the world of culture. Although the nature and span of these variations remains to be seen, there can be no doubt we may be allowed to venture that literature is going to change by means of new ways of writing, reading, publishing and teaching, too. Hypertext can offer facsimiles, critical works, connected works, studies on the work, multimedia elements (for example, in the case of a theater work, its performance, illustrations, etc.). In addition, the advantages of the text processors given to researchers includes the search of keywords and any kind of facilities which are unimaginable in an printed book. The reader is the one who decides what is interesting every time, so these editions can be useful to an erudite reader -- whose interest maybe is looking for the entire set of notes relating the differences between manuscripts -- as well as to a student approaching the work for the first time.
The advantages of electronic publishing can be enjoyed in formats such as CD-ROM, or multiplied by means of the introduction of these texts into communication networks such as the Internet, giving access to any user.
Electronic publishing has no reason to be restricted to literature or critical works. Hypertext and networks offer an unsurpassable possibility to edit periodical publications with almost no cost and a speed which is immediate, since the articles are accessible (except for the times one has to wait for the WWW because of bandwidth issues, also known as the World Wide Wait) from the very moment they are put online. Furthermore, these reviews can take advantage of the hypertextual organization, connecting to other multiple texts of their interest and making the most of the possibility to have available all the marbles at one time, creating valuable data banks which can then exchange knowledge.
The applications of hypertext to teaching are not restricted to giving technological support to teaching in the classroom since it is possible to organize the study texts and class-notes introducing them into quite a wide context where the student has the choice to explore as they like, setting up their own relations and adding their texts to the existing ones. So, the excessive specialization that creates niches where the students feel themselves isolated from the rest of knowledge is avoided, favoring the interdisciplinariety and the creative activity by pupils who stop being merely passive receptors.
You can only find your way to that point of the library if you can negotiate its logical structure; and further browsing (or directed research) requires an even greater self-conscious understanding of the organization. Neophyte library users are often intimidated by a library because they can't immediately tell how to use it. Guides to a library will explain its logical structure as well as the physical implementation of that structure. Even so, they are conceived in the same spirit as the Internet and hypertext.
7. Publishing facing free circulation of information
The influence of the new information and communication technologies on democratic processes can take different ways which can be valued as both positive and negative. Information is essential to democracy -- for that matter, the information on civil society is particularly relevant -- and its distribution constitutes a basic gear for the active citizenship.
At first, for numerous reasons, the Internet as a medium is democratically perfect, providing quick access to the citizens of policies being made in the local and regional environment, as well as in the national and international landscape. The Internet also makes possible infinite volumes of information -- relevant documents, legislation, debates, statistical information -- which are available to anyone interested. Moreover, it makes possible communication between individuals and the dialogue between various citizens on subjects of public interest. The Internet enables the communication between individuals and groups distributing information between either two individuals or a great mass of individuals. In fact, no distinction between personal and massive communication could cause big problems.
Anybody can provide or multiply information by means of the Internet where information circulates freely (sites, chats, mailing-lists, discussion groups) without the necessity of a professional publisher; the information is shared and you enjoy it by participating in it interactively. In addition, printed information and digital information -- where the text prevails side by side other elements -- are able to coexist.
The deluge of unprocessed information, the marginalisation of some social groups regarding the access to information, the commercialization of contents and the incipient tendency towards human isolation make some people ask for solutions. In the digital world, the policies which affect the distribution of information involve multiple fields (regulation of author's rights; professional ethics particular to the use of new tools; guaranteed access to information networks for every citizen). The transmission of information attends deep changes. The present modification of the communication sector shows a decisive shift from the mass broadcasting media for passive receptors to the interactive media and it requires new capabilities and skills on behalf of the initial emitter. The Internet is already giving to its users more possibilities to select and control the contents and, in time, it offers to individuals, companies and public or private organizations the resources to produce and distribute information without resorting to the intervention of public institutions.
The digital world is seen as the publishing landscape of the future, although it is not absolutely clear -- investing in Research and Development is required to shape trends and perspectives -- how people will use the Web or its digital services. The publishing industry as a whole looks to need a return to the "database" model, marketeering the contents it generates in different formats, as well as it looks to need to invest in research and development since the question is avoiding to assign a merely experimental role to the digital format and to confer it the same level of relevance given to printed products. The report on the future of the printed press by the European Journalism Center (1999) insists on the following matter:
Long-term strategies are needed and require large financial commitments, which may be hard to come up with for small individual newspapers. (...) The interactivity of the medium has proven to be attractive for many, drawing the audience away from television to return to a largely text-based medium.
8. Online journalism. From information to knowledge?
Journalists have to be able to use new tools to work in the online environment; they need new skills since unusual resources are available. They have to learn how to organize what they try to tell in structures directed to the online interactive reader. These narrative techniques and the critical thought they imply appear between the new exigencies of the journalistic task. A publisher of a digital newspaper talks about journalists working on the Internet as follows:
they are not traditional journalists, they need to work very fast, sometimes they are more like editors, or producers. They need to be very focused on the right choice and the timeliness of the stories on the Web.
The division between commercial and editorial information is stronger online than in its printed cousin. This sets up the relation between journalists and editor and provides new models of online publishing. The reader has the attention multi-engaged and as such will only respond to really attractive products. The avalanche of information arriving is made for a very wide, homogenized social group which as such will become disinterested in its distribution process and therefore they will not find any way to be able to choose something interesting for them. Online publishing can be a platform for public debate by guiding its readers through the enormous volume of information which is flowing across the Internet; in this aspect, the tradition of objectivity, selection and guidance of the printed press gains relevance again when landscape for the publishing sector is upset:
As more information becomes available than anyone could possibly need or absorb, the problem is no longer getting the message out, but keeping the attention of the customer. With an overload of information, access to the user becomes a new and valuable commodity. In short, with dropping costs of distribution, and - on the Web - minimal to no cost for every additional user of a service, the battle for access to the user will lead to more and more free information. The electronic environment turns out to be a gift economy, in which the spirit of gift is a hard economic reality. For publishers, specially, this is a hard fact to swallow.
Nowadays when production and distribution of digital information is a crucial matter for many industries -- both traditional as well as new industries -- and the media landscape is changing in so many unforeseen ways, what is still lacking is too often very transparent. Surprisingly, the publishing sector is an inveterately opaque one. The publishers can play a new role when products and services look to converge and strategies which join the newest and traditional resources are feasible. In addition to the traditional information production (publishing, as was said by Alberto Sánchez Alvarez Insúa, is "multiplying the information"), the publishers will have to classify and select it, to act as "guarantors" of quality and reliability of distributed information.
The future model for publishers however is likely to be in multiple revenue streams. To be profitable, some interactive newspapers rely on a wide range of revenue streams: combinations of banner ads, classified ads, acting as an Internet service provider, hosting outside sites, serving as the local focal point for business and community information, providing outside design services, providing telecommunications and/or paging services, audiotext, sales of archives and other services. More revenue channels are expected with the rise of other new services.
9. Times of equivocal ending
J. A. Terceiro said some time ago that there are no inherent dangers in the Internet, that the Internet only incorporates those dangers which are already in circulation through the cultural tangle. I agree with that opinion without disregarding people who think that hypertext is something which is perhaps extendible to the Internet: its very decentralization power could change it into something too weightless to be interesting, for example. As Fredric Jameson says, when we talk on post-modernity:
(...) the question is no longer the disintegration of a preexistent organic totality, but the apparition of what's multiple in new and unexpected ways, unconnected flows or events, kinds of discourse, classification ways and compartments of reality. Clearly, what is produced by the rhetoric of decentralization is (...) a kind of reality-pluralism, less a coexistence of multiple and alternative worlds than a coexistence of unconnected fuzzy conjuncts and semiautonomous subsystems which keep on overlapping perceptually, like hypnotic planes of depth in a multidimensional space.
The vanguard went from the succession of styles and procedures to a simultaneity of what is radically diverse. The discontinuity coincided with the aperture (Opera aperta, de Eco) and the indetermination of the aesthetics of reception by Iser. Separation, indetermination, diversity, dis-locación (de locus), aperture... do they not coincide with Perseus' evanescence who acknowledges himself, like Baudelaire and Benjamin, so ephemeral and slight taking the chance of quick "metamorphosis of the faces of risk"?.
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On hypertext in general, and hypertext and education, visit the personal site (in English) by one of the main experts on the subject: http://www.landow.com . There is an interview -June 1999- to Landow in Spanish at: http://enredando.com/cas/cgi-bin/entrevista/index.pl
"La red enredada" ("The web embroilled"), Editorial by El país digital (http://www.elpais.es ), 1st February 1999-. In Spanish.
"The virtual tourist" through literature, hypertext and hyperfiction in several languages. It is very comprehensive, although maybe some link is already broken: http://www.ucm.es/info/especulo/numero2/turistav.htm
"La mondialisation est-elle inevitable?" Table of contents regarding this question in several languages at http://www.monde-diplomatique.fr/1997/06/
An updated version of the report -in English- by Monique van Dusseldorp 'Future of the Printed Press'-published by EJC (European Journalism Center)- is available ($13) at http://www.ejc.nl/hp/fpp/order.html
Bond, Max: "Un idioma universal. Internet será realmente global", ("A universal language. Internet will be really global"), in Spanish at Tendencias XXI , Nr. 6, Assessment Communications S.L., Madrid, October 1997, page 3.
Buxó y Rey, María Jesús: "La sociedad de la información reclama un nuevo diseño cultural" ("The Society of Knowledge asks for a New Cultural Design"), in Spanish at: http://www.negocios.com/tendencias.artic2.htm
de Rosnay, Joel: "Del homo sapiens al homo simbiótico. Ciberbiología, la nueva forma de la vida" ("From homo sapiens to homo symbiotics. Cyberbiology, the new way of life"), in Spanish at Tendencias XXI, Nr. 10, Madrid, February 1998, pages 4 and following ones.
Abstract from critics to the book La socied@d digit@l by J. B. Terceiro http://www.geocities.com/SiliconValley/2159
Interview by Donat Putx to Jose B. Terceiro: ¿Para cuándo the homo digitalis?
"Editorial. La cultura digital", Espéculo nº 2, Universidad Complutense, Madrid, Marzo 1996. http://www.ucm.es/info/especulo/numero2/2editor.htm
"Entrevista con Pep Vallés (...). Internet nos hace sentir más humanos", en http://www.es.ibm.com/infosociedad/mundo_internet/gente_9808.htm
Cuestiones éticas en http://www.ccsr.cms.dmu.ac.uk/discussion; Simon Rogerson "Privacy": ETHIcol - IMIS; http://www.cpsr.org/program/nii/onenet.html; http://www.imis.org.uk; http://www.ccsr.cms.dmu.ac.uk/resources/professionalism/general
An updated version of the report by Monique van Dusseldorp 'Future of the Printed Press' - published by EJC (European Journalism Center) - is available (13$) at http://www.ejc.nl/hp/fpp/order.html
Fajardo Fajardo, Carlos:"Hacia una estética de la cibercultura", Espéculo. Número 10, Univer-sidad Complutense , Madrid 1999. http://www.ucm.es/info/especulo/numero10/est_cibe.html
Moulthrop, Stuart. "Traveling in the Breakdown Lane. A principle of Resistance for Hypertext." http://www.ubalt.edu/www/ygcla/sam/essays/breakdown.html
Pajares Toska, Susana: "Las posibilidades de la narrativa hipertextual", in Espéculo nº 6, UCM, Madrid 1997; http://www.ucm.es/OTROS/especulo/numero6/s_pajare.htm.
Marta Graupera Sanz can be reached at Tramage@teleline.es