HyperThursday 1: Hypertext
I’m trying something new here. Rather than write a screed about how we should all get on bicycles and take up blogging again, I’m going to share some links to things I found interesting on the Web this week. It might become a (kind of) weekly thing and probably will go out on Thursdays. So, lets start with the natural habitat of links, or hyperlinks: hypertext.
This programme was made in 1990, but the technologies it shows, particularly the demos of contemporary software, feel like something that could be cutting-edge now. Maybe cutting-edge is more marketing than reality? We’re used to the Web as where we go to buy stuff or access social media (if we’re not getting them via a dedicated app), but this documentary really shows what underpins today’s Web: hypertext. Linearity is out the window, interactivity is the way forward.
Sticking with Douglas Adams1, I like a couple of quotes in this article he wrote:
“I expect that history will show ‘normal’ mainstream twentieth century media to be the aberration in all this. ‘Please, miss, you mean they could only just sit there and watch? They couldn’t do anything? Didn’t everybody feel terribly isolated or alienated or ignored?’
‘Yes, child, that’s why they all went mad. Before the Restoration.’
‘What was the Restoration again, please, miss?’
‘The end of the twentieth century, child. When we started to get interactivity back.’”How to Stop Worrying and Learn to Love the Internet
“We are natural villagers. For most of mankind’s history we have lived in very small communities in which we knew everybody and everybody knew us. But gradually there grew to be far too many of us, and our communities became too large and disparate for us to be able to feel a part of them, and our technologies were unequal to the task of drawing us together. But that is changing.”How to Stop Worrying and Learn to Love the Internet
If Adams’ Hyperland and early enthusiasm for the interactivity and interlinkedyness of the Web and Internet are still engaging today, I think it is because we’ve lost some of that potential as the Web has centralised in private silos over the last decade or so. This, slightly long, piece makes an interesting argument for reviving the non-commercial Web, creating, “the web as a universal library”.
How to go about creating the universal library? We have blogs2, we have decentralised non-commercial social media like Mastodon, we have HTML and cheap Web servers. But what if we tried doing something less? Spring 83 is a proposal for a simple protocol for sharing online inspired by RFC 865:
“A server listens for TCP connections on TCP port 17. Once a connection is established a short message is sent out the connection (and any data received is thrown away). The service closes the connection after sending the quote.”RFC 865, IETF
A more maxi approach comes in the form of the fediverse, the interlinked network of social applications built on the ActivityPub standard. Mastodon is one, but other places with more specific focus, like bookwyrm exist too. A lot of the effort needed to be part of this slower Web is very technical, so I enjoyed this manifesto for focussing on social experiences not the tools that achieve them.
I’ll finish this first HyperThursday by returning to the ’90s and another Douglas Adams infused piece, this time an article to accompany a BBC Radio 4 documentary that is, unfortunately, not available to stream or download anywhere I can see.
“Imagine what will happen as more and more of the little transactions of our lives, our decisions, our businesses, our purchases, our arguments, get conducted in close and immediate contact with each other over the internet. My belief and my hope is that the speed of response of the internet will re-introduce us to that from which our political systems have separated us for so long, the consequences of our own actions.”Douglas Adams, https://www.bbc.co.uk/radio4/douglas_adams/next.shtml
We got halfway there. Just missing the “consequences of our own actions” bit.
1. It is funny how writers, sadly departed, like Adams and Terry Pratchett contributed so much to imagining and exploring how society works while being dismissed as ‘silly’. What is Discworld if not an exploration of our societies, and what was the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy if not a precursor to Wikipedia?
2. You’re reading one!