Dylan noticed my metaphor. While writing it, I knew it was a bad metaphor. I think he noticed this fact. But my error was helpful -- it brought out an interesting question that was only tangential to my point at the time:
Almost, Dylan, but not quite. Americans may like to experience the quick-and-dirty of narrative. Just look at reality shows, which are very slightly planned. Then again, look at broadway. Far from quick-and-dirty, broadway requires a wealth of careful, planned, disciplined skill in the writers, the composers, the musicians, and the actors. In terms of total preparation years, centuries go into the creation and performance of a single musical. And yet broadway continues to be highly popular. Americans appreciate care and discipline -- they demand it. They just want someone else to do the work.
I agree with Dylan. If he wants to reach a larger audience, he has to come up with a new way to organize the piece. The simple links did convey a disoriented sense about the work, which reflected the disoriented nature of the characters' lives. However, this effect can be kept while making readers more comfortable. After all, Memento wasn't a box office failure. Movies like The Game make a decent amount of cash. Both contain as much if not more uncertainty than "To Win, Simply Play". Perhaps the difference between these is that Dylan's novella doesn't come to a conclusive "aha" moment, like The Game, and doesn't really compel the reader to try to keep track. I'm not sure it should. So perhaps the comparison breaks down. (tag for future thought)
Back to the metaphor. The more I think about it, the more I like the weapon metaphor for text tools.
I mentioned that word processors are like a saturday night special, but that a tool like Tinderbox is much more like a Katana. The place where the metaphor breaks down is the area where Dylan was trying to understand it. Both the gun and the sword are weapons that intend to wound or kill. They're not crafting tools. You don't present the result to an audience.
I was thinking of the perspective of the one who weilds the tool. Word processors produce one kind of output. Like the gun, they're simple. Pull the trigger, and you shoot your opponent. Open a word processor and make a linear document with some formatting.
Hypertext, however, is a multi-faceted thing. When someone learns to use a sword, that person learns more than how to operate a weapon. The fighter learns more about herself, about the physics of her body. In training, she learns to control her mind and blend action and thought.
This is where the sword metaphor breaks down. But let me extend the ideas. Hypertext software can do what word processing software can do. But it is much more versatile. It gives one a useful reason to develop such discipline. Unlike Dylan's warrior, who is ineffective against guns, the person who writes in hypertext is able to do more because the tool can do so much more. The technology can enable a person, through discipline and careful thought, to think in effective ways that are not possible using conventional, linear styles.
I will point out, since a linguist friend sometimes reads this blog, that the Word Processor is even a step back from paper, since people who wrote with paper often used the old note-card system, which allows you to make writing modular and shift it around, linking it to bibliographic entries, etc..
Word processors are just typewriters with deleteable text and multiple fonts (oversimplification). Programs like Tinderbox take the most useful features of rich text systems, keeping all the speed, and includw a world of possibility far beyond the limitations of linear text.
So, I have talked about the writer. What about the audience?
In a recent journal article, I described how I use hypertext software to write linear texts. For me, hypertext is just one possible representation of ideas. If the audience enjoys that kind of thing, fine. If not, then writing in hypertext gives me an edge when writing linear works as well. But, even more useful is this: A tool like TInderbox gives me the opportunity to play with things on the fringes of linear text, things which give me the chance to use hypertext to make it more intuitive for readers. Case in point: Philadelphia Fullerine. By making it a hypertext project, I was able to present over two hours of audio documentary without worrying that listeners wouldn't have time. I also freed listeners to individually experience the narrative, without me telling them what they had to look at or listen to. Thus I gain a larger audience than i would have otherwise.
Dylan's post makes a great point at the end:
I was initially drawn to hypertext writing as a way to make an interestingly fragmented narrative, as something “new”, “edgy” or “experimental” more than I was drawn to its qualities “for how they might aid poetic composition” — which they can!
Dylan realizes something that has been nagging me for a while. Is there a way to write hypertext so it seems natural, so the form doesn't draw attention to itself? Videogames? Interactive fictions? The web doesn't seem to have caused a collective change in how people read. They still think in terms of pages. In fact, people's mindsets about texts seem to have had a greater effect on the concept of hypertext, limiting what we have available in such tools as the web.
As Dylan notes in a more recent post, the blog is the best people seem to be able to come up with, a blob of chaos sorted by date. Along with the ability too write more complex ideas more clearly, we seem to have gained intense time constraints which don't give us the chance to think or plan clearly. Hmm. Food for thought.