Note: this post draws heavily on writing from George Landow called Hypertext 3.0: Critical Theory and New Media in an Era of Globalization.
Landow refers to the potential for hypertext to allow a novice reader ‘to learn the habit of multi-sequential reading necessary for both student anthologies and scholarly apparatuses’ (279). Hypertext is regarded as an efficient model for the kind of text presented in scholarly and scientific writing. Readers are forced to venture out of the narrative to consider footnotes, captions and statistics (as well as reference new vocabulary).
I am reminded of the Choose Your Own Adventure or Time Machine books. As an aside, be sure to check out the Choose Your Own Adventure titles that never made it. Also, consider Choose Your Own Adventure as a mathematical probability that death awaits.
Besides being absolutely awesome, these books allowed multiple paths through a story based on reader’s choice; some of these actually made it possible (even probable) for failure. Failure in this context would be defined as choosing a path that did not lead to a satisfactory outcome (the title character would die based on some decision). This added an additional emotive element often missing in most literature. The reader was emotionally and spatially invested in the story, an indication of an empowered learner/reader.
With these stories, what invariably happened was that the elementary school reader, impatient with the repeated possibility of failure, would skip to the last page and reverse engineer a positive outcome. For all intents and purposes this is cheating, manipulating the structure outside what was intended. However, it is evidence of a non-linear and conceptual thinking being developed.
Hypertext provides this same opportunity. It is a constructive logic. It is evidence of a desire to contextualize the action in situ. While I would hesitate to say this represents a new kind of information literacy, it does represent a relatively complex version of conceptual literacy and is made abundantly possible by hypertext writing.
It is interesting that Landow specifically mentions academic writing as being an example of non-linear thinking. Indeed, it is. The academic writer will assume familiarity with these sources. The academic reader will be forced to cross-reference these to acquire a conceptual understanding of the subject matter. Often, this cross-referencing will take place in mid-stream as the reader is some ways through the text. An academic reader will have several tools constantly at their disposal: a dictionary, a thesaurus, encyclopedia, style guides, and a host of academic databases (shameless plug). Hypertext simply allows for this web of tools and content to be woven together in one informational tapestry. Readers are strongly encouraged to pursue these threads and this contextualization is indeed demanded of them. How can one resist a big, blue link? So inviting, so intriguing, and so likely to unlock another facet(s) to discover, explore and contextualize.