Hypertext and Analysis

Is hypertext a fundamental concept in the theory of digital media? My first view on this was that it was not – hypertext was just an important form of interactivity that built on ways we connected ideas and text in the print world. It does, however, seem to be the key form of interactivity for so much digital media, especially the web.

An stronger view would be that hypertext (defined as a work that chunks information into nodes that are linked) is an important primitive to digital media. If we consider the layering of information where information on the computer is gathered in ever larger chunks – then hypertext is the chunking at the cognitive level and the link is the basic way of connecting such chunks. The argument is the reverse of analysis – digital media is analyzable in the sense that it has to be stored as digital codes (codes that are distinct as digits are.) We then build up from the primitive codes more complex entities, whether it is vectors, fields and records in a database, elements in an XML file and so on. A hypertext node is an entity that makes cognitive sense – a chunk that is more or less comprehensible by itself. It also has, for historic reasons, a relationship with the screen in that such nodes tend to be a screen sized chunk – that which can be held in view (and mind) at a time. Such chunks can then be woven into larger wholes which we will call works. The primary human way of connecting them is by authoring links.
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