Archive for July 2006

The Network as Narrative

July 6, 2006

By this, I am not suggesting that the Net is simply an immense (Borges-like) storyline with myriad plots, characters, and authors.  It is, however, a useful metaphor in the examination of several principles inherent in the system/mirror theorem.

The first, of course, is the quintessential element of Time, and the unusual (but not unique) tension between what you are reading now (which is also what I am writing now) and what I have written over the past two years that will be published next month.  For further notes on this apparent dichotomy, see the earlier entry, “Time (Is Not an Arrow).”

The second principle to benefit from this metaphorical perspective is the expansion/contraction/expansion process embedded in the following scenario: 

As I was writing the initial drafts of the book, I included some referential URLs to Ted Nelson’s website discussing his notion of “zzstructure.”  Though the embedded link was “dynamic” on my system, it lost this interactive quality as the chapter was moved through Wiley’s production process, and in the published book, the referenced URL is a “static” string of text. 

Let us further imagine a future state, when the book’s contents are indexed by Amazon (and others) for search capability.  In the newer, re-produced electronic version, the URLs once again become “dynamic.”

The question for this day is as follows (with kind regards to Ted N. who informs me, in today’s email, that he will soon be providing software that answers this question): 

What happens if/when Ted’s website is updated (while the book is in production) and the newer content no longer reflects – and perhaps contradicts – the text in which the URL was originally referenced?  And what can we learn about this period of “uncertainty”  during which the static link points to a location which is shifting?

It is an issue underlying any interactive site, even this one.  I pose these questions on July 5, and they may not be read until days/weeks later.  In the interim (when “uncertainty” allows for all possibilities) the world itself may be transformed by the slouching progress of history.  It is this interim period, this uncertainty zone, that challenges our notions of linear narrative, that underscores the essential difference between the Net and the Book, between hypertext and the printed page, between what you are reading now (about the book) and what you cannot read (the book itself) until August 7.

I find this “uncertainty zone” compelling and mysterious.  It is the realm of all possibility, until choice (yours/mine) sculpts the next, very real, event and presents it for our observation.