Surfing Web Pages

The personal web page typically a list of "cool sites" that the author has discovered, related only associationally--that is, related only by the fact that this particular person has found them "cool" and thinks that you might, too. Beautifully perfecting Postman's "Now...This" metaphor, they reflect the television edict that nothing need be related and that nothing should ever, ever, be boring, or "uncool." The fact that the term "web surfing" was coined from its predecessor "channel surfing" is not a happy thought.

Serious academic sites often have little more coherence. They are typically lists of papers and other artifacts created by a related group of scholars. Sometimes they are on a common theme, giving the site at least the coherence of an edited collection. At other times the particular theme that has brought the scholars together is not particularly reflected in the choice of posted papers. Everything the scholars have written is junked onto the site and thereby declared academically "cool."

(The popular designation "cool" to describe a must-see Web site may or may not be co-incidentally related to McLuhan's use of the term "cool," but the metaphor works so nicely that it is hard to let it pass.)

Ironically, once below this layer of chaotic nonlinearity, the "papers" usually betray their origins as nothing more than autonomous print-based products. They have the internal coherence of a print medium without the external referentiality of hypertext.

The internal contradictions in this complaint do not escape me.


Reading Hypertext An opening move in my darker ponderings, based on some disturbing analogies between hypertext and television.
Myron Tuman on Zapping A depressing but interesting quotation from Tuman that extends the analogy between hypertext, television and Cliff's Notes.
"Now . . . This": Neil Postman on Television A quotation that captures Postman's view of television as an assault on relevant connection.
McLuhan Hot and Cool A less depressing account of television using McLuhan's framework of analysis.
Writing Hypertext Possible negative effects of hypertext on those who write it.
What's Special about Hypertext on the WWWeb? A brief argument that hypertext is qualitatively different on the Web

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