The idea of linking documents together, and the name hypertext, were first conceived by Ted Nelson. Ted and I were roommates in Chicago many years ago and had quite a few interesting discussions about computers and what they would some day become. Ted saw that linking between documents was the key to using technology to make all information available to everyone. For me, hypertext represented a new way to write -- a medium that would differ from printed books to the same degree that theater is not the same as novels or poetry.
Today, because of hypertext and the Internet, we have both the ability to create and share information on a global scale, and the added advantage of linking information in a variety of ways.
The Ainsworth Computer Seminar and the Computer Learning Lab I wrote for Radio Shack and Sinclair were an early use of hypertext to create documents that can appeal to many people and cover a wide variety of interests. It's possible, for example, to view these projects as a quick example of some of the things computers can do. At more involved levels, you can see how the software creates these interactions. At an even more involved level, you can see and experiment with the actual program instructions. In this way, these hypertext documents can take many forms, depending on your interest.
It is a real advantage for an author to be able to use hypertext links. I don't have to decide in advance whether something is too technical or perhaps too detailed for a particular reader. If I use hypertext links carefully, you can easily and clearly make these choices for yourself, and the document will automatically adjust to your current level of interest.
If you are interested in writing, then I suggest that you try using hypertext links to let your readers move freely through your ideas. If you choose to link music, pictures, and other data to your written words, entirely new ways of sharing and communicating will be open to you.
Before I leave the subject of hypertext, I want you to know that using computers, word processors, hypertext, or any other "new and improved" ideas does not automatically improve the quality of your writing or the impact of your thoughts. What we are talking about here is simply another way to write. That's exciting, but it is not the only, or even the best, solution. The back of an old envelope, for example, did just fine for writing the poem that became the USA national anthem. Later, the back of another envelope was ideal for writing the text for Abraham Lincoln's most memorable speech.
The trick, I think, of successful writing is to use whatever medium you choose to its best advantage. As technology continues to unfold and present new opportunities, these possibilities will continue to expand and create both opportunities and challenges.
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