Even early hypertext system developers knew there was more to hypertext than questions of efficient system design. One aim of these designers was to effect a symbiosis of person and machine or, more specifically of people's minds and machines. For example, in 1945, Vannevar Bush predicted that his proposed proto-hypertext Memex machine would " elevate the " human spirit" so that the use of his technology would allow the user not only to operate more efficiently, but to " grow in the wisdom of race experience." Douglas Engelbart's 1963 paper, " A Conceptual Framework for the Augmentation of Man's Intellect," proposed a systems approach to human intelligence that would allow people to develop their so-called " native" abilities with the aid of " augmentation devices and techniques," via a symbiosis of person and machine. Finally, while Theodor Holm Nelson's 1981 Literary Machines did not depart significantly from Engelbart in its celebration of hypertext's potential as a system for more accurately utilizing and extending human cognition, Nelson was also sensitive to the system's possible political ramifications. Foreseeing struggle and political conflict, especially over design and access issues on the hypertext frontier, Nelson concluded that " rolled into such designs and prospects is the whole future of humanity, and the future of the future -- meaning the kinds of future that become forbidden, or impossible." These early visionaries expected changing modes of information storage to change the way people think. Along similar lines, Jay Bolter has claimed that hypertext, as a particular case of computer-aided writing generally, is one metaphor for human cognition [104-06, 207-22]. Whether human cognition is essentially computational is not the point here. Rather, I want to emphasize how this metaphorical relationship conflates questions of hypertext design with questions of the body and bodily integrity, with problematic consequences. Bolter's metaphorical connection between human cognition and hypertext implies that if hypertext is considered a species of AI (that is, as a computational model of human cognition) then it has become a model for nature -- that is, a model for material processes that occur in the body without technological intervention. This modeling of nature has a disturbing genealogy. As Evelyn Fox Keller has argued in her analysis of the history of science, the desire to rewrite the biological body as a text reflects an exclusionary research program which feminizes nature in order to preserve science as a set of legitimate disciplines, the activities of which are thereby closed to individual women. Bolter's view of hypertext reinforces a similarly problematic distinction between nature and culture as separate from the structures and individuals who define both. If one desire of science is to rewrite physical, bodily processes as text, then hypertext -- as a product of science -- provides a new conception of science, hence of nature, hence of bodies, that is itself in need of examination.
Although, as Paul Edwards points out, the twentieth-century origins of biological reductionism and functionalist behaviorism can certainly be traced at least to post-war American cybernetics such a history lesson is not my objective here. Rather, I'd like to emphasize the general point that questions of effective hypertext design also implicitly involve questions of what it means to be human and embodied, questions that are both political and technical, and have been so from the beginning of hypertext development.
- Hypertext with Consequences: Recovering a Politics of Hypertext [Introduction]
- Why Is Literary Theory Important for Hypertext?
- Cyborgs among Us: Bodies and Hypertext
- Female Writing?