Dream Machines
Dream Machines
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cotton, Bob; oliver, Richard


"Ted Nelson coined the expression "hypermedia" in the 70s in order to describe a new media form that utilised the power of the computer to store, retrieve and display information in the form of pictures, text, animations and sound. He had already used the prefix "hyper" to describe a system of non-sequential writing: "text that branches and allows choices to the reader". In "hypertext" textual material could be interlinked, providing a system which would break down traditional subject classifications and allow non-computer-literate users to follow their own lines of enquiry across the whole field of knowledge. The principles of hypertext have since been embodied in several software products aimed at the general public. Nelson's own Xanadu project is the most ambitious of these, aiming to integrate the entire library collections of the world into a seamless electronic system, where for example the hypertext reader might start by consulting a modern edition of Shakespeare's Macbeth, diverge sideways to explore medieval witchcraft, look at the original "first folio" or access any of the thousands of critical essays on the play, all by simply selecting different keywords from the texts displayed on a computer monitor.
Echoing Vannevar Bush's comments on Memex, Nelson points out that the value of hypertext is that (compared with normal "sequential" reading) it more closely models the way we think, allowing us to explore a subject area from many different perspectives until we find an approach that is useful for us. Using hypertext, authors would no longer have to write for a specific "average" reader. They could include any level of detail, and allow the reader to decide how deep into the subject matter they wanted to go.
In a series of seminal articles and books, including Computer Lib and Dream Machines, Nelson develops the idea of "fantics" (the "showmanship of ideas"), "thinkertoys" (computer systems for helping to visualise "complex alternatives"), and "super virtualities" (the conceptual space of hypermedia). These ideas encapsulate his vision of hypertext and hypermedia, and explore the nature of how these media could be used for both education and entertainment. Nelson has mapped out much of the theoretical territory that is now being explored by practising hypermedia designers, and has stressed the point that "Learning to program has no more to do with designing interactive software than learning to touch-type has to do with writing poetry." Creating successful hypermedia, like making feature movies, depends on applying the arts of communication design to both the content and the structure of the programme."

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