Normal or Hypertext?

By Juha Haataja

Publishing has become possible for everyone in the Internet age. In a good text, every word has meaning; a clear text requires clear thinking, but this takes time.

Anyone can publish a web page. But what happens? The Net gets filled with texts unfit for the reader.

Writing is difficult even at the best of times: good writing requires thought and thought requires time. Even a week can be too short a period of a time for thoughts to crystalize. This is often forgotten in today's fast-paced IT world.

Getting rid of all of the unnecessary hurry would be one solution. However, hurrying doesn't explain the mass of unsuitable text that is being produced nowadays. What's being put out there is just barely polished garbage - flashy, ultramodern but trash.

The biggest reason for these substandard homepages and web publications is that people have forgotten the basic elements of the writer's craft. To write is to collect thoughts. The ultimate accomplishment occurs when a text is read, understood and integrated into one's consiousness - but often this isn't the case. This is why clarity is the writer's best weapon. An obscure text is often used to fool or to mislead: the reader is made responsible for thinking about the text because the author's own thought process was only half finished.

However, writing skills are not disappearing under this new technological threat. We are in transition. Sooner or later, we'll learn how to use hypertext and the information networks in the right way. Word processing has followed the same development path. Many authors have learned to write by learning how to use new techniques properly.

Perhaps the biggest problem with hypertext is its rhythm. A sentence's rhythm is based on the music of thought. If hyperlinks or multimedia presentations break the rhythm, the text's flow is lost. A good text is full of references: sentences and paragraphs belong together, text is a whole where every word has meaning.

Writing well about a subject is like a flow chart: linear and connected. Connections are made through verbal images created by author's own personal rhythm. The internal cohesion of a well-written text supports the author's world of thoughts and ideas - hyperlinks and multimedia aren't necessarily needed.

One can write on many levels. The most basic is straight copying. Copying a text might have some meaning when you study but for producing any kind of information, copying doesn't deserve to even be called writing. Unfortunately, a large portion of the documents on the Internet is made up of copied data.

A slightly more developed form of writing is the drawing up of explanations or reports. Even though we're not talking about true creative work, reports can act as a source of information. Many become dated quickly, but at least they're stored away in the archives and maybe they'll be useful to somebody someday.

The style of developed writing is powered by either informative or artistic outlines that are drawn from creative thought. This type of writing is a solidary endeavour. Writing is the result of a long planning process that you can't get to through copying or logical thinking.

The solitary author is rare but we need him. Why? Because original thought springs from solitude; thinking means taking a step back from other obligations. Works that are based on thought can be a strong force. With his thought, the writer can change the world through his or her readers. So then, solitude is a tool that should be sought out. However, this requires know-how and time, both of which are, in this ultra technical day and age, more valuable than ever.

All literature is based on interaction. The prerequisite for understanding a text's message is the reader's level of knowledge and mental agility: a cat can look at a king but will it know that it's a king that it's looking at? The text relies on the reader's wisdom in order to fullfil its objective of being understood.

A text can be read and forgotten. If this occurs, then the writer has failed in his objective. The clarity of the text affects the reader's task of understanding. The more the text is unclear, the more it becomes difficult for the reader to find the message. A text is only worth something when the reader has understood the message and integrated it into his or her consciousness.

Word processing makes is easy to use cursive, bold and underlining to veil the emptiness of a text. "We'll do it because we can." We see the same phenomenon nowadays with hypertext and multimedia. Why use special effects if they're useless to the reader?

A large part of the hypertext that's out there has been created to showcase the technical talent of the person who published it. They've just added as many facts to the document as they have managed to collect. This type of writing is by no means revolutionary. Back in the old days, we called it "collecting data". The majority of hypertext is built on gathering information rather than refining it. Good text (and hypertext) writing replaces information gathering with thought: the author has left out all of the unnecessary data and gotten to the heart of the matter.

The most important qualities of hypertext are the same for any writer: clarity, clarity, clarity. The difficulty of the subject matter can be used as an excuse but it's a poor one. Every sentence, image, animation, sound and hyperlink needs a reason to be there.

Have we forgotten the noble art of thought in the hypertext jungle? Only the first step of writing is technical, the rest comes from the innermost reaches of the author's self. Where are the Darwins, Einsteins and Dostojevskis of the hypertext era hiding? Where are the thinkers and writers of today whose words will change the world.