The Limit of Hypertext

limit of hypertext

Hypertext is all of the text that is displayed on the Internet. In fact, what you’re reading right now is hypertext. Hypertext contains links to other texts, called hyperlinks. The difference between hypertext and plain text is that it doesn’t have to be read linearly. One limit of hypertext is that it isn’t complete, and can never be.

Why is Hypertext Important?

Hypertext, beyond just text, also includes images. When we say that hypertext isn’t read linearly means that there is no order to the Internet. You can jump from website to website it whichever order you choose. This is unlike written text, such as books, which confine us to reading from start to finish. Which means that when they say text it also means images. This definition allows hypertext work non-linearly. The non-linearity of the Internet creates languages, connections between links, and the World Wide Web. It is literally the backbone of the Internet. However, there are limits.

The Limit of Hypertext

According to author David Shenk, the limit of hypertext is that it is incomplete. He says, “Our stories work best when they have an ending. As we surf the Internet, we’re in danger of forgetting this basic truth. With hyper-text, endings are irrelevant, because no one ever gets to one. Reading gives way to surfing, a meandering peripatetic journey through a maze of threads.” Shenk’s main problem is that hypertext, unlike printed text, does not follow a narrative. There is no story or ending to hypertext, therefore we feel unsatisfied after surfing the web. This is the opposite of how we feel once we’ve finished another narrative, such as a book. This argument also applies to e-literature, which is made up of hypertext and doesn’t follow a linear narrative as well.

However, Shenk’s argument is not valid because the Internet wasn’t designed with a narrative in mind. Certainly, you can find narratives on the web– such as article, e-books, etc., but the World Wide Web as a whole wasn’t created to have an endpoint. Therefore if this is the only limit of hypertext, it’s hardly a limit at all.