by Beth Baldwin
There's an odd effect when bringing a book online--a three dimensional object becomes
two-dimensional, flat. In the case of Conversations, currently each chapter is in a
separate file and has links to it from a contents list. There's also a handy warning in the
contents of how large the file is in kilobytes. Even so, reading down a chapter is like
descending into a mineshaft - you don't really know where the bottom is, but sense it is far
away. Kind of scary, and kind of claustrophobic.
What we feel would help are more links between chapters, and breaking up the chapters
into further sections. When you lose the solid, three dimensional quality of the book, you lose
the ability to know where you are by feel. And in the book, knowing where you are in space
is related to knowing where you are in the argument. So it seems even more imperative in
hypertext to give lots of context, lots of navigation. This is assuming you want hypertext to
retain the conventions of academic argument, we guess. Part of the freedom of hypertext is
the freedom to get lost in it, and we suppose this applies to being lost in a vertical mine-shaft
of text as well as lost in a horizontal labyrinth of links.
But we prefer, in this type of writing, as much help as the writer can give so we can
navigate the text as well as the argument. Icons, subheads, links, smaller units to fit the
screen, transitions, summaries, topical organization.
This applies especially to the sections of conversation between Beth and Bob. Though the
experience for the conversants had many moments of sartori, brought about by the power of
conversation, we found the effect on us as readers was disorienting. We appreciated the
inclusion of electronic conversation examples so we can partake of the process. We think
readers can participate in the process (or perhaps have the illusion they are participating in the
process) more successfully with less conversation and more interpretation by the writers. After
all, since readers really are not sharing in the moment, except vicariously, the moment is hard
to recreate. In Kenneth Burke's terms, the writers can help the reader become part of the
scene and purpose, and help them be agents who act (Hypertext aids the latter by offering the chance to
respond, as Eric Crump done with his rhetnet forum on this subject). If response links are
added directly into the text and updated, this will help even more.
Mike, who teaches creative writing, notes that the difference between transcribed
conversation and contextualized conversation is like the difference between drama and fiction.
Drama exists as a blueprint for action, and is hard to read in print, but fiction adds a narrator
who orchestrates things for the reader.
Here's some of our conversation on the subject:
Boldperson, Blueperson and Boldblueperson
In Beth's online dissertation, sometimes her conversation was green, and Bob's was
bolded, or hers was bolded and Bob's was blue. Perhaps deliberately, little indication was
given to who was who. However, in class practice, Bob and Beth were referred to by name,
and their students had anonymous handles based on mountains and rivers. Why the difference
between class practice and dissertation form? It is oddly disembodied,
with the advantages of
disorienting, but there are also disadvantages. Often, in reading the conversation, we forgot who was
"bold" and who was "green," etc. We started referring to Beth and Bob as
Greenperson and Blueperson and Boldperson. Mike had the odd
experience of constructing the bold text as "male" and so couldn't help thinking of it as
"Bob". It is odd that font weight creates a gender identity, but probably not surprising and
Mike hopes not to be criticised for his unconscious social construction which he reveals to
readers in the interest of science.
How do you feel about not
knowing who it is?
Regarding a recent CCC article: "Postings on a Genre of Email" - odd, it works very well
It's very "crafted", like some Joyce novel that looks not crafted, but it
The idea of "craft" came up many times in our talks, so we must identify strongly with
the role composition class has of teaching the craft of writing. We consider it crucial that
conversations be summarized, deepened, discovered, explored, refined, tested, "revised." To us
this writing step is one of the advantages of literacy. To us, this is part of the conversation. One can then continue the conversation in many ways. For instance, you can Mail us with
your comments, which we'll put on file!