Reading the Archives:
Ten Years on Nonlinear (Kairos) History

Jim Kalmbach

Coda: A Call for the New Hypertext

Having completed a study of Kairos' first decade, the only possible way to end is by asking "Where do we go from here?" The answer to such a question is not easy to see. Consider the sophistication of a text such as "Why Teach Digital Writing" (Kairos 10.1, 2005) written by the Wide Research Center Collective at Michigan State (Bill Hart-Davidson, Ellen Cushman, Jeff Grabill, Dànielle Nicole DeVoss, and Jim Porter). It is a remarkable piece—well written and exquisitely designed. There is alignment, consistency, contrast, and proximity all over the place; Robin Williams would be proud. The webbed text uses a clear menued structure, sophisticated images and graphic elements, lots of digressions (38 pop ups), and lots of new media: video, Flash, and interactive gaming elements.

There is a sense in which their text is the epitome of all the hypertextual trends I have written about here. Hypermediacy is woven so skillfully into the text that it is almost invisible. The piece feels totally natural and completely engaging. Where do we go from here? How do we build on this model? How do we problematize it? How do we do something different?

A number of people have begun to speculate:

Johndan Johnson-Eilola and Amy Kimme Hea (2003) in their article, "After Hypertext: Other Ideas," argue that "Hypertext is a boundary condition between linear print and something as yet unnamed" (p. 419) and, drawing from a battlefield trope, suggest that "(t)he challenge is not to close down the boundaries of what constitute the proper place to be called hypertext but rather to be on guard to the ways we construct enemies and allies" (p. 422).

Joyce Walker (2006) in her Kairos webtext "Hyper.Activity" offers twelve engaging examples of new media presentations (another form of slice analysis, although much cooler than the one I offered here). She ends by calling for more thick descriptions of digital reading and writing practices:

If we can generate some good, thick descriptions of people's reading and composing activities, we will be better equipped to explore digital productions of scholarly ideas. I would argue that pioneers in our field and others have already begun to use digital tools and spaces in transformative ways. I think we have a rich source of data to explore. Such explorations will allow us to see more clearly the particular ways that such texts alter the composing process and the exchange of scholarly ideas.

And Cheryl Ball in "Show, Not Tell: The Value of New Media Scholarship" (2004) argues that one possible next step is new media scholarship, that is scholarship in which new media elements such as images, motion, sound carry the argument or part of the argument rather than serving merely as digressions that illustrate points made in the main alphabetic text. She discusses Adrian Miles' Flash piece, "Digital Multiliteracies" (from Kairos 8.1, 2003). Readers construct the text by dragging written text, stills, and sound clips onto three timelines and then "play" the text they have created as an example of enactment: the ways that readers can "enact" an argument in new media scholarship through the manipulation of interactive elements, arguing that "in order to value this kind of scholarship readers need more new media texts on which to base a collective understanding of the ways cross-generic modes function" (p. 422).

I end by echoing all of these calls. Old questions like how we use the techniques of hypertext to hypermediate traditional essays seem to have pretty much expired. Instead, we should be asking, How do we create texts out of segmenting, linking, and juxtaposing instead of merely using these elements to illuminate our points or to publish a print-like linear argument on the Web? How do we build arguments out of the interrelationship of text and image? How do we construct texts out of interaction and gaming elements and yet still retain the value of citation and scholarly conversation? How do we use timelines without turning scholarship into TV? ()

In short, we do not need ever more stunning hypermediated essays; we need new forms of scholarship; we need to think about new ways of using digital writing spaces to make meaning. And Kairos, I am sure, will be leading the way.

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Or perhaps you should just go play with your kids or talk to your significant other.