I conceived this review as a "native hypertext," a non-linear composition of many cross-linked pieces. Because its structure is integral to the exploration of the ideas contained within, ideally the review cannot be laid out linearly without affecting the meaning: If the media truly is the message, then a change of media results in a change of message. Each review section (with the exception of isolated "block" quotes from Talbott) is designed to serve as an essay in its own right, and can be read and utilized as such, much like the way in which each of Talbott's chapters can be read as separate essays which explore different facets of the same issue.
It is useful to think of "hypertextuality" and "linearity" as two opposite end-points of a spectrum instead of mutually exclusive categories (although their true relationship is much more complex and layered than polarity would suggest). Until recently, most texts fell somewhere toward the linear end of the scale; increased use of the footnote and the theatrical "aside" in the past hundred years, with similar developments in other symbolic contexts over the same time scale, marked a movement towards the hypertextual in virtually all narrative forms (In fact, when explaining hypertext to technophobic friends, I often present a model which itself is based on the linear model of the book). The culminations of the intrusion of hypertext into linear contexts might thus include authors from Italo Calvino to James Joyce, as well as the Surrealist and Absurdist theatre movements.
It seems that only the recently developed multimedia and non-linear aspects of the computer have made hypertext possible as a native form; plays and books must of neccessity have endings and beginnings, and hence are stuffed into a context which is linear at heart. This essay, on the other hand, may begin and end anywhere, although some pages are more likely than others to show up first. But we are new to the hypertextual. There are many elements of linear structure in this review, and much of that linearity can be attributed to the fact that I was acculturated (i.e. schooled) in a culture which had barely begun to recognize hypertext as a native form. Our children, and their children, may create texts which lie much farther towards the hypertextual than we can imagine today.
The Future Does Not Compute is in many ways (and perhaps unsurprisingly so) itself a non-linear document. Each chapter and section contains, in essence, the same basic ideas; each could be read individually to get a general idea of Talbott's viewpoint, and one gets the impression that the chapters are in fact designed to stand on their own as essays. Additionally, there are three separate appendices, each one relevant to a different section of the book. Perhaps Talbott, consciously or unconsciously, was influenced by a model "native" to the technology with which he is familiar in structuring his book.
The use of the clouded sky pattern behind the text throughout this review is not arbitrary. Anyone familiar with Windows 95 will recognize the "clouds" design as that system's default desktop background pattern; the cloud design is also used by Talbott as background for his book cover. Clouds can be seen as an especially appropriate visual context in which to understand Talbott's book. Kevin Hunt, in his CMC Magazine review of Talbott's book, suggests that the use of this pattern is a deliberate touch of irony on the part of Talbott or his publisher: "by wrapping his important exploration of the dark side of computers and human consciousness in a dust jacket covered with Windows 95's billowy white clouds...[they] alert us to the tensions, ironies, and paradoxes seething beneath the surface of what most of us experience when we turn on our computers, process information, and surf the Net" (Hunt). Thus, in this view, Talbott's clouds have the effect of reflecting the very thesis of his work. The clouds you see behind my own review text were placed there in this same spirit, with a tip of the hat to Mr. Hunt for his astute analysis.
Additionally, I would like to take this opportunity to humble myself before y'all. I am one of those annoying social scientist types who pride themselves on NOT being technically minded, and thus am new at writing in HTML. While the native hypertext format comes pretty naturally to me (I find that I think in linked concepts and short strings of ideas, not linearly), I am much more concerned with creating a "true" hypertext document that is academically sound than I am worried about snazzy graphics. Also, allow me to mention that I, myself, am currently but a lowly undergrad (albeit a senior) at Marlboro College, and this is the first material I have ever published (other than a short poem in a teen lit mag years ago). Please excuse, then, any naive tone or content of which you might otherwise accuse me, and please also feel free to e-mail me with any constructive criticism you might have.
Of course, although modern copyright laws make reproduction of any section of this essay for your own purposes illegal without permission, both Kairos and I are pretty nice about that kind of thing. Just ask us if you want to use these for, say, classroom reading or something like that.
This is one of only 3 links to the author's home page in this whole review!
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