From the Boidem - 
an occasional column on computers and information technologies in everyday life

December 18, 2016*: Intertwingle, Intertwingle, Little Link.

A central, and I suppose even defining, characteristic of hypertext is that link leads to link leads to link. Because of that, somewhere along the line, ultimately everything is, or gets, connected to everything else. This interconnectivity finds wonderful expression in the Hypertext Webster Gateway that if we're patient enough succeeds in connecting almost every word to almost every other word. The Gateway proves a point, though it does so in a banal and boring manner. Do we really care that we can get from any one word to any other if we're willing to click enough times? The purposefully playful Everything2 is a much better example of the same idea, though in order to prove its point it has to rely on human intervention.

But the short rant on hypertext that opens this month's column is actually there only tangentially, as a lead to something ever more all encompassing. My allusion to the interconnectivity of hypertext is there primarily as a metaphor for this column's central point – that sooner rather than later, as our lives become engulfed by both social and textual intertwingling, everything merges into everything else, so that there's no "now" without "then", no "here" without "there". On almost all fronts, previously distinct categories merge into one enormous mush. Some call this the hive mind. For some this has positive connotations - we're all in this together, creating something greater than ourselves. Others find this distressing and struggle to maintain an identity outside of that hive. Desirable or not, more and more it seems that maintaining that distinct identity requires a difficult uphill battle.

And that difficulty finds its way to the Boidem, or more to the point, to my ability, or inability, to pinpoint just what it is I want, or intend, to write about. When I started organizing my thoughts and materials for this column I feared that perhaps I was repeating myself even a bit more often than usual. I remembered that I'd recently written about "The Stream" and thought that the topic was perhaps a bit too similar to what I was intending to write about this time. The obvious thing to do was reread that earlier column and check whether I really had anything different to relay here. (Not that repeating myself is forbidden, but doing so after only a short hiatus is perhaps a bit too much.) More than just a bit to my surprise I discovered that the particular column I was fearful of repeating was from a bit more than a year ago.

That sort of gave me a green light to again touch on, or near, that topic. But it wasn't only one topic that was again raising its head. What about the extent to which our smartphones have changed our sense of "where"? At the beginning of this year I wrote about that, referring to the classic Hirschsprung Family painting, asking whether our present smartphone-generated detachment from those close by us is really all that different from what that painting portrays from the late 19th century. Since that was also almost a year ago I might, again, get off the hook of repeating myself, but when a number of repeats pile up it can become … if not problematic, then at least not overly desirable. On the other hand, the context was a bit different. When I referred to that painting I claimed:

It may be true that our love of the smartphone causes us to reduce the amount of time we spend with the people with whom we're in physical proximity, but that doesn't necessarily mean that we communicate less.
while at present what I'm asking is whether we're witnessing the development of a different sort of almost simultaneous "here but not here" communication, a new sort that we still haven't succeeded in distinctly defining. But at some point into the organizing of this column, with more and more "repeats" piling up, I realized that repeating myself is precisely one of the defining characteristics of what I was trying to write about. That in itself seems to offer enough justification for re-visiting some of the same territory. And it's also strangely indicative of the central theme of this column - that the ubiquity of "information" on the web (it seems that of late we'll have to put that word in quotes), and the enormity of it, causes a blurring both of time and of place.

What seems to be (I still haven't finished reading it) one of the best attempts at defining that all-at-once multi-layered communicating is Laurence Scott's The Four-Dimensional Human. And I suppose that predictably I referred to the book, via a review of it, in the same column that mentioned the Hirschsprung Family. In that same review Carol Tavris describes what Scott refers to as "Everywhereness":
"Everywhereness" describes how it feels when there is no longer any experience - meeting a friend, looking out of a window, feeling momentarily exasperated or exhilarated - that is particular to that moment, that place, those people. Social media make each moment four- dimensional, Scott says, by "scaffolding it with simultaneity, such that it exists in multiple places at once". A meal is here on your table, but also in your pocket, in a photo, deliverable in many formats, available to be approved or disdained by friends and strangers in far places.
So we're both here and there, now and then, with present company as well as with any others with whom we might be in digital contact. And as a species we haven't yet adjusted to this (not really) new and different reality.

Clearly, I've been touching on this bundling together and mixing but not matching of different sides of numerous coins from a number of perspectives lately. To a certain extent the ongoing hypertextual nature of the Boidem makes doing this almost unavoidable. Somewhere along the line just about everything tends to blend into everything else. And if I'm already finding connections, another obvious one is to tagging, which, come to think of it, is the context in which I first mentioned the Firesign Theater here.

The fact that I'm already at end of this column and I still haven't succeeded in defining what it's about is, I suppose, one more expression of the great intertwingling of just about everything that I've been trying to write about. It's becoming impossible to focus on one particular topic because all topics seem to converge into the same topic. So although I started out intending to write about "something", it turns out that this column isn't about one particular thing, but instead about our inability to separate what has become a totality into identifiable, distinguishable, parts. At the end of the main page of each Boidem column there's always a horizontal line followed by the same sentence. Usually it's a more than less accurate description of "the end" of a column. This time, however, I'm far from sure that it is. Whatever "it" may be, I doubt that "that's it" for this edition. I could probably continue more or less endlessly finding additional tie-ins, mergings, confluences, and examples of how the present reality of the internet makes it exceedingly difficult for us to focus on one particular, space and/or time determined, thing.

That's it for this edition. Reactions and suggestions can be sent to:

Jay Hurvitz

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