On hyper-links

I’ve been re-reading my way through some of the books on my bookshelf, and I picked up On the Internet by Hubert L. Dreyfus the other day. I think it was a required reading for a class at some point but it has been an interesting re-read. One of the first topics Dreyfus takes on is the practice of hyper-linking on the Internet.

I remember Nicholas Carr took to critiquing this practice not too long ago, claiming that hyper-links in articles caused more distractions than they provided substantive or important content (something I’m trying to work on in my own writing). Dreyfus considers hyper-linking practice on web pages and blogs to be similarly disorienting and distracting.

Dreyfus laments on the disjointed nature of hyper-links and an abundance of information that is available on the Internet without any measure of relevance and importance to the reader. He posits that the way to create true meaning out of hyper-links online is to somehow embody them, by connecting them to embodied experience. He is of the opinion that because the Internet exists completely outside the body, it can never carry the same relevance, risk and importance as embodied knowledge.

I found these assertions to be particularly curious given the reason why hyper-linking was first utilized during the nascent stages of the Internet. Tim Berners-Lee, one of the proposed inventors of the Internet as we know it today, developed and popularized the hyper-linking system to mimic the way he noticed people made memories, which was through building relationships between new pieces of information and information already situated in the psyche.

So although the argument Dreyfus makes stands, I find it peculiar when weighed against the intentions of hyper-linking, as it was first created. I suppose hardly anything ever pans out as it was first intended, but there is certainly some merit to the intention of hyper-links and certainly some doubt as to why in practice they have become so disjointed and distracting.