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Afterpaper by Marjorie Luesebrink
for Media Morphs the Messenger 98

Workshop Golden Time

From the eye of the Tornado: The Hypertext Writers' Workshop was
valuable from a variety of perspectives. First, it gave the writers a chance to update on new projects and techniques that are being developed in the field. Second, it provided a much-needed physical setting for writerly interaction. Third, it allowed us to take careful look at the hypertext writing, ask questions of the authors, and discuss important "invisible" aspects such as structure, decision-making, and technical details.

However, I always find that among the important general ideas, one problem or issue begins to funnel out of the air, and soon all the ideas are swirling around it. For me, this time, the issue was the complexity of interface time. Although I had thought much about issues of time before coming to the Conference, I left Pittsburgh with a far deeper understanding, and far more questions.... As I watched each of the writers begin to show their work, I realized that "Interface" time is not just the phenomenon of reader/machine (which I had characterized as Machine Time, Reading Time, and Interactive Time), but a more extended and fragmented process. It began to seem to me that the "process" nature of Interface Time required a bifurcation further up the branching structure--that is, Interface Time seems to be a combination of both Precipatory Readiness and Chronic Phenomena. (I will be putting some of this expansion of the lexicon up on the TimeSpace site and all interested parties are invited to participate.)

Further, the variability of each of these factors is far higher than I had thought. For example, those of us who were familiar with the concept of hypertext fiction approached new work quickly. Those who had not worked in this medium spent a substantial amount of time staring at the screen, so to speak, making a mind-map of the conceptual environment--not of the hypertext content, but of the notion itself. Next, it appeared that orientation is not absolute--it occurs in stages and is specifically related to different aspects of a work. There is a way in which orientation can mean an understanding of the nature of hypertext, or orientation can include a schematic cognition of the structure of the work, or it can reach out to include a grasp of the content of the work, or, finally, it can encompass a critical assessment of the textual fabric itself--the meaning.

I discovered that I have often worked "inside-out" so to speak in reading hypertexts. I look first for the thread of story that begins to signify meaning, then I look for content, and so forth. However, in other experiences at the conference, such as Jim Rosenberg's Reading Night, it seemed to me that technically-oriented readers might approach the process from the other direction. That is, they wish to understand the structure and the nature of the linkages--and meaning, for them, follows. Since, ideally, the meaning should be encoded into the work at every level, from sentence to synthesis, either way should work. It seems to me, however, that it is a longer process to go from structure to meaning than the other way around.

It was also an interesting exercise to begin to list expectations of writers, wreaders, and programmers. I suspect that we already have a very high number of implicit assumptions in operation--and any attempt to enumerate them is bound to assist writers in their work and in the big job of communicating with their anchors.

But these are all ideas still whirling, counter-clockwise in my brain. And a good thing, too; this is what I hope to get from a Workshop: stimulating ideas, interesting discussion, and involved colleagues.



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