This is Rhizome Today for Wednesday, December 17, 2014.
There was a moment yesterday, right before I set Jesse Darling's article "Post Whatever: On Ethics, Historicity, and the #usermilitia" to Public, that I realized that most of her footnotes should actually have been hyperlinks--since the article originally appeared in print, this is how it had been written. Worse, one of them included a joke about the strangeness of printing a hyperlink on paper, inviting the reader to ineffectually mash the printed link with their finger.
Yesterday, Rhizome contributing editor Orit Gat published a research commission from UK agency Opening Times in which arts writers (yours truly included) were asked to respond to several questions about writing online.
The first question on Gat's list was, "Are there any forms of writing that you feel are inherent to the internet?" While many responses mentioned the listicle, only one (Chris Fite-Wassilak) mentioned the hyperlink (to find it you have to go here.)
The only thing I feel that is actually inherent to the net is the hyperlink. Which is useful in letting information, references, or otherwise sit closer to the text than a footnote; but then can be often used in the place of explanation, thought, or perspective.
If the footnote suggested further reading that one might explore after finishing a given text, the hyperlink is more radical. It says, "here, you may as well look at this now, I'll still be here when you get back, if you ever do." It is an acknowledgment that one's text is never a standalone entity, but just one node in a much larger body of writing online. This is why it was so grating back when the Times et al wouldn't use external hyperlinks (remember this 2008 article "Mainstream News Outlets Start Linking to Other Sites"? It's a good read.)
Lately, the practice of not linking seems to be making something of a comeback--links are mostly non-existent on Triple Canopy commissioned articles, and on e-flux Journal they are included only within marginalia, never in the main text. And on Rhizome, we don't do as much linking as we should. Fite-Wassilak notes that " as one tech writer said at a talk a few days ago, 'clicking is through, it’s all about scrolling now.' "
Our web habits are changing, but there does seem to be something worth retaining in the idea that the hyperlink proposed: that we should acknowledge the interconnected, collective nature of our writings, the porousness of the boundary around each text.
There was a certain amount of anxiety voiced in the responses to Gat's prompt about "overproduction" on the web and the decline of fact-checking and rigorous editing. Wendy Vogel asked, "I try to keep in mind the question, What if a future scholar ends up using this piece as a primary source?" I understand this concern, and I feel that a publication like Rhizome has an institutional responsibility to try and write for the historical record in our main journal articles. But I also have a much more optimistic view of the kind of poorly fact-checked, informal writing that the web facilitates. (Hence, Rhizome Today). Future historians would usually be better off with fifty conflicting accounts of a given exhibition than a single "authoritative" one.