Hypertext and the Economy

Saturday, December 6th, 2008

The economy is in a bad way. People are suffering and there’s lots of fear:

Job losses are accelerating at a terrifying pace, with more than 1.25 million lost in the U.S. in the last three months, according to a U.S. Department of Labor report Friday. Unemployment jumped to 6.7 percent, the highest since 1993. Almost two million jobs have vanished since last December, with daily warnings of dire conditions ahead that could make this the worst recession since World War II. November’s job losses are the most in any month since 1974.

It seems to me that one of the ideas in germination since FDR and the explosion of road building with Eisenhower is the significance of the metaphor of distance. This metaphor saw new illumination in the 80s and 90s with the ecological spread of networks. Social networks now reformulate time and space with simple links. “What’s so ‘n so up to” meant something different when I was a kid. Now I visit a weblog and read.

I once lived in a house with mahogany deck railing. Such a house requires great distances passable by fuel and tarmac to exist. This kind of existential reality was once new and significant. I would imagine that a thinker could trace the change of perception of spatial economy by way of an ecological framework. A new energy infrastructure could provoke another round of change. Solar power, therefore, would imply another kind of railing for decks, just as swift rail would imply a different sort of decision making.

Distances matter in networks. Go to page 20 is much different than a note made available by a link. In relating ideas, hypertext is an epistemology of distance. In Graphs, Maps, and Trees, Moretti makes available demonstrations of relations between texts, which, in a way, shortens their distance between one another. What kind of relations, for example, exist between Beowulf and the Book of Songs?

It’s not that short a distance between relating Los Angeles and Hartford if a father could leap across that distance more quickly than by using a plane or re-conceiving the amount of energy expended to visit Boston from Bridgeport with the use of solar trains. Underlying any new technology is an ecology and an infrastructure and a new set of metaphors made tangible, like replanting beans where we once planted tobacco.

At the moment, the goods exist to create new markets for which people could make contributions. This is how literary ideas link to roads. New literary forms, new forms of travel, new forms of work. What’s the plan: we need this much new track, these many trains, this kind of energy, and this kind of skill to make it all work. And don’t forget the nano-solar paint to make cars look pretty and run well–and thus a new economy emerges. What hypertexts would follow from that?

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