Web Surfin’ UXA | 2216

After you reduce your social media intake. You need to re-learn how to use the Internet.

Full Show Notes: https://www.thejaymo.net/2022/04/23/301-2216-surfin-uxa/

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Web Surfin’ UXA

I have many bees in my bonnet at all times. As I finished up today’s script I realised that it rhymes with episode 1922 from 3 years ago – so I guess I’m a good beekeeper. One of those bees is about the way social media has reshaped our experience (and use) of the web. 

The big social stacks disincentivize users from leaving their platforms. User experience has been bent towards maximising dwell time and engagement. We’ve been trained not to leave the safety of the feed. Been encouraged to remain ‘on platform’. 

This has resulted in a far less generous social environment than in social media’s early days. Twitter users are now more concerned with posting and commenting on things happening on Twitter. Rather than sharing links to good things β€˜off platform’ from the wider web.

I’ve written a lot on my blog about why you should use an RSS reader and start a blog or newsletter. But less on what happens when you reduce your social media intake.

You find out that you need to re-learn how to use the Internet. 

It seems silly, but it’s true. 

The web is a place to that should be explored. You have to activity  engage in the ancient practice of web surfing. Rather than waiting for interesting thing to wash up on the algorithmically mediated social shoreline.

Here’s a simple exercise to help you get surfing again:

  • Search for your ‘favourite thing’ on Wikipedia tonight.
  • From that page follows a chain of at least 6 hyperlinks.
  • Read or skim each page, but always click the link that’s the most interesting to you.
  • Where do you end up?

Do the same from a random blog post of your choice, visit, read and enjoy 6 posts on the web.

Experiencing the linked and networked nature of the world wide web is what makes it so special. Or rather its the protocol that the web runs on that makes it special. The Hypertext Transfer Protocol.

It was during one of my own 6+ links deep internet journeys that I came across the proceedings of the November 1987 ACM conference on Hypertext. Held 2 years before Tim Berners-Lee had even begun work on the web.

The digital archives of the ACM (The association of computing machinery) are a treasure trove. There is so much cool shit in there. Attending a conference on hypertext in β€˜87 must have felt psychedelic. Presented papers named: Comprehending non-linear text: the role of discourse cues and reading strategies, Hypertext and pluralism: from lineal to non-lineal thinking, and KMS: a distributed hypermedia system for managing knowledge in organizations which essentially describes a wiki like system. The paper β€˜Hypertext and creative writing’ announces the creation of a piece of software called Storyspace. A tool for the creation and reading of hypertext interactive fiction. 

A serendipitous find.

Just the other week I was reading about how in the early 90’s the term Interactive fiction was a scissor label. One the one side you had interactive fiction being used as a generic term to mean any format that allowed for the branching exploration of nonlinear narratives. Things like Borges’ The Garden of Forking Paths, Italo Calvino’s The Castle of Crossed Destinies, the Talmund, Choose Your Own Adventure game books and hypertext stories like the kind made with Storyspace or today in 2022 with Twine. On the other hand, in the 90’s people felt that Interactive fiction specifically meant the exploration of nonlinear narratives via a command prompt using natural language processing. The co-creation of the story space rather than an exploration of it. Like in 1975’s Colossal Cave Adventure, or 1977’s Zork.

Anyways. Interactive fiction as a generic term won out. But there was for a period of about 5 years, where hypertext fiction was a distinct and separate entity from interactive fiction or IF. And early internet users fought many battles over the terms.

Storyspace was also the tool used by Shelley Jackson to create her important cyberfeminist hypertext work Patchwork Girl. Published by Eastgate Systems in 1995. “If you want to see the whole” one passage reads, “you will have to piece me together yourself.”Jackson’s Patchwork Girl was a hypertext gothic fiction. The female companion for Frankenstein’s monster isn’t destroyed as in the novel. But instead finished and completed by Mary Shelley herself. 

Spelunking the Internet Archive, I found a talk given by Jackson in 1997 to the MIT communications forum entitled ‘Stitch Bitch: the patchwork girl’. She talks in detail about bodies and intellect. About the nature of a person exploring a hypertext structure. β€œYou’re not where you think you are. In hypertext, everything is there at once and equally weighted (…. )What sometimes substitutes for a centre is just a switchpoint, a place from which everything diverges, a Cheshire aftercat.”

The section on the β€˜banished body’ in cyberspace is worth reading in full.

The real body, which we have denied representation, is completely inimical to our wishful thinking about the self. We would like to be unitary, controlled from on top, visible, self-contained. We represent ourselves that way, and define our failures to be so, if we cannot ignore them, as disease, hysteria, anomaly.

It’s one hell of an essay – link’s in the show notes.

Anyways, how did we get here? Oh yeah: get off social media, surf the web and click on links, embrace hypertext, the 1987 ACM conference, interactive fiction, Cyberfeminist Shelly Jackson, and then her 1997 talk at the MIT forum.

I’ve tried to write this episode like a link binge. In cyberspace, you have to make  an active journey through and across content. Social media in contrast is a static experience.

As I said 3 years ago: “Manage the way that you travel the Internet. Do not let it come to you.”


The script above is the original script written for the episode. It may differ from what ended up in the edit.

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