Home Links: Resuming hypermedia study

Digital hypertext publishing is an exciting subdomain of creative technology that I have had the privilege of exploring academically at SUNY Polytechnic Institute.


4/22/20242 min read

The heart of Central New York is as good a place as any to harbor the field of hypermedia research and creative application. It was in many a rusty American town that the pioneers of computing built the last frontier out of information and mathematics and electrons. This summer, I’m resuming my study of information design at SUNY Polytechnic Institute. I hope to experimentally tinker with the elements of the digital dream that defined my childhood while submitting my thoughts and sketched projects to the consideration of one of the best real-world communities associated with hypermedia.

In childhood I’d admired those arcane implementors, playing text adventure games and exploring multiplayer dungeons. I’d kept up with it all pseudonymously on various forums and blogs’ comment sections, while learning to code and use a command line interface (the DOS shell in Windows) for text games. I majored in a now-defunct new media program at Herkimer College and continued through the congruent bachelors’ program at SUNY.

There’s a pretty good precedent for the study of interactive texts as an academic discipline and as part of computer culture. Both of those elements were very present at SUNY. In some respects, my college experience was the realization of the digital dream of my youth, the twisty little world made out of interconnected spaces and story junctures, navigated through text and computer I/O. Here at SUNY Polytechnic Institute, we had all the tangential points of hypermedia fandom converging in our campus subculture – game dev, web dev, alternative interactive narrative fans, FOSS and free speech advocacy, interdisciplinary narratology.

Even so, there was little specific material about hypermedia literacy as a thing in itself. We read selections from Ted Nelson, the founder of the concept and one of the first generation of computer guys, the dramatic personality leading occasional talks and conferences on the subject. In one class session, Dr. Steven Schneider connected the creator of TiddlyWiki, Jeremy Ruston, on a Zoom video conference. That day I was pleased to hear his acknowledgement of his platform’s relationship to the interactive fiction community; but altogether, even in such a favorable environment, there was very little specifically about hypermedia fandom.

There isn’t very much out there specifically regarding hypermedia subculture, Ted Nelson’s long efforts notwithstanding, but there is plenty of subculture surrounding my other creative interests. While I was always a computer kid, I also was also always a romantic idealist. I’d filled my head with Tolkien and poetry, as well as with Joseph Campbell and science fiction theory and mythology, while dabbling around with languages and mythology and philosophy all on my own. Recently, I read a fantasy novel that presented campus culture with a focus on the narrow kind of gaming subculture at intersection of hypermedia and digital storytelling that I had experienced on campus and that had always been familiar to me from childhood. That book is The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern. It’s story makes a direct commentary on the nature of experience and choice specifically using the backdrop of hypermedia fandom. As I was considering resuming the master’s program, this book provided a burst of inspiration and rekindled interest.

Since my senior year in 2015, I’ve been pulling together a web of interrelated ideas concerning the relationship between creative mythological storytelling and hypermedia.

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