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Sunday, February 24, 2008

Metacontext

For days now, I've been thinking about an internet curiosity that I wanted to share with you, because hey, you've got nothing better to do right? Right.

The thing I want to talk about is links. Not just any links, but unannounced links. You've no doubt noticed on my site, as I'm sure you have on others, that sometimes I'll make a word a link without indicating to you in the sentence that it is a link (i.e., click "here.") For instance, a few posts ago (Curiosities), I made the actor Kevin Corrigan's name be a link, without telling you I'd do so. The sentence made no reference to the fact that one word was a link to something else. This has been popularized by Wikipedia.

What I find so interesting about this is that it is a whole new way of communication. Imagine this:

You and I are sitting in a cafe in Brooklyn. Why not, right? We're young, we're hip, we like tea and coffee. So we're in this cafe. I'm talking to you about the massacre at Tiananmen Square. Your mind immediately recalls the meaning of "Tiananmen Square," a place in China about which you learned in high school. I make mention of the recent film entitled Summer Palace. You haven't seen this film. You haven't even heard of it. But here's the exciting part: Your brain gives you the option of learning about it immediately, before the conversation continues any further. Sounds like some Matrix shit, right? But that's EXACTLY the way blogs are structured when they have these metalinks inscribed in the text. It is a way of allowing you to instantaneously find out what a word or person or concept is before you proceed any further.

Now, you're probably saying, "Well, that's not new. Anytime I read an article, if I don't know what something is, I can look it up before I keep reading." And I'd say yes, that's true. But the fact is that you have to look elsewhere for that information. It is not instantaneously accessible to you. That can be a deterrent for people. But regardless of whether it is a deterrent or not, it lacks the excitement of immediacy.

I could make every single word in a post be a link to something else. I could write only one sentence of seven words, and link to something with each word. If you were to click each link before continuing on, it would take you forever to read that sentence. In a way, that's something our brains are doing all of the time. Constantly referencing what each word means to us - emotionally, mentally, physically, the whole deal. It's why mention of a single person's name can evoke intense emotion, distraction, excitement, anything. If and when we find a way to merge man with machine (as some argue is the next step of human evolution), we could one day expect this instantaneous learning, this burying of "links" within human speech and thought, to be a commonplace aspect of life. Wouldn't that be exciting?

That's what I've been thinking about. Do with it what you will.

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