Skip down to main content

Hypertext and the Future of Literature

Date & Time:
12:30:00 - 14:00:00,
Wednesday 16 June, 2004


The original hypertext concept, from the 1960s, was to replace paper with something far better – a sweeping new literary genre subsuming all previous forms of writing and publication, showing connections that were previously invisible and enabling connections that were previously impossible, all in cinematic, swooping new visualizations. We would see and manipulate not just pages, but new units and forms – streamers, tunnels, fountains and cataracts of text that could be poured, stretched and zoomed. All this would be fluidly re-usable and incrementally publishable, facilitating scholarly commentary and dissent, education without subject boundaries, work without deadlines.

Instead, today’s computer world is stilted, clumsy and traditional, based on awkward interactions designed by tekkies in the ’70s. Today’s world of digital documents has frozen into the simulation of paper – but worse than paper: paper under glass that you can’t even annotate; forced into hierarchical structures and pre-categorized for all time. Today’s crude hypertext links can only point outward, can’t overlap and can only be put in by the author.

Because we foresaw world-wide anarchic hypertext publishing, others think the World Wide Web is the fulfillment of our dream, as well as a miracle of enlightenment. I see it as a dismal dumbdown of what could and still may be. I will present steps toward the new DEEPLIT(tm)* [*The name is being trademarked not for commercial purposes but to prevent semantic creep] document system, intended to put electronic literature back on track.

Find out more at Project Xanadu.

Data Dump to delete


  • Dr Ted Nelson
  • Name: Dr Ted Nelson
  • Affiliation: OII Fellow
  • Role:
  • URL:
  • Bio: