There are no true rules in reading. Apart from the visual process which we all share, everything else is utterly intimate and subjective. It can be anything from glancing, scanning, browsing, leafing, watching; some times, it’s selective and non-linear, it’s all about identifying keywords. Other times, it’s conceptual, reflective, it’s in-depth. Slow, fast, precise, functional, symbolic, social, cultural, reading is as diverse an activity as we are many.The only rules are the limitations super-imposed by the systems we collectively design. Just think of an annotation: usually found at the bottom of the page or on the side, referencing another book or paper that you’d have to physically locate and search through. Quite a bottleneck, in terms of navigating information. The web made everything a little bit easier. It created affordances that made it easier to follow the references, but we still have to dig deep to reach what we need.So this always raised the question: how can we harness the power of the web to make tools that allow the system to surface — rather than having to browse, explore, navigate and manage — information?
Readers are innate intellectual nomads, constantly stumbling across fields they don’t own. They always seem to navigate in unanticipated directions, seeking connections that suit their own interests. So it’s no wonder that the power of text, this source of great technological breakthroughs, is in its flexibility. What’s essentially nothing more than a sequence of symbols has been a vital force in our evolution. Type, what McLuhan called “the prototype of all machines”, lead to things like the printing press, the assembly line and the internet. And it’s fascinating to think about the systems that made it all possible. One of those mechanisms, typographical fixity, a linear, uniform and repeatable characteristic that allowed for the reproduction of information in unlimited quantities is something that has been — on more than one occasion — likened to how the web works. Only when you get down to the most basic structures and think in very general terms will the patterns become clear. High-level systems, usually, have a small number of features that make it all possible. The more complex the system is, the more it can be distilled into simple, elegant, constituent functions. Basically, the vaguer the rules, the more possibilities to create, learn and evolve. In the case of HTML, I — like many others — think that one of those characteristics was the humble <a href="...">. The power of <a href="..."> was to turn users into makers. It allowed people — normal people who didn’t have to know programming — to put things together. And it’s this ability to link files together that is an important part in HTML’s success story. And an inspiration for hacking the paragraph. But the ability to link text together, that could be part of HTML’s future.