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The New Literature

And what are those mysterious ‘transclusive fragments?’ Ted Nelson has a definition ready for the term he coined two years ago; finally giving The Vision the right generic name. Transclusion is a way to include, to quote, parts of a document without losing its current (or any subsequent) contexts, and without it becoming a physical part of the new text (which could be a movie, hyperfiction document, you name it). In this fashion one might see all newly formulated or recorded texts, data, sounds, pictures as future ‘boilerplate paragraphs’ or fragments, available for viewing, digesting, and transclusion in new works.

And then these fragments will be available cheaply, instantly, and in principle to all, because there will be no one deciding who might or might not be a worthy commentator. In present-day times the possibility of quoting, adding to, or paraphrasing someone else’s work is always a function of access, time, and effort spent searching for the relevant parts, a process that by its very definition limits the possible number of contributions and contributors. It doesn’t have to be that way.

Consider literature. "There is this incredibly powerful instrument called ‘literature’ that was invented long ago, which we don’t see, don’t recognize how powerful the design [of] it really is, don’t think of it as a system, because it is THAT good, we just say ‘oh, that’s just the way it is.’"

But what is this ‘literature?’ "It is a system of interconnected ideas," the accumulated record of humanity, pile upon pile of writings, from the earliest of times. A record that each subsequent generation builds upon, indexes, nails on the doors of cathedrals, abstracts, rearranges, burns at the stake, folds, spindles, and mutilates. Of this literature we’re usually only aware of that thin slice that we’re physically able to interact with, pore over despite overdue notes, make comments in the margins of, wrap a fish in, feel offended on the subway by, clip, file and forget. Nominally it also chiefly means handling documents made out of paper.

Now, when Ted Nelson says ‘literature’ he "doesn’t mean paper, paper documents, and he doesn’t mean TEXT either." All of today’s "halfway" (information-handling) systems work on the assumption that paper is the basis and the desired end result. Nelson thinks of paper as "just an object that [some] information has been sprayed onto in the past […] In today’s offices you’ll get a printout at the end and then some secretary will go over and put some little white paint on something that’s wrong and correct it because getting that paper right is regarded as the objective. And that means that the computer files are never correct, they are always an approximation." Alas, "as long as the paper-sprayed version of a document is seen as the final destination no one really cares about keeping the computer versions of the same information canonical or correct."

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