“Hypertextuality is the technological realization of intertextuality.” – Sarah Gwenllian Jones.
For those of you who haven’t already clicked over to ESPN or Facebook or something after reading that opening quote, and we thank you, I finally fully understand this statement nearly 8 years later, and thanks to AMC’s Story Notes airing of Kindergarten Cop. And what I realized is that even on a stray Wednesday when it’s just you and Buttfor eating leftovers and flipping between the Rox game (who are beating up Tim Lincecum at the moment) and a re-airing of a 20 year-old movie, you never ever watch media alone anymore.
I went to a social media/PR conference in San Francisco two months ago which was both as incredibly douche baggy as it sounds and as remarkably grounded, interesting, and forward looking a thing as I’ve ever attended. One of the things I remember most about the presentations was the repeated assertion that when people watch TV now, “they want their second screen.” I immediately thought of my college friends who had two televisions in their living room so they could watch re-runs of Seinfeld and shit while they played Halo (which was fucking brilliant, by the way), but normal people don’t do that.
What I’m talking about of course is people watching TV while staring into their Android phone, browsing a Kindle Fire, or dicking around on an iPad. No one can just watch TV anymore, we’ve developed such a short attention span, we need to be doing something else too. And more often than not, we’re just talking about what we’re watching.
On March 4, I Tweeted this: “Thank God that episode of The Walking Dead is over. This show is becoming intolerable.” Before Twitter, Lady E and I would have shared that sentiment merely with each other. If it were an especially bad episode, I may have called a friend to discuss how Lori needs a claw hammer to the face and how no one can actually tell you how many daughters Doc Cornpone has because no one gives a shit. But now, it goes to 251 people who have opted in to hear what we have to say at any given moment. And that’s bizarre.
But it’s also awesome. When I watch UFC fights, I’m constantly looking at my phone to see how my favorite MMA writer Kevin Iole scored each round. When the Rockies lose, I know I can pretty much immediately jump on Facebook to see one particular friend spew perversely entertaining infantile vitriol. It’s bonus entertainment!
But you pretty much knew all this without needing me to explain it to you. What probably does warrant explanation is how this ties into my opening quote, and, related, what the hell that quote even means.
First, in my first year of grad school they put six of us in an office. My office had three 2nd years, and three 1st years. One of the 2nd years had this quote written on her little white board. None of us understood it in the least. When one of us finally just asked her what it meant, she said, “Well, hypertextuality, as in hypertext, aka web links, is simply a tangible way of making a reference. When you’re having a conversation about, say, Goatse, you’d have to stop whatever it was you were talking about, to explain that awful Internet meme to any uninitiated members of your audience. With hypertext, you just include a link to it, and anyone who’s curious about the reference, can click at their leisure and understand as much as their heart desires.”
Okay, so she didn’t actually reference Goatse, but since I read the fascinating sleuth work of figuring out who scarred everyone with that awful picture a decade ago, I thought it’d elucidate my point nicely. But put another way, hypertextuality is the technological realization of how guys talk to each other.
I can have entire conversations with Hart comprised of nothing but Simpsons quotes and dialog from Major League. When we’re talking about the Rockies, hypothetically of course, since they’ve blown that big lead they had over Lincecum, and I say, “You guys won yesterday. We win one today, that’s two in a row. We win one tomorrow, that’s called a winning streak. It has happened before.” and someone asks, what is that from, instead of wasting words on it, I can just make a neat little link. Like this.
What’s really given this another dimension, is that if the conversations we have on Twitter are just technical manifestations of the conversations we’d have with our friends, and if someone says something interesting about Goatse in an article you’re reading and then links to a deep dive about the subject, is that television has evolved to have these conversations for us.
As I mentioned, I was watching Kindergarten Cop, and AMC had “Story Notes” that popped up all throughout the movie. It’s basically a rip-off of “Pop Up Video” or a slightly modified DVD on TV that FX does, which, essentially, is the IMDB trivia page feeding you tidbits while the movie plays. For instance, on Schwarzenegger’s first day at the school, he gets so frustrated, he storms out of class, emerges from the front door of the school, and lets out a classic Schwarzenegger scream. Thanks to Story Notes, I now know that tourists go to that school and re-enact that scream on the front steps. Fun!
Just a few minutes later, three moms stand around as Mr. Kimble shows up for his second day. I said to Buttfor (my phone wasn’t handy), “Holy shit, that’s Susan from Seinfeld, and Richard Mulligan’s nurse from Empty Nest.” Sure enough, the next time Susan from Seinfeld had a scene, Story Notes helpfully pointed out the same factoid I did.
The Rockies game I’m watching features poorly spelled tweets from dickheads from all over the place. Shows advertise their own hashtags. Television understands this second screen revolution, and is seeking to make it irrelevant. If it points out that Susan from Seinfeld has a bit part in Kindergarten Cop and does it in a conversational way, then technically I don’t have to share the same thing with Tron (which I almost did), because that feels redundant even though it isn’t, and I’m still alone in my house.
Hypertextuality is the technological realization of intertextuality… and hyper-hypertextuality is what’s going to turn us all into fucking hermits. Television doesn’t like to lose your attention, so use your second screens wisely.
12 Apr 2012 E Dagger