2008. Did your anxiety rise that year? That was the year Google measured 1 trillion unique websites spewing out information to you. I know my mind cannot begin to comprehend what the size means. I, like everyone else, want information, free information, but having more information than I can get a handle on is overwhelming. That’s where the anxiety comes in. Our brains simply are not designed to grasp the magnitude of information at our disposal and navigate the data. 2008 is an arbitrary mark, because the sensation of being inundated with information is not new but is ongoing.
Enter the hyperlink to save us all. As I see it, there are four crucial areas in which the hyperlink serves to protect us from needing to start popping pills or pulling the plug on all computers and entering a self-induced Dark Age. We do not need to become Luddites.
One, hyperlinks leave the linear classification behind for a more robust ability to show interconnectedness of knowledge. I love wandering library shelves, but facts are not so nicely lined up as physical reality necessitates. Hyperlinks allow information trails that put the content of discussion into 3-D contexts. A blog post or website about the Middle East, for example, can link to sites on geography, language, social norms, and gender issues, as is applicable within the discussion giving a much broader sense of how separate areas of study merge together for a greater rendering of the world.
Two, with a myriad of online sources on any given topic, hyperlinks ameliorate the information overload by pointing readers to the ‘good’ information. Putting in hyperlinks means you are helping others find sources that you believe will give honest, up-to-date, and relevant information. In an age where running a search on Google for ‘create free website’ turns up “[a]bout 263,000,000 results [in] 0.21seconds” it is a fair bet that the ease of creating free sites means a proliferation of sites with less than stellar reputations. Despite knowing there is poor material with dubious claims on the Internet, sometimes it takes subject knowledge or experience to determine which sites are valid. Hyperlinks perform the vetting by being in essence a subject based card catalog.
Three, hyperlinks perform as references. To prove you have not created your content out of thin air, hyperlinks build your, the writer’s, credibility just as footnotes and references do in professional or education writing. Show you have done your own research and know what you are talking about by putting in hyperlinks so readers can back track your facts.
Four, finally, the Internet is a communal entity. Sites rarely exist in a vacuum but build on other material and add to a conversation. In face-to-face communication, it is clear who is speaking to whom and what the topic trail is, but on the Internet the lack of synchronous communication and simultaneous sharing of space can lead to confusion. Hyperlinks show what the writer is referring to or commenting on, allowing the reader a better glimpse into the greater conversation.
So, in short, use the hyperlink wisely and profusely- be a lighthouse on the Internet for those that come upon your material. For more information on finding material online and hyperlinks, find these books and more at your library.