Sunday, February 13, 2005


I'm reading Weinberger's Small Pieces Loosely Joined for 711, and hyperthreadedness lingers among a few of the sticky ideas I've run across.  Describing the multithreadedness of ordinary conversation, Weinberger tells us that "threading is practically a law when it comes to conversations: if you're talking about the ending of the movie Deliverance, you can't suddenly say, 'How about those Red Sox?' (67).  Of course, much of this presupposes coherence--the turn-taking assembling of packets (textual units) into more or less intelligible arrangement (focal, listening, attentive).  I suppose I'm leaving something off of this.  I've thought about threading or "threads" in some of the online teaching I've done, and I always thought it was odd that the simplest notion of threading suggests that conversational interchanges are best represented by local (spatial, therefore temporal, gathering together) in the interface.  Sure, it's easier that way.  What happens when you mention Red Sox after Deliverance in that sudden conversational switch?

Web conversations are also like this, but they aren't just multithreaded; they're hyperthreaded.  Although they usually start with a topic that's more formally defined than real-world conversations, because Web discussion may spread out across weeks or months the threads can become entangled.  And because Web time is so fragmented, we can pose new topics that are only tenuously related to the declared theme. (67)

The entangled quality of webbed discourse seems to me to be a more robust (confused) variety of the intertextuality commonly mentioned when we talk about referential, allusive language/text matrices.  But just when I think I have a handle on the subtle distinctions, Weinberger introduces another factor: "Web conversations can be hyperthreaded because the Web, free of the drag of space and free of a permission-based social structure, unsticks our interests.  The threads of our attention come unglued and are rejoined with a much thinner paste" (68).  As much as I think I understand Weinberger's effort to distinguish web conversations from "real world" lunchtime conversations, I wonder if this is more a matter of communication models than it is about substantial differences in the threadedness of internet conversation versus other kinds of conversation.  The notion of "unstick[ing] our interests" seems especially useful; for me, it partially accounts for what accompanies the habitude of reading and writing the web. Stick, unstick.  But I've still got more work to do in this fast-passing weekend, so this'll have to do for now.

Bookmark and Share Posted by at February 13, 2005 10:56 PM to Networks

This sounds just fascinating. I wonder if you're right that the metaphor is hindering us, in some way. Rather than the discourse-analysis concept of turn-taking (which is more complicated than we all tend to represent it), what if we were to play more with that "thread" metaphor. Imagine a massive tapestry, coherent and currently being worked on in some places, but motheaten and forgotten in other places. And patterns are repeated, as folks pick up a motif from one spot and reuse it somewhere else, where it's re-interpreted and developed. Or not.

Weird. But then, I haven't had my coffee yet.

Posted by: susansinclair at February 14, 2005 9:02 AM

Re motheaten: v. nice. I put the entry together after a full day of drinking coffee and little else, so, while a cup or two might make it seem ho-hum, a whole gallon should restore the fascination. Works for me, anyhow, as does the hyperthreadedness metaphor, especially when we start to figure in "fray," moth-eatens, knots, and what Weinberger (crediting Mike O'Dell) calls "bytes in flight," the suspended flow of thought/data-stuff in transit, in between. Okay...more coffee for me now, too.

Posted by: Derek at February 14, 2005 9:27 AM

First guy at bar: "Hey, the Mets are paying Pedro a stupid amount of money without asking for an MRI or a psychological exam."

Second guy at bar: "You sure got a pretty mouth."

First guy: "What the hell did you just say."

Second guy: "Yeah, what are the Mets thinking. They should have put Piazza up as trade bait and looked for a starter who has more than three years left in his arm."

First guy: "Uh huh. That's what I thought you said."

Posted by: mike at February 16, 2005 12:19 PM