Rediscovering the Power of the Link
It’s been over 20 years since I obtained my first internet-capable computer, way back in 1997 (an IBM Aptiva running Windows 95, if you’re curious). With this being my first taste of the internet, I remember being amazed at the power of jumping from webpage to webpage (“web-surfing,” as we called it back then) with a world full of information at my fingertips (well, at the modest speed of my 56k modem and dial-up internet connection, that is).
If you’d like to remind yourself what the internet looked like back then, try typing your favorite website into the search field on this website to see what it would have looked like as a Geocities website back in the late ‘90s. Try it. Lots of fun! Needless to say, we’ve made some progress with our web design skills and aesthetic intuitions since then! (As an aside, you can see an archive of my own personal Geocities website, circa 1999, complete with animated GIFs, right here: Zachary’s Geocities Page.)
But over the past 20+ years, something interesting has happened: We have begun to take for granted the simple but unsung power of the hyperlink. With layer upon layer of interactivity and media now making up our overall experience on the internet, it’s easy to forget the utopian promise of what Al Gore used to refer to as “The Information Superhighway,” where information is brought to us by a massive network of hyperlinks and search engines, instead of having to search for information like paper-pushing hunters and gatherers in centralized locations like physical libraries and ugly concrete government or university buildings.
But what place does the meeker and more modest hyperlink have in this era of multimedia, mobile devices, billions and billions of apps (surely that wasn’t what Carl Sagan meant), and interactivity galore? As we place these hyperlinks in our online courses (to use the retro phase “hyperlink” instead of the more contemporary “link”), we should remember how magical those links really are! While it can still be something of a hunter/gatherer experience and a challenge to track down the most massively useful online resources to include in a particular course, when we add those humble little hyperlinks, we are bringing the whole of human knowledge and experience directly into our students’ homes, lives, and pockets. We designers, instructors, and course writers are still the magicians and sorcerers of the digital age, with the power to manifest a universe of knowledge for our students seemingly out of nowhere. And that’s still magical to me, even in the latter days of this second decade of the 21st Century!
Zachary Fruhling is an instructional designer, online educational content author and developer, educational technologist, philosophy instructor, poet, and podcaster with nearly 20 years of experience in higher education and educational content development. See Zachary's website at www.zacharyfruhling.com.