What’s wrong with stories?

Many of Nelson’s concepts for future information retrieval allow us to non-linearly and non-predictably traverse text. In “Some Premises Relevant to Teaching,” he says claims “there is no natural order or sequence” of teaching. Hypertext, hypermaps, hypergrams and his other IR suggestions give the user a tremendous amount of choice about where they move.

Where do stories, as a tool for teaching, fit into this view? Isn’t it sometimes valuable that to force ourselves to listen to facts, presented in a certain order? Is it possible to have stories that don’t imply a “natural order or sequence”?

I’m skeptical that our brains can handle as much “on the fly” connecting and arranging as Nelson claims they can. I personally find clear sequences of facts and texts very helpful in learning a subject. I also know that there are fundamental limits on our short-term working memory that make thinking *harder* when faced with complex information, like the ones Nelson describes.

 

2 thoughts on “What’s wrong with stories?

  1. I agree that many things, like stories, are better left simple and linear. I also gravitate towards the belief that Nelson’s technology ignore the natural workings of the mind.

    “I also know that there are fundamental limits on our short-term working memory that make thinking *harder* when faced with complex information, like the ones Nelson describes.”

    Perhaps it is the fundamental limits that Nelson and Vannevar Bush are trying to solve; the mind is limited, therefore, we should augment the mind with hypermedia and Memex. I question whether these technologies compliment how human cognition actually works, however.

  2. Didn’t you read those “Choose Your Own Adventure” stories as a kid? Ever seen Pulp Fiction? 🙂 OK, I’ll admit Pulp Fiction was a bit hard to follow.

    That aside, I’m not entirely convinced that our linear way of thinking is so innate, such that a non-linear way of organizing facts or telling stories couldn’t ever have success. Our brains are very pliable. Are we born with natural limits to our working memories that force us into linear-like fact absorption, or are these just limits that develop due to factors in our upbringing, such as language, the structure of existing stories that are passed on from generation to generation, etc.? If someone was raised on hypermedia, perhaps they would have the ability to learn and process non-linear content far better than us, raised on “old-fashioned” linear media. Perhaps even their sense of time would change too!

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