The people in today's societies never lost the nonlinear nature of their thought. Never in history has a society existed of linear
thinkers. Nor have our linear media
ever robbed us of nonlinear thought. The nonlinearities of our thoughts have been folded and tucked
into linear-looking sentence
s, which barely conceal the true nature
of the thoughts that led them to be.
I propose that thoughts exist as networks in the space of ideas. More specifically, even the simplest coherent thought is a tree in the space of ideas. The print or text-based media conceal this fact but do not make it any less true. To illustrate using a text example:
The very quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog.
Some grammar teachers dissect sentences into their individual elements and modifiers using tree-like diagrams. In this example, "very" branches off of "quick", which along with "brown" branches off of "fox". "Lazy" branches off of "dog", and, subtly, "over the lazy dog" branches off of "jumped". The tree structure of the thought that brought the sentence into being has been folded away into a linear-looking sentence. Even if I had simply said, "Fox jumped" (the simplest possible incarnation of that sentence), that sentence triggers in our minds the mental maps we have of foxes and jumping, which form their own branches off of the main trunk of that sentence. The fox is all of very quick, brown, and jumping. It is all of these simultaneously, and we understand that despite the apparently linear method of presentation. Now that the concept of ideas as trees has been introduced, I am forced by this linear medium to backtrack to the original subject if I want to add to the original thread of conversation (that sentence is ordinarily expressed in text media as "I digress", and the necessity of that expression existing supports my contention of the basically nonlinear nature of thought.)
Our thoughts have never been made linear by our media. We can feel in ourselves the struggle to express our nonlinear thoughts with the media tools that we have. Marshall McLuhan's enthusiasm for the capacity of nonlinear media to bring us back to our ancestral nonlinear thought was misplaced. Nonlinear media excite us simply because they are better capable of expressing the nonlinear thoughts we have been having all along (especially pipe linking!). Our modes of thinking will not change in the distant future. Our means of expression will continue to change (beyond hypertext?) to better fit our already nonlinear thoughts.