Non-linearity. It’s the buzzword of the 90s. Editing systems. The web. Multimedia. Computer interfaces. All have been touted as non-linear. But what does that mean? And why are we so fascinated with it? I started to explore that question two years ago and continued my investigation this year by talking to four professors at Ryerson’s School of Image Arts: Bruce Elder, Don Gillies, Bob Scott, and Don Snyder.
So what is non-linearity? It’s about not going from A to B. Not even starting at A. Maybe never even seeing B. Non-linearity is about possibilities or degrees of freedom. In how many possible directions can we move? The more possibilities, the more non-linear the experience.
Compare a train and a helicopter. The train has two options: backwards or forwards. Wherever it is, there is one line connecting the train to its starting point and another to its destination. By contrast, the helicopter can travel in any direction; it has more degrees of freedom. The helicopter is more non-linear since a greater number of lines connect it with a large number of points in space.