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Interactive Hypertext for Interactive Readers

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Interactive Hypertext for Interactive Readers


With every new advancement in technology the roles of the writer and the roles of the reader are changed; sometimes it is a small change and other times it can be a drastic transformation. In this modern age it seems the role that the reader or the audience plays is shifting significantly. I don’t think there has ever been a point in history where there was as much interactivity as there is currently. The main reason for this change in the reader’s role is the rapidly growing amount of hypertext being used.

In the 1960’s, Ted Nelson was the first person to coin this popular term “hypertext” but I prefer to reference Bolter’s description. Hypertext, as described by Jay Bolter in Writing Space, is layered writing and reading, where you can click on links within a narrative or article. These links work as reference points and can work as footnotes or as references to what you were reading. They can also take you to an entirely different type of webpage all together. Bolter also points out that it is important to realize that the second webpage you are linked to is not always subordinate to the first. On page 33, Bolter describes hypertext as being similar to “prewriting” which kids learn to do in school. I think prewriting is what I’ve always called a mind map, which is just a map drawn out like a spider web to show how each idea is interconnected to all the other ideas. Hypertext can be related to, but is not the same as, intertextuality(178). Intertextuality is the interrelation of all text on the same topic, language or culture, while hypertext is references within a text and allusions between texts. I think it is important to see the changes in the role of reader in hypertext fiction and reference web pages that incorporate hypertext.

The reference web pages that use hypertext give the reader more interaction and power, and which in turn, gives the author much less supremacy. Hypertext in reference websites can be very helpful, it enables someone to click on one website and have numerous links to an unlimited amount of information and knowledge. This makes me wonder if the people who have ready access to the internet will become smarter, over time, due to the accessibility of hypertext. The readers using these reference hypertext have tons of choices, the entire page is made up of links, which are all basically choices. Sometimes it seems like the paths available are never ending. I believe it can get to a point where there are just TOO many options and a reader could get frustrated because they are lost or feel self conscious about their intelligence. The numerous available paths can make it hard for the reader to find exactly what they need if they are just looking for one specific thing. The reader gets to chose exactly when and where they would like to take their research using the available links, consequently making the author seem less important. The new role of the author is to serve as a guide through the webpage and point readers in the general direction; they don’t have as much control. Most of the time with the hypertext reference websites the author had to compile rather than create; by that I mean the author gathered other writers’ works and compiled them into one easy to access website, while with hypertext fiction, the author actually had to create something entirely new

Hypertext fiction is very similar to the hypertext reference websites but it is definitely a separate form of electronic writing. Hypertext fiction is a hyperdocument; it was written to specifically take advantage of hypertext. Without hypertext these interactive narratives would simply be stories read off of the computer in linear fashion like the printed novel. The links that can take you back and forth to different places within the work are what make it unique. Not only do these links take you back and forth between the “chapters” they can also provide factual information, such as a bio on the author or a map. Bolter breaks down interactive fiction when he says “...Interactive fiction requires only those two elements that we have already identified for electronic writing: episodes (topics) and decision points (links) between episodes, the episodes may be paragraphs of prose or poetry, they may include bit-mapped graphics or other media as well, and they may be of any length” (123). I figured I could best understand hypertext fiction if I could experience it first hand.

I read fictional work from the Karios website entitled These Waves of Girls by Caitlin Fisher. I tried to notice the patterns I used when exploring the website. I didn’t really even know where to begin; I first clicked on the link for “preliminaries” and then went on to read the “context of electronic literature”. It took me a minute to stumble upon the link to “recent work”, this where I found the fiction that I read. Once I opened the story the determining factor of which link to click on first was simply which link sounded most interesting. I was lost at first and I felt uncomfortable without having a straight and narrow path to follow. Bolter explains how this is common when he says “In some of these works, the episodes are written so that there is no single well-defined chronology, so that the reader’s choices always seem out of their “natural” order”(129).This interactive fiction allowed to reader to click on the graphics or words. I always went for the one that seemed to grab my attention first. There are so many links that I think it would take FOREVER to click on all of them and read the story in its entirety. I think that although the author provided many different “decision points”, there was still a general direction in which the author wanted the story to go. I think the author was guiding the reader in the direction they wanted because on some pages there would be only one link. Obviously you have no choice there. Also, on some pages one link would be bright pink, flashing and underlined and the other link wasn’t even recognizable. Sometimes the only way to even see the links was to watch the cursor, because it would change from an arrow to a hand when it went over a link. The author seems to make some words obviously more interesting than the others, for example, in one paragraph one of the underlined links is “beam routine” while the other is “he jerks off”. I can see a very different level of interest in those two links. This story was erotic and exciting; I was so enthralled in the story that when I happened to click on a link and it took me back to a page I had already seen, I became disappointed. I never did reach the end of the story, but I can tell from what I did get through, that readers feel the same sense of accomplishment after finishing an interactive narrative as they do after completing a printed novel. The idea of the "end of the story" is also questionable, because all you can really say you did was read each of the available links. The hypertext is really in no particular order that it becomes difficult to pinpoint and end.

I think that Bolter made quite a few observations and predictions about hypertext; during my own experimentation with hypertext, I found most of these traits of hypertext to be true. Writing and reading online thought hypertext has expanded greatly recently and I have no idea exactly how far it will go. Maybe eventually all hypertext will have a never ending amount of links and readers will truly create the story.

Works Cited

Bolter, Jay D. Writing Space: Computers, Hypertext and the Remediation of Print. New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2001.

Fisher, Caitlin.” These Waves of Girls”. Kairos 7:3. Ed. Scott Rettberg. February 22, 2001. March 14, 2004. <Http://www.yorku.ca/caitlin/waves/navigate.html>

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