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Hypertext has significantly altered the traditional role of the reader. It has provided an opportunity for the reader to become more engaged in the actual text the reader encounters. The reader now has the power to pick and choose topics they may want to learn more about by engaging in a multi-linear fashion of reading. A rather dramatic shift of power from the author to the reader allows the reader to construct their own personal path through a story, reading whatever strikes their fancy. Readers are no longer forced to start at page one and finish with the last page. With hypertext there is no definite end to a story by any means. I experienced this first hand with the hypertext fictional story “Dissapearing Rain” by Deena Larsen.
I read “Rain”, a hypertext on the web, and found the story very confusing. I found myself confused as to where to click and what I needed to know to understand the story. With every click came a multitude of options that only opened a number of more options. Throughout the story I had an overwhelming feeling that I was missing vital information by picking and choosing which hyperlinks to follow. “Such violations of clarity and causality seem to be defining qualities of all hypertexts that permit the reader to make significant choices in the order of presentation.” (Bolter 129) I realized that I was reading a story that had no pre-ordained order. The author allowed her readers to decide where the story would take them, a rather awkward challenge I had never before appreciated while surfing the web.
It came as quite a shock when I understood how complicated reading a hypertext fictional story could be. I was no longer being led through a story with an author’s complete authority; I was now given choices. I was the one to decide where the story was going to take me and how I wanted to experience it. The hypertext fiction “Rain” allowed an option of following specific characters. I figured this would be the best way to possibly decrease the amount of hyperlinks offered, but I was wrong.
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Attaining some degree of authorship on hypertext fiction is not the only way I felt more involved and more of a participant in my reading. I also did not feel as if I attained a true ending to the story. I felt as if I was almost forced to pick my own ending or cliffhanger to the story. “In a conventional text, however, the promise of closure is more likely to be kept. The printed book has a final page, which the reader can be sure of reaching. In a hypertext, the reader may never reach an episode that resolves the hyperbaton.” (Bolter 132) A hypertext usually provides countless links that hinder a definite end to a story. A reader could reach a multitude of endings depending on which path they took through the maze of hypertext. Any reader could read the same hypertext and get completely different stories and draw different endings and conclusions. This does not necessarily constitute a pro or a con, however it is a major difference between a traditional book and hypertext fiction. The important question here is, does a definite ending to a story need to be established? Is it imperative that everyone who reads the same story receives the same understanding? I think these questions should not only be applied to hypertext fiction. It is important to realize that traditional books also don’t offer everyone the same experiences and endings. If two people read the same book, it is very possible that the two people will walk away with very different conclusions. No one gets the exact same meaning from reading anything, so why should it be different with hypertext? I have a feeling I was more concerned with not attaining a true ending from the hypertext because it was obvious that I was not going to be able to do so, with traditional books that realization is somewhat hidden from the public eye.
Increased reader interaction does not only involve the path and ending of the story, but it also entails the actual physical action of being involved. “Whenever the reader comes to a link and is forced to make a choice, the illusion of an imagined world must break down, at least momentarily, as the reader recalls the technical circumstances of the electronic medium.” (Bolter 138) Whenever I read a book I like the familiarity of transporting myself to my own fictional world. I find that the basis of a book’s appeal is being able to escape reality. I am suddenly emotionally involved with a murder or a love affair, or some sort of exciting event that I am not currently experiencing. This sort of transport from reality is interrupted and not fully offered with hypertext fiction. A main component of hypertext is the utilization of participation interaction, which brings the reader back to reality. Readers are not able to lose themselves in the story because they have to ultimately decide where the story will take them. Becoming engrossed with a murder mystery is abruptly halted when one has to click on a link to take them to the next level. I found myself almost getting aggravated when I was reading through the story and came across a link. I immediately stopped reading and wondered if I should click on the link or keep reading the paragraph. This feeling was most likely demonstrated throughout this paragraph because of the randomly placed hyperlinks. I know that I am so used to reading in a linear fashion that when it comes to mutating that familiarity into a multi-linear fashion it’s almost uncomfortable.
Is hypertext the new future for reading? Will books become obsolete? Are there any advantages that one holds over the other? Hypertext brings a requirement of learning to read in a completely foreign fashion. It presents a body of text never before explored. Unfamiliarity brings challenges, just as new forms of reading have brought for centuries. Will we ever be able to get used to this form of writing? Is reader interaction and involvement important or does it ruin the traditional sense of reading? Is there a real traditional sense of reading? The changing of writing technology has been rather dynamic and I do not think this constant change will stop with hypertext.
Bolter, Jay David. Writing Space: Computers, Hypertext, and the Remediation of Print.
Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Publishers; Mahwah, New Jersey. 2001.
Larsen, Deena. Disappearing Rain. http://www.deenalarsen.net/rain/ . 2000.