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Hypertextuality

From a reader’s perspective

As we march into a new era of information superhighway, the evolution of hypertextuality has become imminent.  But what is hypertextuality?  "It's everything Hyper!!!"  I will probably reply you.

 

Well at least to me, it means some form of text which is real big.  It is about something so endless, or in fact borderless that the word “hyper” seems belittled by its usage here.

 

My first encounter with hypertextuality is a hyperfiction.  It is a virtual book as some may call it... but then again, its more than just virtual.  I would call it interactive.

 

We would normally read a book from pages to pages (well sometimes you don't read them in sequence, but that's not the point), and front to back, whereas in hyperfiction, there can be no sequence, no boundaries; one that you can read on and on and on... without a conclusion.

 

When I first read a hyperfiction, I was overwhelmed by the varied emotions that hit me.  It was somewhere between excited and confused.  Excited because I was trying something new, yet confused due to the complexity of it’s hyper-linking nature.  It was definitely different from reading a book, in print of course.  That text I read was titled “The Unknown”, written by William Gillespie et.al.

 

First and foremost, there was no clear story path.  The text was written in a hyperlinked network.  You begin from the first page but choose the path you want to take, eventually you may end up with different fate from another reader who is reading the same text.

 

We were being brought up in the era of the printed text: newspapers, textbooks, fictions and all fancies... in paper, in print.  What I went through then was a mental torture: short pages, countless links (some even come with different colour codes), pieces of information which do not seem to connect.......and hell!... where is the "next page" button?

 

Whilst some hyperfictions still maintain that “next page” concept, just like a paperback, the more sophisticated ones are simply leading you “berzerk”.  No “next page” icon, but all you will find are hyperlinks along the way, of which you pick anyone as desired, click on it then either land yourself in another website, or end up in another page within the same web.

 

This is perhaps what a printed fiction cannot do, or at least do efficiently.  Having a choice of next step to be taken, or outcome desired, the reader is immediately transported to the new scene, by the click of the mouse.  Ancient chinese “I-Ching” attempts to fulfill this interactive concept between the reader and author, but of course it was still inefficient: the reader still has to fumble to and fro within the boundaries of the book.

 

The idea here is for the author to take a passive role instead of an active one in conventional printed text.  What I mean is that the text is presented in a haphazard, non-sequential order, with the reader charting his own flow of actions.  For instance, there could be ten different links within a page that you are reading now, and by choosing one of them, nine other is foregone (unless of course, you decided to make another selection due to bad choice).

 

You land yourself in another page with something to say, but again you will have to click on one of those links to proceed.  In other words, each page provides links to other pages which in turn provides more links and so on and so forth.

 

A good hyperfiction is vast, connecting you, the reader through its complex structure as you manipulate your character’s “fate”.   In some cases, the links may be interlinked.  The reader is directly involved in the sequence of events that is taking place in a hyperfiction.

 

And it is because of this nature, the hyperfiction has a potential to be borderless, if the author so desires.  They just keep linking and linking you further, but of course, the author has to be able to grab your following. 

 

“The Unknown” was a complex hyperfiction, it has both external and internal links.  External links bring the reader out of the writer’s web, into a totally new and sometimes unrelated web page.  Links like these are merely for informational purposes.

 

Internal links on the other hand is linked to another page within the writer’s site, it is mostly further developments of the story concerned.  The reader can then decide whether to hit the “back” button or to proceed further from this point.

 

There is always this argument about how many hyperlinks is appropriate.  “The Unknown” is so heavily-linked that I almost got sick after reading a few pages.  There are different types of  colour groups that guide each path of the story.  However it becomes a burden when there is one link in every few words apart.  Of course, one can argue that the author is giving you more choice to chart your story.

 

There is however this tendency to get hooked by external links.  If some external web sites appear to be very interesting, the reader may get too engrossed in it or even abandon the hyperfiction they were initially reading.  This way the author loses his grip on the reader.  He must therefore ensure that he has something interesting to offer, so that readers want to get back on track after detours.

 

Another major difficulty is that when reading a piece of hyperfiction, you may get carried away after clicking on too many links… till a certain stage you cannot trace back to the page in the hyperfiction that you left.

 

While reading “The Unknown”, I was always losing grip of the main text, mainly because the story is vague, and that the external links seemed more interesting to me.  I often get carried away at these external sites.

 

Well not all hyperfictions are as heavily linked as the abovementioned.  Some other texts which I have read tends to have less links.  The other extreme will be those that give you very little choices.  These only have a few links that limits your reading experience.

 

On the whole, I think hypertext, in particular hyperfiction, is something very new to our society.  Both the readers and authors are still exploring the possibilities of this vast “space”.  It is an entirely new culture which takes time to cultivate.

 

In my opinion, concerns stem from the fact that we are so used to printed forms, such as flipping of pages, checking of contents page, and so on, while that of hypertext is something relatively new.  Two things will eventually happen: we will get used to this new electronic culture, and that authors of hyperfiction will be better able to simplify the reading process, and to make the text more connected.

 

In fact, I foresee young children, who will enter school in a few years’ time, be made to read or even write hypertexts, so that they will be cultivated to use the “cyberspace” with greater ease and confidence than we do.  It is an evolution through technology I supposed.

 

Reference

Landow, George P.  Hypertext 2.0: The Convergence of Contemporary Critical Theory and Technology.  Baltimore: The John Hopkins UP, 1997.

 

   Read up my group-mates' who read "the Unknown":

      

   Read up those who read other hypertexts: