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
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
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
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.
George P. Hypertext 2.0: The Convergence of Contemporary Critical Theory and
Baltimore: The John Hopkins UP, 1997.
Read up my group-mates' who read "the Unknown":
Read up those who read other hypertexts: