A Book to Match Our Lifestyle
We as a society are currently living in an age of transition. We are straddling the world of print and the world of hypertext. No one really knows the long term consequences of this change and just as disease curing vaccines are rejected by the weary, so is the new form of electronic medium. This resistance has caused a rift between the people who believe in the old and the ones who embrace the new. People are worried that this new way of reading is actually “making us stupid.” We as a society are now inclined to only skim for key words and therefore retain less information. However, this is not necessarily true. Yes, there are drawbacks to this new medium for literature. But literature should not be chained down to the page. In ancient times, literature was transferred by song. In the future, it will be sent seamlessly through the internet. Electronic literature has the power to be more interactive and more educational than the page can ever be due to its ability to become multidimensional at the drop of a hat. There is much to learn from this new creative medium.
“The birth of a new medium of communication is both exhilarating and frightening.” (Murray, 1) This new medium takes a traditional style literature and makes it both interactive and fun for the reader. It gives the reader a sense of control that they could never receive in a traditional novel. For example, in the hypertext cyberdrama, “The Museum”, the reader starts off at the beginning of a story and is in complete control of it from there. Through following various hyperlinks embedded in the text, one can decide to go as in depth with a story as they so choose. This attribute which is completely unique to the world of electronic literature allows the reader to interact more with the literature which keeps them more focused on its contents. Furthermore, the ability to investigate certain elements of a story while ignoring others is something that can appeal to non-traditional readers who have not found what they are looking for in classic novels like Wuthering Heights or A Tale of Two Cities. However, even with the ability to navigate between story lines, plots, and characters, the reader is still experience the language and rhetoric that the author implores in his or her piece. To illustrate, in “The Museum”, the reader is able to follow specific characters as they investigate certain objects in “The Museum” and discover their back story while they can ignore other objects, rooms, and characters all together. Because the text is important to deciding where the next place in the story you go is, it demands to be read and therefore the reader is inadvertently forced to focus on the language of the author. This makes this style of reading much more focused and interactive than even the most famous Shakespeare play.
Shakespeare plays could actually benefit by being brought onto the electronic medium. “Computers can present the text, images, and moving pictures valued by…with a new precision of reference.” (Murray, 7) Because we are humans, we like to be stimulated. By using the computer as medium images, sounds, movies, and more can be utilized to make the entire experience more entertaining and more educational. While the average student may not understand the genius behind Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream because of its outdated language and hard to follow syntax, by being able to read and simultaneously watch a performance of the play, they can begin to understand with more ease and clarity the meaning behind that hard to read text. This kind of multidimensional quality can only be found in electronic mediums and moreover, can only be utilized in an electronic format.
Another area that could develop greatly using this new medium is the foreign languages. While reading a text in another language can prove to be difficult, by having it online one can always link up audio to the text and help the reader not only learn to comprehend what they are seeing, but also help their pronunciation and thus their self-esteem. “Some kinds of knowledge can be better represented in digital formats than they have been in print.” (Murray, 6) In many experiences, including my own, this has been extremely true.
This new medium as stated previously, also gives the author greater control over the text. This specifically is beneficial for poetry. For example, the online text “Faith” each word of the poem is brought down within a specific time and in a specific way. Then as you move forward with the text, new words appear and old words are reformed to create new words and new meanings. In this way, each movement of the text is deliberate and sends a direct message to the reader who is following this pattern. All in all, this makes the poem a very powerful experience. By having the text online as opposed to in print, the author is able to control the timing of the words and the way we look at them and is able to clearly send a message without the self-doubt that their audience will not understand their meaning. Print poetry can only be printed in one way and therefore there is much more room for confusing and misinterpretation. The hypertext as a medium allows for great flexibility but great control as an author which can allow this medium to be “capacious and broadly expressive” at the same time. Furthermore, the breath of its reach is also greatly intensified. Instead of only selling a certain number of books, online texts are able to reach thousands of people across the globe within seconds. You can gain popularity literally overnight. It could be truly that simple.
But with the good must come also the ugly. It is true that with all this new information, there is bound to be subpar work out there. This immense amount of reading material has lead us as a society to start skimming rather than reading what we see on the internet. I am just as guilty as the next person. It’s almost too hard to sit and read a more challenging text nowadays. I must confess when I had to read Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre for high school I bought the audio tapes and listened to them while I followed along. While I love both books immensely now, I’d no believe had I read them instead of listened to them I would have enjoyed their meaning the same. “When we read online, she says, we tend to become “mere decoders of information.” Our ability to interpret text, to make the rich mental connections that form when we read deeply and without distraction, remains largely disengaged.” (Carr, paragraph 8). And while the irony of this piece is that it is written online, what Carr finds is a valid point. With all the endless scrolling, readers do tend to read less and skim more. We skim for things we like, find interesting, or just find by accident. Very rarely do we read anything in its completeness. Why do we do this? It can most likely be linked back to the multidimensional quality of electronic literature. “Text does not visibly accumulate, but scrolls in from and back out to oblivion. Words do not lie fixed against the opaque page by float in the quasidimensional hyperspace.” (Birkerts, 124) This lack of concreteness associated with hypertext can make it overwhelming and even distracting to readers who just want to relax and passively read something.
However, that being said, the fact that electronic literature does not always make the best beach read does not mean it has nothing to contribute. In fact, it has much to contribute as both an “analytical and a synthetic medium.” (Murray, 7) There is so much to be learned from this new medium because there are just so many possibilities. For people who do not have the time to read, audiobook have the ability to let them read while doing other tasks they must complete for work or personal reasons. Having movies along with text make them more enjoyable to the reader and keep them invested. Finally, a reader does not have to go through the disappointment of finishing a book, because with so many ways to read these texts (“The Museum” for example) they can be for all intense and purposes never-ending. This new medium of literature is not for everyone, but that does not mean is should be pushed aside and cast of as useless either. The electronic medium has the ability to reshape how we read and process information “not by replacing the novel…but by continuing their timeless bardic work within another framework.” I am not trying to say print is useless, because it is not. I enjoy reading print novels as much as the next person. However, I do enjoy the convenience of the e-book while using the money I saved from buying it online to enjoy a nice snack. In the fast paced get up and go society we live in today, the price of convenience? Priceless. That is way the new electronic medium will create waves in our generation and for generations years to come.