With the relatively recent realization of the wide uses and influence of the Internet, many companies and people are also hopping on the electronic bandwagon and utilizing its amazing possibilities. One example of such a person is Stephen King, who will be launching his book Riding the Bullet on the Internet soon.
Combining electronic writing with electronic networking capabilities raises the issue of the way in which writers should write in order to reach out to the audience. What is it about the readers of these new hypertexts and the printed book that are common, or how do they differ? With the knowledge of these similarities and differences then, how is that going to affect the way we write in the web environment?
Readers have one expectation that is in common – an end. But this is where that similarity ceases. The printed text is a ‘tightly constructed whole, to be consumed in its entirety’. (Venezky, 1994) While the task of readers of the printed text is to follow and appreciate authors as they are led through the text in a relatively fixed and linear sequence (beginning, middle and end) towards the same closure, it is not so with readers of the electronic texts. In the web environment, texts are fluid in structure and different readers will not only reach different ends but also take different routes to that end.
How many times have we read a book and faithfully kept to the end? This is normally the case in order for readers to find out what happens in the end. Readers have the patience and are impelled to read to the end. In the electronic environment on the other hand, many users have confessed to being disorientated (through hyperlinks) and expect that to be recurring. While many writers have seen this as crippling and constantly seek to correct it, Landow has shed light on the flip side of disorientation – aesthetic disorientation. So, readers on the Internet may not, contrary to popular belief, see disorientation as a problem, but may actually enjoy it. Also, many readers behind the computer screen do not have the patience to wait for long downloads or lengthy texts. ‘The only acceptable delay is no delay’. (Black, 1997) This indeed has implications for writers.
Readers of the printed text feel the continual presence of the author at all times, through ‘living’ the entire story. In the electronic environment however, the reader realizes the presence of the author’s simultaneous presence in and absence from the text. This happens because although there are many authors of a single text, the reader is continually confronted with structural choices that have been established by the authors themselves.
On the Internet, readers are usually pursuing a well-specified task that varies across texts and readings. Problems are solved with the aid of texts that are loosely combined together. There is a sense of exploration in which many areas of interests can be covered at a time. The printed text however, is usually topical i.e. specific issues are at hand and the reader therefore does not expect other related or non-related issues to be brought up within the pages of that one book and will normally have to look up other books or references.
Barthes distinguishes between the ‘readerly’ text and the ‘writerly’ text. In this case, we can categorize print texts as ‘readerly’ since readers are not located as sites for the production of meaning but are only passive receivers of fixed and pre-determined text. Electronic texts, conversely are ‘writerly’ texts, which encourage interactive readers and a sense of openness. This again, has implications for writers in the electronic environment since readers no longer expect to be dominated by the author but be offered alternatives as to which threads to follow.
Completing the number of pages in a printed text signifies the end of the story and the end of an unobstructed journey. This is the physical encumbrance of the printed text and the reader accepts and expects it. (This is unless one is talking about multiple volumes of a text) In e-space – electronic space - however, the reader is no longer hindered by physical impediments and expects that further exploration can be made into related or other avenues. How can writers improve and contribute to the online experience of these readers then?
In knowing the expectations and tastes of both Internet users and readers of a printed text, how then should we write for the screen?
Interested in what some others have to say about Barthes and his 'Readerly' and 'Writerly' text?
Take a peak..
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