Myron Tuman writes:
One can hardly question Bolter's sense of the intensity required of a reading of a single hypertext fiction, but consider as well the different sort of problems confronting another hypertext reader--Landow's imaginary student, Jane, sitting at the computer console preparing to read Great Expectations. It is impossible to deny that many students in George Landow's English literature survey at Brown University profited from using the extensive hypertext system as a means of preparing for classes. Discussions were livelier--and why shouldn't they be when students had quick and easy access to a range of secondary sources about the texts under consideration? Anyone who has taught literature knows that students are frequently baffled by the complexity and at times stylistic impenetrability of the literary texts themselves, and, consequently, relish all sorts of classroom aids into the materials. One might argue we live in an age that routinely discusses many cultural icons--from Marx and Freud to Allan Bloom and Alice Walker--not by reading their works but by reading and, more frequently now, viewing popular discussions about their works. But Jane, faced with the task of actually reading Dickens' novel, must nevertheless plow through approximately 180,000 words of text, some eight and a half hours of intensive labor (at the rate of 360 words a minute), with no guarantee of attaining a satisfactory level of understanding unless her comprehension skills are above average.
Students in Jane's situation, in much larger numbers than any of us care to admit, have long turned to literary guides, simulacra of the texts--the most visible being the boldly striped Cliff's Notes--to provide them an easier path through (and, at least as often, around) complex and long literary texts. What Bolter does not consider in his discussion of the experience of reading Joyce's "Afternoon" is what happens when the story is not a self-contained fictional universe, read by someone interested in having a rich aesthetic experience, but only a tiny part of a vast hypertext network. One where harried and information-driven readers, instead of spending a few hours exploring Joyce's constantly shifting story, can find out the least they need to know more readily by clicking on screens containing background information about Joyce, interactive fiction, and the story itself. The point at issue here is not whether the hypertext environment can support the level of aesthetic reading associated with print literacy, especially for those fully acculturated into the world of print--but how different the experience of reading the most aesthetically complex hypertext may be for "readers" in the future who will be fully acculturated into an electronic world, possibly ordinary students of the next century who have no sustained experience of print. Just how likely is it that people for whom reading has become an act defined largely in terms of using the computer either to access needed information on demand or to be entertained by the slam-bang integration of 3-D graphics and CD sound will be willing--or able--to sit before a terminal patiently selecting the paths in a single author-designed hypertext in order to have something akin to a traditional literary experience?
We seem to have little idea of just how dynamic (hyperactive?) the computer screen is likely to become once the hardware and software are in place to support real-time video and the wizardry of multimedia. Richard Kearney cites a relevant and troubling, albeit undocumented, statistic: 'that since the arrival of multi-channel press-button TV in the US, less than 50 per cent of American children under the age of 15 have ever watched a single programme from start to finish' (1988, p. 1).
Some might be tempted to find hope in such numbers, given the dreadful
programming on TV, yet 'zapping', as anyone with such a device must realize,
has far more to do with pacing than with judgment, more to do, that is,
with our exploiting the hypertextual capability of a new online technology
in order to assemble a more pleasing (more postmodern?) procession of images.
Our ability or willingness to attend closely and for prolonged periods
of time to the narrative experiences of others--the basis of nineteenth-century
novel reading and until recently twentieth-century television watching--is
intimately connected to our broader experience of print culture and the
inner consciousness that it both demanded and rewarded. A new cultural
landscape, one grounded in computer technology, will affect all of us,
professors and students alike. All of us, and not just hyperactive adolescents,
(Word Perfect 68-69)
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