In the modern world, technology seems to improve at a rate that is hard for most people to keep up with.  Along with the improvements of technology, there has been an increase in the popularity of intermediated texts and “hypertexts”.  These can come in many different types such as interactive books, virtual worlds, and literature accompanied by music and moving effects.  As the reading that people take part in becomes more and more electronic and mediated, there is the possibility that the experience of reading as a whole could diminish.  The ways in which people experience literature are changing along with people’s lifestyles and devices they use such as computers and other electronics.  Instead of diminishing the experience of reading literature, I believe that the horizons of reading can be broadened through different types of intermediated texts like The Invention of Victor Hugo Cabret and Faith.  This is done through the use of pictures, animations and sound effects which enhance the process of reading.  Like anything new, these hypertexts have pros and cons that go along with them.  I think that despite some of their limitations, they can expand literature and the way people experience it.

            One example of an intermediated text is The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick.  This book appears to be a typical book from the outside but once it is opened, the reader realizes that it is told mostly through illustrations.  The book itself is meant to imitate an old fashion silent movie.  The pictures are matted as if they are on a movie screen and instead of the pictures just going along with what occurs in the text, they move the story forward.  The reader actually experiences the story through looking at pictures in addition to written descriptions and dialogue of characters.  At the very beginning of the book, the reader is shown a long succession of just pictures.  During this progression of pictures, the reader is introduced to the setting in Paris, Hugo going to the clock tower where he lived, George Melies at the toy booth, and even Hugo’s friend Isabel, before a word is even read in the text.  The way that this story is presented to the reader is obviously unique because of the way it imitates film.  There have been countless films made to replicate a book but The Invention of Hugo Cabret does the opposite and tries to mimic a motion picture with a static book.  This presentation of the book actually goes hand in hand with the storyline of the book which is about a boy trying to fix an automaton while working at the toy stand owned by the famous filmmaker, George Melies.  The magic of making film ends up being a theme which helps Hugo finally figure out how to repair the automaton.  The connection of film in the book to the physical book held in the reader’s hands links the reader to the book and helps to immerse the reader in the story.  Through the structure of the book, the book receives a whole new creative aspect that would not have been possible if it were not for the use of consistent pictures throughout.  In the case of The Invention of Hugo Cabret, the added media of pictures interspersed in the book gives it a unique and engaging experience which adds to the work as a whole. 

            Although The Invention of Hugo Cabret is an intermediated text, it does not contain electronic aspects to it.  A text that uses electronic intermediation to enhance its content is a piece called Faith  by Robert Kendall.  In this poem, words appear in segments and between the phases, the letters move and new ones appear to make new words and ideas in the same poem.  As well as the effects that the letters go through, there are sound effects that go along with the motion of the words.  This hypertext works well as a piece of literature because not only is the poem pleasing to read but the medium through which it is presented adds to the poem in ways that just ink and paper could not accomplish.  An example of this is at the end of the poem, all of the letters seem to fall down in no particular pattern.  One of the themes in the poem is taking a leap of faith into the unknown in order to live one’s life fully.  The electronic text allowed the letters to perform the leap of faith that they had just previously described.  The mediation that the poem was presented through gave the letters themselves life and made the poem more interactive with the reader.  Once again with the motion and sound that the letters made, I felt absorbed in the work in a way that I had not been from any book I had read before.  The interaction that the text made with me when I read it made the experience of the literature progressive and distinctive thanks to the electronic medium in which it was written. 

            On the other hand, hypertext does have the potential to be distracting at times.  Sometimes hypertext can be too mediated in the way it is written and can leave a reader lost in the text.  For some literature, becoming lost in a text is a good thing because a reader is captivated and engrossed with what they are reading.  This is not what I mean here when I say lost.  Instead, the reader does not know where to go or even where they have been inside the text.  They can lack awareness of the text and comprehension of where the text is attempting to take them in the reading.  Nicholas Carr says in his essay titled, “Is Google Making Us Stupid”, “What the net seems to be doing is chipping away my capacity for contemplation and concentration.  My mind now expects to take in information the way the net distributes it: in a swiftly moving stream of particles”. (Carr) With all of the many options that some hypertexts present readers with, readers can become impatient with the reading.  I noticed this phenomenon myself when I read a story called The Museum by Adam Kenney.  In this, the reader is free to explore a virtual Museum where each link leads to a new page that has to do with another work of art and a story to go along with it.  I thought that this experience came across as being too mediated.  The Museum is a good example of what Sven Birkerts said in his book, The Gutenberg Elegies, that hypertexts tend to emphasize “process over product”. (pg. 158) The story seemed so concerned with the navigation through the museum itself that it lost the significance of what the story was about.  It lacked character development and a fluid storyline.  After reading it, I could have told you what occurred in the reading but there lacked a cohesive meaning.  The text was so disjointed that it was hard to focus and have a feel for where I was inside the story.  With trying to make the reading experience as if I was in a real museum, I lost the significance of what I was actually reading.  With every screen I looked at, my first thought was how to get to the next screen instead of what the present screen was trying to tell me.  I think that hypertexts work better when they are relatively short because it avoids this problem of impatience and getting overwhelmed with the text itself.

            Birkerts’ argument in The Gutenberg Elegies consists of a concern that electric mediation of literature is changing the way people read for the worse.  Birkerts is a firm believer that the experience a person has while reading a tangible book is a personal activity that cannot be replicated by letters portrayed on a screen that appear and disappear.  He thinks that unless people realize the negative effects of intermediated texts, the tradition of reading books that has lasted for so long will be in danger of becoming extinct.  I agree that reading in an electronic world does indeed change the way that people take in information compared to when printing presses were first invented.  Also, I admit that hypertexts are not a perfect convention and contain flaws that have the possibility of detracting from or distracting the reader from a full reading experience.  In my opinion though, Birkerts goes too far in his argument against mediated and electronic texts. 

            In response to reading things on a computer, Birkerts believes that readers lose the significant relationship they receive through reading a book.  I think that the internet and computers have made many people more engaged with literature than when literature was found in books alone.  Computers have made literature more accessible than ever thought possible.  People can share literature with other people, and they have the capability of being exposed to literature with ease and convenience.  These changes in literature should not be considered a bad thing simply because they are different from what people have done in the past.  Birkerts in his conclusion acts as if he is a prophet warning people of the terrible fate of electronic literature.  He even goes so far to draw a parallel of electronic literature to a satanic device because of the loss of the real experience a book provides.  He says, “We seem to believe that our instruments can get us there, but they can’t”… “From deep in the heart I hear the voice that says, ‘Refuse it.’”. (p. 229) In Birkerts’ analysis, he gets so occupied in condemning intermediation of literature that he blinds himself of its benefits.  One of the things that Birkerts leaves out in his argument is that literature has its roots long before words were printed on a page.  Oral civilizations, stone tablets and papyrus were all predecessors to words being put on paper bound in books.  I believe that literature itself has never been a static tradition but has evolved consistently along with the people who take part in writing and reading it.  Right now humans are at a point where lifestyles are changing toward a more electronically dependent world because of the advances in technology that have been made recently.  Literature is in essence dependent on humans for its existence and it is inevitable that literature will continue to change with them.

            Hypertexts are not a replacement of the conventional book but instead an extension of it.  It is simply another option in which authors can express themselves creatively.  The world of hypertext expands the possibilities of what can be accomplished in the author reader relationship in ways that books cannot.  As long as humans progress and change, so will the mediums through which information is expressed.  It is only natural for some people to be hesitant to use new things that they are not used to.  This feeling of resistance that some people may have toward intermediated texts has been consistent throughout history along with various shifts of lifestyle.  When times change, some people embrace it and others resist it.  Hypertext is something that should be embraced for its creative elements.  It may not be for everyone but literature revolves around personal preference.  Hypertext, through the use of pictures, movement of text, and navigation through the text, engages readers in the literature in new ways.    Intermediated texts are not the first change literature has gone through, and will most likely not be the last.  Therefore, people should take advantage of the beneficial characteristics that hypertext has to offer in order to improve the activity of reading.

 

 

Works Cited

Birkerts, Sven, The Gutenberg Elegies: The Fate of Reading in an Electronic Age, Faber and        Faber Inc., New York, 1994, Print

Carr, Nicholas, “Is Google Making Us Stupid”,        http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2008/07/is-google-making-us-stupid/6868/.         (Accessed November 29, 2011).

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