I’ve been doing some more reading in the Jay David Bolter book Writing Space: Computers, Hypertext and the Remediation of Print and I’m finding my thinking pushed more and more in terms of the complexities of writing and reading in a Web environment. Again, this interests me because even though the idea and use of hypertext is not new, I think the explosion of Read/Write Web technologies is finally brining it mainstream in much more expansive and interesting ways, and I’m trying to get my brain around what that means in terms of how we and our students learn and what implications it has for our teaching and our curricula.
I’ve been skipping around a bit, and the other night I lit on a chapter titled “Critical Theory in a New Writing Space.” In it, Bolter frames the discussion by reviewing the history of texts in terms of the authority that was assigned to them and how that is changing. In essence, as printed texts became more and more widespread, the authority of the authors of these texts became more and more enhanced. But this authority is now being undermined by communication technologies. (Connect and compare to this post.) Bolter says that “our society seems to have accepted and endorsed the transient, casual, and generally unauthoritative nature of Web sites” (165). He argues that this new medium has shown that it can “accommodate a different relationship between author and reader” (168).
No longer an intimidating figure, an electronic author assumes the role of a craftsperson, working with prescribed materials and goals. She works within the limitations of a computer system, and she imposes further limitations upon her readers. Within those limits, however, the reader is free to move. If in print, subjectivity of the author was expressed at the expense of that of the reader, in electronic hypertext two subjectivities, the author’s and the reader’s, encounter one another on more nearly equal terms. The reader may well become the author’s adversary, seeking to make the text over in a direction that the author did not anticipate (168). [Emphasis mine]
I wonder how many of us are teaching our students to write with the adversarial reader in mind. Not that we couldn’t be doing that with linear texts, but it’s even more important in online environments when many adversarial readers can connect to and discuss ideas in distributed conversations across the Web. Bolter suggests that this in this way, hypertext
…seems to realize the metaphor of reader response, as the reader participates in the making of the text as a sequence of words…if the author has written up all the words and chosen all the images, the reader must still call them up and determine the order of presentation by the choices made and the links followed. The author writes a set of potential texts, from which the reader chooses, and there is no single univocal text apart from the reader.
While this description seems more directed at formal hypertext writing, as opposed to, say, blogging, I still think it has relevance for us. I’m not giving you many choices in this post, obviously. But in most of the writing bloggers do, the reader does get the chance to make a choice about how he or she navigates the text.
Another book I’ve dug into somewhat is The New Media Reader, which was another suggestion by Barbara Ganley. In an essay titled “Siren Shapes: Exploratory and Constructive Hypertexts” by Michael Joyce includes this quote from Diane Pelkus Balestri:
Hypertext…changes the relation between reader and writer. The reader becomes a collaborator, constructing and reconstructing the text, choosing his own path through it.
She points to the need for training hypertext audiences in the new habits of thought necessary to perceive coherence in patterns and links, and to generate coherent patterns and links of their own. And that, of course, brings us full circle, to the idea of connective learning, and the ability to recognize patterns of thoughts and ideas over different texts, and then to generate more patterns and links in our own writing.
In this way, learning feels more flow-like to me than ever before, and it’s hypertext that creates that I think. It’s as a reader actually acting as a part of the writing, reconstructing it though my own lens, and offering that up for interpretation. Just like what I’ve done here…
This is heavy slogging…but I actually feel like I’m getting somewhere with it.