As our society moves into a technological era, we are forced to adapt our ways of thinking and interacting in order to survive and keep up with the changing times. As technology affects our society, it is also affecting our literature. Recently, hypertexts and online literature have been surfacing and causing either excitement and awe with their unique characteristics, coinciding with many peoples’ view of literature as a natural enjoyment, or in some cases, electronic literature causes frustration with these characteristics differing from basic literature, causing reading or “viewing” these pieces to be considered a task the reader has to complete rather than an enjoyment they want to take part in. While many believe electronic literature is an innovative and engaging form of reading, I believe it is merely distracting due to the required focus of all or many of your senses and the overabundance of layers causing it to not be as in depth and enthralling as basic literature, thus making it more of a task to be completed rather than a relaxing and enjoying activity.
Electronic literature engages different senses than basic literature, thus making it distracting and difficult to follow. In many of the pieces of electronic literature, the reader is required to devote thier sight, hearing, and touch in order to receive the full story and experience. Although the authors may do this to try to catch the reader’s interest, it is very distracting from the main story and causes the reader to miss the main point and storyline of what they are “reading.” If the reader cannot follow along with what they are reading, then the literature becomes more of a task than an enjoyment. When reading literature, one should not have to work to understand and comprehend the story or main idea the piece of literature is presenting. According to McLuhan, “Media, by altering the environment, evoke in us unique ratios of sense perceptions” (40). By changing the surroundings in the online literature, the authors present us with many different perceptions of sense. In “Red Riding Hood”, the reader follows along with the story of Red Riding Hood while somewhat interacting with her environment. While you can make objects move or change in the background, you cannot change the story and while you are distracted with trying to make these objects do something, you miss the actual story and then are presented with a drastically different ending than the original story and are confused as to what happened. You miss the whole point of the story and are left with questions and no answers. In trying to change the environment of the story and achieving a different outcome, the reader is presented with work to do. Most people know the basic story of “Red Riding Hood” and therefore are enveloped with the fact that they can interact with the surroundings of the story. Most “readers” become distracted with the task of changing the inevitable end, rather than enjoying the take on the story, only to be surprised with a drastically different ending, leaving the reader confused and their work pointless. Another piece of electronic literature, “Accounts of the Glass Sky”, is very similar. The reader has to follow the words on the sides of the pages while they are presented with harsh sounds and a changing image that make the words hard to read. You are unable to follow what the author is trying to say, and the sounds and changing images make the story very hard to follow. With basic literature, the reader is presented with simple words on a page that do no change or make noise and are very easy to follow along with. You simply have to read the sentences in order to comprehend the story that the author presents. In “Carving in Possibilities”, the “reader” moves their mouse over the blurry picture of Michelangelo’s David making short phrases appear and gradually carving the statue. While this piece of electronic literature was most likely meant to have a deep meaning, when approached, the interactive aspect is merely distracting. You find yourself immersed in the aspect of carving the statue rather than reading the words that were meant to make up the literature. In the words of McLuhan, “The extension of any one sense alters the way we think and act- the way we perceive the world” (41). When looking at electronic literature, adding sounds and images and the interactive aspect change our perception of the story. The reader sees the story much differently than if they were merely reading the words. In trying to focus on all of the different stimuli at once, the reader is presented with a job rather than something they can enjoy and relax with. While reading, one merely has to follow the story, but when the reader is forced to focus on many changing aspects at once, they are found to be partaking in a job that has to be completed in order to understand the meaning of the literature. When most people find literature that they want to read, they are looking for something that makes them think, while at the same time is relaxing and does not involve dealing with a task. In this sense, electronic literature is drastically different than basic literature and is much more distracting to our senses and harder to follow than the simple words of basic literature.
In electronic literature, there are many layers to every story, making it hard to distinguish and follow along with the main story. In basic literature, there are sometimes smaller stories within the main story. This occurs in electronic literature as well, but the smaller layered stories do not necessarily follow along with the main story and make the piece very hard to follow and understand. The reader gets distracted with the smaller stories and loses track of the main story. In “The Museum”, the reader has the chance to click on different links that take them to different stories. After you click five or more links leading to different stories, the main story is eventually lost and the reader forgets what they were reading in the first place. This type of text calls for easy distraction and leads to misunderstanding. When the reader becomes lost within this hypertext, they find themselves presented with the task of figuring out how it all connects or even as simple as figuring out how to turn back to the main story. “The Museum” becomes more of a difficult and complex task rather than a relaxing piece of literature. In another piece of electronic literature called “Storyland”, the reader is presented with short sentences out of order that are supposed to make up one large story. After the story is done, the reader is presented with another; however, the stories do not make any sense when read. The fragmented stories are confusing and do not provide an engaging story that basic literature does with one story and a clear path to a definitive ending. In “Defiant: The Possession of Christian Shaw”, there are many different paths that the reader can follow in order to complete the story. While some may find this freedom to choose which part they look at first a refreshing aspect of literature, it mainly distracts from the main story. In having so many options, the story becomes jumbled and the reader is left with questions about what really happened or if there was even a story at all. In Birkert’s novel, he emphasizes this aspect of electronic literature by saying, “the reader can choose to follow any number of subnarrative paths” (163). With people today, giving them the chance to become distracted is a clear invite to follow these paths leading away from the story. Even when not given the chance, people on the internet still find their way to getting distracted and off task. By providing the reader with so many chances to lead off the path, the author is forcing the reader away from their story. Birkerts also stated, “We have created invisible elsewheres that are as immediate as our actual surroundings. We have fractured the flow of time, layered it into competing simultaneities. We learn to do five things at once or pay the price” (219). Birkerts implies that in this society we must be able to multitask in order to survive in this technologically advanced world. By forcing the reader to multitask, authors are no longer giving the reader the relaxing and enjoying literature they are looking for, but rather the tedious task of figuring out where the story is even supposed to be going. Even in literature, we have to learn to multitask and follow multiple stories simultaneously; however, many cannot succeed with this multitasking and the essence of true literature is lost in the complexity of the distracting electronic complications.
While most electronic literature is distracting and hard to follow, some people believe it is very simple and easy to read and find it more engaging than a book because of the interaction with music and images. Some think this interaction with the literature is not a task, but more of a game that is intertwined into their literature. In “Deviant: The Possession of Christian Shaw”, many people could see this piece of electronic literature as an interactive game rather than a story. There are very few words and the reader is left to come up with their own conclusions from the story and the different interactions that they come across. People these days are used to doing everything on a computer and are welcome to having their literature online as well. An example of a piece of easy to follow electronic literature is “Soliloquy.” It is a list of every word one man has said for a whole week where the reader simply has to put their mouse over a blank spot on the page to see the sentences one at a time and read them in order like a story. In the words of Carr, “The Net is becoming a universal medium, the conduit for most of the information that flows through my eyes and ears and into my mind.” Most people are used to everything gradually changing into a form of technology. When many people think of technology, they think of electronic games. The new invention of electronic literature to some people is another form of a game. They get to interact with the story and make aspects of the story change or follow along with different story lines to get to the ending the reader or “player” wants. Books have become mere apps on tablets like games, so why shouldn’t forms of literature turn to being online too? While some may think this way, many believe the simplicity of a book is part of the joy of literature. In the example of “Soliloquy,” while many may think this is an easy piece to follow along with, others believe that the fact that you can’t see all the sentences at once is too complex and you have to pay too much attention to make sure you are reading the correct sentence in the right order, thus making the reading of the piece a task to follow along with. Electronic literature is more of a game that we play than a story that we read; however, in this time in society, this idea may be what people are looking for to go along with every other form of technology, more entertaining and easier to access.
As most aspects of life today are either online or accessible by some sort of technology, our ancient forms of literature are changing as well. More electronic literature is published all the time and we are reading less and less books as a society. Many people do not even buy physical books anymore, but simply download the book onto the latest tablet. While many people see this as a convenience and think electronic literature is more engaging and entertaining than basic book literature, I believe that electronic literature is merely distracting and overly complicated and is not capable of getting a simple story across without complications and the reader, or in this case, the viewer, getting lost. Electronic literature is a task that the reader has to complete in order to achieve the understanding of the main point of the story rather than enjoy as a simple pastime. Electronic literature requires the attention of more than just your eyes reading the story, but requires you to listen to the sound and watch the pictures or movie that goes along with the text, or is in place instead of the text. While focusing on all this stimuli, many pieces online have interactive aspects that you have to focus on as well. Some may find this entertaining, but many believe it is too complex for literature and is turning into more of a game than a piece of literature. Turning literature into another aspect of technology takes away the ease associated with reading and introduces reading as a task for the reader to complete. Just as technology complicates other aspects of life by trying to simplify them, online literature does the same. By trying to provide a new form of literature and easier access, we as readers are not given a simpler form of literature, but rather a job to do when trying to understand the point of the piece. Another distracting aspect is the complexity of the layers over the main story online. By following all of the “subnarratives” the reader gets lost and can no longer focus on what the main story is saying anymore. All of these distractions take away from the essence of literature and turns this ancient practice into a modern day technological advancement.