A major reason hypertext fiction has not taken off as one might expect in the digital age is because people are accustomed to and enjoy the phenomenological experience of reading print books. In casual conversation, people often state that they prefer to read print books because of the feel and smell of the book – the phenomenological experience. “Books feel good. They operate well. It turns out that hundreds of years of publishing have field-tested for us the best ways to display text, to compose pages,” (Kostick, 2011, p. 136). Publishers have mastered the print format and now they need to find the best design for the new digital medium.
The way we read is changing with the increased exposure to digital texts and Mangen (2008) explains this shift in phenomenological experience:
“When reading digital texts, our haptic interaction with the text is experienced as taking place at an indeterminate distance from the actual text, whereas when reading print text we are physically and phenomenologically (and literally) in touch with the material substrate of the text itself” (p. 405).
Therefore, the intangibility of digital text changes they way we experience reading. Mangen (2008) notes that when we read a printed book, the text is fixed in place and does not provide any options for switching our attention like a digital hypertext book provides. The act of clicking impacts the phenomenological immersion in narrative fiction and it results in impatience often experienced when surfing the Internet (Mangen, 2008).
It becomes pertinent for hypertext fiction to capture the readers’ attention so that they do not become impatient and click away. “If we take the main purpose and motivation for our reading to be that of becoming immersed in a fictional world, then the text will have to provide the necessary setting for such a phenomenological sense of presence – by way of whatever modality telling the story” (Mangen, 2008, p. 407). In other words, the method of telling the story becomes a key factor in determining the potential success of future hypertext fiction novels. Kostik (2011) pinpoints the issue of the reader’s phenomenological transfer from print to digital: “most readers want to transfer their established reading habits to the new technology; it is up to us to apply what we learn about the reading experience to the new technology of e-readers” (p. 136). We have yet to discover the best way to give readers an equally pleasant phenomenological experience with e-books.
So how can we create a pleasant experience for readers of hypertext books?
Video: Medieval Helpdesk
This video shows how the phenomenological experience of reading a book has become second nature to us now, which is why the video is humorous. But hypertext books (and e-books) require a help desk today.
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