Freshly Minted Circuits
Today’s guest post is from the wonderful Christine McPaul whom I met at the Hardcopy seminars in Canberra several months ago. I asked her to give a snap shot of how she sees reading and the consumption of text in the digital age, something that indie authors can take advantage of. If we provide the rabbit holes for people to dive into we can help deepen our connection with our readers, using their reading habits to our advantage.
‘The stable hierarchies of the printed page…are being superseded by the rush of impulses through freshly minted circuits.’–Birkerts
As early as 1994, Birkerts was considering the impact of the Internet on reading practices. Although his pessimistic vision of the future in which books were largely superseded by digital media has not been realised, he accurately predicted that traditional approaches to reading would be disrupted by the emergence of new media.
The Internet’s increased popularity has meant that more time is spent reading electronic documents, which suggests two interesting questions–has this changed how readers read, and if so, in what ways? If we think of the traditional book, we know from our own experience that the tendency is to start at the cover, and read in a linear fashion through to the end. We might flip back to recall a map, or a graphic or a family tree included at the outset. We might look at the author’s biography and photo towards the back of the text. But in general, there is an implicit sequence commencing at the front cover, and finishing at the back.
Online reading is different. According to Lui, ‘more time is spent browsing and scanning, keyword spotting, one-time reading, non-linear reading, and reading more selectively, while less time is spent on in-depth reading and concentrated reading.’ Others like Fernandez understand this new type of reading as a network of practices that are unstable and contingent on shifting contexts.
These less stable readings are linked intrinsically to the way that digital formats and the Internet work, relying on compact, interlinked packages of information connected by hypertext and hotlinks. Worthen reminds us that hypertext first became widely used in the 1980s in the hypercard stacks bundled into word-processing software, and it has since become familiar to all Web users. Hyperlinks defy linear reading, permitting the reader to insert themselves into any place in any text, on any topic, in any order, thereby creating a web of linkages that are unique and personal. This use of hyperlinks disrupts the author/reader duality, instead giving readers a kind of authorial presence and agency as part of their reading experience.
Let’s see how this works in practice by exploring an example–Ned Kelly, a well-known figure in Australian history and the inspiration for Peter Carey’s True History of the Kelly Gang. The exercise of reading about Kelly amply demonstrates the kind of textual practices available in the digital age. Readers might turn to Carey’s text directly, but they might instead Google Ned Kelly and find an Australian government website containing information about him. Through the workings of hyperlinks, the reader will be able to move from that website to access Kelly’s Jerilderie Letter digitised by the State Library of Victoria. Readers could go from there to a number of other sites where it is possible to read part of True History, and cross-check the language of the Jerilderie Letter with the language that Carey has used.
Readers might access one of the many popular/ist history sites supporting the Kelly mystique, or perhaps try to find a second-hand copy of True History online, only to discover that there are several editions. It would be possible to visit Carey’s website to determine which version is the latest, before hopping onto an online bookshop to find out whether you can purchase it more cheaply or easily there. Having found a digital copy, it can be downloaded, searched electronically, and read without reference to its cover or author notes. You might also tweet about True History, or link one of the Ned Kelly websites you accessed to your Facebook page or personal blog.
Your choice of how to read about Ned Kelly, and Carey’s take on him, is only a click away.
Christine McPaul is a member of the HARDCOPY 2014 alumni, and is also a founding editor of the e-journal, Softcopy, launched in May 2015. Christine has been Blogger in Residence at the ACT Writers Centre, has written shortlisted fiction, published academic articles about literature and women’s writing, book reviews, and a biography for the Australian Dictionary of Biography. Christine was awarded a PhD from the Literature and Theatre Studies Department of the Australian National University in 2009. She tweets @christinemcpaul and muses about writing, reading, and finding that illusive inspiration on her blog, Capable of Anything.