I pick up a book. My eyes scan the page, beginning with the left side and moving to the right. Then I move my visual focus one line below and repeat. Left, right, down, repeat. What am I doing? I am reading, probably a book, or perhaps a smaller type of text; a magazine, newspaper, or instruction manual. That is straightforward enough. This would fall under one-way communication, from the text to the reader, where the audience is generally passive. There a some cases though where the reader can be active by choice. Magazines like Women’s Day encourage readers to send in their stories. As does Melbourne’s free public transport newspaper The MX, who’s ‘have your say’ section is written purely by readers. However with that being said, let’s reiterate that the majority of print based media circles a semi-passive audience. Not fully passive as I would be while watching TV while actually double-screening and focusing on my phone, completely ignoring the program. But passive in the sense that there is no audience involvement, no choice, no freedom beyond what they choose to read.
Since I’m posting this on a blog, why not relate my waffling to something relevant. Firstly, Blog is actually short for weblog – who knew? (not me, obviously). Blogs allow for public online collaboration. If I post something on my blog, with content almost identical to that of a paperback book I just read, the possibilities increase. Now, if moderated correctly, the blog creates a new audience that is now an active audience. Even though the content may be similar, the addition of hypertext and hypermedia to regular text sways audiences engagement. They can now become active in a number of ways; making comments on a post, clicking on hyperlinks and delving into a chain reaction of click after click and site after site, as well as the ability to research content simultaneously. The cursor, mouse or trackpad, gives ‘readers’ a virtual presence in the ‘text’.
But here’s the thing. Can we still call ourselves ‘readers’? Is the thing we are ‘reading’ still ‘text’. For me, no it is not. A few weeks ago I would have said yes without a second thought. But now that I am aware of the hypertext system and the capabilities of blogs and online writing, I have swayed my opinion. As I discussed earlier, readers are generally passive. As soon as the platform becomes online they become active. I don’t think they are still readers, because reading is not the only process in motion. A word that I believe fits nicely for these type of consumers is explorers. Thanks to hypertext, the explorers choose what they want to examine in further depth, and where they want their digital presence to go. Additionally, the freedom to navigate their thoughts that a text has triggered is high above that level of someone reading a paperback book, on the couch with a cup of cold tea. The explorer becomes like the tourist in a maze, completely in control of where he will go, providing that the path for his desire exists.