The Electronic Labyrinth


Reading hypertext can be a disorienting experience for many readers. Much has been written about the so-called "lost in hyperspace" problem. In his survey, Conklin defines disorientation as "the tendency to lose one's sense of location and direction in a non-linear document" (40).

This effect is most pronounced in badly designed systems lacking sufficient context clues and navigation aids. Once structural aids such as headers have been added, much of the phenomenon disappears. In addition, hypertext systems should provide quick and easy methods to:

Further solutions include increasing the number and usefulness of navigational tools, providing link typing, and providing link classing. However, as the environment becomes richer in tools, it also increases in complexity and demands more of a reader.

It has been argued convincingly by Bernstein that the disorientation problem has been greatly exaggerated. In "The Navigation Problem Reconsidered," he notes that "[w]riters of hypertext fiction adopt textual devices to disrupt reader expectations in order to shape the narrative experience, to confront the reader with challenges and puzzles, or to advance the narrative" (290). He then provides a list of such devices:

This is, in effect, a short list of methods an author might wish to use.

© 1993-2000 Christopher Keep, Tim McLaughlin, Robin Parmar.
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