As readers move through a web or network of texts, they continually shift the center--and hence the focus or organizing principle--of their investigation and experience. Hypertext, in other words, provides an infinitely re-centerable system whose provisional point of focus depends upon the reader, who becomes truly active in yet another sense. Anyone who uses hypertext makes his or her own interests the de facto organizing principle (or center) for investigation at the moment.
The Reader's Role
The traditional notion of reader puts the reader in a fairly passive role: receiver of information. In hypertext, the reader must take a much more active role, the role of information seeker. Reader response critics would certainly argue that even in print, readers come to texts with experience, associations, that will color how they will make sense of what they read. In hypertext on the Web, the difference is that the reader can actively pursue associations. If Web authors have provided the possibilities a reader then can use the document to get information she is interested in. Rather than relying on authors to make a point, however, readers should create their own arguments out of the information provided by Web authors. Since the reader is responsible for making sense of what she reads, it is also her responsibility to actively seek information, to challenge what she reads by finding new and different sources of information on the Web.
The Power of the Reader
The real power of the reader of hypertext is in the text creation, in creating the argument. By "creating" I don't mean the act of writing, I mean bringing together via association the nodes that make up the reader's "point of view" (which may actually be comprised of multiple authors' points of view as well). A reader can easily move around form node to node, exploring the information that interests her and she can create meaning out of all documents she gathers. She can even leave bookmarks so she can return to a certain document with ease, giving a bit of permanence (at least in terms of the locations of the documents) to the temporary texts created by browsing the Web. The reader can actually create the information she wants. By that I don't mean that the reader is responsible for creating the Web documents, but she is responsible for creating the associations that bring together the various documents on the Web. In fact, I would say that just as the author has a responsibility to provide information, the reader has the responsibility to actively seek information, to use the power of the Web as an information tool.
Though readers control their own reading paths more easily than in print, they don't always have access to the information they want. This problem might change as more and more information becomes available on the Web. But for now, readers' arguments may not come to closure. Individual authors may bring closure to their works, and when readers read only that work, they can get a sense of closure. However, since readers often use multiple texts and authors to pursue their own interests, when there isn't enough information to satisfy readers, closure can't really occur.
Argument or Research?
As information seekers, readers get information from a variety of sources from which they draw conclusions--I call this a form ofargument. From the readers' perspective, this notion of argument seems much like doing research. With arguments on the Web, the immediacy of following suggestions and citations makes reading separate documents much less a discernable act. As soon as readers encounter a new possibility, they can follow it, while the reason for wanting to see the new information is still fresh, while the associations remain vital. Following links in this manner produces a line controlled by readers. That line resembles the reading of an argument more so than the gathering of information through research.
The difference between doing research and creating arguments is in the physical nature of research using printed works as sources. Research with printed material involves physically gathering many works and reading through each of them. Where references appear in the printed works, in most cases, readers complete reading the work from which the work was cited before moving on to reading the work cited. Similarly, if the author of the printed work suggests other areas readers might be interested in, it requires another physical gathering of that new information. By the time the new information is gathered, the reason for pursuing the information has faded, the associations are less vital.