Technology, Humans, and Art

First and foremost, I was a bit hesitant coming into this course, I had never really considered myself technologically savvy so naturally, I felt quite nervous having to work with programs I had never even heard of, including atom. “Markdown and text? What the hell is that?” I thought to myself. This kind of reluctance was surely in some way provoked by the mere fact that I felt uneasy about taking a course that would have such a heavily rendered focus on technology. Most of my knowledge about computing came from my experiences during high school where I was thoroughly introduced to AutoCAD, illustrator, and photoshop. Having attended a specialized art high school in the restless and bustling city of New York, I was trained comprehensively in AutoCAD (a design and drafting software) for a daunting amount of three years, where I would eventually gain my AutoCAD certification during the spring of my senior year. Continue reading “Technology, Humans, and Art”

Re-defining and Saving Humanity

Initially, the only exposure I had to ideas relating to this class were in movies. Wall-e takes on ideas about technology becoming a catalyst in humanity’s inevitable decay into self-indulgence and laziness. However, the end of the film reveals a hopeful message regarding both humans and technology in general. This is due to the fact that Wall-e is the protagonist of the film, and one who does not use language in a conventional way that humans do. Despite the alienation of his origin and his way of communication, Wall-e clings to the very essence of humanity in the garbage that he is meant to store away. A robot designed to take trash and compact it into easy organizable cubes, he subverts the tropes of a conventional robot by sifting through the rubbish. It is this compassion that he feels for everyday objects that sustains the films heart and hope about the restoration of passion in the collective human soul. Wall-e is a mainstream animated film that allows its protagonist to exist beyond conceptions of race, gender, etc, while still creating empathy. I never thought about this in depth before the information that I learned taking the class Posthumanism in Literature, which operated at a more conceptual level than what we have explored in this class so far. A loose definition of posthumanism in its relation to the course is “a branch of cultural theory critical of the foundational assumptions of humanism and its legacy that examines and questions the historical notions of “human” and “human nature”, often challenging typical notions of human subjectivity and embodiment and strives to move beyond archaic concepts of “human nature” to develop ones which constantly adapt to contemporary technoscientific knowledge”. Essentially we discussed what representations of cyborgs, artificial intelligence, and future improvements in technology meant in relation to shifting from classic narratives and representation. I also have been interested in the intersection of digital imagery technology in archaeological digging sites to recreate virtually what could have been destroyed and curated originally. One example is the use of 3D cameras to compile one million 3-D images of at-risk cultural heritage sites and objects by distributing them to volunteers from NGOs, museums, government organizations across Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, Turkey, Iran, and Yemen. Not only does this preserve the history despite it not surviving its original burial place, its implications for the preservation of archaeological sites of indigenous groups is positive. With imaging technology, the desire to pillage native land for the purpose of biological or historical analysis seems especially invasive as well as borderline illegal in some areas of the world. Moving on from technology that I do not comprehend the logistics of, my understanding of computing is probably the most average, the furthest extent to my computing education ended in digital literacy in the 6th grade. This was my choice however, as I was more drawn to reading and less technical subjects. However I did have to learn to code in a program called Stata for my Modern Political Analysis statistics class, so I am not entirely dumbfounded by some of the language used in extremely basic coding I suppose. I created graphs and input information to reveal relationships between the data. I appreciated learning the intricacies of what exactly created the statistics seen in the media as well as in academic writings. My personal relationship with my computer is one that is not too deep I admit, I use it to write papers and sometimes to play games but besides that I truly do not do anything extraordinary on it. When I took film courses here at Geneseo I often used it to watch the films, before being informed by my professor that it was not the correct way to view it. Even that comment brought up questions about the nature of our perception being altered by technology in general. Watching 2001: A Space Odyssey in theaters with surround sound is going to be an entirely different dynamic than watching it with earbuds on ones laptop. This does beg the question, which is superior? Perhaps that is not the question that needs asking, rather does the alteration in how people are viewing and consuming media ultimately matter? What exactly is going to happen when accessibility of one medium is far more economical than another? I hope that conversations surrounding technology will begin to be tolerant rather than rigid in defining what is better and why, especially when there are further implications surrounding class. Nevertheless, when I am at Geneseo I am always using my laptop, yet when I am home for a winter or summer break it largely remains untouched. If I need something done on the internet, I use my families computer. Nothing I do on my laptop ever truly was unique to that device itself, until this class which required me to do some internal hardware changes. Now, my computer and I will never be the same!

Taking Small Steps

I have never been overly proficient in computers or technology of really any kind. I, however, have never run into any serious problems with computer or technology to challenge my knowledge. This class, while not a serious problem, has me doing things with my computer that I have never really done nor thought could be done. I always understood what coding was and that there are different ways to do so–I knew there was HTML and I had heard of python and mathematica, but I had never truly used these systems before. In fact, I had mostly been afraid of them. The ideas of algebra seemed complicated to me and so how was I supposed to figure out the language of computers? Since computers stem from mathematics and algorithms, I did not think I would have been capable of understanding them. Then, I started my internship.

In the Fall semester of 2018, I started a library instruction internship where I began to learn how to be a research librarian. While most of librarianship is understanding how to use databases, there is also a whole sector of creating webpages, websites, databases, and more. While most of the moderators make it easy to use the site, sometimes I had to go into the HTML to make things look exactly how I want and so I had to stop being afraid of coding. I realized a lot of coding is less knowing the specific parts of the language itself, but knowing how those parts work together. The more I played around with HTML, the more comfortable I got with it–I am no master of coding, but I do have a strong confidence in being able to learn how to use certain methods.

I decided to take this class to learn a little more about how to control a computer as I want to go into the field of librarianship and research–and as we know, humanities is becoming more and more digital, and as an English major I want to be able to keep up with different forms of presenting, analyzing, and creating literature and/or texts. What this class has taught me the most so far: how to follow steps.

There have been some classes that I have fallen so behind in that I start becoming frazzled and annoyed. Instead of letting myself spiral, I would start from the beginning and just slowly work my way through each step until I got to the problem area. Sometimes, there would just be no problem anymore. Other times, I would have to fish around different parts of my computer to find a setting or button to change. While the confusion is aggravating, it also has allowed me to become more and more familiar with what is on my computer and in my system settings. I think another part to feeling comfortable in any discipline is knowing the foundation–and the foundation here would be just understanding the basics of a computer. The more I get to understand the anatomy of my device, the more confident I am in handling any issues that may come up and therefore the more confident I am in my computer skills.

Dissolving the Dichotomy

If someone had posed to me a year ago the question, “How do you view the relationship between technology and the humanities?” I likely would’ve given somewhat of an elitist answer. I would have said something along the lines of “The only valuable relationship between the two is through the dissemination of news media and things of that sort. Otherwise the humanities should remain outside of technology,” immediately praising physical media without any real consideration of the question. My theoretical response is one bolstered by years of English education that sought to remove the smartphone from the classroom. One granola crunching teacher after the next sprouted in me the belief that there was something inherently wrong about the intersection of technology and literature, that online forms of media (outside of news, of course) inhabited some lesser caste than what you’d find in a bookstore, and that technology in general is an entity entirely opposite to these other praiseworthy forms of “higher media.”

Membership in my generation, however, would not allow these views to coexist with my actual habits; I realized that, in spite of my vehement criticisms of online media and technology in general, much of, if not the majority of the media I consumed on a daily basis was online, completely outside news and STEM, on sites like McSweeny’s and The Poetry Foundation. In an attempt to negate what I suspected was a fallacious view of the actual application of technology in the humanities, I decided to register for a course – this course – concerning the “digital humanities.”

Nearly a decade engulfed in STEM had left me with a fairly advanced understanding of CAD and 3D printing, as well as some basic knowledge of coding that I’d picked up from my brother. My interest in creative writing had conversely amassed for me a good bit of knowledge concerning online publications, E-zines, and other such related systems. Coming into the spring semester, I had a few different understandings of computing, and figured that, while I’d likely employ knowledge of word processing and internet blogging, and the rest would be left by the wayside. Studying the digital humanities, however, would certainly serve to confuse the division between these two otherwise separate sects of knowledge.

My conversion into the realm of English literature and philosophy has been a fairly recent one and, up until my junior year of high school, my relationship to my devices had been rather…mechanical. The majority of my learning on computers has been through the lens of STEM education, beginning in fifth grade with programming Lego Mind-storms to perform basic functions. Throughout middle and high school, developed in me was a rather advanced understanding of most Autodesk design programs, as well as a decent proficiency in Google Sketch-up and a basic understanding of coding in general. Though, for most of my life, I hadn’t owned a computer of my own, my relationship to computers in general had been on the basis of performing functions related to STEM, so much so that it became a reflex to open Autodesk Inventor as soon as the computer booted and open a new sketch.

Strangely enough, however, my relationship to my devices changed most drastically when I began to read. During the summer before junior year, I discovered a passionate interest in books, and read more literature in that summer than I will likely be capable of doing ever again. Novels like In the Cafe of Lost Youth and Beautiful Losers inspired in me a great passion and respect for literature and, naturally, I wanted to be able to create something that I loved as much as my favorite books. I began to study poetry and through that developed a greater understanding of word processing – in formatting specifically – as well as an almost encyclopedic knowledge of all the best online magazines to send me rejection slips. Programs like Submittable furthered my understanding of the ways in which I could utilize my computer to contribute to the culture – or at least attempt to – and inspired in me a different view on technology than I’d previously held.

Now, as an English and Philosophy major, these realizations have risen to predominance, though CAD certainly remains as a hobby and a resume item. Employing my STEM computing knowledge has become something of a rarity these days, though I am glad to have learned the skills that I did as they provide a sort of duality of understanding of my computer as the multifaceted device that it is. Though still a bit of a media snob, my diverse background in computing has left me more open minded to new functions than I would otherwise be. Before registering for this course, I understood computing and the humanities as two entirely separate entities. However, I’ve begun to realize that I am beginning to draw on my STEM knowledge for the purpose of the creation of media and vice versa and, as a result, it has become increasingly more apparent that the dichotomy between the two is beginning to dissolve.


On a Need-to-Know Basis

I have never been one to excel at technology. The first main piece of technology I ever “owned” was my brother’s Wii (we basically shared it but don’t tell him that). I knew how to turn it on and off, use it, and basic troubleshooting which describes the extent of most of my knowledge of technology that I own.
When we first began this class, I densely said that I was very knowledgable about technology. I now realize that I am only very knowledgable in comparison to those who have less knowledge than me (aka my parents and grandparents). My grandmother writes down questions about her iPad for me to answer when I see her. I can usually answer the questions within ten seconds. My parents are more technologically advanced but will still ask me questions that I can answer. I use my technology more than I am willing to admit on a day-to-day basis but after a few weeks of this class, I know that my knowledge of what I am using is minimal.
Technology has never interested me much. My brother, on the other hand, loves it. When he was in eleventh grade, he took apart his laptop and then put it back together. I, being a ninth grade brat, was not very interested or impressed. My brother now works for a branch of United Technology (Pratt & Whitney) and is working on plane engines.
The value that our society puts on technology is so incredibly high. Coming into this course, I already knew there is going to be a strong connection between technology and humanities, especially as continue to become more technologically-advanced. My brother was hired right out of college, given benefits, a signing bonus, a moving bonus, and a decently-impressive salary. I believe that in a world where technology is praised and used so often that we should have a better understanding of what it is and how it works. I am glad that this was the only class that fit in my schedule because I feel that I will benefit because of it.
Additionally, I am going to be entering the education field soon enough and having this knowledge of coding to pass on to my students would be incredible. There are children’s apps that are games where they can learn basic coding for fun. I want to be able to give them the opportunity to code and understand technology and I can’t do that unless I have at least a general understanding of what it is.
I love my computer. I would easily give up my phone for my laptop. I love how easy it is to use, how many things I can do on it, and the comfortability I have typing on it (thanks TypeToLearn). This summer, the week before I left to study abroad, it crashed and I had to take my mom’s laptop with me for the six weeks. It wasn’t the same. I habitually use my laptop and the day it crashes for good, I will probably be upset. I am not someone who gets attached to objects, but this laptop I use so often and for so much that I am attached to it. The more I think about technology, the more concerned I become because it is truly unknown what is to come with it.

What Digital Humanities Means To Me

I’m not going to lie, I was that person that raised their hand on the first day of class for taking the course because it fit into my schedule. I knew I needed a recent English course for my concentration and I thought to myself “I’ve grown up in the digital age. How hard can this course be?” To be honest, I didn’t really know what to expect when I signed up, but I definitely did not think it was going to be another Humanities class. Last semester I had to take the Humanities requirement for my major. Let’s just say it wasn’t my favorite class. All we did was read old literature that kind of made sense and then discussed it in class which made me even more confused. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy reading and that’s partially why I chose English as my concentration, but old literature is not my forte. Anyways, my point is I had no idea this was going to be another Humanities class and it made me a little nervous. I became more stressed when we started to discuss with our partners about our knowledge with computers and my partner mentioned coding. I thought “OMG! I didn’t even think about that being an aspect of the digital age.” As a result of my personal experience with Humanities, I didn’t even think that it could have a relationship with computers because my course was so “old school”.

Before this course, I had the basic, and I mean basic, knowledge of computing. I’m talking about knowing how to use Microsoft Word, Netflix, and iTunes. I remember getting my computer the summer before I started my freshman year of college and not knowing what to do on it. First of all, I had to learn how to navigate a Mac because up until then I had only used Windows. After getting a basic understanding of how to work my Mac I thought I was so cool. It was my very first personal laptop and it was the newest model so I was feeling special. I would just lay in bed and stare at it because I didn’t have anything to do on it because it was summer and there was no school work to do on it. At any rate, that’s how low my general knowledge of computing was. I guess this is because my parents have never been into technology so I never grew up with it. We always had tvs and a computer at home, but they always had the basic cell phones and they didn’t allow me to have a cell phone or a tv in my room until junior year of high school. However, as I worked my way through my community college I started to use my computer more and more and definitely became more comfortable with it. My sophomore year my Future Educator’s Club traveled to Tampa, Florida for the CEC (Council for Exceptional Children) Conference. There, we listened to a keynote speaker who was the author of the book Life, Animated. He told the story of his son, Owen, who has autism and how they overcame their journey by watching animated Disney movies. Our club brought this book and information back to school and did a book study on it. We also managed a number of events for Autism Awareness Month. I was in charge of creating an interactive activity for our viewers. I chose a sight called “Poll Everywhere” which allowed me to create polls that related to autism and the audience could answer these polls on their phone or laptop. We had a good amount of people show up for our events and they were very successful. Moral of the story, over time I have become more and more comfortable with working with my machine and I think that’s why I was open minded when registering for this course.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m still not a genius when it comes to computing and I still don’t really know what coding is. However, the more I sit in on this course and learn more about it and how far it has come since what we read about in The Information, I feel honored that I have the opportunity to learn such a concept. It’s not necessarily an interest for me and I’m not sure how I will use it in the future, but it’s cool that I’m learning something that was a foreign language to me before and something I never thought I’d learn while going to school for Education.

Finally Starting to Learn as much as I Claimed to Know

Besides my laptop, there is only one other computer in my home which my mom mainly uses to watch antique shows, play solitaire, and print coupons. My dad will occasionally browse for news articles, but I am the only one in my family that knows how to fully navigate the web and computer programs. Perhaps this is where my false confidence in my computation skills have originated from. When it comes to how my own technology operates, I consider myself well-versed. If someone asked me how tech-savvy I am, however, I put on an air of humbleness as if I don’t understand technology. Yet when anyone offers to show me a better way or new way to utilize a function on my computer, I claim that I don’t need help or reluctantly agree. Of course, I know that there are numerous aspects of my computer that, if I could learn to utilize properly, would help me perform and understand daily tasks. However, I am resistant to change when it comes to a system that I have had no problems with previously. I have used Microsoft since high school and although I’m pushed to use Google slides and documents for many group projects in college, it will never become the ‘norm’ for me. When I came the first ENGL 340 class, I had brought with me years of experience in using a computer for entertainment and work since elementary school. I was confident in my skills with my computer because I was good at using it to complete what I needed, but I never pushed myself to learn more about my computer than what was necessary.

The command prompt was a foreign concept to me, something that I knew existed but never thought about. If I had any concerns or questions regarding the use of my computer I would turn to Google where I would usually find an answer to a way to evade the problem with the same end result. Although I’m comfortable with where I am with my computer, I find a lot of the different computations we go over in class interesting. The information in The Information is especially interesting and has opened up my eyes to the relationship between computers and humanities which I never gave much thought too before. I didn’t see all the different ways these two things were connected let alone how it connected to basically everything. Although the text is dense with endless information, things such as binary opened my mind up in a way I didn’t expect from an English course. Maybe I should start exploring parts of technology I don’t necessarily need so that I can better understand the world around me.

Fear of the Unknown

I have to admit when I signed up for this class, I had no idea what to expect. I am an English Adolescence Education major at Geneseo and needed to add another course to my schedule. On the first day, we were asked to define what digital humanities is and I struggled with this question extremely. Digital humanities was definitely not a term used in my everyday vocabulary. The title of this course intrigued me and I was eager to explore what digital humanities was all about since it was a topic so foreign to me. The Monday and Wednesday time slot fit perfectly into my schedule and I thought I should take a risk for once and give it a shot! After going over the syllabus and the course’s expectations, I was extremely nervous and worried that I would not have what it takes to do well in this course since I had barely any prior knowledge about computers. I can type fast and that is about all I can do when it comes to computer talent!

The words binary and coding were very unfamiliar to me. I have never had a good relationship with my computer in the past and felt if anything, my computer has given me nothing but a headache. Whenever something happens with my computer, I often look to google and see if I can figured it out myself. Unfortunately, a lot of the time I cannot and have to go to CIT to help me. Last semester, my hard drive failed on me which was the peak of frustration with my computer. Everyday I was forced to rent out a computer every four hours and I was not allowed to borrow it over night. I am sure anyone could imagine how irritating this could be right in the middle of the semester! I also lost everything on my computer but learned the valuable lesson of how important it is to back up your pictures and other documents somewhere else.

In the future, I plan on becoming a teacher and would love to share my knowledge on computers and technology in general. Technology is quickly advancing and has become so dominant in today’s society, so it is essential for teachers to be able to teach their students how to understand and work with it. Inventions such as the smart board have made a huge impact in the teaching world and new inventions are constantly arising. The newer generations have become so reliant on technology that is important to include technology based lessons so that you can keep students engaged and interested. When I was in high school, we practically had a smart board in every single room and I still had teachers refuse to use them because either they simply did not know how to use them, were not educated on how, or they were old fashioned and did not believe in using it. This made learning much more boring and redundant. I believe that schools should implement programs for teachers where they can learn the best way to integrate technology into their everyday teaching and make the learning experience much more exciting.

Although I do not have much experience with my computer, my iPhone is a completely different story. Similar to most people, I am addicted to my phone. When I wake up I check it, during class I check it, and a lot of the time, it keeps me up late at night. I believe that we do not take advantage of what technology has to offer, instead, we are all just stuck on social media when there is so much more to know and learn.

Almost a month later of being this class and I have learned so much. I love the different approach this course takes. Most english classes are just discussion based and get repetitive and boring, however, this class is hands on and we get time to navigate our computers during class time. It is the perfect balance. Each day we explore new things and I can actually say I learn something new every class period. I never knew applications such as Atom and VirtualBox even existed. I am so glad that my eyes have been opened to other applications, other than your simple basic stickies or photo booth.





You Learn Something New Everyday

Prior to entering the classroom for my first day in this course, I remember considering myself to be proficient in all things digital. For my generation, growing up with technology was incredibly normalized. Additionally, technology played the milestone role in the timeline of my life events. From receiving my first handheld gaming system, to my first mp3 player, to a digital camera, followed by an iPod, and then, of course, the status-symbol that was my first cell phone, and later my very own laptop that was separate from my family’s shared desktop– technology was the trusted partner that I grew closer to as I grew older. Due to the influential relationship I had built with technology throughout my journey to adulthood, I envisioned myself as a tech-savy individual who would be ready to handle anything this course would throw at me. However, I will humbly admit that the programs we have been working with mimic my experience studying a foreign language.  Continue reading “You Learn Something New Everyday”

Personifying Technology

I’ve always believed that there was a stark contrast between studying STEM and studying the humanities. Obviously that doesn’t make me unique, it seems that it’s something we all thought to one extent or another since the belief has essentially been conditioned into us from the time we were children. Whether it was the idea of being “left brained” vs. “right brained,” or the simple truth that most people are better at one realm of thought than the other; it always seemed painfully obvious that the two fields could not intersect.

My college experience has only helped to propagate the idea; I’ve spent the past two years living with a physics major and our academic experiences could not be more different. As a communication major, I tend to spend a lot of time on bigger projects as I analyze the literacy of different media and write longer papers about my thoughts. On the other hand, my roommate spends a ridiculous, consistent number of hours a week in a lab or a classroom in the ISC working on math problems and unlocking the mysteries of our natural world, demonstrating a work ethic that both impresses and horrifies me. What I’m getting at is that this experience made my mental divide between the two disciplines grow.

Enter the computer: the machine would eventually be revealed to me as the bridge between the gap.

Like everything else, the way me and my STEM roommate each use our machines is markedly different. I’m proficient in Google Docs and Microsoft Word, as those are my primary tools as I write my papers and do my work for The Lamron. I use research management software, Zotero, to help me better write my papers and overall I’d consider my use of the machine to be of a incredibly humanist nature.

Let me tell you though, I cannot even begin to comprehend how the physics major does some of the things I’ve seen on his laptop screen. Graphs, models, spreadsheets…all things that would make my stomach drop if I were ever had to produce them for a class. His use of the machine seemed so much more proper and computer-y than mine, like it was what the machine was meant to accomplish. Yet, the funniest thing happened. Last semester he had to take his Humanities class, and he completely relied on me to help him with word processing. Something that seemed so simple and second-nature to me was actually almost foreign to someone who hadn’t written a paper sense high school, which was particularly surprising considering it was someone I thought had mastery over the machine. It made me think that maybe I wasn’t so clueless with this machine after all.

I read this article earlier today which made me think of that experience I just described, this class, and humanity’s relationship with technology in general. The article is entitled “An Ode to Opportunity: We’ll Miss You, Mars Rover;” it’s a good cop/bad cop style argument about our culture’s peculiar personification of this exploratory computing marvel. Essentially, the author describes how he is bummed out about the “passing” of the rover, and then proceeds to berate himself for such a nonsensical notion which proceeds to a back-and-forth that further belabors the point. It’s funny and poignant; at one point the author lovingly refers to the rover as “Oppy” before arguing the other point and calling it “a camera on a skateboard that has no feelings.”

One of the most interesting points the article raises is that “Oppy is every bit as real as Jane Eyre or a Pixar character, but you’d never argue that people should stop having feelings about literature and art because the tools of literature and art can be exploited by brand narratives.” What an intriguing notion, that technology can be personified and thought about in a way comparable to how we humanists think of characters in literature. Is this not what this class is all about? By learning to understand and better use our own machines, we are further analyzing and interpreting the “characters” in the story that is the way we navigate our information-saturated reality. The differences between ourselves and STEM majors, the different ways we use our machine, are simply different interpretations of what the same character can represent and accomplish.

Before this class, I never really considered my computer to be anything more than means to an end. It was a convenient way to write and complete assignments that also happened to come in clutch when I was bored and wanted to watch a movie. However, what I’ve begun to realize is that once I consider the device through the imaginative lens of a humanist it can prove to be a unifying force between different people, different talents, and different schools of thought.