Month: April 2019

Looking Back On Something I Said..

Our final project for ENGL 340 is very research based. My group and I have been spending quite some time in the special collections archives of the Milne Library to gather old articles, newspapers, yearbooks and any other resources from the Harding collection. As I sat there sifting through each stack of papers, articles, books, etc….I said something. Something that relates to our lives now. Something that I guess is something I have unconsciously become dependent on… How scary are those words, unconsciously and dependent on….

So class, here were my words:

 I wish I could just “control F” all of these

You may be thinking okay she made a big deal out of nothing. However, after I said it, I was a little embarrassed. I felt as though part of me was unappreciative of the beautiful historic documents sitting right in front of me. And, don’t get me wrong these documents are so interesting to read. But at that moment, there was so much to get through and such specific entities we were looking for so I said it.

This relates to our course because our world together is so technologically advanced that with the devices at our fingertips, our lives are made so much easier. I mean maybe I am a bad student for saying this but the quick way to find something is to, like I said, “control f”. A simple search command to your computer of a specific word to be able to find something in a quarter of the time it would have taken you to search otherwise.

In relation to life, I want to talk about how our technologically advanced world has a great effect on our words. I’m sure your parents have told you, like mine have told me, “be careful because once you put it out on the internet, it is there forever!” Well, just like there is an archive of tangible documents that my group and I are searching through, their is an “archive” of many things online as well as with our devices. The digital age has made a lot of things easier for us in many ways. However, it is important to note that it does make things harder for us in some ways. In the way that you truly have to be careful of what you post, type, or text with one another because there is always some ways one how that it could come back to you. I mean how many times have you thought about a snack, or talked about something you wanted and BOOM, next time you open your media theres magically an ad for it?? Something so spooky to me. Our technological world has made it very difficult to have a private life. We see this happen in the very premises of our campus. Someone posts an offending message, perhaps not meaning to be offending and repercussions are taken.

So, although I hit a few, but relevant, topics in this short post, I want to re-iterate that I cannot believe I said “I wish I could just “control F” all of these” ALOUD. I feel like if my grandfather heard me, being the anti-tech guy he is, he would reply with a snarky and disappointed head shake whilst saying “ooo you kids these days.” Actually, he probably would not even understand a little bit the words that came out of my mouth, but if he did he would respond like that. Haha.

Moral of the story, think before you act! Our world has made it a lot harder to apologize for our actions due to social medias influence on our lives.

Is Privacy Real?

All throughout the class, we have been using applications and websites to make blog posts, timelines, and more. One big part of using the internet that everyone should be aware of is our privacy. This seems to be a big issue that has arisen since the start of the internet. In Dr. Schacht’s class, when working with the timeline application or Omeka we were shown the option of making our work private. But one option that is not private is our blog posts. Even if we want things to be private, would it really be private? Privacy has been a debate for a while now.

One example that we have seen is Facebook and its privacy terms and conditions. Facebook is known as a place where people can share their information to whom they want and post about their interests. We can change our settings to say who can view our posts and other information that controls what we want private. But even if you do this, it is not really private. This is due to the fact that the creators of Facebook still have the rights to save any and all data about you. In face back in 2018 Facebook had a privacy scandal. This was shown in the New York Times  when they reported that “Facebook gave technology companies like Microsoft, Netflix and Spotify special access to user’s data without anyone else knowing.” Through technology, they have also related a bug to sell the photos and posts of Facebook users to any third-party apps. So, no matter your Facebook settings your information is not private.

Nothing is ever private, and we need to keep that in mind before we ever type or post any sort of content. Once you post something that is on the internet forever and it can never get taken down. Our privacy is our privacy but once we text, tweet, post, etc. about it then it’s not private anymore. IF we want anything to ever be private about us then we can never share it online or text it to anyone. We will have to keep it to ourselves if we want something to stay private.

The Adventures of an English Major in a STEM World

STEM. As English majors, many of us are probably used to hearing this field like it’s our older, cooler brother that we will never live up to. There undoubtably exists a hierarchy of fields to study and work in. In my opinion, here’s a solid (albeit unfortunate) representation (excuse the language in it, though; I just found it!):

I’m interested to see if people agree with the way this hierarchy is laid out. Personally, I was surprised to see Business Studies and Economics so low. This observation leads me to my point: while everyone has their own view of each field’s value (everyone has their own “hierarchy”), what discipline almost always seems to be coming in strong at the bottom?

That’s right. Ours!

Many English folks who feel the same way take a stabbing at STEM. “Put the STEM people in their place!” raged one of my friends. Don’t get wrong: I understand the frustration that is clearly fueling remarks like this one. It’s tiresome to routinely feel under-appreciated by society, especially people closest to you. For instance, your uncle at Thanksgiving who gives you the “…oh…” look when you remind him what your major is, your bio major friend who laughs at you for thinking that your homework is so hard, and maybe one of your parents who urged you to reconsider and proceed with caution as you declared your Lit major.

While these back-handed compliments and condescending storm clouds follow us, allow me to argue that it is important to not let these get to our head. The worst thing we can do? Give flack right back to STEM. Society needs everyone’s talents to function holistically, and that includes the dear humanities…and yes, STEM! Though hierarchies of all the fields (like the one above) are everywhere, they ultimately are propelling the issue of competition between disciplines. Only when we realize every field exists on equal grounds is when our society will function at peak performance. The more people bash the humanities, the less students will want to study them, so the less we will see new books, music, art, and media.

Let’s learn to embrace each and every discipline and try to make efforts to diminish the hierarchies that exist inside our own heads. In fact, doesn’t it get tiring having to argue all the time?

(Oh, wait…we can vouch that is does. After all, how many argumentative essays have we composed? I know I stopped counting.)

How Assistive Technology Has Changed Special Education

With the growing span of technology in modern society many aspects of society are being changed. For example, at the grocery store we now have the option to scan our own items at the self check out which 30 years ago was never thought of. This same idea applies to the field of Special Education which is the education of students with diverse abilities. Special Education was established relatively recently which many find shocking, in 1975 the first public law pertaining to educating those with disabilities entitled “The Education for all Handicapped Children Act”. Before this act many children were institutionalized and lived in horrible conditions and this was documented by Geraldo Rivera’s “Willowbrook” expose. This law was later changed to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act in 1990 and gave students with disabilities the right to free and appropriate public education in the least restrictive environment. I personally find this shocking that the education of students with disabilities was ignored for so long but in the classrooms today it is much improved.

Special Education has benefited so much from technology and without it many students would be unable to even communicate let alone learn. Assistive Technology are devices that assist those with disabilities in their everyday lives as well as in the classroom. For example, a child with cerebral palsy could have trouble producing speech and their motor functions and with a device that uses what is called “eye gaze” they can simply look at a specific word or picture on a screen and the device will produce speech. If a child with a disability has great motor skills they can use an Ipad app called “Proloquo2go” which allows for them to form sentences by choosing from pictures on a screen and it will generate speech for them. Speech generation devices are so powerful because so many individuals with disabilities before this assistive technology were unable to express their thoughts and learn in the classroom and now they finally have a voice and that is so powerful. Another example of an assistive technology device is navigation assistance so that students with visual impairments can navigate their school and other environments with ease. This device speaks aloud to you while you are walking and tells you what you are near and how far you are away from where you are trying to go. Special Educators now can use this assistive technology in the classroom and can easily adapt their instruction to their students. There are forms of this technology that can help individuals with various types of disabilities learn in the classroom and in life and without technology the education of these individuals would be completely different.

The Perks of Digital Humanities

I’ll admit that I signed up for Digital Humanities because it was the only class during Add/Drop week that fit my schedule. I enrolled in the class at 7 a.m. on Monday morning (or maybe it was Wednesday) and by 12:20 I was sitting in Bailey Hall waiting for class to start. I was skeptical at first, to sign up for a course that had digital in the title, since I don’t exactly consider myself to be a technology mogul. I decided to give the class my best shot, and I can safely say that I have not been disappointed. Every class I learn something new. I guess that’s the point of all classes, but I continuously find myself being able to learn and apply the skills that I learned in Digital Humanities. I made my own Google Map for my trip to Florida, in order to remember all of the places I wanted to go. I used Atom to write a prompt for my History of the English Language course. I signed up for Omeka, and over the summer I am planning to create my own digital exhibit that will most likely detail my Freshman year at Geneseo. I believe that Digital Humanities is extremely versatile and I have found that it has helped me expand my knowledge into an array of other disciplines. It is unique to take a class where you can learn new skills and be able to use them outside of the course. For example, I didn’t exactly find myself using my knowledge of covalent and ionic bonds outside of Gen Chem I. I already recommend James Gleick’s The Information and WordPress to all of my friends, and from this point on I think I’ll start recommending Digital Humanities as well.

The use of Omeka and Timeline

Recently in class, we have been playing around with the Omeka application. I’ve learned that you don’t want to think of Omeka as an open blog post to vent your ideas, but rather, look at Omeka as an online museum which contains artifacts. With playing around with Omeka I started to make an online museum about my life and showing how I got here today. As I was doing this in class, I started to think about how I could use these ideas and connect it to my final project in the class which uses the Knight Lab timeline tool. Both of these tools can be used in the same way, but they are very different applications.

When I think of Omeka now I think about it as a timeline about someone’s life history. But you don’t see the timeline, rather, you see the exhibits which can be like a timeline. You can click through the different pages and see the history of that person’s life. This is exactly what I am doing with my final project on the timeline website. My group is doing the history of how the book Walden by Henry David Thoreau came to be. We are doing what is shown in Omeka but in our project, you can actually see a picture of a timeline with a point on it explaining what he did at this date/ time period. I feel that these two tools are connected. If I use my Omeka website as an example, I started putting together an online museum of my life and the history of how I got to SUNY Geneseo. I could grab all of these pages that I started to make and put it all on the timeline website. I could start with the day I was born and add captions explaining each event I would decide to put in there. On the timeline tool, you can also add as many pictures as you want. One difference between the two is that you can pinpoint when the exact event was on the timeline, and in Omeka you would put the date either in the caption or as the title of that exhibit. But it is the same story that can be told on different tools.

As I have mentioned before; I am studying to be a teacher. After learning about these applications, I found that this would be a great project that I could assign in my classroom or use in class to do the history of an author in literacy, or of how electricity was invented in science. I feel that these tools can be used in all subjects and not just in history class. This is also a great way to get the students excited about researching a time period, event, or person and then have them explain it to their other classmates. These could be fun projects that aren’t the same activities over and over again. Another way that I thought I could use this is to use it as a project rather than have them take a test; it is still testing what they learned but they don’t have to get as stressed about taking an exam. I also think it’s good to mix up giving students tests and projects because then they can focus on learning rather than just memorizing, I know I enjoyed this mixing up of testing growing up.

Sustainability in the Age of Information

As I pondered on what I’ve gained in this course, many thoughts emersed. I could begin by delving in what I consider the most significant change I’ve noticed which is the way I now interact with information and knowledge not only as an academic but as a human and member of society. Before this course, technology and information seemed more conceptual to me and although I understood its pressing inhibatance in modernity and in my own life, I had never really taken the time to speculate what this rigorous immersing of engagement between humans and technology really meant for me or for the world. This class offered by the tools and environment I needed to step back in order to truly cogitate on the subject. One of the many qualities I’ve enjoyed about the structure of the course thus far has been the open discussions among my peers and our instructor, where constructed commentary, short witty anecdotes, and insights were offered in how they all personally interacted with information and technology. It was this open conversation between everyone in the classroom that led me to the basis of my observation: the role of technology and information in the idea of sustainability. I would like to explain this connection in further detail, but first, I’d like to disclose the most prevailing way sustainability is envisioned and conceptualized. When reflecting on the idea of sustainability, it will often come in the form of envisioning its materiality in three pillars: social, economic, environmental. What this metaphorical rendition offers, is a way in which to understand how a sustainable system requires balance from all three pillars in order to be deemed as efficient and effective. What it outlines then, is a call for the need of balance and harmony within the three pillars of sustainability, prioritizing the needs of not only ongoing economic production, but of environmental and social sustainability as well. This is where the role of technology and information begins. According to a report published by Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity at the University of Connecticut, restaurants, food and beverage companies often target Black and Hispanic consumers in an effort to sell their least nutritious products, all which fall primarily under the category of fast-food items—high in sodium and fat, with barely any nutritional value. Through market research data, researchers were able to measure TV advertising spending in total which revealed how the majority of companies spend a significantly greater amount of money targeting Spanish-language and Black-targeted networks. By having unhealthy food marketing purposely aimed at minority youth, companies are able to contribute to the lack of proper diets in lower income communities, increasing diet-related diseases such as high cholesterol, heart disease, obesity and high-blood pressure. By having a significantly higher exposure to the marketing tactics by companies, Hispanic and Black children continue to face diet-related disparities among communities of color. This is one of the ways that technology, such as broadcasting networks and market research data, can impact quality of life.

Democracy and Digitization

Like the human brain or the deepest parts of the ocean, the potential for discovery in the digital age seems boundless, especially to someone new to computing like me. Literature and Literary Study in the Digital Age has provided me with keys to locks on doors that I never even knew existed. The technical tools and languages fascinate me, how they command my computer to do things I never thought possible. However, I want to focus on how these technical things build a sort of digital democracy and how this might act as a model for other social environments. We have learned that most of what makes the internet work is open source and free to use/observe. Granted, editing the web can be limited by administrative privileges, but if I learned anything, it is that I am more in control than I thought when it comes to shaping my computing experience.

Applying these technical tools and concepts The Reader’s Thoreau is the best example of the sort of democracy I am talking about. This community, in which Thoreauvians can exchange questions and ideas about his works, is a microcosmic formation of democracy made possible by the computer. Apprehending a plain text version of Walden, raw and unbound from the material book, allows readers the access to the words at a level beyond that of the book. Plain text and plain-text editing with XML or HTML makes things like CommentPress possible. Digitizing Walden has not only brought the text to the more readers, it has engaged them in conversations with other readers. Here, then, is an example of how the technical can perform the conceptual, how digitization can democratize. After working with XML and HTML in the fall to digitize Yeats, I ultimately wanted all of my digital humanist work to surround this core issue, the democratization of information. Little did I know that the internet is set up perfectly for this type of work.

In my investigations of Lessig and Free Culture it became clear to me that computers are the backbone of what Lessig calls “remix culture.” The ability of markup languages like XML and HTML are instructive and thus can produce and reproduce texts that shed new light on old words. Similar to riffing in music or stigmergy in organizational theory, these languages allow developers (citizens of the web) to repeat and revise content in new and interesting ways. Lessig writes, “democratic tools gave ordinary people a way to express themselves more easily than any tools could before” (33). Just like a camera, the computer allows take control of their reality, revise and remix it to their liking. This makes the internet rich in texture and vibrant in culture. It reflects what is so good with democracy and it relies on technical copying and revision. This copying and revision happens, for us, at the command line, where we have been spending some time this semester. We can participate actively in the process of making and remaking by directly accessing our computers internal structure. Knowing the technical hierarchy gives each of us the chance to govern ourselves, which is both fundamental to democracy and vital to self-preservation in the hyper-surveillance culture we live in today.

True, the accessibility computers provide people can be used for harm. We are living in an era of “memetic warfare,” where hate can be propagated through the exact same methods of copying and revision. Open sourcing the internet is always at risk of this. Trolls on YouTube and Wikipedia will constantly disrupt the ideal digital democracy, just as corruption and scandal will plague our own democracy. However, the moment we attempt to purify this democracy by placing tight restrictions on spaces like Wikipedia and YouTube we sacrifice that very same democracy. In my directed study with Dr. Doggett, we are talking about this precise issue. The theorist we are reading, Slavoj Zizek, would say that to purify democracy is actually a totalitarian move. Thus, we must preserve the aberrations and deal with hate quickly and effectively. Wikipedia does this by running a “Talk” page alongside each entry, a separate HTML file for people to discuss and suggest changes to each page. It relies on a democratic schema to self-organize and create good.

Similarly, we have seen both sides of computer-as-society with The Reader’s Thoreau. We have engaged in a rich conversation of Walden all semester with each other and readers around the world. Blogging and commenting has fostered a community that exemplifies what we should strive for on and off the internet. We have also seen individuals penetrate the community looking to cause harm (I am referring to the woman asking for money). However, thanks to the self-organizing principles of the internet and some quick action from the site’s administrator, the community was able to move passed this and get back to reading deliberately.

All of this has been made possible by a hyperlinked internet that allows users to move freely between data points and information. As Jeffery Pomerantz points out, the potential of an HTML file is the precise reason why we have the internet. This the underlying technical structure of what makes the computer a democratic tool. Texts connect to other texts which connect people to texts and people to people. This is probably the most important thing I will take from this class. The computer’s ability to convene more and different people around a text, inviting new perspectives always, intrigues me as a student and excites me as a person. I want to take the digital humanities into my education going forward as it has proved so helpful in considering the ethics of writing, something I think about constantly. In short, the technicalities of digitization have prompted me to think in new ways about things that have always been important to me. By continuing in the pursuit of discovery, I will continue in my pursuit of democracy.

Be YOU

I wanted to start this post with a quote from Thoreau’s Solitude, “I find it wholesome to be alone the greater part of the time.” Thoreau seems to have a thematic ideal in this piece that escaping from humanity and being in solitude, in his own company, is what he prefers. In relation to our course the question that comes to my mind is does our technological advances ever allow us to be in complete and utter solitude? The everlasting obsession and connection between the handheld devices we all acquire disallows for us to be truly alone in my opinion. Here, Thoreau is stating he finds it wholesome to be alone, do you think if we could disconnect from the societal attachment we all have to technology and what it offers we would feel the same, or would we feel isolated, anxious and nervous to not be a part of what we have all become so dependent on?

Technology. Technology. Technology.

Our complete reliance on screens, social media and the internet is very evident in our world today. One of our classmates brought an article to attention in slack, Deleting Social Media for 30 Days Changed my Life. How many hours do you spend on your phone on average per day a week? You know, our intelligent phones literally track that data for us. Quite frankly, I am a little embarrassed to share mine which varies between 4-5 hours daily. DAILY! There is so much research that links social media to having effects on peoples happiness and well-being, whether those effects are positive or negative. Lately, I have been seeing only the negative. Yes, it is important to keep up to date on happenings in the world, however, the rate that we as a society are at is alarming. It is not just about news and happenings, it is about others, comparing ourselves to others. When really, WHO CARES! (Insert sarcasm command) I am so glad I saw someones post on facebook of their 90+ pictures of a vacation they just took. NOT, I mean like great for you, but think about the time that person spent on their phone there. Did they really fulfill the trip or did they only care about others knowing they were there? Even further, did they feel anxious or missing out due to lack of attachment to their phone while being on vacation? Don’t get me wrong, I am all about capturing the moment, however wish more I would just sit and enjoy it. This all relates right back to Thoreau’s idea of solitude and solitude is what he prefers. Mavbe if people weren’t so influenced by others due to this “standard” of living we would enjoy our own company more. I find that when I allow for it and disconnect from my social media/society obligations, wants and needs that I am happy. Heres my challenge, I challenge all of you to be YOU. Don’t be influenced by others, be your true self because society will keep changing and changing and the special thing about each individual human is that you are unique, you are your own, you are you. So, I challenge you to be you, don’t be influenced or consumed by what the world has drilled inside of our brains.

The War of the STEM and the Human

STEM and Humanities majors, engaging in brutal warfare

There is a war currently being waged between STEM and humanities
majors. This is not a violent conflict, no blood has yet been shed;the only casualties are those who become polluted into thinking that
either field is inherently better than the other.

The common perception is that STEM majors are intelligent but rigid, unappreciative of art and unable to see the “human” factor. This is contrary to the humanities major, who is wise and thoughtful
but so focused in on their particular niche they lose sight of what can be truly useful to society. Such toxic mentalities are rampant in college circles, as students stick to their clustered cliques, tut-tutting the other side for just not getting it.

Into this open vacuum of stuffy jingoism comes this strange little class: the Digital Humanities. And into this strange little class came a student who has long held the belief that those STEM majors just don’t get it. He had heard of this strange little class with its oxymoronic title and he just had to check it out. So this poor student, who has always held a certain degree of contempt for those STEM majors and their stupid intelligence, finds himself learning that the reason he has access to all of his beloved media, his art, his literature, is because of a few lines of code and some strips of a metal he probably couldn’t even pronounce the name of.

That poor student, being me of course, finds himself in an awkward position when at the end of the course he actually thinks that all of these technical STEM things are all of the stuff he always thought was monopolized by the humanities. Languages are just issues of communication solved through the grouping of symbols and sounds. Every time a writer goes back and edits their existing material, trimming away the lines that don’t work, they are engaging in the same behavior as the scientist or mathematician or computer technician that is solving a complicated set of code, or discovering a black hole. What is in our books? A rigid structure of chapter>page>paragraph>sentence>word>letter. It’s just the same as in coding or mathematics. Librarians, those brave guardians of the humanities, use coding and mathematical processes of data collection, as we learned in “Metadata”. So… I guess problem solving isn’t just in the realm of the STEM majors.

Towards the beginning of this class, we discussed what the study of humanities was, and it’s a question I keep returning to even as we trudge into the muck of html and source code. What we do in class, picking through backchannels on networking websites and adding brackets to couplets of letters, that is part of the humanities. It could also be considered part of the STEM field. This class helped to dispel the notion that there is a binary existence of art on one side and math on the other, only separated by a thin de-militarized zone where business majors eke out some sort of meager existence. Rather, it is a nebulous field where both exist, borrowing elements most think belong to the other and transforming them into what we recognize as its pure form. I guess “Digital Humanities” isn’t such an oxymoron.

Whatever I say, I’ve still got my eye on you, STEM majors.