One weekend in April, I was trying to do homework at my desk, but I did not feel like I was accomplishing anything. The reason was not that I was tired or hungry, it was because I was continuously getting distracted by my phone. New Instagram photos and Facebook updates kept capturing my attention to the point where I could not put my phone down. At that moment, I felt like there was something wrong. Social media was consuming my life and interfering with my ability to do schoolwork. After coming to this realization, I checked the amount of time I was spending on my phone per day. The amount came to an average of five hours and thirty minutes per day. This statistic blew my mind and influenced me to make a change.
When most people think of an English course, they likely think about literature and writing. It would be rare for a person’s first thought to be about using digital technology to better understand concepts that are relative to the English major. However, in English 340, incorporating different computer programs into our class is exactly what we have been doing. The information we have learned has taught me several valuable lessons that I probably would not have learned in any other class.
Prior to this semester, I have always used Google Maps to get from place to place while driving, but I never realized that it could do much more than offer directions. As demonstrated in class on February 25th, Google Maps can be used to add certain points of interest to a map. During our in-class activity, I took the opportunity to construct a map that included all of the schools I have attended throughout my lifetime. This allowed me to gather a general idea of their distances from each other. At a young age, I viewed my elementary school as being far away from my house, when in reality it was only fifteen minutes away. Today, I view my college as being relatively close to my house, even though it is an hour and fifteen minutes away. The map allowed me to recognize how much my concept of time has changed from the time I was young.
Along with adding data to maps from our personal lives, our class also learned how to insert data that represents statistics from around the world. I chose to overlay the locations of every American Indian Reservation onto my Google map. It’s interesting to get a sense of their locations, especially pertaining to my current location. I never realized how many reservations there are in relation to Buffalo and Geneseo. Surprisingly, it is relatively easy to import the statistics onto the map. To add a new layer onto Google maps, you need to start by choosing “add layer.” Next, you select “import” and then choose “select a file from your device” under the “upload tab.” As long as the statistics pertaining to your topic have been saved to your computer, you should be able to choose the downloaded information from your files to insert onto the Google map. Once you press complete, the information should appear as another layer on the map. This knowledge has changed the way I look at Google Maps. The technical concept is also a great way to compare statistics from several different maps. It also allows people to conceptualize information that might not be understood when presented as a list of numbers. I now see it as a useful tool that can help me to understand certain statistics in an easier way.
The information that we learned about Google Maps during class has helped to make our final project task more understandable. The project that my group is focusing on is based on Google Maps. Our task has been to find all of the place names that Henry David Thoreau mentioned in Walden and place them on a map to make the knowledge easily accessible to internet users. Taking the time to truly understand how to use Google Maps in class has allowed my group to approach this project with a good amount of background knowledge. We have a clear understanding of how to plot the locations on the map and add details that allow the viewer to grasp what they are looking at. The knowledge we gained in class about Google Maps has made it easier to successfully complete our project thus far.
In addition to using Google Maps for the final project, I have considered using it as a way to plot where my family members have lived. I feel as though I have an elaborate family ancestry, which includes ancestors originating from Armenia, Ireland, England, Italy, and many other countries. My mother’s side of the family has a pretty clear understanding of where our ancestors are from, but no one in my family has ever taken the time to plot this information. I have very little knowledge of where my father’s ancestors are from. I would love to take the time to go through family records and figure out more information about my dad’s side. Google Maps offers me the perfect opportunity to label where my ancestors are from. I feel as though this information would be very beneficial to know, for both my current and future family members. Had we not learned about Google Maps in class, it is likely that I never would have considered taking the time to track my family ancestry on a map.
By taking English 340, I feel as though I have learned about several types of computer programs that I never would have learned about elsewhere. Google Maps is a program that I have used for many years, but not to the fullness I could have. This class has allowed me to realize how much Maps has to offer. Already, Maps has allowed me to create maps, document data about Thoreau’s Walden, and look further into my family ancestry. I am excited to see what else I can do with Google Maps in the future.
Prior to taking English 340, I never associated computers with the humanities. In most of my classes that have been related to the humanities, I have used sources such as textbooks and the teacher’s notes to gather new information. When it comes to using my computer for classes such as English or History, I typically only write papers or do simple research on it. It is almost unheard of to have a class about the humanities that revolves around using a computer. In fact, most professors expect students to put their computers away during class because they are viewed as more of a distraction than a helpful tool.
English 340 is the first class I have taken in which we have studied the ways computers and other technologies have influenced the humanities. Given that most of the events that are studied in the humanities took place many years ago, computers did not have much of an influence on how the situations played out. I believe this is one of the main reasons why I have never associated computers with the humanities.
Since Kindergarten, I have been taught how to interact with computers. Even though I have been using computers for nearly my entire life, I often wonder how much I truly know about them. During middle school and high school, I had to take courses on how to make better use of my computing skills. When I think back on this, I realize that most of the skills I was taught were very basic and I typically did not learn anything riveting. In fact, most of the times I took a computing course, I was learning information that I had already been taught. During high school, I was required to take four computing courses per year. Two of the courses were about how to use two types of research websites to find information and sources. The other two courses were about two different computer programs that were meant to improve my writing and typing skills. The information taught in these courses was the extent of what I learned about computers before coming to college. In reality, extensive programs and skills should be taught to children at a younger age so that they can gain a better grasp of computer knowledge for the future.
Even though I did not learn much about computers in high school, I had the opportunity to gain knowledge from other sources. The summer before I started college, I interned at an organization called Explore Buffalo. One of my duties was to help organize events that took place throughout the summer. While doing this, I was taught how to use several different programs on my computer that I had never heard of before. By using them, I was able to create marketing posters and plan certain events very quickly. This internship allowed me to realize how much more I could do on my computer than I had previously thought. Learning how to use these programs was very rewarding, but I continued to mainly use my personal computer for the internet, to check my email, and to write essays on Microsoft Word. I still feel as though I only know how to use a small number of computing programs. After recognizing that there are simple things I could do to use my computer in more extensive ways, I gained the desire to learn more about computing.
Once I heard about the Digital Humanities class, I realized that this was my chance to learn more about computing. I decided to enroll in the course because it interested me and I realized that I would gain skills that I could use in my future career. During the first week of class, I recognized that my knowledge of computers had already started to expand. I find it exciting that we are learning how to use programs that I have never heard of before, such as Atom and DigitalBox. The new tricks and shortcuts that we have learned how to use make it easier to interact between several programs on the computer. I look forward to using this new knowledge to become better at using my machine in more ways than I ever thought possible.