Author: Domenica Piccoli

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.

Learning is Growing

They say that you are the pilot for your own path of learning. In taking this course, I really feel like I have taken that role of being in charge of my own learning in a whole new direction. A direction that at first, I was pretty uncomfortable with, a direction that has opened my eyes to so much more than I was seeing. For instance, the abundance of possibilities that a machine, our machines we have right in front of us, can do. A machine that can do so much that us as humans cannot even complete in a quarter of the time it takes for the machine to do so. Our machines are so much smarter and quicker than us! In another essence, humans are capable of reading in between the lines, making meaning behind something that is not explicitly stated, something our computer cannot do. How interesting, one aspect we hold over the technological world.

I would say the absolute most interesting thing I now know, that I did not in the beginning of the semester is XML – Extensible markup language. Extensible, meaning it allows us to extend our perception of what a document really is, what it really entails. Markup, meaning the explicit language used, more specifically the tags (opening, closing) or components of it. Lastly, the language part simply allows us to define other languages in a computable way. XML is a language for describing the culture of textual content and data which has opened my eyes to a greater dimension of the capabilities of technology. I mean, how incredible! Learning XML has made me think deeper, in a different way about things that I have not before. For example, the spaces in a book. WHO has EVER read a book and noticed or commented on the spacing between the lines, paragraphs, sentences, etc?! I certainly haven’t! Well, although I haven’t, someone has and to that someone, it is SUPER important. Quick side note in relation to life because I am such a stickler for life learning, different things will be more important than others to different people and having this view on technology is important because one little incorrect comma has the ability to alter an entire command, just like one thing to someone in life has the ability to change something immensely that maybe wouldn’t affect another person. In saying this, precision is absolute key. A simple misspelling or typing of a character or symbol can invalidate an entire document. In playing around with XML, I took a simple webpage, as a matter of fact our digital humanities group page, and placed it into a google sheet with a specific command line [ (=IMPORTXML(“websitelink”,”//item”) ]. With this I was amazed! The computer recognized it was XML and put it into an organized google sheet. It took all the content and did stuff with it because the content has the structure that the specific markup language has given it. The computer not only went to the webpage, but straight to the part where the item is (that level) and took all the items and separated things into data (author, ID #, time, etc). Imagine how l o n g it would’ve taken a human to organize and sort that for a whole blog post webpage. XML tells us that the documents are really a hierarchy of information, a hierarchy that it can easily organize into different “families” or “categories”. It makes things more visually appealing for the ease of our eyes, the webpage verses the breakdown of components in the webpage. However, in doing this, behind the webpage itself was this incredible amount of organization that is so interesting. In essence, XML provides a way to structure textual data (all the organizational information) and makes it so a machine can do something with it (make the webpage!). You can use XML to describe the various structural components of a novel by transforming it into a Microsoft document and telling it to separate paragraphs by a line or a different font for headings, etc. XML has the capabilities to do all of this! Overall, I have learned that XML is a markup language that consists of a set of rules for encoding documents in a format that is both human-readable and machine-readable. It allows you to separate information from the presentation of that information. This was definitely the most interesting thing I have learned thus far. This knowledge has changed me because it has made me realize that the computer is much more behind our perception. In other words, the webpage is much more than what we see of it.

Communication Differs

In the beginning weeks of this course we read the novel, The Information by James Gleick. I’d like to express how absolutely interesting the book was to me as it opened my eyes to aspects of information, communication and information theory that I have never thought that in depth about before. For the purpose of this blog post, I want to focus on the communication aspect of the book. The book states, “as communication evolves, messages in language can be broken down and composed and transmitted in much small sets of symbols” (Gleick 74). Specifically, my focus here is on symbols and language. When reading this book for class, I immediately related it to another course I am taking, American Sign Language (ASL). ASL is essentially replicating the English language visually, by the use of symbols. And, these sets of symbols are essentially the way deaf people communicate. So, my question, how has it evolved? Well, we have learned how much language and different forms of language or ways of communicating has transposed and changed in the book. For instance, the African drum, the language of telegraph signs (oh wow, signs…American sign language), etc. These were all ways of getting information, or communicating that information, from one point to another.

We know from the book, “the language spoken in one valley differs from the language spoken in the next” (Gleick 73). Meaning, the language spoken in one area, is not the same in another area. Let me first compare this in a simple way. Coming to college you meet people from different areas of the state, country, world etc. One difference, although seemingly small, is very representative of the differences in communication, or language, from “valley” to valley”. A friend of mine referring to soda as pop. I had no idea was pop was, a lollipop? Well, where she is from, pop is what they refer to what I refer to soda as. In comparison, in sign language, different areas have different means and ways of communicating. One sign may not be the same sign in another area. The broader sense of this would be the difference in American sign language verse French sign language. There are many different variations of signs. However, amongst those broad categories or country signs, are individual forms of actual sign language that differs. Kind of like how amongst our language of English, as individual ways of the world evolve so do certain aspects of the language and communicating. What does lit mean? One may think you lit a fire at one point in time, however, it has evolved as a word to mean something else, the word lit now holds an additional connotation and means awesome or fun. (kind of weird right?!). Sign language has that as well. Different areas and people have various means of their way of communicating. You can communicate in American Sign language, Pidgin Signed English, and Signed Exact English. Three forms of sign language that are used across the US. Even then it can be broken down further, there’s something called the Rochester Method of sign, which is finger-spelling every single word (even though in other forms there may be a simpler way to say that word (an actually symbolic sign)). Just like the Rochester method has evolved over time, so has our language and communication! Texting, and blogging and tweeting and messaging. The finger-spelling method of sign language transitioning to the more symbolic simpler sense of it relates to our English language evolving to some of the slang we use. So, in thinking of that, what do you notice about other people’s language? Does it differ than yours mostly or just in small areas? Let’s think of locally, then state wide, then the northern part of America verse the southern part of America, then even broader to different countries. It is so interesting to actually think about. So, to end this blog, I’d like to leave you with another quote from James Gleick “everyones sense of language differs and no one’s can be called standard” (Gleick 72). Enjoy!

Learning the Digital Humanities

In English 340 we have been collectively discussing the digital humanities. Some topics we have touched on have been the transformation or development of language, the technological influences over our communication and specifically how our communication has many different means of channels. Prior to coming into this course, my view of the relationship between computers and humanities was not nearly as strong, developed, and thoughtful as it is now being four weeks into this class. I often thought of the two as entirely separate happenings. Having taken a humanities course that related to nothing in the technological world but rather the development and analytics of cultural and societal aspects did not help connect the two, but only distinguish them from one another. Before reading some chapters of the book, The Information, I thought of the connection between computers and humanities from a vague and broad perspective. That being said, the only connection I had thought of involved how people have grown to be dependent on computers or technology in general. Computers are put at our fingertips, I mean literally in handheld devices that seem to barely leave our hands. That being said, the relationship that we have with them is a strong one as it seems as though they have been ingrained as routine in our everyday lives. Coming into this course, computers and the humanities were barely connected. The only ways I thought of, and not necessarily thought of in relation to one another, was the use of media and different ways of coming of information and sending messages (basically the technological influence on the world). Being in this course, I have learned so far that the digital humanities is so much more than that. It conveys a much bigger idea of the development of this digital and humanities connected world we live in. This class has been knowledgeable in portraying the development of the language we so very speak and further analyzing how this impacts our everyday lives.

Coming into this course, I have to admit I was nervous. I cannot say that I was truly confident in my technological abilities, and I still cannot say that at this moment. The truth is, I am learning something new every day that is a little out of my comfort zone with technology. I came into class knowing very basic computer skills. Yet these computer skills seem to get me through the modern day just fine. The skills I brought with me into this class include using different browsers, imports, exports and downloads or converting documents were ones that I quickly learned are definitely below average in computing skills. However, with these skills, I have always felt as I can hold my own when it comes to general aspects of technology (you know, I feel like a genius when explaining things to my Grandma). Yet, this class has brought me to realize how behind I am with the understanding of general computing. I have never even heard of the software, coding, and markdowns we use. Through the beginning weeks of this class, I have gotten more comfortable coming out of my comfort zone with the digital humanities. I have learned some very cool aspects that I did not know of before like coding, atom, html, and virtualbox. One area of weakness I can identify for myself is potentially trying too hard to keep up. I sometimes feel like I will miss something simple because I am focusing so hard on every individual step to make sure I do it right. For example, two weeks ago I copied something from google docs into a discussion post and noticed the format was funky. Later realizing avoiding that issue was simple. I now know other techniques like markdowns in atom, creating links to pictures, italicizing, and even create emojis simply by typing in a code. Some other things I learned about, through my peers, were different programs and apps that are useful in everyday digital life. One thing I really am enjoying is the book, The Information. Learning about how communication, messaging, and information has grown over time and the processes of different cultures and ways of communicating has been so intriguing.

My relationship with my computer coming into this course is definitely one considered a “love/hate” relationship. I often beat myself up because I know my MacBook is capable of such cool features that I have not taken the time to learn about. Spending so much money on this computer only to use the basic functions of it seems as if I am doing a disservice. The only functions I use my computer for are mostly schoolwork and leisure. I am your average user of Microsoft, google drive, PowerPoints, Netflix, and social media on my electronic device. Through this class, I am happy to be learning more functions and use of my computer because I have never used programs like we are. However, that speaks to the fact that my relationship with my computer coming into the course was not really a strong one as I never really understood complex concepts of coding and other computer science aspects that we continue to learn in this course.

To conclude this reflection, I want to quote Dr. Schacht when he stated, “A huge part of doing something is being willing to devote the time and developing some expertise on finding information on the web by either the product itself or the community of people who use it.” I feel as though this is such an empowering message as we continue through this course to keep in the back of our minds.  Everything we need to know, we can essentially figure out. So, folks, that is my push for everyone, if you seem to be having trouble with something! Reach out to people, do some research to help you find what you are looking for, and with this you will begin to better yourself as an information technologist!