An Older, Better Twitter

For the first time in my college career, I have lived off campus this year. I live on Center Street, and while living off campus affords me a bigger room and my own personal laundry services, it also necessitates quite a walk to class. As a relatively poor college student, I declined to pay extra for a commuter parking pass (a parking pass which is so limited in the parking spots it affords you it is hardly worth the money) and as such I walk to class, rain or shine. I wholeheartedly endorse a walk to class; the time spent outdoors invigorates the mind and body in a way that a morning commute in a car cannot.

Ever since Spring began and the trees began to flower again, my morning walks have been scored by the sounds of birds calling to each other in the trees lining the street. It is common to hear the songs of the American robin (Turdus migratorius) and the downy woodpecker (Picoides pubescens) from the trees in the morning, and I’ve become familiar with the sights and sounds of many of the birds that live in Geneseo. The robins can be seen scavenging for insects and earthworms in the front yards of the houses on Center Street, and are largely unconcerned with the passersby on their way to class.

The birds of Center Street talk all morning with each other, communicating in ways that we can only truly guess at. For all the scientific analysis in the world, we’ll never truly know what one bird said to another from the power lines bounding Center Street. From the tops of trees and the powerlines these birds call out to the world, and I can’t help but think of it as an avian social network, a community forum of sorts for birds.

Twitter is the obvious comparison, low-hanging bird pun aside. The birds calling reminds me more however, of our earliest examples of social networks. The power lines and trees of Geneseo constitute the bird equivalent of the free-for-all group chats like those previously found on Echo. Early social networks could seem like users screaming their thoughts into the world to be heard by whoever happened to be online, and this social network of birds that spans my walk to work seems no different to me. This comparison is only strengthened by the birds’ habit of sitting either on power lines or the trees lining Center Street; the power lines which carry the electricity needed to power our own social networks and the trees which inspired the very shape of the internet that allows us to socialize.

There is, of course, a more rational and scientific explanation for the bird songs on Center Street. April is the beginning of many common birds’ mating season, and many of the calls I hear are likely efforts to find a suitable mate (perhaps not so different than Twitter after all). As it is wont to do, nature returns to the four F’s (ask your favorite biology professor to explain). It is however, I think, more enjoyable to think oneself surrounded by social discourse than surrounded by these calls for a mate.


Anti-technological Attitudes in the Digital Age

Walden and the Ironic Outcomes of a Digital Literature Course

So far this course has been very computer focused. This is to be expected since it’s a course on the modern digital avenues of studying literature, and the variety of applications of code and computing to literature study have been continually surprising and impressing me. More on this later. Despite this, this semester I have found myself ironically increasingly drifting away from technology use the longer the course goes on. I have been spending less time on my phone, making an effort to see friends in person instead of texting or calling, and have been more and more aware of how pervasive technology is in my every day life. I’ve found joy in writing letters to my friends and the interaction without the use of smartphones or computers feels more genuine to me despite the fact that letters take longer to arrive than texts. This is certainly not a direct result of our class, but it’s funny to me that this attitude towards technology is developing while taking a very computer forward course. This is a view that I think originally developed while reading Walden for the first time. In the Fall of 2023, I attempted to read Walden for my own personal enjoyment, but didn’t have the time or memory span to finish it. Despite not finishing it, I think part of Thoreau’s writing influenced me away from the consumerism and focus on productivity that pervades modern society. I have since began phasing technology use out of my life as much as possible, and so far the reading of Walden in class has only reinforced that. I have no plans to live in the woods any time soon, but I have been swayed by some of Thoreau’s thoughts on living simply and virtuously.

A Reluctant Respect for Coding

Despite my newfound aversion to technology, I am impressed with the digital avenues of literature study. I never would have thought that the humanities utilized coding in this way, but I can appreciate the potential uses for encoding texts in a way that can be read and analyzed by a machine. Learning about coding in the humanities and coding in biology has led me to similar attitudes; I am not a fan of doing it, but I appreciate the need for it and the potential positives of developing it as a field. The development of coding languages for encoding literature at first seemed a little pointless to me; I would have been inclined to agree with the question that someone asked in class “If you’re going through all the trouble to encode all the lines of text in order to count them all, can’t you just use that time to count all the lines of text instead?” Although we haven’t gotten too far into the specific uses of TEI yet, the encoding of the Walden manuscript is a very detailed and undeniably impressive project that forces me to admit that even if I don’t want to be the one doing it, it is useful and cool to be able to describe text that way. For the rest of the class, I’ll try to keep this respect and potentially even enjoy the opportunity to code literature.