A Woman on Walden Pond? (a sample blog post)

(This is an example blog post I created so English 340 students could see the potential style of a blog post, and begin to create your own. To get started, log in and then click on “+ New” at the top of the page. You can write about almost anything you want related to tech, digital lit, Thoreau, etc. etc. But, let me know if you have blogger’s block, I have some ideas I can share!)

I began this post with a question: What would it look like for a woman to go into the woods, as Thoreau did? What would it look like for a woman to join network marketing site Wake Up Now like Damien?

I don’t believe there are many popular narratives offering that possibility, or exploring that outcome. The only literary option that came to mind was Eat Pray Love, but one could argue that the protagonist’s ability to drop everything and travel the world puts her in a privileged

Maybe I'd like Thoreau more if he ate more gelato...
Maybe I’d like Thoreau more if he ate more gelato…

position not representative of all women. So, what happens when a regular-Joe lady decides to escape our capitalist rat-race of a society in a search to find herself?

Consider the world of gaming. Virtual reality scenarios could be considered a modern-day escape from the world. They don’t make you a living or offer the possibility of sustaining yourself financially, so I suppose you never truly leave the rat-race, but they offer a temporary escape into another world where less is at stake, and you can play out scenarios impossible in real life. Women are essentially barred from this space in a number of ways, including misogynistic and violent story lines and, maybe more importantly, actual harassment and threats. In the Gamergate controversy of 2014, gamers coordinated to threaten women involved in gaming, including Anita Sarkeesian, the creator of Feminist Frequency, a site dedicated to exploring “representations of women in pop-

Follow Anita Sarkeesian on Twitter at @femfreq
Follow Anita Sarkeesian on Twitter at @femfreq

culture narratives.” Sarkeesian received really upsetting death threats (and more), but she continued to speak about about representation of women in video games, and about cool+smart digital humanities topics such as anonymity, narrative control, and questions of access.

So, when women try to enter spaces offering escape, they usually aren’t safe. This is sad, because even Thoreau acknowledges that a retreat to the woods isn’t for everyone, and there are a lot of ways to find oneself in this world. Maybe the whole project of finding oneself is meant for the privileged, and is therefore totally flawed, or maybe the system at large people are escaping from should be fixed rather than run from, or maybe we need to work harder to ensure open access, as it were, in these escape scenarios….

I think it was Allison who said in class that she felt Thoreau came from a position of great privilege. And I agree. And in the end, I think the question we as digital humanists and admirers of Thoreau need to ask is, how can we engage with this work responsibly? How can we create safe spaces for everyone in comment sections, in games, on social media, or surrounding digital texts?

One heartening example: Remember our class discussion about Storify? Like Darby described in class, it’s a place of narrative control, where people literally embed things into narrative form. Another oft-harassed Twitterer is Black Girl Dangerous. She uses Storify to save whole twitter conversations as they happen, so even if people go back and delete comments, or make false claims about who said what first, she has archival proof of what happened and how. This is one way people venture into escapist places (Twitter) and use digital humanist-style tools to work toward safety in those spaces.

Any more examples of online harassment? Ideas for remedies? Arguments or agreements? Comment below!

“iridescence, for Piano and iPad”

Just a quick thought:

So a friend of a friend of a friend of mine is an extremely talented pianist (check out his website if you don’t believe me…..) Among his other groundbreaking work, he experiments with classical music and technology. The video I’ve embedded here is to a piece titled “iridescence, for piano and iPad.” How many pieces ARE there for piano and iPad? It’s hauntingly beautiful, and speaks to classical music fans and perhaps to fans of electronic music as well…..he’s almost like a DJ, making things he plays repeat on the iPad to blend with what he’s currently playing, essentially making his own background music as he goes.

This is a random post, but listening to this music reminded me of what Dr. Schacht said in class today….that we’re using computers to do what humanists have always done, which is to look at what humans do or make and ask, What does this mean? What an important task. And we’re not the only ones doing it– artists are as well. Just think of the digital literature we read, and how difficult it was to interpret it and determine its value. The world is being analyzed in different ways with different tools, but these “ways” aren’t really new, just blending old methods with new tools. And the results can be beautiful. It just means humanists have to catch up to our subjects.

So take a listen if you’re stressed with papers or finals and I promise you’ll love it!

It’s Written All Over Your Screen

So this isn’t my most thoughtful or deep post, but I’d like to backtrack a moment to possibly the number one concern I hear from people who are wary about digital texts: reading off of a screen. And it really can be uncomfortable! We’ve all experienced tired eyes and headaches after staring at our laptops too long, and the glare from the sun that forces you inside if you need to use your computer. According to one article, “the issue has become so prevalent in today’s work environment that the condition has been officially labelled by the American Optometric Association as ‘Computer Vision Syndrome.'”

I would also argue that there’s a more philosophical relevance to this concern; the screen is the face of the computer. The field of interaction between user and machine is primarily located on the screen (although the tactile experience of typing is of course also relevant, but perhaps less complained about). So, if this interaction is to be comfortable and integrated into every-day life, the screen needs to be user-friendly.

Let’s see what’s being done to improve this experience, focusing on laptop computers (of course ebook tools such as Nook and Kindle have done more on this front, but these aren’t the devices people are using for hours on end).

Laptops used to be black and white, prone to blurry screens and ghost images. But, by about 1991 color LCD screens came into use, which improved visual quality as well as cost for consumers. Nowadays of course, laptop screens are at a whole new level, with the emphasis

The MacBook Pro Retina Display...does seem to reduce glare!
The MacBook Pro Retina Display…does seem to reduce glare!

being on resolution and the implementation of touch screens. MacBook has a new “retina display” that’s supposed to have incredibly high resolution (the MacBook Pro 15″ Retina Display is literally advertised as “eye-popping”). However, there seems to be little to no push for these screens to be easy on the eyes. Improvements generally focus on bright color and high definition, but that “brighter and bolder” sort of thinking would intuitively seem to me to make things worse.

In fact, there are articles dotting the web about how to avoid eye-strain yourself. These range from buying computer glasses to sitting up straighter to taking breaks. Clearly this is a common concern. However, the physical screens themselves are not being made more ergonomic and healthy by engineers. I could only find one company that is on a mission to reduce eye fatigue

So my mom WAS right when she said I should sit up straight....
So my mom WAS right when she said I should sit up straight….

through engineering better screens. They are concerned with using direct current to reduce perceived flicker. However, this is not a mainstream laptop producer truly implementing revolutionary technology into their products.

Does anyone else know more about this, or have special tips/screen appliances they use to reduce eye-strain?

Off the Grid….(for a day)

I just got very excited about a New Yorker blog post I stumbled across. The writer, Casey N. Cep, is specifically addressing the “National Day of Unplugging,” in which participants spent a day without technology, and posted photos of themselves holding signs about what they did with that free time. She dismisses the idea that this movement is truly meaningful, and cited different ways in which technology enhances our lives, and why attempts to “escape” it are ultimately unsustainable.

@Pontifex #coolestpopeever
@Pontifex #coolestpopeever

Citing statistics regarding relationships forged online or the Pope’s perspective on the validity of online identities, Cep argues that the concept of a “real” world versus a “virtual” one is an inaccurate binary. She believes that, in its essence, turning off technology is just an extension of the age-old journey to find a “core” and escape “the hustle and bustle of life.” Here’s one quote I found particularly provocative:

“But how quickly the digital age turned into the age of technological anxiety, with our beloved devices becoming something to fear, not enjoy. What sex was for the Puritans, technology has become for us. We’ve focussed our collective anxiety on digital excess, and reconnecting with the ‘real’ world around us represents one effort to control it.”

This guy needs a vacation....
This guy needs a vacation….

I do understand this sense that technology is out of control, and needs to be somehow regulated to curb a feeling of over-excess. I’ve felt it myself sometimes when I’m sitting with facebook, twitter, my email, a homework assignment, some syllabuses, etc. etc. open on different windows and tabs on my laptop; my eyes start to blur, and I begin to day-dream about how simple everything would be if only technology would just go away.

Cep has an alternative solution in her article. Instead of an over-excess of technology, or rigid nonexistence, we should consider ways to make technology work for us. How can technology function in ways that aren’t overwhelming and socially isolating? How can people be in front of screens and still be healthy and happy? She says, “[b]ut let’s not mistake such experiments in asceticism for a sustainable way of life. For most of us, the modern world is full of gadgets and electronics, and we’d do better to reflect on how we can live there than to pretend we can live elsewhere.” Taking a break from technology is never forever; people participating in the National Day of Unplugging have no intention of going off the grid. So what’s a sustainable, practical way technology can be improved as a permanent fixture of everyday life?

“I’m going off the grid, man.”

I recently had a conversation with my mom about this. She was saying that while watching tv with me, it feels like we’re doing something together. Like, I’m watching tv, she’s watching tv, we’re watching tv together, almost as if there are three people in a room all having a conversation. However, in the case of laptops or phones, it feels like I’m communicating with the screen while she’s trying to communicate with me. Three participants, but no well-rounded conversation. This may be because of the nature of internet-related activities vs. television viewing (the former active, the latter passive), or it could be the ergonomic superiority of one over the other.

If so, how can a computer screen be enhanced or tweaked to become a better fixture in living rooms, dining rooms, etc? How can it have better manners (excuse my cheesy personification) and not hog or interrupt social interactions? It’s not unreasonable for us to desire these improvements, but it is unreasonable for us to assume they can’t be made.

Of course, decisions about technology usage are subject to personal preference and need. But, specifically referring to the use of technology in literary studies, I think proactive, optimistic attempts and improvement are certainly more useful than rejection and denial. Keep in mind that if the Pope has 3.81 million followers on twitter, there’s definitely no turning back from the digital age we live in!

(Digital) Literacy

When we were asked in class to discuss the relation (if any) between accumulating snowfall and Beloved, I was drawing blanks. It almost felt as if I was trying to force a connection. But, after some discussion and brainstorming, my group and I introduced the idea that falling snow could be a reflection of the tension building between the characters in the story. Just as the early flurries of a blizzard appear harmless and somewhat pleasant, the tensions amongst the people in Sethe’s household give off the same vibe, with benign interactions increasing in danger with accumulation.

The first example is found Continue reading “Snow Tension”