Digital Literacy and Media

Time for the Comm major to talk about his major! I’ve really enjoyed this class and the implications it has towards the study of literature and the nature of the digital humanities in general. Yet, as we’ve gone through the semester, the primary means of application that regularly pop into my head always have to do with my studies regarding Communication, primarily Journalism and Media, rather than literature.

So first I wanna talk about something pretty basic, Slack. I heard of Slack before we used it for class, but I had never actually used it or got to see its interface before. It reminds me a lot of the app “GroupMe,” which allows for group messaging regardless of what kind of device you have, but Slack is far more involved. I really appreciate the potential for Google Drive and Trello integration, Slack really is the perfect communication tool for collaboration. I’ve been involved with the school paper, The Lamron, since I arrived at Geneseo and I’ve always been frustrated with some of the paper’s logistical operations. The paper communicates primarily through email, and I find it’s easy for important messages to get missed or lost, and relying on email attachments to share articles presents its own slew of challenges. Next year, I get to serve as the Lamron’s Copy Editor, and since I’ll have more of an influence over the paper I may try and exert some of that to tweak how it operates. I love how we have the separate channels for our projects, assignments, book recommendations in class and how seamlessly we can talk to one another. I have a pretty clear vision of a slack channel for each separate Lamron section where writing assignments can be distributed, articles can be submitted, and questions can be answered. I’m excited to take some of what has worked in our Digital Humanities class and use it to better the school organization that I work so hard for.

So that’s a practical takeaway from this class that I hope to benefit from, but before I close out this post I want to get meta. This class has gotten me to consider data in ways I never could have fathomed, for obvious reasons considering our readings. I particularly enjoyed our class discussion regarding whether or not there are differences between data and information, and what those differences may be. I subscribe to the belief that they are different: data is simply the words on a page while information is the meaning we interpret from those words. How can I apply this way of thinking to my work outside of this class? The data-mining Thoreau project has gotten me to consider words in a new way, there’s more information to be obtained from that data than just the message communicated when words on a page are read in order. For example: as my group was learning to use Pyhton in order to extract data, we practiced with a programming package called NTLK. Basically, this allows us to find patterns and trends in a text more easily than if we went solely through the command line. One of the texts automatically included in NTLK was the classic comedic film Monty Python and the Holy Grail. This was the text that I used to mess around with the software and it made me realize how much more information can be extracted from a film outside of just watching it. When I write for the Lamron, and in general, more often than not it’s some kind of film analysis. This potential to mine scripts opens up a whole new world of analytical possibilities. Did you know the word “swallow” is only said 10 times in that movie? Yet it is still one of the film’s most indelible quotes, which goes to illustrate the importance of context and delivery rather than frequency when it comes to important movie moments.

I really appreciate this class and the way it’s inspired me to consider analysis from a fresh perspective. Data was always something I figured was better left to STEM types, yet our work has shown me that there is plenty to be gained by anyone if they develop a basic understanding of digital technologies. This class has proved to me time and time again that the divide between technical fields of study and our own more creative endeavors really doesn’t exist.

Personifying Technology

I’ve always believed that there was a stark contrast between studying STEM and studying the humanities. Obviously that doesn’t make me unique, it seems that it’s something we all thought to one extent or another since the belief has essentially been conditioned into us from the time we were children. Whether it was the idea of being “left brained” vs. “right brained,” or the simple truth that most people are better at one realm of thought than the other; it always seemed painfully obvious that the two fields could not intersect.

My college experience has only helped to propagate the idea; I’ve spent the past two years living with a physics major and our academic experiences could not be more different. As a communication major, I tend to spend a lot of time on bigger projects as I analyze the literacy of different media and write longer papers about my thoughts. On the other hand, my roommate spends a ridiculous, consistent number of hours a week in a lab or a classroom in the ISC working on math problems and unlocking the mysteries of our natural world, demonstrating a work ethic that both impresses and horrifies me. What I’m getting at is that this experience made my mental divide between the two disciplines grow.

Enter the computer: the machine would eventually be revealed to me as the bridge between the gap.

Like everything else, the way me and my STEM roommate each use our machines is markedly different. I’m proficient in Google Docs and Microsoft Word, as those are my primary tools as I write my papers and do my work for The Lamron. I use research management software, Zotero, to help me better write my papers and overall I’d consider my use of the machine to be of a incredibly humanist nature.

Let me tell you though, I cannot even begin to comprehend how the physics major does some of the things I’ve seen on his laptop screen. Graphs, models, spreadsheets…all things that would make my stomach drop if I were ever had to produce them for a class. His use of the machine seemed so much more proper and computer-y than mine, like it was what the machine was meant to accomplish. Yet, the funniest thing happened. Last semester he had to take his Humanities class, and he completely relied on me to help him with word processing. Something that seemed so simple and second-nature to me was actually almost foreign to someone who hadn’t written a paper sense high school, which was particularly surprising considering it was someone I thought had mastery over the machine. It made me think that maybe I wasn’t so clueless with this machine after all.

I read this article earlier today which made me think of that experience I just described, this class, and humanity’s relationship with technology in general. The article is entitled “An Ode to Opportunity: We’ll Miss You, Mars Rover;” it’s a good cop/bad cop style argument about our culture’s peculiar personification of this exploratory computing marvel. Essentially, the author describes how he is bummed out about the “passing” of the rover, and then proceeds to berate himself for such a nonsensical notion which proceeds to a back-and-forth that further belabors the point. It’s funny and poignant; at one point the author lovingly refers to the rover as “Oppy” before arguing the other point and calling it “a camera on a skateboard that has no feelings.”

One of the most interesting points the article raises is that “Oppy is every bit as real as Jane Eyre or a Pixar character, but you’d never argue that people should stop having feelings about literature and art because the tools of literature and art can be exploited by brand narratives.” What an intriguing notion, that technology can be personified and thought about in a way comparable to how we humanists think of characters in literature. Is this not what this class is all about? By learning to understand and better use our own machines, we are further analyzing and interpreting the “characters” in the story that is the way we navigate our information-saturated reality. The differences between ourselves and STEM majors, the different ways we use our machine, are simply different interpretations of what the same character can represent and accomplish.

Before this class, I never really considered my computer to be anything more than means to an end. It was a convenient way to write and complete assignments that also happened to come in clutch when I was bored and wanted to watch a movie. However, what I’ve begun to realize is that once I consider the device through the imaginative lens of a humanist it can prove to be a unifying force between different people, different talents, and different schools of thought.