Zoom University

Over the course for the 21st century, technology has been at the forefront of our work, our advancements, and our newer inventions. Whether it is a new phone to maintain communication with one another or a new machine that allows for better farm cropping, technology has helped developed our society. 

This semester, we learned a lot about technology through Gleick’s “The Information.” We learned about early inventions early on in the chapters and the impacts technology is having on society. I am sure that all of us did not imagine this ongoing situation when we enrolled in a class that would teach us about digital humanities. 

Today, Zoom has become the platform that many uses for their education, personal, and business experience. Many institutions like SUNY Geneseo are purchasing unlimited access for their students to use and many companies have relied on it to hold meetings. Many students have joked on Instagram and Twitter about Zoom University. The Lamron even wrote a satirical article about it as a way to show people how students are feeling. 

As we end the semester, some thought provoking questions I had in mind were:

A) What will be Zoom’s legacy moving forward?
B) How will institutions and companies continue to use Zoom as a means of communication?
C) Will Zoom be published in a book (much like “The Information” about technological advancements in the future?

Overall, I really enjoy using Zoom and count on it for a variety of things including meetings, group projects, check-ins, and most importantly, as a means of communications. Who would have known that this was going to be the “new normal.” I kind of got used to it by now!

Authors of our Own Lives & Writers of our Fate

At the start of the semester, I selected this course due to the nature of what we would be learning about: technology. As someone who is really passionate about always using online platforms to communicate, plan out events, and organize work, I was really intrigued about learning the ways in which technology has transformed the digital humanities. This course was a very difficult journey for me but my initial interest is what kept me from quitting. Early on in the course, I fell behind on work and found it easier to escape instead of asking for support. I hit a brick wall halfway through the semester and was really confused about what was going on in the course. Due to this, it’d be a disservice to me to detail a significant change in my interpretation of the English discipline as a result of my work in ENGL 340. However, my perception of English as a discipline did significantly change as a result of my struggles, obstacles, and most importantly, my ability to continue adapting to a new learning environment that I had not been exposed to before. 

Logistically, this course is set up to introduce new technology platforms to students including Slack, Python, TEI files, timelines, etc. All of the English courses I had taken in the past only focused on readings, essays, short responses, and class discussions. Being a part of the ENGL 340 learning experience was very tricky for me since it took a lot of time to adjust to the tasks I had not been presented with before. However, it also allowed me to be a part of a completely new learning community since many of us had not used any of the platforms mentioned above before. It was such an intriguing experience. From learning how to write journal entries to using VS code, we were all learning everything at the same pace. The memorable looks of confusion and the “ah yes!” moments are what made this class different than others; we supported each other in the process of learning. English as a discipline can most of the time be viewed as essays, papers, and readings, but throughout this course, I learned that it is more. It is learning how to use everything you have read and creating a new learning experience. For us, that was being able to read a text from Gleick’s The Information or Walden and reflect upon what we learn through a blog post, a journal entry, or use technology to analyze the words, patterns, and codes in the text. Working in a group also allowed us to collaboratively share ideas, even if it was remotely, and learn about one another’s interpretations. 

Though I was not the most active participant in class, one of our classroom discussions that I thoroughly enjoyed was when we discussed Sounds by Henry David Thoreau. The sentence we primarily focused on was “much is published, but little printed.” Within my group, we started a conversation about what we see published in libraries, bookstores, and what readings professors use to assign to us. I introduced our group to the concept of the literary canon, which I learned in another course refers to the group of books considered to be the most important and influential during a designated time period or place. Most of the authors we discussed were primarily White men and were introduced to us as “classic” reads in middle school. As we made ties to Thoreau’s “much is published, but little printed” we connected this quote to the lack of representation that is found in literature. Many great authors have well-written pieces ready to be published but are unable to get an agent to release it. This opened the floor to the question of “is everything that is published ‘good’? Would we rather have little printed and find meaning in unique texts? Or would we rather increase the number of authors being published to significantly break the literary canon with new ideas?” It was so amazing to see the different points of views that my group discussed and even more impactful for me because I got an opportunity to share knowledge from another course and challenge my peers to think about the ways in which we’ve grown up and how we want to shape our literary future. 

As Thoreau mentions in Sounds, “what is a course of history, or philosophy, or poetry, no matter how well selected, or the best society, or the most admirable routine of life, compared with the discipline of looking always at what is to be seen? Will you be a reader, a student merely, or a seer? Read your fate, see what is before you, and walk on into futurity.” Throughout this course, I believe I acted as a seer, noticing where I was struggling and thinking about ways of reaching out for help. However, I also enjoyed the new experience which allowed me to read the texts in this course with more intent. Though I struggled, I am proud of my ability to be transparent with myself and to analyze what went wrong. In reading and writing about my struggles, I know that English as a discipline also impacts us as the authors of our own lives, and as the writers of our fate.

Revisions in “Higher Laws,” a Section of Henry David Thoreau’s Walden

Group 5 – Alyssa Harrington, Danielle Crowley, Madison Jackson, Mitchell Pace, and Noah Lieberman

For our revision timeline, we selected the “Higher Laws” chapter of Walden. This chapter, containing much of Thoreau’s ideology and attitude towards nature, is about the titular “Higher Laws” which govern humanity to a greater degree than societally codified ones. Thoreau proposes to exist above those made by the legal system and government. The chapter serves as a particularly good example for understanding Thoreau’s philosophy as it is dense with his thoughts on the forces compelling mankind as we exist in nature. Throughout the revisions made in the multiple versions of Walden that Thoreau made, “Higher Laws” remained very unchanged until very late versions of the manuscript. With that in mind, what few revisions we can see within his manuscripts are omitted in his final draft.

The lack of revision within this chapter is interesting because it demonstrates the consistency with which Thoreau remained dedicated to the wisdom contained in these passages. With exception to vocabulary used, most of the general ideas Thoreau pushes forward are the same in all versions. This idea shows Thoreaus commitment to the “Higher Laws” that he chooses to follow.

While the majority of this chapter revolves around Thoreau’s own set of rules that he uses to govern himself, there is an interesting development that is made during his time in the wilderness can be observed. In this section of the text, Thoreau comments on his sanity and the state of his mental wellbeing. While writing about his experiences during his prolonged time in isolation, Thoreau discusses the primal and animalistic thoughts he had toward his environment. As he adds to his line, in pencil, “Once or Twice, however, while I lived at the pond, I found myself ranging the woods, like a half-starved hound, with a strange abandonment, seeking some kind of venison which I might devour, and no morsel could have been too savage for me”. These lines are a notable revision, in very stark contrast with the language Thoreau otherwise uses to describe his time at Walden Pond. By comparison to the ordinarily serene and pastoral imagery his language conveys when writing about his connection with the land, these lines are brutal and wild. We are conscious of an animal in us, which awakens in proportion as our higher nature slumbers. “It is reptile and sensual, and perhaps cannot be wholly expelled; like the worms which, even in life and health, occupy our bodies. Possibly we may withdraw from it, but never change its nature.” The way Thoreau describes these animal-like urges is very different from the way he describes his guilt and concerns over consumption of animal products. In his final draft he writes, “I have found repeatedly, of late years, that I cannot fish without falling a little in self-respect”. By comparing these lines, our timeline illustrates a certain change of character in Thoreau. In spending time immersed in nature, he becomes more sensitive and feels more toward the living environment around him. The line, “But practically I am only half-converted by my own arguments as I still fish,” displays this shift in character best as it only appears in version A of the chapter’s seventh paragraph. As time goes on and more revisions are made, it seems as though he convinces himself more and more.

We also see examples of Thoreau’s seemingly deteriorating mental health in version E, paragraph one in “Higher Laws,” which is the first place within the chapter where we see significant revision. A complete rewrite of the paragraph is present where Thoreau details another example of his thinking during his immersion in nature. Thoreau writes: “not that I was hungry, but for the wilderness which he represented”. This line follows the description of the beaver crossing in front of Thoreau on his walk home. In this line, it seems as if Thoreau did not want the reader to think of him as a savage and wanted to provide justification – Thoreau was so immersed in Nature at this point in the text he wanted to be a part of it as much as possible. He ends the portion of revisions by noting, “I love the wild not less than the good”. This revision is important because of the way it further demonstrates the mental effects Thoreau’s time at Walden Pond is having on him. As a fluid text, we gain insight into the changes in the man through changes in the text.

Thoreau also changes the use of first person to the use of third person when he is revising this chapter of the manuscript. During his first drafts, Thoreau writes of these “Higher Laws” as they apply to himself and is daily life, as these “laws” are a personal code for Thoreau alone. Later in the revisions, he changes this by changing the use of “I” to the use of “he”. By doing this, Thoreau applies that his “Higher Laws” should be used in a more general sense, applying them to everyone rather than just himself. With this revisions, one can speculate that Thoreau, through his time in the woods, spent a lot of time thinking about how things ought to be and began to feel that these “Higher Laws” he has been using to govern himself are the very ones that should govern all. These are interesting revisions Thoreau makes and they reveal that Thoreau obeys this particular set of “Higher Laws” that he developed and is looking to make them more common throughout society.

Overall, what is profound about looking at “Higher Laws” is just how much one can learn by looking at the many revisions Thoreau made to Walden over the years and by looking at the way in which he made those revisions. In analyzing the text and understanding its fluidity in a developmental context, we can track, revision by revision, the ways in which the author of that text develops themself. Through the process of tracking revision, the human element of the humanities is revealed to us. The changes and developments we undergo as people are reflected within the things we create over time. It’s a profound thing that technology has given us to be ability to witness those stories playing out over the course of a human life and to see the ways our favorite authors change through their work. These revisions give us a deeper context for understanding the feelings, progress, and formation of ideology that Thoreau underwent in his lifetime.

Following changes within Walden, we can see Thoreau’s own advice for living in action, “Live in each season as it passes; breath the air, drink the drink, taste the fruit, and resign yourself to the influence of the earth.” Henry David Thoreau’s journey of self discovery being preserved in this way for his readers to track and appreciate is something which gives the text a valuable lesson even greater than those contained within its final draft. Walden as a fluid text shows us that our past experiences do not define us. In trying to do what is best and right for the world around us, we learn things which change our perspective and our values. Living in the moment and staying fluid ourselves is the right way to live. Through revision of our ideas and ourselves, we can all change for the better.

The Unpermanence of the Digital Age

This class has shifted how I understand the permanence of text. I find this true in two senses: the permanence of the digital age and the permanence of the final copy.

Throughout Gleick, I’ve learned how the rise and fall of different technologies has led to the permanence of information, especially English texts. Even the smallest details of how we write are governed by rules and technologies that have come before us. Previously, I hadn’t given much thought as to how our spelling and understandings of words is cemented today. In the past, without the printed and published text like dictionaries, this was impossible. When reading older texts in previous classes, I was struck by how inconsistent spelling was, even in the same text. With no one standard of spelling, there was a lack of consistency. Even the concept of spelling, “the idea that each word, when written, should take a particular predetermined form of letters,” was alien to people of the past (Gleick 53). According to Gleick, one of the earliest attempts at a dictionary was A Table Alphabeticall in 1604 by Robert Cawdrey who attempted to write a collection of words and their meanings to his best understanding. However, his definitions, such as influence meaning “‘a flowing in,’” largely don’t stand up today (55). I have come to learn that with the rise and fall of technologies, whether it be in the form of a dictionary or the first Macintosh, how we interpret the English language and fashion it together in text has evolved.

Gleick states, “So fleeting was speech that the rare phenomenon of the echo, a sound heard once and then again, seemed a sort of magic” (31). We are surrounded by echoes in our world today. Every book we choose to read, whether a tattered copy in our hands or a digital transcription, is an echo from those long before us and their thoughts. Technology has offered a permanence to words that was once inconceivable. The ability to write down information gave speech a life that could out date its orator. The printing press and wide spread publication of books gave the information they housed a permanence for as long as their pages could weather. With the conception of the digital world, texts and their information has a newfound permanency. As long as people can access the web or download copies of their own, texts from even centuries ago are read and shared with a larger audience than ever before. Digital Thoreau has given a new permanency to the work of Thoreau. It has modernized it so that his work can be discussed and shared in a vital community where people from across the globe can have conversations about his meaning and intent.

As the digital era has given a new permanence to the published editions we are accustomed to, they have also given us broad access to early drafts that usually a select and private audience would be privy to. Ironically, the digital age has lessened the permanence of the final versions as drafts are accessible and sometimes even preferable. The ‘permanent’ version we may read is no more permanent than the drafts that came before it. For instance, when examining the different versions of Emily Dickinson’s “Faith is a fine invention,” there is a clear contrast between the original work and the favored published versions. While the shifts are subtle, they change the meaning of the text. To illustrate, the published version changes the line from “Gentlemen can see” to “Gentlemen who see.” The transition from those “can” to those “who” do makes the poem apply to a more selective group. Was this Dickinson’s true intention? Would she have made this edit? Both we and the publisher are unable to answer these questions, but I have learned that as readers, we are able to examine the drafts and see into the author’s true intention and craft.

When reading a published book, I would consider it as its permanent copy. Yet, examining fluid texts like Dickinson’s has exposed that the published text we consider to be ‘permanent’ or ‘final’ may not be the final words of the author. Even with the potential of further editions, I would give little thought to the drafts and revisions that spanned before the ‘completed’ copy that I held in my hands. This was especially true to classics like Walden or other works by Thoreau. I was first introduced to transcendentalism by my junior year English teacher. He presented their work as a concrete and revered work of literature. These texts were permanent fixtures in the halls of best American works. In our class, through the use of technology, I realized that works like Walden are not as permanent as they may appear to be. When using Voyant Tools in my group, we found the shocking dearth of the mention of women in Walden. Most of his references are also largely ethnocentric or with a Western lens. Using technology to analyze works has enabled me to delve deeper behind the pages than I would’ve ever previously considered.

When examining the fluid text version of Walden, I chose to focus on “Solitude.” I was able to see drafts that perhaps Thoreau never thought would see the light today, but they offered rich insight into his artistic choices as a writer, such as shifting “the whippoorwill sings” to “the note of the whippoorwill is borne on the rippling wind from over the water.” Changes like this one make sense as they add effect to the reader’s experience, but in other sections where he’s omitted information one would wonder why he made such a decision. Inspecting the fluid text version of Walden subverts some of my perceived permanency of the final version of Walden like that which one would peruse on Digital Thoreau. While the digital age gives a new form of permanence to the work of Thoreau, it also undermines it. By reviewing fluid texts, especially of texts regarded as classics, one is able to see that no work is set in stone and the reader may even find themselves preferring choices the author decided to omit from the later drafts. Fluid text versions peel back the layers of the final copy and expose the evolution of an author and/or publisher to reach the final copy we accept today. Texts are no longer bound by their existing physical copies — they can be replicated and produced boundlessly across the web. By examining fluid texts like Walden, I have come to understand that while digital technology has made texts more permanent than ever before, it has also undercut their permanency by giving reader’s a inside look at the author’s thoughts. The ‘final’ version we once cemented has now become as permanent as the first scribbled draft.

My Final Reflection

I came into the English minor knowing that I loved learning about grammar, and that I also enjoyed writing for the school newspaper. I have been writing for the school newspaper since I was in middle school. My writing feels more natural when I write articles and it is less stressful and time-consuming.  On the other hand, I strongly dislike creative writing. I do not have that crafty mindset, and quite frankly, I feel irritated each time I need to write a thought-provoking essay or poem. These crafty writing formats take too much time and also require a lot of skill. 

Since I am an English minor, I have taken various courses in my time at Geneseo thus far; however, only two of them have led me to feel satisfaction. This satisfaction, this great feeling, has occurred twice for me now because I went into a class feeling unconfident in my abilities as an English student and also disconnected to literature. This disconnection was like being stuck in a cocoon; I had to work hard and progress in order to emerge as a butterfly. 

I felt this satisfaction for the first time in Dr. McCoy’s English 203 class last semester as I realized mid-semester that I was becoming a stronger writer. She encouraged me to become the best version of myself as both a writer and student, and she did so successfully to the point where I eagerly completed our blog post assignments both in and out of class. 

Aside from Dr. McCoy’s class, I also experienced this feeling of achievement as a student in our English 340 Digital Humanities class this past semester. I came into this class having absolutely no technological skills, and gradually emerged from my cocoon. 

While still in my cocoon at the beginning of the semester, I felt totally lost in this class. I was constantly raising my hand to ask for help, because I was so unsure of how to use the different digital platforms we were learning about as a class. 

For example, a platform like GitHub, made absolutely no sense to me. I had no idea how to upload a journal file from my computer to this website, partly because I never took the time to thoroughly understand how to use the different commands. My skills in the class were imperfect. 

While still lost and in my little cocoon, I struggled to understand the uses of Visual Studio Code. I would somehow open what felt like 80 new journal files at once, all accidentally. I was just copying down the functions I saw on the projector screen in class, not actually understanding anything I was typing into my file. There were far more digital elements to this course than I initially expected, as funny as that sounds. 

Admittedly, my skills from the beginning to the midpoint of the semester were imperfect. While learning both in and out of class, I tried to work on my own skills as both a student and writer in order to strengthen my imperfections and emerge from my habitat. 

In the midst of trying to hone my own skills, I realized something interesting as I completed a recent Walden assignment. For this assignment, each of us had to compare different versions of Henry David Thoreau’s manuscript of Walden. Thoreau went through several revisions of this manuscript, and he was always willing to make adjustments to improve his work. From my own perspective, it can be said that at one point, Thoreau was in his own cocoon and was trying to strengthen his own imperfections. The beauty is that Thoreau both strengthened his writing and emerged into a butterfly, and that even through his several edits, he continued to preserve the intended meaning of his words. 

From reflecting on Thoreau’s progress, I made a strange observation. While this pandemic has been awful, I have had to become more independent as both a student and writer, which has given me time to work on my imperfections, just like Thoreau worked on his. 

With the time I have now at home as well as with how accountable I am to do work efficiently and, on a deadline, I realize that I have emerged into my own butterfly. I no longer need help uploading files to GitHub. I used to be scared of uploading files just because I had no clue what I was doing. Now, though, I have strengthened my weaknesses through the practice of using commands. Additionally, as for using Visual Studio Code, I no longer create what feels like a million journal files at once. I understand the commands I input into my journal file, for the most part, and I definitely feel like I have a greater grasp over the use of the Visual Studio Code application. Even though my skills are nowhere near perfect, I have definitely progressed. 

The perspective I gained as a result of being in this class led me to realize that no writer is perfect; practice makes perfect. There are always modifications I can make to hone my own skills and to learn how to use peculiar websites and applications. The only way to progress is through practice. After all, Thoreau did not create one version of his manuscript and call it quits. I do not hide away from GitHub or Visual Studio Code anymore. This growth is because I took the time to progress and work on my own abilities, and I am still making progress too. I am not nearly close to perfect, and neither are my skills as an English student in this class. But I am proud of myself for emerging from my cocoon into my own butterfly, and for developing a closer connection between myself and this discipline.

Growing… COVID-19, Technological Difficulties, and Becoming a Digital Humanist

This year has been a year of immense growth for me. I challenged myself with new extracurriculars, a heavier course load, and more difficult classes. I am proud to say that I have learned something new every day- whether I realized it or not. One of the classes that helped me grow the most was English 340. Before taking this class, I thought that every English class was discussion-based- that was the only experience I had- and did not realize the individuality of each three hundred level class. In 2019, I was unaware of the depth beyond the surface of my laptop. Little did I know regarding the effort and hard work that went into creating one of the most integral pieces in my Geneseo career. Overall, I am not a tech-savvy person, but after taking English 340 at SUNY Geneseo, I truly have felt more confident in my technological abilities. I am a sophomore childhood education major with a concentration in English, so I am used to group work, presentations, papers, and circle discussions. Because of my background, I was absolutely shocked at what I had signed up for. Last semester, I took a class that had the final project of creating a physical artist book and having a technological aspect and blog post. I struggled to create a technological piece for my book, which is located in the Wadsworth library and felt helpless when attempting to create an advanced piece of digital content. If someone were to tell me that I would be looking at the inside of my computer, navigating Anaconda, exploring terminal and my GUI, I would have said they were crazy. I was embarrassed by my lack of knowledge regarding technology at the beginning of the semester, and now I am proud to say that I have taken an untraditional computer-based English class where I have grown into a digital humanist. 

My growth did not happen overnight. With every class, I struggled. I felt that I was always one (or ten) steps behind. Part of my progression into becoming more technologically savvy and growing as a human being was learning that it is okay to feel confused and that asking for help is not something to be embarrassed about. As the semester went on, I stopped saying “I’m sorry to bother you again…” and started saying “Thank you so much for helping me.” This was just one way my thoughts and perceptions changed throughout the semester. I also started to look at difficult tasks in a more positive light. Instead of seeing them with aggravation and confusion, I saw them as new challenges and ideas I would learn. 

This year has been a year of patience and pushing limits. I feel that I am not alone when I say that adjusting to online learning has been difficult, to say the least. After saying goodbye to my suitemates and friends, I had to pack up all of my things or have my parents drive back another seven hours to collect the rest of my belongings. This was an extremely stressful situation and I wish I had more time to cope with all of the madness around me. However, I have focused on the positives of quarantine and have used this time to my advantage. I am reading more, going on walks, painting, and even showing my mom my newfound technological skills thanks to English 340. I am extremely proud of my growth this year given the current situation we are in and encourage everyone to take time to learn new skills and do something to benefit themselves and others. 

The Merits of Applying Digital Analysis Tools to Literary Studies

As a graduating senior, I have often been asked a variation of the following question: “Why study English?” and my response has always been, and will probably remain: Well, why not study English? One of the most valuable lessons that my time within the English major at Geneseo has taught me is that when it comes to literary studies, the possibilities are boundless. That being said, I’ve also learned that when it comes the digital humanities, those possibilities become tangible. 

As I reflect on the various digital skills I’ve learned in our digital humanities class, Voyant Tools remains the most influential in my studies outside of class, particularly on my independent study on the influences of Lord Byron on the Brontë sisters. While I admit I was a bit wary of using this digital-analysis tool, most of my qualms were related to the unfamiliarity of it all. My experience with Voyant Tools was largely based on frustrating trials and errors. To be quite honest, trying to figure out Voyant felt like trying to decipher Middle English — it was tedious, time consuming, and required many workshops and tutorials. One of the hiccups that I encountered occurred when I tried to upload Jane Eyre in its entirety in addition to Lord Byron’s Corsair. I was considerably overwhelmed by the numbers, that is of course until I took a step back and tried to assess what specific aspects of the literature I really wanted to focus on. 

So, after learning how to split plain text files of Brontë’s works into separate chapters, I endeavoured to also split The Corsair into its three cantos. Finally, I returned to Voyant Tools and uploaded Cantos I in addition to chapters 11 through 27 of Jane Eyre because I wanted to decipher how Byron and Brontë were utilising language in the developments of their heroes. I chose Canto I because it is our first interaction with Conrad and the descriptive language is at its prime; the same can be said for Rochester in Chapters 11 through 27 of Jane Eyre. When I searched the syntax, I typed in the term “cordial” but as I typed the letters “cor,” Voyant suggested “corsair” and noted that it occurred in two instances throughout the texts. Normally, I would have assumed that it was simply reflecting Byron’s work, but I had just finished re-reading the first Cantos while I was stripping the text-file for all numbers, roman numerals, and unnecessary publication information and I did not recall seeing the word appear in the text. So, I searched “corsair” instead to see what the context of the word might be and I was surprised to find that it did not appear in the first Cantos at all, but rather in Chapter 17 of Jane Eyre. This tool launched the exact context of the term in the reader view and I was able to follow on as Miss Ingram argues that a man is “nothing without a spice of the devil in him… he was just the sort of wild, fierce, bandit hero whom I could have consented to gift with my hand” and Rochester sings a “Corsair-song” because Miss Ingram “doats on Corsairs”  (JE, XVII). In all of the scholarly articles that I referenced for connections between Byron and Brontë, most of the critics pointed out the various physical and emotional similarities between Rochester and Conrad, but in my reading of their work, it never caught my attention that Brontë alludes directly to Byron’s Corsair. While I am certain other critics took notice of this allusion before me, this particular moment in my research was eye-opening, it even felt like an epiphany, and my interpretations took a turn in a different direction. 

It is without a doubt that the connection I have to Jane Eyre is largely sentimental and as a result, I have read it every winter for the past eight years and eagerly took advantage of the opportunity to study the text twice the academic level in the Spring 2017 and Fall 2018 semester. Yet, in all those times I engaged with this novel, I never once noticed Brontë’s reference to Byron, but it took this digital analysis tool less than five seconds to uncover it! I was amazed, even as I write about it and reflect on it, I am still in awe about it. This particular instance taught me that when we, as students of English, leap out of our comfort zones and and utilise digital analysis tools; we are bound to find ourselves presented with unforeseen possibilities and challenges in our interactions with literature. Indeed this is what makes studying literature so extraordinarily rewarding and I am glad I recognised the merits of digital humanities before bidding farewell to my beloved discipline.  

Literature and Technology: The Connection

Over the course of this semester in Literature and Literary Study in the Digital Age with Dr. Schacht, I feel as through I was given a unique opportunity to not only learn more about the things I can do on my computer, but also to think about literature, books, authors, and English as a discipline through a different lens.

For starters, as we near the end of the semester, I feel as through I have learned more about what my computer can do and have been given tools to help me manage my computer more effectively. With the use of github and the command-line, I not only have an online space to upload and store files that may be taking up valuable space on my computer, but I also have a collaborative workspace that may come in handy in the future. Additionally, I’ve learned valuable skills about the markdown coding language and how the python coding language works. These skills are obviously in high demand in many fields in todays society, so having this basic understanding will surely only help me post undergraduate education.

While learning all of the new things I can do on my computer were interesting, I think the most valuable lesson I learned this semester is in regard to how I view literature and what tools myself and other people can use to further understand it.

I don’t think I ever fully realized the amount of work that goes into creating a work of literature. Obviously, I knew that in order to get published, authors go through an intensive revision process that often times takes several different attempts to get it just right. I don’t think I understood that those revisions can be as intensive and tedious as simply changing one word to a different one until the author is satisfied. This idea has given me a greater appreciation for all the novels that sit on my bookshelf and around my room.

Going off of this idea, I also have found an appreciation for how easy it is to track these changes using technology. Using Voyant Tools and the Fluid Text reader, I feel like I have been able to connect more deeply with literature. Being able to find specifics about a text in Voyant Tools and then to be able to track those changes over a series of manuscripts has only deepened my understanding of the pieces of literature that we have worked with this semester. On top of that, its just pretty darn cool to see all the revisions to a text and how a manuscript may have started versus how it was published.

Overall, I think there is a huge connection between English as a discipline and technology. I think before I use to think of English more as just reading and writing – now I think of it more as a way of communication, a diffusion of ideas, and how we get from one point to another with the impact of technology. English is about how we communicate and how ideas are shared through reading and writing, rather than just reading and writing. Technology plays a very unique role in this, as the more advanced we become with our computers and our phones, the more we can do to communicate. From talking drums to the first telephone created by Alexander Graham Bell to the ability to group facetime, ideas are spread at a fast rate through talking. On top of that, the invention of the printing press has enabled us to share ideas through writings at a much faster rate than ever before, and it has just gotten faster as time has gone on – the use of a printing press is not even required any more, blogs, such as this one, and other online sources give you the same way to communicate through writing.

The connection between English and technology is a great one. The more you can do with technology, the more english enables you to do, share, write, read, and communicate. We have a web of information at our fingertips to learn and improve. Without the diffusion of information that english enables and the use of technology enabling more people to access it, the world would most likely be very different than it is today. This course, learning all these skills, and being able to have access to the tools that have been shown to us has ultimately changed my view on both English and technology; it has opened my eyes to how english, as well as other disciplines, and technology have a connection to one another that leads to improvements and advancements in all fields.

Communication and the Coronavirus

James Gleick’s popular science book The Information also approaches the idea of communication as it was previously seen in 1948. Gleick writes that aside from cable and telephone sets, “The [Bureau of the Census] also counted several thousand broadcasting stations for radio and a few dozen for television, along with newspapers, books, pamphlets, and the mail… the dots and dashes representing letters of the alphabet; the letters representing sounds, and in combination forming words; the words representing some ultimate substrate of meaning…” (5).  

This concept itself is universal as it applies to pretty much every aspect of life today, too. I communicate with people every day, whether it be in person, on my phone, through my gestures/facial expressions, etc. Given how universal this concept is, communication, as shown by Gleick, can also take the form of media as well as the news; specifically, news outlets that are local, national, or international. For example, on any news outlet, information is constantly being delivered to me, as well as an even larger audience of people at once. In the current world we all live in, communication has been problematic during this coronavirus. 

Every day, I scroll through various social media platforms, such as Facebook, and I see what feels like thousands of posts about the virus. Some posts are promotionally used as they are trying to encourage me to buy a mask that is scented and the “best kind out there”; some posts are utterly useless as they repeat the same information found everywhere, telling people to wash their hands, as if people do not know; and some of the posts, on the other hand, are quite informative and educational as there are statistics provided of the areas that are most affected by the virus. 

While news outlets are also beneficial in learning about this virus and ways to prevent its spread, each of them has also been a bit useless. I watch the news pretty frequently with my family, especially since I have been home, and I feel like I just keep hearing the same thing over and over. I know, as I am sure everyone knows, that the unemployment rates are terribly high right now. I also know that different areas everywhere are constantly skyrocketing in the amount of COVID-19 cases. Of course each of these topics is extremely important, but it seems that there is less talk about the future too.

What I desperately wish I could see more of instead is interviews with health personnel who describe their experiences in the hospitals; the ones who are quite literally fighting for our lives as well as their own because of this pandemic. People who could more accurately provide more numbers about the amount of people checking into hospitals because of the virus. I also wish experts could communicate more frequently their projections for when they think life will return to normalcy. Or, if not that, pretty much any information they have that could give people hope about the future of employment, the estimated time of when the curve will start to flatten out, the recession, etc. Just something that gives people more hope. I do know that some of what I wish for is not necessarily possible to discuss right now. I also understand that some of the projections may not have been approximated yet. I do not mean to sound ignorant in expressing these thoughts, but it is just frustrating to feel like there is more about this pandemic that has not been said. 

While the communication of different outlets has not been the greatest thus far, I only hope for improvement so that people can stay informed, educated, and hopeful.

Reverse Walden

As of Saturday, March 14st, 2020, I have been at home social distancing myself amid the COVID-19 outbreak, with my computer, my phone, my tv, and Netflix. Between moving from my bed, to my brothers room, to the couch, and then back to my bed, I’ve begun to think a lot about Henry David Thoreau and his experience with isolation in Walden. More specifically, how different the two are and how much I seem to be struggling with this sudden change.

Thoreau writes Walden about his feelings in isolation in the woods, completely away from technology. Thoreau is close enough to a town to be able to have human interaction and is in an area where people frequently visit his cabin. While I am surrounded by my family, I am in no way disconnected from technology. In this way, my experience is completely different from Thoreau’s experience in Walden. In fact, it almost makes me wish I did not have to be glued to my computer to complete my studies for the remainder of the semester.

Just during spring break alone, I spent two days over the phone and online trying to reschedule a trip, then, I spent a significant amount of time reading the various emails sent by the administration, and, most agonizingly, I spent time in front of the tv listening to President Trump and Governor Cuomo give various updates about New York State and the COVID-19 situation. I have been home for nine days – I am ready to throw my laptop out the window.

Thoreau, while in the woods, seemed to greatly enjoy being with nature and being alone – at least, that is what I have seen from his writing, for the most part, thus far. He would tend to his bean fields, entertain visitors, and travel into town. While being away from technology, he still was able to lead a somewhat normal life in the woods. I, however, and everyone in New York, simply cannot do that right now. We have to stay home to flatten the curve. We cannot see people who are not in our inner circle. We shouldn’t be taking trips into town to go to the store or the mall (not like we could if we wanted to since all unnecessary businesses are closed per the states mandate). Instead, as students, we get to sit at home in front of our screens, learning how to learn using a new style, and be surrounded by just our family.

My eyes are tired. I can’t rewatch another episode of Stranger Things. I can’t read another email about COVID-19 and the procedures to follow during te four days I had to collect my belongings from campus. I can’t watch videos of my professors teaching, I know I struggle to learn that way. On top of that, I need social interaction. I should be at Geneseo right now, rooming with my best friend from High School and preparing for midterms. Instead, I’m at home, in my childhood bedroom, with my brothers and parents down the hall.

The last time my whole family was home for an entire week on vacation was in 2007 – I was in Second Grade. That was when my oldest brother was a Senior in High School; it was the last time we all had a spring break at the same time. This upcoming week, while I begin to attend classes online, my entire family will be home, scattered throughout the house going about their day with a new routine. I can’t go to a library, a Starbucks, even just a random café – its all closed and I shouldn’t be leaving the house anyway.

At first, the thought of isolation was kind of fun, in the context of our readings for this course. I was going to really see what Thoreau discussed in his text. But this just isn’t it. I feel like I cannot escape technology no matter how hard I try. Five days of my week will be spent in front of a computer doing school work and going to classes. I know in this day and age we all use our computers to get work done frequently, but something about the prospect of taking classes online gives it a different feel. Before, I was able to put the laptop down and just relax with friends around campus, or I could take breaks in between classes from technology. Now it’s all technology.

I don’t want to sound ungrateful here. I love my computer, I love Netflix, I love being able to have information at my finger tips on my phone. But this whole thing? It feels more like a burden than a blessing, more like a hardship than a way of making something easier – you know, what technology was suppose to do in the first place.