Democracy and Digitization

Like the human brain or the deepest parts of the ocean, the potential for discovery in the digital age seems boundless, especially to someone new to computing like me. Literature and Literary Study in the Digital Age has provided me with keys to locks on doors that I never even knew existed. The technical tools and languages fascinate me, how they command my computer to do things I never thought possible. However, I want to focus on how these technical things build a sort of digital democracy and how this might act as a model for other social environments. We have learned that most of what makes the internet work is open source and free to use/observe. Granted, editing the web can be limited by administrative privileges, but if I learned anything, it is that I am more in control than I thought when it comes to shaping my computing experience.

Applying these technical tools and concepts The Reader’s Thoreau is the best example of the sort of democracy I am talking about. This community, in which Thoreauvians can exchange questions and ideas about his works, is a microcosmic formation of democracy made possible by the computer. Apprehending a plain text version of Walden, raw and unbound from the material book, allows readers the access to the words at a level beyond that of the book. Plain text and plain-text editing with XML or HTML makes things like CommentPress possible. Digitizing Walden has not only brought the text to the more readers, it has engaged them in conversations with other readers. Here, then, is an example of how the technical can perform the conceptual, how digitization can democratize. After working with XML and HTML in the fall to digitize Yeats, I ultimately wanted all of my digital humanist work to surround this core issue, the democratization of information. Little did I know that the internet is set up perfectly for this type of work.

In my investigations of Lessig and Free Culture it became clear to me that computers are the backbone of what Lessig calls “remix culture.” The ability of markup languages like XML and HTML are instructive and thus can produce and reproduce texts that shed new light on old words. Similar to riffing in music or stigmergy in organizational theory, these languages allow developers (citizens of the web) to repeat and revise content in new and interesting ways. Lessig writes, “democratic tools gave ordinary people a way to express themselves more easily than any tools could before” (33). Just like a camera, the computer allows take control of their reality, revise and remix it to their liking. This makes the internet rich in texture and vibrant in culture. It reflects what is so good with democracy and it relies on technical copying and revision. This copying and revision happens, for us, at the command line, where we have been spending some time this semester. We can participate actively in the process of making and remaking by directly accessing our computers internal structure. Knowing the technical hierarchy gives each of us the chance to govern ourselves, which is both fundamental to democracy and vital to self-preservation in the hyper-surveillance culture we live in today.

True, the accessibility computers provide people can be used for harm. We are living in an era of “memetic warfare,” where hate can be propagated through the exact same methods of copying and revision. Open sourcing the internet is always at risk of this. Trolls on YouTube and Wikipedia will constantly disrupt the ideal digital democracy, just as corruption and scandal will plague our own democracy. However, the moment we attempt to purify this democracy by placing tight restrictions on spaces like Wikipedia and YouTube we sacrifice that very same democracy. In my directed study with Dr. Doggett, we are talking about this precise issue. The theorist we are reading, Slavoj Zizek, would say that to purify democracy is actually a totalitarian move. Thus, we must preserve the aberrations and deal with hate quickly and effectively. Wikipedia does this by running a “Talk” page alongside each entry, a separate HTML file for people to discuss and suggest changes to each page. It relies on a democratic schema to self-organize and create good.

Similarly, we have seen both sides of computer-as-society with The Reader’s Thoreau. We have engaged in a rich conversation of Walden all semester with each other and readers around the world. Blogging and commenting has fostered a community that exemplifies what we should strive for on and off the internet. We have also seen individuals penetrate the community looking to cause harm (I am referring to the woman asking for money). However, thanks to the self-organizing principles of the internet and some quick action from the site’s administrator, the community was able to move passed this and get back to reading deliberately.

All of this has been made possible by a hyperlinked internet that allows users to move freely between data points and information. As Jeffery Pomerantz points out, the potential of an HTML file is the precise reason why we have the internet. This the underlying technical structure of what makes the computer a democratic tool. Texts connect to other texts which connect people to texts and people to people. This is probably the most important thing I will take from this class. The computer’s ability to convene more and different people around a text, inviting new perspectives always, intrigues me as a student and excites me as a person. I want to take the digital humanities into my education going forward as it has proved so helpful in considering the ethics of writing, something I think about constantly. In short, the technicalities of digitization have prompted me to think in new ways about things that have always been important to me. By continuing in the pursuit of discovery, I will continue in my pursuit of democracy.

The War of the STEM and the Human

STEM and Humanities majors, engaging in brutal warfare

There is a war currently being waged between STEM and humanities
majors. This is not a violent conflict, no blood has yet been shed;the only casualties are those who become polluted into thinking that
either field is inherently better than the other.

The common perception is that STEM majors are intelligent but rigid, unappreciative of art and unable to see the “human” factor. This is contrary to the humanities major, who is wise and thoughtful
but so focused in on their particular niche they lose sight of what can be truly useful to society. Such toxic mentalities are rampant in college circles, as students stick to their clustered cliques, tut-tutting the other side for just not getting it.

Into this open vacuum of stuffy jingoism comes this strange little class: the Digital Humanities. And into this strange little class came a student who has long held the belief that those STEM majors just don’t get it. He had heard of this strange little class with its oxymoronic title and he just had to check it out. So this poor student, who has always held a certain degree of contempt for those STEM majors and their stupid intelligence, finds himself learning that the reason he has access to all of his beloved media, his art, his literature, is because of a few lines of code and some strips of a metal he probably couldn’t even pronounce the name of.

That poor student, being me of course, finds himself in an awkward position when at the end of the course he actually thinks that all of these technical STEM things are all of the stuff he always thought was monopolized by the humanities. Languages are just issues of communication solved through the grouping of symbols and sounds. Every time a writer goes back and edits their existing material, trimming away the lines that don’t work, they are engaging in the same behavior as the scientist or mathematician or computer technician that is solving a complicated set of code, or discovering a black hole. What is in our books? A rigid structure of chapter>page>paragraph>sentence>word>letter. It’s just the same as in coding or mathematics. Librarians, those brave guardians of the humanities, use coding and mathematical processes of data collection, as we learned in “Metadata”. So… I guess problem solving isn’t just in the realm of the STEM majors.

Towards the beginning of this class, we discussed what the study of humanities was, and it’s a question I keep returning to even as we trudge into the muck of html and source code. What we do in class, picking through backchannels on networking websites and adding brackets to couplets of letters, that is part of the humanities. It could also be considered part of the STEM field. This class helped to dispel the notion that there is a binary existence of art on one side and math on the other, only separated by a thin de-militarized zone where business majors eke out some sort of meager existence. Rather, it is a nebulous field where both exist, borrowing elements most think belong to the other and transforming them into what we recognize as its pure form. I guess “Digital Humanities” isn’t such an oxymoron.

Whatever I say, I’ve still got my eye on you, STEM majors.

Emilio’s Blog Post #2

I knew about the existence of languages like HTML and XML long before taking this class. However, it seemed like such a foreign concept to me, that one would need to be a genius with technology in order to make anything with it. As we moved further along in the semester I learned that markup and markdown languages aren’t a mystery, they’re a tool, and just about anyone can learn to use them if they had the passion for it. Granted, I myself have a long way to go before I can confidently work with TEI in my group project, but I have the confidence that by the end of the semester it will be no mystery.

What I think is important about markup languages is how valuable they are as tools. As a blacksmith cannot work without a hammer, a web designer cannot work without a universal markup language. Unlike a hammer, XML is only limited by the creative mind of its user. We have seen in class some of the practical ways in which XML and other languages have been used. Some of these include

  • Distinguishing differences, such as what was included, left out, or changed, in writings such as the Gettysburg Address and in Walden.
  • Highlighting certain words in specific colors with TEI, such as proper nouns being blue, in order to determine where something happened, at what time, and telling us who was involved.
  • And building a website to showcase information that would otherwise be hard to find, as seen with Omeka

Granted, on a conceptual level, most of what can be done online can also be done offline, however what I have tome to appreciate is how much easier and more focused studying literature can become with technology. In a novel we read for this class, we had learned that when it came down to computing, the hardest part was the equations. Said equations were not difficult to solve, but it was the effort needed to plug in each and every number, which was all done by human hand, and the amount of time that took which then took time away from research into a topic. With technology, the most laborious factor gets taken away, and this also connects to our study in Digital Humanities; without the difficulty of searching of varying sources of literature, Walden for example, we can instead focus on the differences in those sources which can then be documented through a markup language.

This knowledge has helped me better understand the use of information. Honestly I haven’t changed much as a person, but overall I must say that I am more inquisitive about the ways in which information is used; the idea that, the number of times the word tree or trees are used versus the number of times people are mentioned in Walden and what meaning can be interpreted from it, is fascinating.

The Endless Possibilities of Google Maps

When most people think of an English course, they likely think about literature and writing. It would be rare for a person’s first thought to be about using digital technology to better understand concepts that are relative to the English major. However, in English 340, incorporating different computer programs into our class is exactly what we have been doing. The information we have learned has taught me several valuable lessons that I probably would not have learned in any other class.

Prior to this semester, I have always used Google Maps to get from place to place while driving, but I never realized that it could do much more than offer directions. As demonstrated in class on February 25th, Google Maps can be used to add certain points of interest to a map. During our in-class activity, I took the opportunity to construct a map that included all of the schools I have attended throughout my lifetime. This allowed me to gather a general idea of their distances from each other. At a young age, I viewed my elementary school as being far away from my house, when in reality it was only fifteen minutes away. Today, I view my college as being relatively close to my house, even though it is an hour and fifteen minutes away. The map allowed me to recognize how much my concept of time has changed from the time I was young.

Along with adding data to maps from our personal lives, our class also learned how to insert data that represents statistics from around the world. I chose to overlay the locations of every American Indian Reservation onto my Google map. It’s interesting to get a sense of their locations, especially pertaining to my current location. I never realized how many reservations there are in relation to Buffalo and Geneseo. Surprisingly, it is relatively easy to import the statistics onto the map. To add a new layer onto Google maps, you need to start by choosing “add layer.” Next, you select “import” and then choose “select a file from your device” under the “upload tab.” As long as the statistics pertaining to your topic have been saved to your computer, you should be able to choose the downloaded information from your files to insert onto the Google map. Once you press complete, the information should appear as another layer on the map. This knowledge has changed the way I look at Google Maps. The technical concept is also a great way to compare statistics from several different maps. It also allows people to conceptualize information that might not be understood when presented as a list of numbers. I now see it as a useful tool that can help me to understand certain statistics in an easier way.

The information that we learned about Google Maps during class has helped to make our final project task more understandable. The project that my group is focusing on is based on Google Maps. Our task has been to find all of the place names that Henry David Thoreau mentioned in Walden and place them on a map to make the knowledge easily accessible to internet users. Taking the time to truly understand how to use Google Maps in class has allowed my group to approach this project with a good amount of background knowledge. We have a clear understanding of how to plot the locations on the map and add details that allow the viewer to grasp what they are looking at. The knowledge we gained in class about Google Maps has made it easier to successfully complete our project thus far.

In addition to using Google Maps for the final project, I have considered using it as a way to plot where my family members have lived. I feel as though I have an elaborate family ancestry, which includes ancestors originating from Armenia, Ireland, England, Italy, and many other countries. My mother’s side of the family has a pretty clear understanding of where our ancestors are from, but no one in my family has ever taken the time to plot this information. I have very little knowledge of where my father’s ancestors are from. I would love to take the time to go through family records and figure out more information about my dad’s side. Google Maps offers me the perfect opportunity to label where my ancestors are from. I feel as though this information would be very beneficial to know, for both my current and future family members. Had we not learned about Google Maps in class, it is likely that I never would have considered taking the time to track my family ancestry on a map.

By taking English 340, I feel as though I have learned about several types of computer programs that I never would have learned about elsewhere. Google Maps is a program that I have used for many years, but not to the fullness I could have. This class has allowed me to realize how much Maps has to offer. Already, Maps has allowed me to create maps, document data about Thoreau’s Walden, and look further into my family ancestry. I am excited to see what else I can do with Google Maps in the future.

Connections

I remember on the first day of class, I told my partner I was pretty proficient in computers. All those days I spent playing tech support for all my older relatives, and being the go-to graphic design girl in my business class in high school, gave me a faux sense of confidence when it came to computers. When I initially thought learning how to use the command line had to do with making graphic lines, was my first sign of trouble. VirtualBox was a bit of a shock at first, considering the expectations I had. On top of that, even though I’m concentrating in English, I guess I had never placed much thought into linguistics itself.  The relationship of linguistics, information, and technology, have been presented to me through the duration of this course in a way I could have never fathomed.

The essence of the biggest lesson I have taken from this class is this: information, in both linguistics and technology, is not a creation of this current digital age. There are decades and centuries behind us of this coexisting relationship. I had personally been clueless of this, just listening to the elders that talked down to my fellow screen-addicted peers, saying that this was only a product of our generation. Looking at Walden alone opened my eyes to this, especially when I had to dig to try to make connections to our class. I remember being given that very task, sitting there thinking, “What? Walden is the polar opposite of all the things we do in class, there’s no way to make a meaningful connection.” But as I began to dig, the puzzle pieces started to connect as I realized the influence of that relationship was so heavily presented in Walden, written over 100 years ago. To continue on, I think it’s worthwhile to not only look for this everlasting relationship, as our current technology continues to grow and boom. As a future teacher, teaching to make meaningful connections between text and our world around us is a key point of literature itself. I think it will be important to give these sorts of challenges to open students eyes to all the relationships and connections around us.

Technically, one of my favorite hands-on programs I have learned is being able to utilize atom. As I journal in it everyday, and maneuver the wonders of plain text, I can’t help but think of the long-term use. While I move forward in my teaching career, knowing how to use a program like atom to be able to save text in different formats, makes every future worksheet, e-journal, and lesson plan easier and more efficient to do on a computer. Not to mention, this is a skill I could implement with upper elementary students. Especially if digital technology continues at the rapid rate it does, skills like markdown and plain text will only become more handy. Having an understanding for a deeper use of the technology we use daily, makes me more versatile in the classroom.

Just last week, when I applied for a job at a local library, I wrote in the special skills box that I was currently taking this class that was teaching me about metadata and encoding. I was already comfortable in the humanities, but now finding ease in my new computer knowledge, makes my skill set more functional and resourceful than ever. I’m glad to not just know the surface level function of these machines, but be able to navigate my machine in relation to my studies, and even far beyond those.

Timeline JS

As I said in my first blog post, I had no idea this course was going to consist of understanding how our computer works and things such as coding. I guess I didn’t even know it was going to be a Digital Humanities course. Therefore when I walked in on the first day I was taken back and a little worried the content would be over my head. However, after taking the time to listen in class I have added new knowledge about technology to my brain that I never thought I’d learn or want to learn. I still don’t know all there is to know about technology, especially with the command line in Virtual Box, but one thing that I have learned that has been particularly interesting is Timeline JS. In class we learned how to add in different information, images, and links to additional sources to create a timeline through Timeline JS. The first thing that came to my mind as a future educator, is how I can implement this into my future classroom. Timeline JS would be perfect for a Social Studies lesson where the students could take information they have learned, such as the years of major wars fought around the the world or dates of major events during the Civil Rights movement, and input the dates on Timeline JS to create their very own timeline. It can also be used for other subjects. For example, english teachers could have their students make a timeline of important events that occurred in a book. I used to do this in school, but it was on paper. Technology has become such an important aspect in education today and it’s only going to progress further, so the more we can incorporate it into our schools, the better off our students will be in the future. Timeline JS has also benefited me in being able to fulfill the Walden Project. I now know how to create a timeline to show the stages of composition of Walden in relation to other events in Thoreau’s life and important events taking place in the world around him. I feel fortunate to have gotten the opportunity to take this course because I now have a new understanding of how technology works. I’m looking forward to using this new information as I move forward in my career and teaching my future students about Timeline JS.

Technical and Conceptual Learning as a Vehicle for Change

With more than half a semester’s worth of learning and work behind me, it is safe to say that I have a great deal more knowledge now than when I began English 340 in January. The scope of skills and concepts I learned about and learned from is extremely wide. Indeed, from learning the basics of the open-source code editor application, Atom, to using the command line on my virtual machine to generate a program that creates journal entries in Atom, I have made great strides in my knowledge of computers, computing, and coding. However, I believe that the most interesting, most life-altering thing I have learned in English 340 is how to understand, write, and utilize HTML.

Continue reading “Technical and Conceptual Learning as a Vehicle for Change”

Gradual Growth

Looking back on how nervous I was walking into class during syllabus week not knowing what to expect, now makes me laugh. I find it amazing how over the course of a few months, how much I have learned and how my perspective on technology has changed overall. Although all of this new information can be overwhelming at times, it has given me the courage to apply to jobs on campus such as SA Tech and the CIT desk so that even after this class comes to an end, I will continue to learn and broaden my knowledge.

Change is something that I have never been comfortable with and I felt like taking this class was something way out of my comfort zone and a huge risk. I was not sure if I was capable of doing well in it and considering how little of an understanding I had with computers, worried me. With technology constantly advancing I knew I had to become more knowledgable and familiar with the gadgets surrounding me. I have wanted to be a teacher practically my whole life, so what kind of disservice would I be doing to my students by not having them engage with technology? Implementing the use of technology is so important in the classroom because it is an effective approach to connect with students who may learn differently. In high school, I had a teacher who insisted on using one of those old projectors, even though there was a smart board in the classroom. I found it extremely difficult to stay focused and engaged in any lesson and easily got distracted. After that, I promised to myself that when I become a teacher one day, I will create my lesson according to the needs and wants of my students.

Nowadays, there is such a negative stigma surrounding technology and all of the harmful impacts it has on us. Although I am not disagreeing with this statement as social media has been proven to be detrimental to one’s mental health, I feel that because we dwell on the negative, we do not appreciate the benefits that technology has brought us. We do not give enough credit to the cures and treatments that new technology has provided for those with diseases and illnesses. We are too busy focusing on what we do wrong, rather than what we do right. Like anything else, I believe it is essential to find a good balance. I do not think we should rid ourselves completely of technology but instead monitor how much time we spend on social media.

After doing some more research on technology and its impact on mental health, I decided to go on a social media cleanse for a week. I have to say, I felt so out of the loop. Social media is my prime form of communication which made it even tougher to get rid of. I also do not watch the news and get all of my news updates from apps such as Twitter or Instagram. One of the organizations I am apart here at Geneseo, uses the apps Facebook and Groupme to inform us about events as well which made it that much harder to keep up with what was going on. I have to say I am definitely addicted to my phone and giving up social media was not easy. Once the week came to an end, I became more okay with it and actually felt kind of free from it. I believe that a social media cleanse should be something that everyone should do once in a while.

One thing that I know now that I did not know in the beginning of the semeste,r is what XML is. XML is a rigid structure that gives us language to mark up textual data on ways that are specific so that computers can read them. This rigid structure is important because computers do not handle loose data well.  XML enables us to add rigorous structure to textual data. I liked how Professor Schacht compared XML’s structure to the structure of a book. Books are loosely structured data. Although this may seem like such a little takeaway, it is something that I would have never been able to comprehend before. This is a milestone for me since I came into this class knowing nothing.

I am glad that our Walden projects give us the opportunity to explore other websites and applications. This class is not set up like a traditional english class since it includes a lot of hands on learning that is enjoyable and interesting and keeps me engaged during class. I believe all english classes should incorporate some kind of technology aspect to it.

 

The Dream: My computer and a toaster

As I approach the end of my final year at Geneseo, I am slowly trying to hold onto any and all knowledge I can get my hands on. It feels like the past 3 years were wasted in some ways and now I have to consume and devourer any information that comes my way. The years and classes have somewhat blurred together and honestly I’m glad some of the information was lost along the way.

The classes this semester are just as challenging as ever. I may walk away with horrid memories of this semester with a final senior paper to write for my history major. But one class I hope I hold onto is this class, Digital Humanities. And I’m not just saying that to try and boast my grade. Rather, the information I am learning in this class is so relevant to the world I am about to enter and to not use it in my future would be a mistake.

In the past few months I have enjoyed working with Atom and learning how I can use it for many tasks. I am actually writing this in Atom as we speak and knowing how to italicize and bold an item is helpful and I can do it with ease thanks to the practice I have had in class. I have to say that I struggle with a lot of functions within Vbox. I find it runs very slow for me and while I can follow along with the steps provided, it feels way over my head. I can understand how Atom works and how to best use certain command inputs in Vbox but as soon as it gets slightly more complicated I find myself confused and afraid to mess up. In a way this fear drives me to keep trying and keep at the task until I have it figured out.

I have enjoyed trying to learn command input in Vbox’s terminal. The specifics of how to move to more specific information within the terminal (Desktop -> Folder -> Item) is one of the things I have actually been able to do successfully and I’m a bit proud of that. I know it’s very basic but I can do it confidently within the terminal and its something I actually understand.

One thing I would love to try and do within my Mac’s terminal would actually be this.

While this is a very funny concept to me, I think it is possible to understand through the steps I have learned in this class. This is also a great way to understand how the Terminal can be used to modify any computer. And while I may struggle with this in Vbox, maybe I would really learn it if I could mod a toaster to perform a task for me.

Taking Small Steps

I have never been overly proficient in computers or technology of really any kind. I, however, have never run into any serious problems with computer or technology to challenge my knowledge. This class, while not a serious problem, has me doing things with my computer that I have never really done nor thought could be done. I always understood what coding was and that there are different ways to do so–I knew there was HTML and I had heard of python and mathematica, but I had never truly used these systems before. In fact, I had mostly been afraid of them. The ideas of algebra seemed complicated to me and so how was I supposed to figure out the language of computers? Since computers stem from mathematics and algorithms, I did not think I would have been capable of understanding them. Then, I started my internship.

In the Fall semester of 2018, I started a library instruction internship where I began to learn how to be a research librarian. While most of librarianship is understanding how to use databases, there is also a whole sector of creating webpages, websites, databases, and more. While most of the moderators make it easy to use the site, sometimes I had to go into the HTML to make things look exactly how I want and so I had to stop being afraid of coding. I realized a lot of coding is less knowing the specific parts of the language itself, but knowing how those parts work together. The more I played around with HTML, the more comfortable I got with it–I am no master of coding, but I do have a strong confidence in being able to learn how to use certain methods.

I decided to take this class to learn a little more about how to control a computer as I want to go into the field of librarianship and research–and as we know, humanities is becoming more and more digital, and as an English major I want to be able to keep up with different forms of presenting, analyzing, and creating literature and/or texts. What this class has taught me the most so far: how to follow steps.

There have been some classes that I have fallen so behind in that I start becoming frazzled and annoyed. Instead of letting myself spiral, I would start from the beginning and just slowly work my way through each step until I got to the problem area. Sometimes, there would just be no problem anymore. Other times, I would have to fish around different parts of my computer to find a setting or button to change. While the confusion is aggravating, it also has allowed me to become more and more familiar with what is on my computer and in my system settings. I think another part to feeling comfortable in any discipline is knowing the foundation–and the foundation here would be just understanding the basics of a computer. The more I get to understand the anatomy of my device, the more confident I am in handling any issues that may come up and therefore the more confident I am in my computer skills.