Category: Social relationships

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.

Does Social Media have an effect on Studying?

Media 1

Just this year I joined the social media rat race. Before, I was an “every once in a while” Facebook user. But my life changed considerably with graduation from high school and my purchase into the smart phone generation. In the beginning I was still not too worried about my social media footprint but I began to realize the benefits and disadvantages of being connected in an environment such as this.

Following this discovery I became an avid member of facebook, twitter, instagram, and snapchat (along with other sites). With these new apps on my phone I began posting, tweeting, adding people, etc. I soon began to spend more time doing this than otMedia 2her things I found important in my life. I felt my control slipping a little bit as studying became less of a priority.

In my case I found the onslaught of social media to be a distinct disadvantage to my studying habits. According to a Nielsen Media Research Study, almost 25% of student’s time on the Internet is spent on social media. This amount may seem small but compared with the other categories (including Netflix/other movie sites, research for classes, etc.) this number is significant. This research also found that two thirds of the students in this study reported using social media during class or homework. These numbers imply that the usage of social media could be considered a detriment to students and faculty, but they don’t have to be.

Although there are many cases in which social media can hurt a student’s progress it also has helped! Many students inside the class and graduated have found that social media has helped in making social/networking connections, providing easier access to knowledge about present and past times, and giving the ability to share their ideas and content. These sites also help get important news tmedia 3o people that may not have been as accessible as before.

Based on research done in the past, 73% of American teens are involved in social media in some shape or form. Is this number a good or bad one? This could mean 27% of teens are not as informed as the other 73%. It could also mean that 27% of teens are better able to study based on the lack of distractions and ability to hold attention for a longer period of time. A follow up survey should, in my opinion, ask these teens their study habits and knowledge about current events as compared to those who do have accounts.

Media 3In many cases both parts of this question are valid: Are we a generation that no longer has the attention spans to study efficiently? Or are we a generation that has so many more opportunities based on the connections we make through these sites?

The answer is up to you!

 

Oberst, L. (2010). The 6S Social Network. Retrieved from: http://sixsentences.ning.com/profile/LindsayOberst

Jacobsen, W. C., & Forste, R. (2011). The Wired Generation: Academic and Social Outcomes of Electronic Media Use Among University Students

Wang, Qingya; Chen, Wei; and Liang, Yu, “The Effectsof Social Media on College Students” (2011). MBA Student Scholarship. Paper http://scholarsarchive.jwu.edu/mba_student/5

 

 

Seizing the White Perimeter

In the chapter “Reading,” Thoreau writes, “…we must laboriously seek the meaning of each word and line, conjecturing a larger sense than common use permits out of what wisdom and valor and generosity we have.” Obviously the Digital Thoreau project is accomplishing this by having readers think more deeply about the meaning of Walden and start a conversation about it, and that’s a great tool. It seems particularly appropriate for a text like Walden, which we think of as more “scholarly” than something along the lines of, say, The Twilight Saga. It seeks to call you to some kind of action, rather than simply existing for its entertainment value. It’s meant to be read, meditated on, and thoroughly processed. All of this made me wonder, however, if someone could read our digital version of Walden simply to experience it without any outside influences.

Annotations are distracting and a lot of times I hate them. There, I said it. Before you skip the rest of this and tear me apart in the comments, let me just say that another part of me thinks that annotations are great tools for understanding a text. I really appreciate them the second time through when I’m ready for that information. I’ll get to that later on.

The first time I read a book, I tend to go about it in a somewhat childlike way. I’m curious, but I just want to get to the meat of the story and don’t want anybody stopping to explain what certain things mean; I can usually get past that and look them up later. Annotations disrupt my feeling that reading a book is an intimate experience between the author and myself. It’s also sometimes challenging to figure out my own opinion with everything else in the way.

The first digital book I read was The Great Gatsby on my iPad. It wasn’t a horrible experience, but I can say that the one thing I hated was seeing “3,487 people have highlighted this” next to certain sentences. This is embarrassing to admit, but I found it downright upsetting at times. Why did all those people highlight that? What’s so important there? Am I supposed to find something deeper in that sentence? ‘Cause I’m not finding anything, and I’m supposedly an English major, so obviously there’s something wrong with me. I just wanted to spend some quality time with F. Scott Fitzgerald, but 3,487 people had to come in and ruin it with their highlighting by making me doubt my own reading abilities. How could I possibly engage with the text myself when all those other readers were butting their noses in and interrupting every few pages?

Even though I didn’t always find myself moved by the things other people highlighted, I had highlighting and comments of my own stuck in there too. Andrew D. Scrimgeour writes that “The jottings we make in the books we own may well be among the highest tributes we pay to authors. They are signs of respect, signs of engagement.” It wasn’t that I wasn’t engaging with the text, I just wasn’t quite ready to engage with others yet. Scrimgeour also suggests that our marginalia reveal a lot about how we personally are engaging with texts. What better way to develop our own thoughts regarding a text? I think that sometimes we have to figure it out for ourselves first, uninhibited by others.

I haven’t had a chance to look at all the Walden annotations, but I’d guess that most of us are approaching it from an analytical perspective rather than a “Wow, I just really like this sentence that Thoreau wrote so I’m gonna mark it” angle, and for the purposes of this class, that’s good. It’s easy as English majors to forget to read for enjoyment, though. We can’t forget to entertain our less academic-sounding thoughts, such as thinking Emily Dickinson is a ninny, along with more serious reflection. The background behind how an author like Thoreau wrote (as seen in the Fluid Text edition) is obviously very important, but since it’s a text with which we’re meant to engage as readers and scholars, I’m of the opinion that our personal reactions are just as valid.

All in all, while it may be intimidating to put our thoughts out there on the digital text because we worry that what we think is wrong, if the text prompts us to think something, we’re probably not alone. The text is supposed to make us think, and those organic responses are sometimes the most interesting, in my opinion. As for getting distracted by other people’s annotations, well, there’s always an unmarked print copy available somewhere if we need it. When we’re ready to engage with others, though, a network like Digital Thoreau can’t be ignored.

Alone Together?

I’ve been enjoying people’s recent posts on the question of anxiety over technological change.

In contemporary social critics’ and social scientists’ efforts to grasp the cultural consequences of digital technology, one theme that has emerged is epitomized in the title of a book by Sherry Turkle. The book is Alone Together: Why We Expect More From Technology and Less From Each Other. Turkle is Abby Rockefeller Mauzé Professor of the Social Studies of Science and Technology at MIT and the director of the Initiative on Technology and Self.

Turkle’s book offers evidence for the idea that in some ways digital technology is driving us farther apart even as it offers new possibilities for making connections. So it wouldn’t be fair to say that her thesis is refuted by a few images at Kids These Days, the Tumblr maintained by Nathaniel Rivers, an assistant professor of English at Saint Louis University who studies rhetorical theory, blogs as pure_sophist_monster and tweets as @sophist_monster.

But the images do offer reason to be skeptical of the near-apocalyptic claims you sometimes hear about “kids these days” and their devices. (To be fair to Turkle, her own approach to this question isn’t in the apocalyptic vein but is in fact more nuanced.) I routinely hear it said that “kids these days” just aren’t capable of having “real” social interactions — only the “virtual” ones made possible by social media such as Facebook and Twitter.

As Oscar Wilde has Algernon say in The Importance of Being Earnest, “The truth is rarely pure and never simple. Modern life would be very tedious if it were either…”