“Social” versus “Physical” Distancing

I don’t know how I feel about the Amish. I don’t know if it’s fair to bring someone into that lifestyle without their consent. This might sound like a familiar dilemma to my classmates.

First, allow me to clarify that when I say “that lifestyle,” I do not  wish to insinuate I have anything close to first hand experience the way an actual Amish person or even one of their neighbors would have. I grew up among the comforts of suburbia and therefore my first-hand experience is limited to public markets and driving past buggies on back roads. My exposure and understanding of the Amish is product of my own community, which plays upon my reading of things independent of the thing which I’m trying to reach a judgement on. All said, I’m going to use this source mainly as my basis for talking about the Amish in this post.

Amish children are raised in a certain lifestyle all their life, one that is intentionally separated from the practices of the world at large. Sometime recently either in my notes or perhaps in class I spoke about the way cultures creates a homogenized opinion of something, and the larger the culture the greater potential for this general opinion to be established. (There’s probably a word for this, so Sociology students are invited to get at me. I think what I’m talking about is Freud’s superego but that kind of sounds wrong to me too…) Continue reading “The Amish and Community (an earlier post revised)”

TikTok And It’s Clapbacks To Misogyny

By Anne Baranello

If you’re anyone who’s anyone, you’ve heard of TikTok – the social media app that consists of videos ranging from 15 seconds to a minute, using a rotation of sounds to go along with the videos. It’s slightly akin to the previously popular app Vine, which consisted of 6-second videos, forcing the users to be creative and resourceful with their content. 

Tiktok as a concept has garnered both criticism and acclaim for its concept – some feel that it is a cheap ripoff of Vine, and others (namely me) feel that TikTok is a new and improved version of Vine – the concepts are strikingly similar, and yet the content is so much more entertaining and creative. What I like about this app is that the videos are based around the sounds – and not the other way around. Users take edited sounds – say, an excerpt of a song, or the audio from a movie – and create videos with jokes or messages that take the sound out of its original context. There are obviously trends of which sounds are popular, which format of videos are popular, and which dances are all the rage, but users are constantly improving and advancing the trend – sometimes, a trend gets to the point where if you had no prior awareness and context of the trend itself and specific cultural knowledge, there’s no chance of you understanding it. But beneath the energetic dances and niche comedy, there’s a more conscious shift emerging. Tiktok is becoming a platform for social change – specifically feminism and the fight against misogyny. 

Its not a new thing – not for the last couple of centuries – that women have been becoming entirely more vocal about misogyny and it’s place in everyday life/conversation, and on the internet. The internet itself gives anyone with access a platform to vocalize their opinions, and oftentimes those opinions don’t fall in the favor of women, so instead of ‘canceling’ said person and moving on, Gen Z and Millenials on TikTok have begun calling these people out and using satirical phrases to shut them down. The most popular term/phrase is “wallet(s)” (referring to misogynistic, sexist, racist, privileged men). A comment calling out a misogynistic post would normally sound something like this “aw, is the wallet upset? go build me a coffee table, it’s what you do best”. Variations of ‘wallets’ is ‘toolboxes’, ‘hammer’, and so on. This phrase is used to combat the widespread trend of calling women “dishwashers” and comments such as “go make me a sandwich”. These posts are a kind of satirical misandry – the commenters don’t genuinely support misandry, but they’re giving misogynists a taste of their own medicine. There was no distinct post that began this trend – it began silently, started small, and then suddenly everyone (both female and male) began using these terms to call out latent and internalized misogyny found within Tiktok. I find this shift in the language of the internet so interesting because women/activists are no longer entertaining the misogyny by getting upset and giving the original poster a reaction. Instead, women are casually calling out misogyny in a manner that invalidates the opposing opinion, by turning the tables. This movement has even coined the phrase “ok wallet”, alluding to the infamous phrase “ok boomer”. It is used with the same dismissive manner and effectively disarms the original argument. Just as women have been objectified for centuries, women are now objectifying men.  

I personally am conflicted about this new movement. Part of me wants to shout, “Yes!!! Give them a taste of their own medicine! Fire back!” And another part of me doesn’t like the fact that this trend is almost condoning misandry – neither side is good. However, it’s refreshing to see people fighting back against the internalized misogyny that’s an intricate facet of our society.

Writing is NOT Set in Stone

As a result of ENGL 340 (as well as a course I have taken previously, ENGL 425: Recovering Marginalized Texts), I have realized that writing is a work in progress. As a writer myself, I am overly critical of myself. I write poems just to leave them in the notes app on my phone or in a notebook that sits on the shelf, gathering dust. I write my poetry all in one shot and I never really come back to it, but I have learned through this course that that is not how I should be writing. Even with my papers, (I shouldn’t, but) I write them all in one go, never making any additions or seeking out new information afterwards that will help my arguments. This is my biggest mistake as a writer and is probably why I am never fully satisfied with my writing.

In our work with fluid texts like Walden, I have realized how important it is review and edit what I have already written even if it is considered “complete.” This course has taught me that, technically, no body of writing should be called “complete” because it can always be better and it can always be altered. There are seven versions of Thoreau’s Walden that came before the final version that is so highly regarded by many, proving that greatness takes time. Though this course, I have also realized that this was the overall point of a course I took during Fall 2019 called Recovering Marginalized Texts. In that course, we learned about the expectations, strifes, and processes of an editor when recovering “lost” texts. The course highlighted the changes that these editors would make to these outdated texts to make them palatable for modern readers. More importantly, we explored why editors would make the decisions that they did while leaving other parts of the text as is. We even learned how to edit texts on our own, learning skills like being able to determine what background information was important to include. In a way, I feel that ENGL 340 and ENGL 425 oddly work hand in hand to highlight the importance of a fluid text as the many changes that occur emphasize writing as a process.

The difference between ENGL 340 and ENGL 425 is definitely the use of technology in ENGL 340 to make this process easier. Prior to taking this course, I had some experience with HTML and have always been interesting in coding as you can take some words with <> to make something amazing. I really enjoyed seeing the original manuscript for Walden as well as transcribing some of the text using metalanguage. In ENGL 425, we did some transcription, but had to write down the transcriptions by hand. I feel that using a TEI file is a more effective way to track the changes in a text that ends up being clear and descriptive. Although computing takes away a bit of the uncertainty and lack of guidelines that I crave, I think that it is a great way to visualize what makes a piece of writing as well as how it can be customized. For sure, I will use VS Code beyond this course to write notes and maybe even my poetry because I like the way I can easily format, edit, and publish my work that can be accessed from anywhere once published.

I feel that the sudden educational changes that we had to make campus-wide due to COVID-19 proves how technology = accessibility. Whereas my other professors had to scramble to convert their courses to an online-friendly version, the transition with ENGL 340 was the smoothest given that many of the tools and resources we use were already online. I feel like I am just rambling now, but I really want to emphasize that although I fell behind in this course, it was my absolute favorite from the beginning. It became apparent that combining English with technology made more sense than ever before. While other professors denied the legitimacy of online texts and computers in general, this course welcomes nontraditional methods. And for that I am grateful because, again, it taught me that writing is not set in stone (even if it is in print): a piece of writing can be revisited, revised, and rewritten again and again and again and there is nothing wrong with that.

The Relationship Between Language and Computing

In chapter 3 of The Information, Gleick discusses how during the 16th century, people had not come to a consensus on the spellings of words. He uses the example of a 1591 pamphlet where “the word cony (rabbit) appeared variously as conny, conye, conie, connie, coni, cuny, cunny, and cunnie…Others spelled it differently” (55). I found that although there were nine different spellings of one word, the author still spelled it with the letter ‘C’. To me, this begs the question: Who is to say that cony is not spelled with a ‘K’?

This led me to think about English as a discipline. I have always said that English is an easy subject because you can argue anything, as long as you have sufficient proof to convince your audience. As Gleick reminds us, historically, “language did not function as a storehouse of words, from which users could summon the correct items, preformed. On the contrary, words were fugitive, on the fly, expected to vanish again thereafter” (55). I feel that this version of language, that is temporary and ever-changing, lines up with my thoughts about English more than contemporary ideals. I think this way because whether you write a sentence that says “I buy a pair of pears every week,” but you wrote “I by a pear of pairs every weak” instead you still understand the message. At the same time, I found it surprising that there were not any grammar rules and regulations prior due to the fact that the numerous spellings of a single word could possibly be confused for completely different words. What comes to mind is the difference between “red” and “read” where the spelling could affect a reader’s understanding of the text. As time goes on, words become more permanent as stories are no longer shared solely orally.

Gleick asserts that “the availability – the solidity – of the printed book inspired a sense that the written word should be a certain way, that one form was right and others wrong” (55). I could not help but think about how the computer combines the uncertainty of words prior to print as well as the certainty that these grammar rules bring. What I mean is: digital texts are always subject to editing thus making them less certain, but many aspects of the computer prevent the same fluidity that oral tradition provides. For example, autocorrect will put that little squiggle under words that it does not recognize, signifying that it has been programmed to determine what is right from wrong. At the same time, the person who programmed the autocorrect had to spell all their tags correctly and make sure they are in the right place or the computer is literally unable to “read” it, thus incapable of carrying out the command. The difference between and could change the entirety of whatever you are working on. Meanwhile, if I spell something wrong in a paper, my professor will still understand what I meant I would just be incorrect.

There are definitely certain expectations in regards to spelling and grammar in any field. However, I feel that the difference is in the penalties for ignoring these ideals. In the humanities, communication is more based on the message rather than the details of the message. At the same time, computing is based on the details of the message, how the message will be conveyed. Due to these parameters, I think that the solidity of language is more important for computing as the use of incorrect spelling will greatly change the results of a project. Considering that, I believe the humanities is more fluid and forgiving (despite the adoption of these guidelines) because my message will be understood despite the misspellings.

My New Inspiration with the Help of a TEI File in ENGL 340

A couple weeks ago Cassie wrote an interesting blog post about the importance of the visual. In addition to raising some very valid points, she credited a point that I had made in our small group discussion. I felt that it was important to provide some context and credit to the original research.

Maybe it’s my constant need for validation or maybe just the fact that people are constantly making me justify my degree in literature, but I like to bring up the fact that reading literature actually makes you a more empathetic person at pretty much every possible opportunity. That’s right, fellow book nerds, reading actually makes you a better person. Well, at least if you define better as more empathetic, which I do because we could really use some more empathy in the world right now.

Continue reading “It’s OK to be a Snob About Reading”

Taking the Good Out of a Bad Situation

As we sit hunkered in our homes, losing track of the days, it might seem like this an awful and depressing time. You may be thinking “There’s only so much Netflix I can watch before I go insane.” As humans, we need to socialize and explore our surroundings.

As I was re-reading Walden thinking about what exactly it was I wanted to write about, I came across the chapter called “Solitude.” In paragraph 5, Thoreau discusses… well… the idea of solitude. The few lines that really stood out to me were when he states:

“How far apart, think you, dwell the two most distant inhabitants of yonder star, the breadth of whose disk cannot be appreciated by our instruments? Why should I feel lonely? is not our planet in the Milky Way? This which you put seems to me not to be the most important question. What sort of space is that which separates a man from his fellows and makes him solitary?” (Walden, 16)

In these few lines, I was able to take away a bunch of ideas, especially while living in the world right now. What I was able to extract from these lines was not ideas about solitude and loneliness, but the opposite of that. No matter the distance between us, we should not lose our relationships with people. Although we are required to stay physically distant, our emotional connections should not suffer.

With everyone in a bad situation, there is always a bright side. To me, this bright side is that as a human race, it seems like we are closer than ever. All of us have been made to reflect on things we take for granted. In an effort to stay close and connected with the most important people in our lives, we have all come up with our own creative ways to express our love for one another.

For example, every Easter, my grandparents host brunch with everyone in the family. My grandfather makes a really amazing dish (S.O.S) that all the grandkids look forward to, my sister especially. They waited until the last possible second before cancelling it this year, in hopes that things might turn around. My grandpa, heartbroken about brunch being nonexistent this year, decided to make and deliver his S.O.S, in a safe and socially distant way. Even though we all weren’t together physically, my grandpa made Easter Sunday feel a little bit more normal than it would have been without the food. His effort to keep tradition alive by thinking outside of the box, inspired everyone to get into a Zoom call, while eating their S.O.S. For example, every Easter, my grandparents host brunch with everyone in the family. My grandfather makes a really amazing dish (S.O.S) that all the grandkids look forward to, my sister especially. They waited until the last possible second before cancelling it this year, in hopes that things might turn around. My grandpa, heartbroken about brunch being nonexistent this year, decided to make and deliver his S.O.S, in a safe and socially distant way. Even though we all weren’t together physically, my grandpa made Easter Sunday feel a little bit more normal than it would have been without the food. His effort to keep tradition alive by thinking outside of the box, inspired everyone to get into a Zoom call, while eating their S.O.S. In the Zoom call, me and my sister noticed the looks of sadness still on my grandparents face. So we decided to do something special for them. I wrote a parody of ABBA’s S.O.S song, and replaced the lyrics pertaining to our family’s S.OS. Together with my sister, we shot a music video and sent it to my grandparents. Hearing them laugh and making them happy meant the world to us.

Who knows how long this quarantine is going to last. This is not a time to shut yourself off from everyone. Stay connected, do whatever it takes to stay sane, while practicing social distancing of course. Stay safe everyone!

Thoreau The Engineer

In reading Walden and learning more about Henry David Thoreau, I can’t help but think of all the ways in which our ideas about the world line up. He is remembered as the lonesome philosopher of Walden Pond, but a lesser known part of his fame is that he invented a significantly advanced method for creating pencils and ran the factory that produced them. Prior to Thoreau’s innovation within the industry, pencils were constructed through quite simple means. Two pieces of wood with a notch down the center of each and a length of lead sandwiched between them with adhesive. Thoreau thought of a better way, to use an adapted form of a technique known as the Conté process. He used a mixture of clay and graphite to encase the material within a solid wooden pencil core. Thoreau’s pencils were far better than what Americans had been using up to this point and rivaled the make of high quality English brands. What is the importance of this innovation? What comparison can be drawn between making pencils and Thoreau’s philosophy of law about right and wrong? I would say more than you would initially think and certainly more than I did before giving it a great deal of thought. Thoreau’s background as an engineer means something with regard to his contributions to the world and his ideas about it. An engineer solves problems. In order for an engineer to apply their skills toward that end, there is a process which needs doing. Whether the problem is a practical one or a philosophical one which concerns the state of humanity, the process is the same. An engineer looks at something and finds fault in it. There is a better way of making something work, there is a better role which something can serve, there is a better application for a tool or a part of a construct. Where a problem needs solving, Thoreau is there with his take on it. More importantly, Thoreau differs from people who identify issues in society by offering solid advice on the matter of solving them. Thoreau provides his set of higher laws for living in such a way that can transcend the problems he observes within society. It is the chapter “Higher Laws” which my group is currently working on for our final project and this chapter holds a good deal of the wisdom Thoreau wishes for us to hear about fixing the world.

Another great American philosopher, John Rawls, presents the concept of fair play and moral obligation to obey the law when it benefits both the governed and their government. Codified law exists as guidelines and should be respected by those who are under its protection, but oftentimes guidelines written with good intentions can lead to harm and negative consequences for the people subject to them. Extreme adherence and reverence for the law as the only thing that matters will make one susceptible to control and the justification of many actions which are not moral by their government. Under fair play principle, the law must always be respected as an institution, but also subject to criticism and debate. This is in line with the same kind of moral obligation Thoreau posits exists to be subject to the law. Likewise, his argument supports a moral obligation to make laws worthy of being obeyed. Without the give and take relationship between government and governed, tyrannical laws will inevitably be imposed on the population which does not dare to question. This relationship is likened to that of the one between a parent and their child. Children are obligated to respect their parents because their parents protect and look out for their best interests, keeping them safe and fed. This does not mean however, that a parent always knows best. A child should not blindly follow their parents directives at every turn. If thinking ceases and the truth is lost, laws and rules will replace consciousness about what is right and wrong. Thoreau begs his reader to be conscious of the social issues plaguing society and to take what action they can to operate under a higher law. Thoreau, like Rawls, believes there are times when obligation is to morality first and the law second.

Thoreau identifies the problem of government tyranny and injustice based on their holding false principles. He takes issue with the kind of person who claims all men are created equal, but does not think about what that means. Thoreau identifies the flaws within American society during his time. Namely, Thoreau despises the practice of slavery and the role the government plays in the lives of the American people. Like the engineer he is, Thoreau has a solution to these loathsome problems. Bureaucracy, particularly tyrannical and inhumane regimes, are often likened to machines. Thoreau looks at this machine and takes great offense to how it is built, the way it is structured and the purpose it serves is disgusting to him. Especially so, because as an engineer he sees the ways in which it can be so much better. When Thoreau looks at the bureaucracy of the United States Government of his time, he sees a machine which is built incorrectly as it does not provide for its people the way it should. He sees a machine which is being utilized wrong as it is not working towards the betterment of the people it should be benefiting. Most importantly, Thoreau looks at the machine and sees the fuel it runs on is dirty and unethical. A machine being fed by human lives and sustained by slave labor is wrong, there is a better way. In this way, Thoreau is much like an engineering consultant. He provides his readers with an alternative perspective on where the true value in their lives can be found. Civil disobedience has been used as a tool for change by populations facing systems which would not hear them through legal means of reform. Where unjust laws exist, the people are compelled to participate in injustice by their government.

We should all take the lessons which Thoreau teaches to heart. No matter who we are, it pays to be conscious of social issues. It is good to hold values of our own which we are not willing to compromise at the behest of anyone. Thoreau’s message is one which appeals to the better nature of his readers. It is a message urging us to be aware of the things going on in our world and apply a reasoned process towards fixing what needs attention. Thoreau is an engineer who works with both his hands to influence the world around him, as well as his mind to do the same. We should all take Thoreau’s advice on living to a set of higher laws to heart and do our best to repair the world in whatever ways we can.

English Language Changes in the Digital Age, and Amid the Coronavirus Outbreak.

The Digital Age of Technology has been rapidly changing throughout my entire life in education. This has brought many challenges and changes into my life, and everyday use of it in college now. With the coronavirus outbreak among us, everything that I thought would stay the same has completely changed, and here’s why.

This semester has been a huge change for me, even before the coronavirus outbreak. I have been taking difficult classes this semester, since it is time to really develop my craft and career choices. The coronavirus has helped me realize why I could never teach an online class as a college professor. Learning literature in this time of need has been difficult. Since everything has been put online it is easy to find the literature I need, but not to be able to actually read it. Back at Geneseo, we had our IDS system which made it easy to have a novel, dvd, or movie to you in just a few days. Now we have no one and nothing to help us gain these precious resources. For one class alone, I have to find three pieces of literature just for one assignment. These specific pieces have not been easy to find. But thankfully, I have been able to get them as text document, and read them using Visual Studio Code.

Visual Studio Code, has been a great addition to my technological tools. Using it in this class has helped me see the benefits it has for multiple majors to use it. This program has also helped me with my passion for learning about computers. I am able to make my own documents in VSC, with amazing features that I never knew I could do. While also using Visual Studio Code, in this class I have been able to use GitHub. GIthub has helped me find and submit multiple documents, that I did not know I had before. Using this technology this semester has helped me have easier access to English literature.

I think I have gained an overall respect for literature because of this class. Even though the coronvirus has made me connect with everyone virtually, I am able to know how to do that with ease thanks to the technology of this class. I am thankful for the multiple ways I can access and look through a text now, and makes it easier for me to adore all of the literature that comes my way now.

Takeaways from this class and the coronavirus

             Over the course of this class my perception on English as a discipline has certainly changed and my change in thought is even linked with the coronavirus in some sense. When I think of English as a discipline one of the aspects that sticks out to me as important is the way in which it is taught. When everyone first started hearing about the coronavirus I didn’t really take it all that serious. Then when we were all heading home for spring break and eventually realizing we were not coming back for the rest of the semester; the reality of it sank in. At the time I thought about how this could possibly affect the way in which teaching happens for everyone in the future. Since everyone has to learn remotely, I figured that it was possible that many could change their viewpoint on college in general and its necessity or lack of it. I thought this could possibly turn towards to making college obsolete if everyone can learn at the same level from home. After a few weeks of remote learning I realized my initial assumption was very wrong. I far underestimated the importance of being in and learning within a classroom surrounded by your fellow classmates. One takeaway from the coronavirus I have been thinking about is how much easier it is to do college work within the structure that colleges have set up.

              I think this relates to this class in an interesting way because of its focus on English specifically in the digital age. As we move towards a society that will probably become more and more intertwined with technology, we cannot lose many of the foundations that got us here. In person teaching being one of those foundations. There is something about having a specific time to show up to class and be a part of a collective of other people going through the same thing that fosters a beneficial space to learn and grow as college students.

              This class also opened my eyes to the extent of English as a discipline. I came into the class northing essentially nothing about things like coding and how it could relate to English. I only thought about coding as a way to creating software, websites, video games, or even a business intelligence analyst system. However, I didn’t make that link to how it could relate to English. In having things like the writing of Walden and putting into code seemed like it had no benefit from my own perspective when it was first introduced. As we progressed and I saw the potential for the computer to analyze certain things like the patterns of words within the book. The website that tracked things like certain word count for how many times they repeated and overall word repetition counts over the whole book helped take new things from the text we would not have otherwise. This completely changed my perspective on coding and to what it can do.

              First getting into VS code, python and such I had no experience but the coding turned into what was probably my favorite part of the class. I had heard of python and other popular coding languages. I always had some bit of an interest in learning to code but I had always put it off as something for the future. In some ways because I didn’t know anything about it I thought it might be something that would be way to technical in terms of the fact you can’t make any mistakes in typing for me to personally like it. After getting first hand experience starting out learning a bit I came to realize that coding is definitely something I can learn and thrive at. That is one thing I will always take from this class is that first introduction to something that is going to be very important to know how to do in the future. I look forward to learning a lot more about coding in the future and I will always appreciate the first look into it!

The Importance of “English” as a Discipline

We’re living through a very strange time, and now, more than ever, people are starting to consider the importance of technology, and things like “English” as a discipline, and literature. It was never something we really contemplated before. It was so easily accessible that we just accepted it for what it was. Now, however, it seems that everyone is starting to realize how important these things are for communication. If we did not have them, it would make it infinitely harder to get in touch with one another during these trying times. This is why I’m very glad I took this particular class. If I’m honest, I actually only enrolled in this course because it was the only thing available, but I was pleasantly surprised with how everything turned out.

To be honest, before we began distance learning, it was hard for me to see how anything we were learning in this course related to English at all. It seemed kind of silly to me. I thought coding had more to do with math and, though I realized technology could be beneficial when it came to things like reading and writing, I did not think it was a necessary tool to have. But now I can not stop thinking about how important coding and technology actually are to English and literature. It has made things easily accessible, as well as more widespread. Technology’s effect on the way we communicate has changed the English language forever. Not only has the internet changed the way we speak and share information, but it has changed the way we write, especially via email and text message. This is why I see literature and reading a bit differently after taking this particular course.

Though it has been difficult under our particular circumstances, I actually feel like I have managed to learn a lot in this class. The online modules have been really helpful, and though it sometimes feels impossible for me to focus on what I am doing, the journal entries that we have been posting to GitHub have been keeping me somewhat organized. It has been really fun using Visual Studio Code because seeing the end result of what you choose to code is always really neat. When I first learned how to insert pictures in code, change font styles, and switch up the font colors, I thought it was incredible. I felt so accomplished! I also enjoyed learning how to use Voyant Tools and TimelineJS. I am a very visual person, so seeing the pictures I managed to upload to my timelines was really exciting for me. In addition, Reading Thoreau was really insightful, and James Gleick’s “The Information” had a lot of interesting information about communication. The most difficult thing for me to follow along with was working in the Command Prompt, but it was not impossible. If I read through the modules carefully, I managed to succeed (most of the time). I never expected that one day I would learn anything about coding, and I am actually really proud of myself for being able to follow along with most of what we learned in this course.

One thing I learned about while learning online in this class was fluidity and fluid texts. I have never actually taken the time to think about how all literary texts are basically fluid. I mean, I have always known that works of literature go through revisions, and drafts and adaptations obviously exist, but I did not know that they were considered ‘fluid texts’. And like I said in one of the topics – this fluidity has a massive impact on each work of literature, so now, every time I sit down to read something, I think about what the work I am reading has gone through – I think about how it has shifted and changed according to the cultural situation. It is just little things like this that this class has altered for me. I am more familiar with my computer, and I understand how important technology is when it comes to “English” as a discipline.