Sustainability in the Age of Information

As I pondered on what I’ve gained in this course, many thoughts emersed. I could begin by delving in what I consider the most significant change I’ve noticed which is the way I now interact with information and knowledge not only as an academic but as a human and member of society. Before this course, technology and information seemed more conceptual to me and although I understood its pressing inhibatance in modernity and in my own life, I had never really taken the time to speculate what this rigorous immersing of engagement between humans and technology really meant for me or for the world. This class offered by the tools and environment I needed to step back in order to truly cogitate on the subject. One of the many qualities I’ve enjoyed about the structure of the course thus far has been the open discussions among my peers and our instructor, where constructed commentary, short witty anecdotes, and insights were offered in how they all personally interacted with information and technology. It was this open conversation between everyone in the classroom that led me to the basis of my observation: the role of technology and information in the idea of sustainability. I would like to explain this connection in further detail, but first, I’d like to disclose the most prevailing way sustainability is envisioned and conceptualized. When reflecting on the idea of sustainability, it will often come in the form of envisioning its materiality in three pillars: social, economic, environmental. What this metaphorical rendition offers, is a way in which to understand how a sustainable system requires balance from all three pillars in order to be deemed as efficient and effective. What it outlines then, is a call for the need of balance and harmony within the three pillars of sustainability, prioritizing the needs of not only ongoing economic production, but of environmental and social sustainability as well. This is where the role of technology and information begins. According to a report published by Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity at the University of Connecticut, restaurants, food and beverage companies often target Black and Hispanic consumers in an effort to sell their least nutritious products, all which fall primarily under the category of fast-food items—high in sodium and fat, with barely any nutritional value. Through market research data, researchers were able to measure TV advertising spending in total which revealed how the majority of companies spend a significantly greater amount of money targeting Spanish-language and Black-targeted networks. By having unhealthy food marketing purposely aimed at minority youth, companies are able to contribute to the lack of proper diets in lower income communities, increasing diet-related diseases such as high cholesterol, heart disease, obesity and high-blood pressure. By having a significantly higher exposure to the marketing tactics by companies, Hispanic and Black children continue to face diet-related disparities among communities of color. This is one of the ways that technology, such as broadcasting networks and market research data, can impact quality of life.

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.


I wanted to start this post with a quote from Thoreau’s Solitude, “I find it wholesome to be alone the greater part of the time.” Thoreau seems to have a thematic ideal in this piece that escaping from humanity and being in solitude, in his own company, is what he prefers. In relation to our course the question that comes to my mind is does our technological advances ever allow us to be in complete and utter solitude? The everlasting obsession and connection between the handheld devices we all acquire disallows for us to be truly alone in my opinion. Here, Thoreau is stating he finds it wholesome to be alone, do you think if we could disconnect from the societal attachment we all have to technology and what it offers we would feel the same, or would we feel isolated, anxious and nervous to not be a part of what we have all become so dependent on?

Technology. Technology. Technology.

Our complete reliance on screens, social media and the internet is very evident in our world today. One of our classmates brought an article to attention in slack, Deleting Social Media for 30 Days Changed my Life. How many hours do you spend on your phone on average per day a week? You know, our intelligent phones literally track that data for us. Quite frankly, I am a little embarrassed to share mine which varies between 4-5 hours daily. DAILY! There is so much research that links social media to having effects on peoples happiness and well-being, whether those effects are positive or negative. Lately, I have been seeing only the negative. Yes, it is important to keep up to date on happenings in the world, however, the rate that we as a society are at is alarming. It is not just about news and happenings, it is about others, comparing ourselves to others. When really, WHO CARES! (Insert sarcasm command) I am so glad I saw someones post on facebook of their 90+ pictures of a vacation they just took. NOT, I mean like great for you, but think about the time that person spent on their phone there. Did they really fulfill the trip or did they only care about others knowing they were there? Even further, did they feel anxious or missing out due to lack of attachment to their phone while being on vacation? Don’t get me wrong, I am all about capturing the moment, however wish more I would just sit and enjoy it. This all relates right back to Thoreau’s idea of solitude and solitude is what he prefers. Mavbe if people weren’t so influenced by others due to this “standard” of living we would enjoy our own company more. I find that when I allow for it and disconnect from my social media/society obligations, wants and needs that I am happy. Heres my challenge, I challenge all of you to be YOU. Don’t be influenced by others, be your true self because society will keep changing and changing and the special thing about each individual human is that you are unique, you are your own, you are you. So, I challenge you to be you, don’t be influenced or consumed by what the world has drilled inside of our brains.

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.

Surprised with How Little I Knew about the Stuff I Know

Here’s a shocking fact from an English major: I don’t remember ever hearing about the book Walden before this class. Now, I know more about Thoreau than I can care for but not all of what I’ve discovered is negative. I had no idea that this man decided to spend two years of his life in a cabin that he built himself in the middle of nowhere and that he documented his experience. Although I was captivated by some of his notions of the comfort in solitude and the respect for nature that is all around us, I was just as surprised at how whole chapters were dedicated to the most mundane subjects like the changes in the color and states of a pond. Since the beginning of the semester, I’ve learned a lot more about Thoreau through Walden and his philosophies that are at times inspiring and at other times disturbingly arrogant. Thoreau wasn’t the only thing that made me take a step back to assess my relationship with technology. The Information which was accompanied by numerous discussions, made me realize just how far we’ve come in dependency as well as how a lack of reliance can also be crippling in today’s society. Now, when I come across news on upcoming technological advancements and even simple everyday activities such as accessing a website, I can stop and think about all the components and customization that when into it. It’s easy to take advantage of all the work that went into what we see in everyday life.

This class has also made my brain spiral into infinite questions. Although I’ve heard the classic, “what came first, the chicken or the egg?” argument, I have never been thrown through such a loop as when I first thought about how information requires information in order to create new information so where did the original information originate from? In The Information and Metadata, there were mentions of this phenomenon and it felt like a knew that logically it made sense but the more I thought about it the more I couldn’t make any sense of it. Recently, my group discussed a part in Metadata that mentioned that a library was more than just a room full of books and how an organized system of categorizing was necessary. This is a perfect example of how I agreed with a statement once I heard it, but I never thought about it before and still can’t quite wrap my brain around it. This has happened multiple time in class and I always find our discussions interesting. Other than these overarching concepts, programs like Virtual Box and Omeka are platforms that I’m not surprised they exist yet I’m surprised by how much you can do through them. I show my friends Virtual Box and they already feel as if that is “hacker level” and they can’t believe it’s just a free program we use to experiment commands with. Everything I thought I knew about the basic function of technology and components of the world was put into consideration through the material discussed in this class and I’m grateful for the eye-openers!

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 Benefits of Plain Text

My academic experience is and always has been one laden with a great deal of English courses, most of which involve a similar sort of experience; a class discussion, some lecture, assigned reading, are typical statutes of nearly every English course. Though I certainly take no issue with any of these things – in fact, I tend mostly to enjoy them – English 340 is among the first to challenge this framework. Though we do often engage with this model, the manner with which we do is mostly different, typically involving the use of a few programs native to internet bloggers rather than English students. One such program is a plain text editor called Atom, an asset which perfectly embodies the mission of English 340 as a whole.

Atom is a program which takes the very basis of the study of English – text – and opens to it a back door, that which affords the user a greater degree of control and ease than a word processor might. As a plain text editor, Atom allows the user to type, edit, format, and save bodies of text without the clunkiness inherent in many other word processors. It removes the large task bar/button based system of editing and instead reduces the program to more basic forms, presenting on the home screen only a list of files and space in which those files can be opened. Every other function – bold, italics, bullet points, etc. – is accessible through in-text inputs.

For a new user, Atom is a bit intimidating. At the outset of this semester, I was skeptical that anything would become of our use of Atom. I, a devout user of Google Drive, remained adamant that Atom had little to offer that Google Docs did not, and that the seeming “inconvenience” of Atom would not outmatch the corporate code I’d clung to. I would soon realize, however, that Atom as a program is not designed to yield short term returns. Instead, it requires it’s user to play as much a role in the actual functions of text editing as the program does. Until you’ve gotten used to typing in Atom, it can seem like a bit of a chore: text functions can be difficult to remember, as well as certain file types and what they each denote, but these hiccups remain for only as long as it takes one to commit them to memory.

Now, writing this journal in plain text, I enjoy greater ease and creative freedom than I ever could have had otherwise in using Google Docs. Though I do miss spellcheck and auto-capitalization, the functions of Atom allow me to consider my document as a piece of information, separating aesthetics from content, which allows for each part of the process of creation to be considered as two separate functions. For example, I have typed down to this point on my page. If, at five hundred words, I decide to save my work and record the last time I edited it, I can perform the “ins” function in order to mark in plain text the date and time, a note that will appear in my plain text version of the document but will be omitted from the visual version. Likewise, if I want to bold, italicize, or underline, I can use the “strong” and “em” functions in order bold or access text decoration, respectively. In order to separate text based content from brass tacks instructional content, one can insert a horizontal line or a list, or even sequester that information to a separate page. Read more


When beginning this class, I had a pretty decent understanding of computers and how to trouble-shoot. I was not extremely confident in my abilities, though. This class has most definitely taught me the art form of patience as well as how to be confident in trouble shooting. A lot of issues tend to be due to updates or glitches in code. If you have an idea what to look for, it is less difficult to find a solution. Now, I am confident in my ability to narrow down if not completely identify certain issues.

VirtualBox is a tool that has helped my growth in computer confidence. It has been a wonderful little world to experiment and start understanding how a computer system works. Initially, I didn’t really use it because I was nervous about what might happen if I did something wrong. The first issue I had to solve, however, gave me more confidence. My shared folder wasn’t really sharing with the VirtualBox and when it did, I had trouble accessing it through the terminal. And even then, it wouldn’t show the contents of the folder. While I never figured out the actual issue (at least knowingly), I continued to toy with the code in the terminal. I deleted the folder and re-shared it. I tried different avenues of code and searched google to figure out what I should do. Eventually I realized I was using the correct code, but I was not imputing the correct username to gain access to the folder. Even though I couldn’t completely figure it out by myself, I was able to realize that with a little more time I probably would have gotten it. And so in the future, I will take more time to figure out the issue, rather than allowing myself to be frazzled and give up.

A big reason I have more confidence as well is learning how to use a terminal. The terminal has given me a new perspective to understanding how a computer is put together and how all the data is filed. Now that I am confident in using a terminal and confident in using resources to find the right code; I am confident that I can troubleshoot pretty much any issue I have. It also has given me more passion for finding a career related to computer sciences. I love research and now that I have a more confident understanding of the inter-workings of computer software, I am excited to find a way to do both (which I know is completely possible thanks to the data-mining project I am working on).

Ownership of Text and Copyright

To be completely honest, this class has tested whether or not I am comfortable with or enjoy coding and I have come to the conclusion that I generally am not and do not, but those are not necessary qualities in understanding the value these skills contain. If anything it gave me a perspective that I previously did not have, and I have a newfound respect for computer programmers and the intricate ways in which they must type in order to receive the expected outcome. However in speaking about what I learned specifically in the class, what truly striked me were discussions regarding the legality of aspects the internet influences, and how these laws dictate the creative process and intellectual property. One thing that I did not know before the semester that I now have a much better understanding of, is the extent to which the copyright term issue in the United States is related to the restriction of creative content by artists and authors. Going to the Lawrence Lessig lecture was a very eye-opening experience, and it ties very much into other conceptual themes discussed in class in regards to the presence of emerging technology influencing the increased monetization of art ruining the sanctity of the individuals text being contrasted with the way in which technology actually makes it easier to share texts and therefore increase the number of people able to contribute to creative discourse. I believe it is important to consider critically where preconceived notions are about knowledge, and about the way knowledge is disseminated. Often times this knowledge takes the form of art or “texts”, which is assigned varying degrees of value based upon the individuals personal beliefs of how art is meant to interact with its audience.

Previous to taking this class, I had watched the final episode of The Twilight Zone written by Rod Serling. The series’ enigmatic quality being the political statements made from Serling in the setting of science-fiction as not to cause total controversy for his views. The show began in 1959 with the last episode premiering June 19th, 1964. Despite not being the last episode to be aired, the last episode written and filmed for the show was titled Come Wander with Me. Before this class, I had mixed feelings about the non black-and-white ending, and the general ambiguities of the issues raised by the episode itself. The plot of the episode revolves around a man named Floyd Burney, a slightly raucous young man in his mid-twenties who arrives at a small town in search of inspiration for his latest song. I believed that the message of this episode (along with many others in the series) comes from that eerie gray area of morality, one that Serling has made it his mission to explore and subsequently define. Come Wander with Me plays on the words inscribed on a gravestone that Burney “callously” ignores, “Floyd Burney, the Wandering Man”. When asked by Burney to play the song again, Mary Rachel replies “The song is secret. It belongs to somebody”. What made me think about this episode in particular is the way in which Serling characterizes Burney, a wanderer who abuses the sanctity of the creative process by attempting to streamline and “steal” someone else’s lyrics and melody. He replies with “It can’t belong to anybody. You can’t buy it. It’s public domain”. It is a trope seen many times before in the show, an individual becomes too arrogant in believing they are correct, and the mystical forces which dictate the logic of The Twilight Zone rightfully leaves them with a fitting and/or ironic punishment. While previously watching the episode with a general inkling to agree with the narrator/writer, coming back to it after discussing themes about fair use and copyright law in the United States it made me view critique aspects of the language used to convey this idea of a man stealing creative property to consider a non-biased approach. Obviously Burney is a character that the audience is supposed to have mixed feelings over as his motivations never truly register as mean-spirited, yet his punishment along with almost all other fates the Twilight Zone offers is him receiving a punishment for implying that a songs worth is only measured in a dollar amount. Burney is a man exploring the extents to which he is allowed to borrow from others intellectual property. More specifically he is an out of towner who thinks himself more advanced due to his ability to reason and charm his way out of binds, out of his depth when he realizes his fate is sealed unwillingly by a demure siren who becomes increasingly more of a passive threat. While her physical body itself is not causing Burney any harm, the intellectual property she manifested from her physical body is literally trapping him into a reality of which he does not want to be apart of. He becomes an unwilling participant in her story about romance and murder, ending in his death. The message resonates as a statement regarding the inability to separate the physical body from the mind. Mary Rachel does not agree with Burney’s earlier statement that these lyrics fall under “fair-use”, because she feels that the intimate connection between a body and the creative work it produces is too sacred to be tarnished. The decentralized medium that the internet provides the public with abilities of disseminating information at high volumes, with little acknowledgment or understanding of the ways in which this new and different platform changes the way that individuals analyze and interact with the world around them. Mary Rachel represents the bond between the meta-data and the physical world, humans are the conduits by which these undying servers were born and humans are subject to the (almost always unintended) consequences of this intangible digital space, by nature of creating it. When Burney attempts to borrow from Mary Rachel’s song, he pushes her into singing for him. I believe it is this forcing of the creative process that Serling was critiquing, alongside fears of “fair-use” being used to justify stealing intellectual property.

While the themes raised in the episode seem to contradict Lessig’s own statements regarding pushing for a reduced amount of years intellectual property can be copyrighted, the symbolic representations of an individual enticed by new technologies and ideas to fall victim to an antiquated notion that the physical body and the mind must have a linkage. The commentary Serling crafted being the last written episode of the series shows the inevitability of the devaluation of the creative process. Devaluation in this context meaning losing an intrinsic sense of the sublime, and instead gaining a “useless” monetary value. The episode also focuses on the word “Wanderer”, giving it a negative connotation to be associated with Burney being somewhere that he does not belong when the audience sees it written on his tombstone. What makes the episode so difficult to support or disagree with one way or the other is that Serling’s observations regarding human nature are often so apt and well supported with nuanced dialogue and stark visuals, while this episode felt unsure regarding whether or not the punishment of its protagonist truly fit the subjective offense he had committed by asking Mary Rachel to play her song. This is due to the fact that the primary two concerns Serling has in the episode are regarding the monetization of the creative process, the increased mobility of consumers, and how both of these factors will lead to essential (yet NOT legally defined) “theft” of intellectual property. Serling is attempting to argue to the audience that Burney is not a dignified intellectual of the countryside, he is an urban con-man who refuses to see the ignorance in equating a lifetime of someone’s real experience all culminating to create a specialized personal text to its monetary value. Therefore he must experience what it is truly like to sacrifice for ones art instead of stealing the product of someone’s toils, he must give up his life to repent. However what Serling’s message lacks (especially considering it from a different decade with entirely changed technologies) is that it is increasingly difficult to maintain this artistic integrity in a decentralized age.

What the episode implies is that meaning from a text comes from the physical human experience that went into its creation, rather than the use of the literal words of text itself. Due to this fact, Mary Rachel’s song contains legitimacy in a way that it would lack if it came from Burney’s mouth. Mary Rachel sitting in the woods before being propositioned by Burney is telling, she is in nature, solitary, partaking in the act of transferring her experiences to a lyrical story. Serling is advocating for the same isolation that Thoreau speaks about in Walden, also showing a dislike for how urban life has infiltrated a previously simple one. Thoreau would most likely agree with the general sentiment of the episode, that Mary Rachel had created art not based on receiving payment and that justifies its importance. The issue with glorifying these texts is that it vilifies the individual’s response to increased industrialization or technology being that passions should be monetized to reflect the labor of one’s work. On the one hand Serling places the utmost importance in recognizing the value of creative work, yet fails to admit that individuals need money to live. He demonizes Burney for not recognizing the value of Mary Rachel’s song outside its dollar value, but the elephant in the room is that Burney is not to blame for his need to obtain money. Increased industrialization made it difficult to “live deliberately” unless individuals already had enough capital to sustain themselves. This is a key portion of Walden that I find troubling, that Thoreau fails to emphasize the importance of the gap between the rich and the poor driving this devaluation of art. It is not the laborers fault that he is now forced to work factory jobs instead of providing for oneself in a way that Thoreau or Serling deem “acceptable”. Therefore when an individual such as Barney is conditioned to equate the value of his passion (song writing) with a dollar value, it is not so much a conscious decision to steal away someone else’s property, rather it is indicative that there is an intrinsic divide between how individuals value creative property, and how this ambiguous area causes unnecessary criticism on behalf of individuals who are too economically disadvantaged to consider that there truly is any other value other than the one that keeps them alive. Poor individuals would enjoy the luxury of discovering their passions, but they are victims to a capitalist system that increasingly enforces the idea that an individual’s worth is based upon their wealth. So while attempting to make enough money to survive, intellectuals (such as Thoreau) are promoting a lifestyle that is completely out of touch with the reality of a majority of the population who also sees problems with increased industrialization yet unlike Thoreau, cannot object to partaking in it.

Lessig himself advocates for the loosening of copyright restrictions based upon the fact that it is not the author who receives compensation for their work, rather it is the publishing house who reaps these benefits. By placing the wealth out of the hands of publication lawyers profiting off of someones work (much like the way Burney is attempted to be portrayed as) through the limiting of copyright terms, Lessig is attempting to redistribute the creative material to be “fair-use” in order to increase the overall amount of creative work. The episode ends not with the final verse of the song Mary Rachel sings to signify the death of the protagonist, rather it is Burney inside a musical instrument store he visited in the beginning of the episode covering his ears from the increasing volume of various instruments playing at him in the abandoned store, coming from nowhere and everywhere all at once. Speaking before of Mary Rachel’s connection between the body and the text, Burney is subject to his physical body being undone from the torment of the intangible. Burney as well as the audience is not allowed to hear the final verse of the song, despite his direct involvement in its events at the time of her beginning to sing to him. It is an unsatisfying ending which is of course intentional, the text belongs to some-body. However in the age of the internet, while it is important to recognize the artist and how it is an intimate portrait of their own design, it is exceptionally difficult for text to gain any significant attention without it containing a certain amount of dollar value. For art to have value outside its monetary evaluation, the individual making it must first have enough money to support themselves in order to cultivate an environment in which they can craft their text, have enough self awareness about the systems which dictate socioeconomic class structures as to not fall victim to the impure allure of excess profit off of ones text, have a definition of value confirmed and supported by other individuals (preferably academics who also have the capital to debate ethics of living deliberately), and the platform by which to publish or somehow officiate ones text. By looking critically about the scale between the two extremes of creating art solely for profit and creating art solely for the enlightenment of ones soul, one can find Thoreau and Serling’s views on the side leaning toward embracing art for its physical connection to humans and the individuality of the creative process. Perhaps a few steps to the side of profit from the center would be Lessig, an individual who obviously acknowledges the practical value that sharing ideas causes, i.e. a more creative space for discourse that does not have to be constricted to purely academia. It is Lessig’s extensive knowledge of technology and its applications to law that provide him with the ability to reach this nuanced view on copyright and ownership, while maintaining that individuals should be the people who profit from their intellectual property instead of individuals who play to the advantage of working in a late stage capitalist country. It is the excess created through capitalism that was exacerbated from the industrial revolution and which continues to be from technological advancements today that Lessig wishes to challenge, as he recognizes from his privilege that, for example, the lessening of copyright terms would do more overall good for the freedom that creators have when producing art than the monetary value that they would receive if it was extended.
Ultimately what I have learned from this class is that there exists contradictions that can never be solved, technology is so ubiquitous in the zeitgeist now that conversations about Thoreau’s Walden must be discussed in entirely different circumstances than it once was. Of course that is the nature of text, if it remains relevant throughout many years than individuals will continue to read and analyze it based on the changing context of their personalized experiences with the world. If this is the value that Thoreau and Serling attempt to convey the importance of, it is just as important to recognize that individuals ever-changing perspectives will always lead to some speaking against the system that gave them the voice to do so in the first place.

From Walden to WordPress

I’ll be honest: the reason why I registered isn’t about to blow your socks off. I’m a second semester senior and, well, I needed one last English elective. Anyone else?

That’s not to say that this class has proven to be as mediocre as my reason for taking it. In fact, it’s been the exact opposite. When I think of the most interesting things I know now that I didn’t know at the beginning of the semester, the first thing that comes to mind is the witchcraft that is VirtualBox (yes, I mean witchcraft in the most endearing way possible). I’m mesmerized that we can run an entire “sub-computer” inside our computers. It’s hard for me to wrap my head around a world existing within a world. Another interesting thing I’ve learned is that, according to Gleick in The Information, one of the earliest known “languages” is African talking drums. Maybe this is just me being not musically inclined, but the fact that musical instruments can send complex understood messages back and forth between villages far apart, and over even longer distances by relay, is something I never thought about before. Perhaps what I’ve found most intriguing from this class is what seems to be our takeaway every day. Electronics don’t have to be the pitfall of paper books or even the humanities as a whole. In fact, electronics are arguably the very thing the humanities need to stay preserved.

To be specific, I’d like to discuss our use of Walden in this course. Thoreau wrote Walden hundreds of years ago, but the text is anything but obsolete. It didn’t die with Thoreau because resources such as the Digital Thoreau website have helped to keep it alive (and even bring it more life!). The fluid text edition and the opportunity to annotate are what make Digital Thoreau so interesting to me. The fluid text edition makes me think of Thoreau as a student who is tirelessly revising an essay. This “student” vibe I get illuminates him, in a way, as more relatable than the rather distant persona of one of mankind’s most revered writers. (May I parenthetically add that I think it’s super impressive that Dr. Schacht got access to all these revisions and copies. This may be naive of me, but, how did he finesse that?!) Annotating is the second feature possessed by Digital Thoreau. “[Connecting] with readers in the margins of Thoreau,” according to the description online, is a tool that speaks to the ed major in me. I’m interested in the idea of choice, here: choosing sections of Walden that I find particularly interesting and sections that my brain finds a way to relate to our course. I’ve even seen Walter Harding’s comments scattered. I’m in the Harding/Kelley project group, so seeing this celebrity (for lack of a better term) come to life puts our project into perspective. One of my annotations pulled the following quote from Economy 15-29:

It would be some advantage to live a primitive and frontier life, though in the midst of an outward civilization

In the margins, I explained how this quote makes me think of the argument many people from older generations use to hold on to traditions. Here, Thoreau sides with these folks, claiming it would be advantageous to live a “primitive and frontier life” even as life is advancing around you. I think of older adults who refuse to engage with the technological progress our society is making. I’m not even talking exclusively about our grandparents; my Dad, for example, hates to admit that his iPhone helps him with things he cares about (like talking to my sister and I or looking up dinner recipes).

In this course, we have discussed the importance of holding on to where things came from (as The Information argues) while simultaneously welcoming new advances. It is at this intersection of remembering and welcoming that I’ve learned lives digital humanities. Prior to this course, I knew online textbooks were cool and I noticed the rise of e-readers. If you had asked me to define “digital humanities,” that’s probably the shaky answer I would’ve provided. That was the extent of what I knew to be digital humanities: e-readers. Right now, as I sit and type this blog post, I want to give myself a massive face-palm! I’ve learned the digital humanities holds more significance than merely my trusty Kindle. It is a field that bridges the ever-present gap between technology and the study of humans. It is what allows society to progress. We need this intersection because society is never getting rid of technology, and it’s never going to stop studying humans.

From Walden to WordPress, the humanities are everywhere. I’m sure the iPhone isn’t disappearing anytime soon, either.