Anti-technological Attitudes in the Digital Age

Walden and the Ironic Outcomes of a Digital Literature Course

So far this course has been very computer focused. This is to be expected since it’s a course on the modern digital avenues of studying literature, and the variety of applications of code and computing to literature study have been continually surprising and impressing me. More on this later. Despite this, this semester I have found myself ironically increasingly drifting away from technology use the longer the course goes on. I have been spending less time on my phone, making an effort to see friends in person instead of texting or calling, and have been more and more aware of how pervasive technology is in my every day life. I’ve found joy in writing letters to my friends and the interaction without the use of smartphones or computers feels more genuine to me despite the fact that letters take longer to arrive than texts. This is certainly not a direct result of our class, but it’s funny to me that this attitude towards technology is developing while taking a very computer forward course. This is a view that I think originally developed while reading Walden for the first time. In the Fall of 2023, I attempted to read Walden for my own personal enjoyment, but didn’t have the time or memory span to finish it. Despite not finishing it, I think part of Thoreau’s writing influenced me away from the consumerism and focus on productivity that pervades modern society. I have since began phasing technology use out of my life as much as possible, and so far the reading of Walden in class has only reinforced that. I have no plans to live in the woods any time soon, but I have been swayed by some of Thoreau’s thoughts on living simply and virtuously.

A Reluctant Respect for Coding

Despite my newfound aversion to technology, I am impressed with the digital avenues of literature study. I never would have thought that the humanities utilized coding in this way, but I can appreciate the potential uses for encoding texts in a way that can be read and analyzed by a machine. Learning about coding in the humanities and coding in biology has led me to similar attitudes; I am not a fan of doing it, but I appreciate the need for it and the potential positives of developing it as a field. The development of coding languages for encoding literature at first seemed a little pointless to me; I would have been inclined to agree with the question that someone asked in class “If you’re going through all the trouble to encode all the lines of text in order to count them all, can’t you just use that time to count all the lines of text instead?” Although we haven’t gotten too far into the specific uses of TEI yet, the encoding of the Walden manuscript is a very detailed and undeniably impressive project that forces me to admit that even if I don’t want to be the one doing it, it is useful and cool to be able to describe text that way. For the rest of the class, I’ll try to keep this respect and potentially even enjoy the opportunity to code literature.

Learning in the Digital Age

The Digital Age

  • Although digital learning and literature is a fairly new concept in the world of education, this course has given me the knowledge and skills to navigate digital sources and texts in and outside of the classroom. To start, this course has taught me new skills that I can use on my laptop, such as using a terminal window and using a journal in markdown, that I will continue to use throughout my academic and personal career. Technology is currently a huge topic of discussion that has sparked many peoples interests, especially literary scholars. Regardless of how one may feel about the overtake of technology in educational settings, understanding how to accurately use it and to appreciate it can benefit individuals in various ways. As a future educator, I have come to terms with the fact that there is simply no way around avoiding technology in the classroom. Using a journal in markdown has been a phenomenal way to stay organized and keep track of what we learn, what I learned, and what to remember for this course. Now, after using this accessory, I will also use it to my advantage in other settings as well. It’s also something to keep in mind when teaching my students how to stay organized and collect their thoughts. Another way in which I use the information obtained from this course in my daily life is seen in my work as a student and the connections that I make in other courses. The history of technology and the terminology used in the formation of these systems and machines is seen un various works of literature that I now have a greater understanding of. For example, marking up or editing texts is commonly discussed in terms of publication and validity of certain texts.

Walden

  • Another portion of the course that I have learned and grown from is through our discussion of Walden, by Henry David Thoreau. In this memoir, we see Thoreau’s battle to find the meaning of life, and how to find the means to live. Throughout the book he emphasizes being, independence, and growth. Much like this course, Thoreau finds ways to live simply, and to appreciate the simpler things in life such as language. The importance of language is also another major course concept. Learning how to transcribe, encode, and edit scholarly sources is a large portion of digital learning and literature. In knowing how to study literature digitally, as well as how to use the tools to do it accurately, I have enhanced my ability to learn from a digital standpoint and to appreciate the various forms of language that come with it.

Broad Band Discussion

  • A final aspect that I have gained more knowledge of comes from reading the book, Broad Band: The Untold Story of the Women Who Made the Internet by Claire L. Evans. After reading this work, I now have immense appreciation for the many women that have been underappreciated and underrepresented in the engineering community. I also now have further knowledge of how much time and effort Women gave into the development of modern technology. Tying these two aspects together, I can interpret similar works and connect these thoughts to discussions of digital learning. Scholarly editing is a great skill to have especially when studying literature, and I believe that this course has already started to prepare me to appreciate and comprehend the importance of editing. The entire purpose of editing is so a work of literature can reach its full potential as a written piece of art. So, being able to successfully edit something would benefit my work as an academic scholar.

Technology in an Educational Setting

Before taking this course, I had never really given technology much thought. Sure, it could help me figure out information or definitions of words to win an argument, but I had never thought beyond that idea of the capabilties that technology had in store. When registering for the course, I had thought that the term “Digital Literature” meant that, for discussions, we would be focusing on how techology affected reading as a whole, such as the rise of e-books or fanfiction on popular media sights such as Wattpad.

I came into the course with no expectations, and was pleasently surprised by how thought-provoking the discussions would be. In taking this course and actively engaging in class, I gained an understanding of just how many women contributed to the development of the computer and the internet. I also gained a better understanding of how computers worked when it comes to the organization of my files. This has helped me to reorganize my computer system so that it’s a bit easier to access.

I was confused at first when we were introduced to Walden by Henry David Thoreau. I had frequently thought to myself: “He’s a philosopher. How could he have anything to do with technology and literature?” But the more I read Walden, and the more I listened to the lectures, I slowly began to understand why Thoreau is so important as a topic for the course.

The idea of transcriptions within literature is not a new concept. With techology, that process gets easier. But with the actual text itself, I can understand what he means when he discusses advancements (not in direct relation to technology). Thoreau’s discussions of simple living and isolation are facinating to read and bring back tiny snip-bits of memories of going to the countryside to visit my grandmother for the weekend. He discusses how technology is a positive change and how it is better to embrace advances made overtime as well as treating them with a hint of skepticism.

These views tie into this course as well as another course I am taking: “Impact of Social Media”. In this course, we have had frequent discussions about the negative and positve impacts of technology and how we interact with the world. In a sense, these courses have made me truly realize how much technology I truly use in my life and how much we as a society depend on technology for our livelyhoods.

Zoom University

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

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

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

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

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

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

Exploring How Diction Informs Perspective in Thoreau’s Walden

The COVID-19 pandemic, and our transition to remote learning because of it, caught us all by surprise. No one was prepared to make such drastic lifestyle changes in how we live, work, and learn. And yet, even though this transition came with many challenges, our group’s final project turned out to be one challenge we could successfully overcome through communication, teamwork, digital collaboration, and the spirit of optimistic determination that we gained from studying Henry David Thoreau’s Walden. Read on to learn how our group (Kira Baran, Lauren Beers, Justin Colleran, Abigail Henry, and Joshua Mora) approached the task of analyzing revisions within Walden, and in doing so, gained unique insights into Thoreau’s life and work.

Our Task and Mission

Our group decided to compare revisions made across two of Thoreau’s original manuscript drafts: Version E (p. 55-56 on the Huntington Library Website), and Version F (p. 50). The specific passage we tackled appears as paragraph 5c on the fluid text website, and would eventually be included in the chapter “The Ponds” within Walden.

We strove to analyze the handwritten revisions Thoreau made on these manuscript pages both on a micro (or “close-reading”) level, as well as how these revisions compare/contrast across these versions on a macro (or “meta-reading”) level. We chose this specific passage because we feel that its intricate revisions give insight into Thoreau’s attention to nuance and detail. His concern for precision informs not only his descriptions of the pond, but also carries into his every-day perspective on writing and life as a whole. Within the human experience, whether it be admiring various hues of pond water or interacting with people during a turbulent time period like we are currently experiencing, angle and perspective are everything. Even the most seemingly minor of revisions carry an effect on how readers interpret Walden both line-by-line, and as a whole work. And this is exactly why precision and accuracy are important when it comes to diction.

Our Perspectives and Insights on Thoreau’s Revisions

When attempting to analyze a writer’s manuscripts, there are many elements to consider. We made sure to keep in mind Thoreau’s intent during our construction of the timeline, so that we could properly examine what he was trying to say with the word choices and revisions he was making. Although it is nearly impossible for a reader to interpret something exactly how the author intends, there are certain ways we can get fairly close. For example, when Thoreau switches one word for another in a revision, we can take this as a sign that the new word did a better job at helping the reader achieve the correct interpretation.

Take this revision from our selected passage, for instance: “of an alabaster whiteness, still more unnatural” had been changed from “of an alabaster whiteness, equally unnatural.” By revising comparatives like “equally” and “more,” Thoreau presumably strives for accuracy and precision when comparing how one’s angle/viewpoint/perspective can influence one’s perceptions and, in turn, their evaluations. Again, be it the color of water in a pond, or a serious matter of discourse when interacting with another person, viewpoint matters, since looks can be deceiving. As Thoreau knew well, in order to communicate an intended message to a reader who possesses a different viewpoint than oneself, it is very useful to be able to communicate with precision. Precision aids the active listening (and reading!) process. To convey meaning effectively is to communicate as accurately as possible.

Ultimately then, through this project, we learned that a writer’s revision process can be treated as a physical manifestation of their thought process. It is a window that allows us to infer a potential intended message of a text. To see what we mean, check out other examples in our timeline below!:

Our Process for Creating Our Timeline and TEI File

Overall, the technical aspects behind the TimeLineJS portion of the project were fairly straightforward. The process was very easy to follow and didn’t cause us to pull the hair out of our heads. The one thing we did find kind of annoying about creating the timeline was trying to figure out how to include what specific point of the year we were talking about. For example, when wanting to write “Late 1852,” it would not allow us to preview the timeline because it didn’t recognize the word “Late.” In the end, we decided to use just the years. Another aspect that was slightly disappointing was the lack of customization. On the website, it really only allows you to change the fonts and what slide the presentation starts on. It would be nice for our timeline to have more of an identity or personality, rather than just black and white backgrounds.

Surprisingly, our GitHub workflow worked out well, too. It was a bit nerve-wracking at first, as any small mistake on someone’s part could have caused chaos in our project repository. Not to mention, we were also all new to this part of GitHub, and remote learning didn’t exactly help. However, by communicating with each other through Slack about who-did-what-when-and-how, we were able to avoid any complications.

As for the TEI file, its creation was not too complicated. Since we were given the template file to use as a guide, it made encoding the manuscript text much simpler. Once we spent time learning to use the basic markup commands, it just came down to being consistent throughout the file, lest a single error invalidate the entire file (similar to how a single word invalidated our timeline). Honestly, the most difficult part of making the TEI file came from trying to decipher Thoreau’s handwriting. From a distance, it could be easily mistaken for a bunch of nonsense scribbles, or overly elaborate calligraphy. The fluid text version of Walden lent us a huge hand in figuring out what the (almost illegible) manuscript said, especially when it came to penciled-in revisions.

Looking at the handwritten revisions on the manuscript pages with our own eyes, and comparing them to the revisions on the fluid text version, however, did present what was probably our most unusual challenge when it came to encoding revisions on our TEI file. The fluid text version notes that, on the Version F page, “. . . the body of the bather” was revised to “the body of one bathing in it.” However, by just looking at the handwriting, it was difficult to tell these revisions for certain. Thoreau didn’t fully cross out “bather”; instead, he seamlessly transformed the “e” into an “i” and added “ng” over the “r,” (instead of adding it above or off to the side like most of his revisions). He wrote it as if it was a typo rather than a revision. “One” is also squeezed into the margin without a caret, which made it even more difficult to determine if this should be counted as a typo or a deliberate revision that was made after the fact. This presented a challenge for encoding the TEI file, because adding a revision within a word (“bather” to “bathing”) is not common to come across.

Our Takeaways

Through the unexpected journey that has been this entire project (and course and semester), each of us has come away with a newfound appreciation for Walden. Having to work from self-isolation (or social distancing or quarantine or whatever you’d like to call it) was a new experience for everyone. Remote instruction forced us to jump into the role of self-starters. Online collaboration meant becoming reliable team members. It forced us to use Slack as a communicative platform, since we had to allocate project tasks between us without being able to physically meet in person.

From studying Walden, we were able to relate to Henry David Thoreau’s experiences on a uniquely personal level. We learned from his determination, adaptability, and resourcefulness. And, from the specific passage we analyzed, we learned that, sometimes, all it takes is an open mind and an altered angle or viewpoint to be able to gain a new, appreciative perspective on our surroundings. Being stuck at home for the past couple months, we can now appreciate the small part we played in converting Thoreau’s writing to a digitized version, which makes his writing more universally accessible, readable, and legible.

The Deadly Duo: Social Media and Online Classes

It’s no secret that the unexpected switch to online learning has thrown a curve ball into the lives of students across the world. To some, more disciplined students, this may have been an easy adjustment that was actually a bit more comfortable. Some may enjoy sitting in their pajamas, playing Netflix in the background and lounging on their couch while getting to work on their laptop. But others, myself included, have had a much different experience.

There are a couple topics I’d like to talk about in this post, one of them being the differences in productivity due to the transition to online classes, and the second being why the transition has been so difficult, and essentially a total bust of a semester for some, (me in particular). As a student that is easily distracted, learning at Geneseo in the 2019-2020 academic year was already a challenge. Milne closed, forcing me to rely on a little desk in the corner of my apartment facing a blank wall to get my work done. Luckily, having the responsibility of showing up to class every day gave me the push to continue pressing on with my school work from day to day. I was very successful in the fall semester, as well as the beginning of the spring.

Then came the pandemic. What started as just talk, soon turned into harsh reality. One day I was in class with my peers, and the next I was being told I had to move out completely and leave the town of Geneseo. I had so many questions: How will classes continue? I’m an education major; what about my practicum hours that take place in schools? Why do I have to leave all my friends? Eventually, my questions were answered. But in the meantime, my ability to focus went from a 7/10 to about a 3. My mind was everywhere BUT school. Family members and people everywhere were losing jobs, we were worried about leaving the house just to get food to eat. I was unproductive for the first 2 weeks at least. Not having the pressure of simply showing up to class made it extremely difficult to stay motivated and disciplined with school work.

Now to the main source of distraction: social media. It’s been a problem for years now. Social media has been an issue for a variety of reasons since it first began to grow. There are so many different platforms now; Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and the biggest recently is TikTok. Hours can pass in what feels like seconds scrolling through these sites. I will start an assignment, take a break to eat lunch and check Instagram, and within minutes I’m consumed into this little digital world that wraps you in. What I find to be most interesting though, is the way social media has connected with my experience of online learning. I could go on and on about the issues of SM, but the biggest problem that everyone can agree on is that people get a little too comfortable when talking online. They can hide behind a screen and avoid confrontation. If they don’t like what you say? Dislike. Or even a simple logoff for the night. And this is exactly what happened to me in terms of online school.

The only thing that kept me accountable in a couple of my classes was the weekly zoom calls. Aside from that, if I got an email from a teacher, it was far too easy to simply not open it. The physical stress I felt every time I received a canvas notification was overwhelming. So what was the easiest thing to do? Avoid and hide. I would close my laptop, turn off notifications, whatever it took to avoid my work. And instead, on the days that I wasn’t working (at a local ice cream shop by the way-is ice cream really “essential”?) I was laying on the couch scrolling through social media.

I can’t help but wonder what the world will look like after this pandemic is over, if it’ll ever truly be the same. Taking this course focused on the “Digital Age” has really opened my eyes to the developing world of technology. I am curious to see if one day all schooling will be done how it is now, if we are getting a taste of what is to come for our children, or their children. To me, it’s a frightening thought. Social media holds more power than many of us realize. Yesterday, I deleted it. And that is why today I am back on my laptop completing my work for the semester after weeks of avoidance. I am looking forward to seeing what else I discover about the effects of the internet after detaching myself from its unforgiving grip.

Some Observations About Animosity During These COVID Times

It’s no secret that times have changed. If anything, it’s the only thing people seem to be willing to talk about. Oh, the world has shut down this, we can’t go outside that. It seems that so many people have trouble with accepting the fact that we’re in quarantine, and instead choose to constantly complain about it. This is the perfect time to do something productive! Pick up the hobby you always dreamed about but never got the chance to start! Rollerskate! Read! The way people in America have reacted to the entirety of the pandemic has disappointed me thoroughly. 

The first problem I encountered was panic buying: people went to the store and came out with six times the normal amount of toiletries and groceries that we normally would – for a family of four. This problem, in particular, was the only one that has actually affected me physically. I have a decent, medium-sized family with seven people in it, and mass-buying groceries just isn’t an option for us, financially or space-wise. But that leaves us in a sticky situation – my mom goes to the store, and suddenly any food that’s perishable/has any positive nutritional value is gone (and the next time they’re restocking is the next week). I understand that many people are scared of food shortages – but we’ve been in quarantine for two months (two months today, actually!) and it’s not gotten any better. It’s a fight to get to the store at a time when things are decently stocked… it’s become a bloodbath. 

Which brings me on to my next point – everyone has turned on each other. This, I think, is what has made me feel the most hopeless. Being home for so long with extended periods of free time has given me more than enough freedom to be on the internet for as long as I please, doing whatever I please. This prolonged exposure, however, is not a unique experience. People on the internet have taken to posting their every thought during quarantine, be it good or bad…and the majority of what I’m seeing is so negative that it makes me sad. I see comment thread upon thread of virtual strangers arguing with each other, first over social distancing, and then over a tangent on something entirely unrelated, like the reign of Mao Zedong. It’s ridiculous. I’ve basically had unsupervised internet access since I was in 6th grade, and I’ve never seen this level of hostility over the internet – and it’s not even for things solely related to COVID-19. Since the country has gone on pause, the amount of hate I see on the internet – in the form of comments, replies, TikTok’s, tweets, and so on – is disheartening. You’d think living through a literal history book pandemic would bring out our better qualities. I wanted to see humans helping each other, being kinder to each other because everyone is going through something right now…but it’s almost as if people have gotten too comfortable sharing their deepest thoughts on the internet, despite the consequences and hostility behind it.

Many might say that this isn’t a bad thing – people are finally showing their true selves! But if this is any indication of what the world is going to be like once states reopen and we try going back to normal, I don’t want it. It seems to me that this isn’t going away anytime soon… the hostility, nor the lack of kindness, and that gives me just a little less hope for the future.

The Evolution of Thoreau’s Language in Walden

In our group’s observations of Henry David Thoreau’s manuscripts, we noticed that his use of language developed over time as conveyed through his revisions, specifically those from Versions A to Versions D (1847-1852). So, Emma Annonio and Anne Baranello chose to track revisions over time in Economy, Emma Belson tackled Where I Lived, and Sandy Brahaspat focused on Sounds. After splitting up these three texts, our group came to the conclusion that they seemed to adequately reflect our experiences with social distancing as a new norm while we grapple with the COVID-19 pandemic.

As we engaged with these texts and their corresponding revisions, we noticed Thoreau’s evolving use of language over the years, how it influenced his reflections, and his overall experiences of living in isolation. It appears Thoreau used his writing as an outlet of communications to the civilized world. During his revisions, Thoreau was able to critically assess his experiences in Concord by developing his attention to detail, consistent reflection of the language he uses, and consequently, his transition from exhaustive sentences to lucid prose. In developing our timeline, we chose to examine the various ways in which Thoreau’s language changes from initial revisions in Version A to his later revisions in Version D. 

Emma Annonio aptly points out that a clear indication of Thoreau’s attention to detail in his placement and possible revision of the title Walden: Life in the Woods is present on Page 1 of Version A. On this first page, Emma A. notices that Thoreau quickly scrawled this title in the top right corner of the page indicating that it was most likely decided after the book had been written. To the left of this, Thoreau writes in pencil “Where I Have Been. . .,” another possible title for the novel. This shift in language demonstrates how instead of focusing the title on himself, Thoreau ultimately chose to focus on the nature he had lived in for so long; this revision is reflective of how deeply Thoreau respects and admires nature. In Anne’s study of Economy, she notes that one of Thoreau’s distinctive features as an author is his striking diction and attention to detail. He constantly revised, reworded, and removed words that served no purpose. Indeed, something we noticed was that halfway down the paragraph (Economy, p 5a, version A) it’s seen that Thoreau crossed out an entire sentence, “the finest qualities of our nature are as difficult to preserve as the down on a peach.” This is particularly interesting because Thoreau has struck up a wonderful comparison here, and it only adds to the text, rather than detracting from it. It’s very telling of his attention to detail, and reading the book further only continues to prove this. In her study of Thoreau’s Sounds, Sandy also noticed a similar pattern that appears throughout Version A and Version D. She also notes that while Thoreau’s writing style continues to be long-winded, often omitting the use of the period altogether, his ideas become more succinct over the course of his revisions. In Version D, the first paragraph of Sounds is arguably far more shorter than the paragraph written for Version A, and this may have to do with Thoreau’s own writing process of reflecting on what language is actually necessary for the purposes of his text, and what can be dismissed. This seems to be on par with his writing philosophy of questioning and re-evaluating all aspects of his life that appear both around him and within him. 

While our thoughts about Thoreau were based solely on our interactions with the text, other aspects of this project like the practicability of collaborating on the assignment, was especially daunting and took some time acclimating to. However, once we figured out how to use Slack as a standard method of communication with each other, the project became more manageable. While using Slack was most efficient for communicating with the general class, keeping in contact with the specific group members proved to be challenging because of the extenuating circumstances that resulted from our ongoing battle with the COVID-19 pandemic. We were able to partially overcome this challenge by using email, direct messaging, and frequent zoom calls as more direct forms of communication. After we overcame our communicative difficulties, we had to learn how to navigate the manuscript pages. Although it was tedious at first, our group applied the skills we learned from our digital humanities class by using Command F to find certain words from the manuscript versions and comparing that to the plain text files of Walden. By doing this, we were able to create a rough index of phrases that corresponded to certain paragraphs of the Fluid Text of Walden and were better able to locate the chapters we needed.  Having said that, once we were able to navigate the manuscript pages and decide on what specific page we wanted to encode, our group faced another challenge. We were a bit concerned about having to divide up the work for the TEI file and collaborate on it simultaneously, while considering the potential ramifications that would prevent the file from validating. Luckily, we were introduced to the Oxygen XML Editing software and used our resources to fork, clone, sync, and push our files to Github. Once we downloaded the software, our group found the Oxygen XML Editor software was particularly helpful in preventing any line errors that would invalidate the TEI file. So, after developing our encoding skills and familiarizing ourselves with using Github collaboratively, we were better equipped to complete the TEI assignment and fulfill the requirements of our final project. 

The Wisdom of Simple Lives

In “Visitors,” Henry David Thoreau very much mixes praise and critique of the nebulous concept of ‘society.’ Throughout Walden, thorough celebrates his own efforts to live simply and deliberately on Walden Pond, though in “Visitors” he shows even more admiration for the wisdom of those who make such simple deliberateness their being. Thoreau explores the wisdom of those who live simply, those who are often considered to be of little value to society. He shows how these simple lives are often more deliberate, more wise, and perhaps more content than the superfluous trappings of high society. These individuals, who are of a lower social class, often have their superior wisdom contrasted positively with the lack of wisdom of society. In doing so, Thoreau offers scathing critique of the excess without thought of upper social classes, as well as the higher institutions that said classes celebrate and, most of all, the determiners of “high” and “low” class in the first place.

Still, even with Thoreau’s criticism of society, it is not as if he can or wants to reject society completely. Indeed, despite living isolated in the woods, Thoreau will often have conversations in nature and host many “Visitors.” The topic sentence of paragraph two of “Visitors” is one of the strongest in Walden, and demonstrates this well: “I had three chairs in my house; one for solitude, two for friendship, three for society.” In some ways these three chairs function as a hierarchical representation of where Thoreau sees wisdom coming from during his time on Walden Pond. First and foremost, one becomes wise by being alone with one’s thoughts and becoming to understand them. Second, Thoreau interacts with his friends, such as his fellow isolate Alex Therien, and Thoreau receives knowledge to better ponder and understand on his own. Then, finally, Thoreau has his chair for society, a distinct recognition that, while Thoreau may condemn society, he still sees it as having value and still wishes to be a part of society, even when choosing a life far from town on Walden Pond.

I do not know how much it would be accurate to describe a “process” for the encoding of part of “Visitors” into TEI, nor for the creation of our timeline. Group six theoretically had five members, but in actuality had three, all joining at different times. Emma was the first to be active in our Slack, and she led the choosing of the topic and ultimately ended up creating the timeline on her own. I was next, present early on when discussing topics to show that I existed, but I ultimately began active participation when I started encoding the TEI. Anthony joined relatively late on, and assisted with the TEI, doing the smaller upper section that I had not yet touched. I ultimately completed the final touches and debugging on the TEI, as well as being the one responsible for the crafting of our final blog post, as should be obvious. It is written on my account, after all.

The biggest obstacle, and one I would hesitate to say we ever overcame, was the issue of coordination. As stated above, our five-person group had two members who never made themselves known, with the other three all becoming active on the project at different times. Calling the project collaborative in this setting, especially considering our highly limited and disjointed communications on Slack amid the pandemic, would be generous. To a large extent, the three of us did three separate projects with little to no interaction with the others. This ultimately led to a functional result, although I cannot help but wonder what our result would have been like had we skillfully collaborated and communicated. Truly, however, I, at least, am content with what we have created. Under the circumstances of the coronavirus pandemic, when none of us are well mentally even when we are not ill physically, pushing through and completing this project is an achievement in and of itself. We did ultimately establish passable communication via Slack during the last few days of working on the project, as it was a focus for all of us due to the looming due date, and we did ultimately create a cohesive product. Well I would not say we ever truly overcame our difficulties, we did improve and we did ultimately succeed in completing this project.

Authors of our Own Lives & Writers of our Fate

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

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

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

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