omg okay so i was just thinking

While this is all fresh in my head, I want to maybe start a discussion about online communication, particularly in terms of how typing styles and conventions reflect quirks of face-to-face speech.  The way I typed out my title is how I type to my friends or on my personal blog–in those arenas, I tend to type in a way I’ve described as “exactly how I talk”.  I drop caps and punctuate with phrases like “lmao”, “omg”, or even just a “keysmash” (exactly what it says on the tin), because this reflects a more organic flow of conversation.  Recently, within my online circles, I’ve seen a rise of people typing liKE THIS to communicate a sudden crescendo in the “volume” of their speech, such as when they’re liveblogging a piece of media and something surprising happens.  Emoticons have evolved well beyond the stock “:)”, and reaction images have also spread in popularity–sometimes, a screencap of a character making a disdainful face says all that needs to be said.  People don’t talk in complete sentences with preplanned structure, at least not in informal situations, but does this make their communication in some way less valid?  I’m sure at least a few people are catching the allusions I’m making to practices that are taken for granted on venues like twitter and tumblr, and even as I’m typing this, I’m wondering how many of them will be shaking their heads in secondhand embarrassment, giving me the metaphorical side-eye for bringing these kinds of sites into academic discussion.

Am I suggesting that a train of 20 .gifs expressing a high schooler’s “Feels” (with a capital F) for Loki from the Avengers franchise is the future of human expression?  Not really, considering that kid can achieve the same effect by screeching and swooning with their friends in “real life”.  What I’m really trying to get at here is that people, from academics to tweens on social media, are slowly but surely translating the quirks and conventions of the spoken word to the written.  For instance, shortly before I came back from winter break, I went downstairs from my room to greet my dad, who had just come home from work.  When he asked me what I had been doing directly before that, I replied, “just talking to a couple of my friends,” to which he replied, “actually talking, or ‘talking’ by IMing?”.  I chided him for not being in tune with the times enough to realize that IMs are more or less obsolete, replaced by a combination of texting, tweeting, and private messaging on social media, but it did get me thinking–I use the term “talking” in reference to verbal, face-to-face conversations just the same as I use it in reference to text-based, online conversations I’m having with people on the other side of the planet, people whose lives never would have touched mine without this expanded definition of dialogue.

I guess what I’m ultimately getting at here is that online dialogue is not in some way more disingenuous than face-to-face–rather, people are reshaping and retooling the written word to make it reflect the spoken.  We have different “levels” of speech, and so I think it’s only logical that different “levels” of typing have evolved as well.  Of course, I can have a serious literary discourse in all-lowercase, punctuated by some “omfg”s and emoji, just the same as I could write a discourse on how much I love peanut butter in the format of an MLA-style research paper.  So casual and new forms of communication alike are hardly indicative of lesser intelligence–as far as I’m concerned, these changes are indicative of an amazing level of creativity, flexibility, and potential that I’d very much love to see explored even more.

(As a disclaimer, I am not a Superwhovengerslockstuck, or however the portmanteau goes these days, so my experience with 20-.gif long trains of Loki Feels is entirely secondhand.)

Literature and Literary Study in the Digital Age, Spring 2014 Edition

“Literature and Literary Study in the Digital Age” is in its third incarnation at SUNY Geneseo as ENGL 340 – a brand new course with its own place in the line-up of offerings under Geneseo’s new English major. The course began as HONR 206, Digital Humanities in Spring 2011, and was offered twice as ENGL 390, first as Studies in Literature: Literature in the Digital Age and then as Literature and Literary Study in the Digital Age.

The latest iteration of the course has its home in this space, a group blog for all students and faculty at Geneseo interested in digital humanities. The blog is part of a larger community organized as English @ SUNY Geneseo, a community powered by the open-source blogging platform WordPress and the open-source plugin Commons In A Box.

If you’re a student in the course, this is where you’ll be blogging this semester, following guidelines you’ll find on the page How to Blog Here. If you’re not a student in the course but you’ve joined the group, please join the conversation and follow the same guidelines.

This year the course coincides with the rollout of two projects at Digital Thoreau, a collaboration among SUNY Geneseo, the Thoreau Society, and The Thoreau Institute at the Walden Woods Project. The two projects are Walden: A Fluid Text Edition and The Readers’ Thoreau. Students in previous iterations of the course have contributed to both projects, and this year’s group will use the projects as resources and carry them further, while also continuing work at Digital Thoreau’s third project, The Days of Walter Harding, Thoreau Scholar.

I’m posting here from San Marino, California, where I’ve just spent the past two days in the Huntington Library with two Thoreau scholars who’ve been instrumental to Digital Thoreau and to the development of this course: Ron Clapper and Beth Witherell. We’ve been looking together at the HM 924, the manuscript of Walden. More on that to come.