The notion of authorship pre-digital media is already fraught in terms of cultural context as well as the specifics of publication and editing. I think a lot of people believe that sites like Tumblr or Twitter are perhaps less influence-free or contrived than traditional publishing, and offer authors a more direct sense of control over their text. But at the same time, the context of authorship on the web seems to have become more and more localized in the last few years, as specific, smaller web communities have sprouted and grown. Perhaps the kind of assumed cultural knowledge of a specific site, maybe something like Reddit or a specific Tumblr tag, is a mirror of something like specific scholarly communities, both influencing and reacting to and against texts as they come and go. Yet, for both, there does seem to be a certain kind of boundary, one that can be transgressed as texts become too popular for their smaller community, but also one that does keep a community somewhat protective and engaged with its own existence. Subreddits concerned with the quality of their own content, like r/TrueReddit, or people who become moderators of things like the Education tag on tumblr: are these different versions of groups like the MLA or other editorial boards?
The topic that came most readily to mind for me is how authorship has changed in the digital age. It’s pretty incredible that there are sites out there that are so intensely collaborative that they do not bother to distinguish between the texts that users produce—and it would be impossible to do so in any case. I’m thinking of Wikis, produced, revised, and edited constantly by a practically anonymous group of strangers. What’s particularly astounding is that this “crowdsourcing” can produce excellent and accurate texts—I’m thinking of Wikipedia, which has a comparable number of errors per entry to Encyclopedia Britannica.
There is also a strange, schismatic relationship that we have developed to the texts we produce and distribute via the web. On the one hand they have come to seem rather ephemeral—especially with digital “streams” and “feeds” taking over a lot of the web content that is accessed daily, things seem to come and go at lightning speed. But on the other hand, there’s this idea that whatever we put out on the web is destined to be there forever, that once it’s put out there, it’s permanent—there’s no way to fetch it back, that it no longer belongs to you.
Between most Tuesdays and Thursdays, I’ll ask you to read the responses posted to this website by the other members of this seminar and to comment on at least three of them that particularly draw your attention or interest.
Your comments do not need to be long—50 words or so will usually do fine. What I ask, though, is that you try to make your comments more than simply evaluative—to move beyond I agree . . . or I think you’re wrong . . . Instead, see if you can direct us to a different point in the text, or to make a connection to another post, or perhaps even to bring a new example into the mix. Your goal should be to move the conversation forward.
And you should of course also feel free to respond to the responses to your text. Indeed that’s often where things really start to get fun.
I’d also like us to experiment with Twitter as a way of extending our conversation. Please follow me at @joeharris_ud and use #685dw as the hashtag for this course. I’m open to pretty much any use of Twitter, in large part because I’m not sure I really have a feel for the medium. I would say, though, that I tend to be most drawn to tweets that point that readers outwards—that offer links to readings or images that somehow seem to relate to our work together.
In any case, what I’d like to ask you to do, at least for the first few weeks of this course, is to check in every other day or so on our Twitter feed, and to try to add one or two tweets of your own to it each week. We’ll look briefly at the feed at each of our class meetings, to see what seems to be working and what we might change.
Your basic task in posting to this blog is to respond to the book you’ve just read in ways that will help us think and talk more about it in seminar—that point to interesting or puzzling moments in the text, that open up new lines of inquiry, that suggest connections with other texts or issues. One measure of your response, then, will be the responses it prompts—both online and in class. Your aim should be to move our conversation forward.
My advice, then, is to try to extend more than criticize. I’m willing to bet that any time twelve students of culture and literature come together to discuss a text, that most of the gaps and problems with it will somehow get noted. I don’t think we have to worry about that. And so I encourage you, in your first approach to a text, to see how you can think along with its author—adding to or updating their thinking, applying their ideas to new examples or situations. We’ll get to critique soon enough.
A Better Pencil
Turning specifically to our reading for next week: Dennis Baron is someone I’ve long admired. He is a pithy and forceful writer, and a recondite scholar of language. He knows more about the history of writing technologies than any of us ever will. But he published A Better Pencil in 2009, a long time ago when measured in web years. Much has happened since then in the digital revolution he seeks to describe and explain. I encourage you to look for recent examples of digital composing that will test, extend, and perhaps revise some of his ideas.
Aim for a post of about 400–500 words. Feel free to make use of images, audio, video, or hyperlinks if they help you move your thinking forward. (In the coming weeks I will require you to experiment with such media in your responses.)
Be professional. Compose and edit your response offline before posting it to this site. Make sure your links work, and that you document sources and quotations.
Use x1 as your category and come up with at least three good tags to identify this specific post. (My rule of thumb is that categories identify the kind of post you are writing, while tags highlight keywords and concepts in it.)
The deadline for your post is 4:00 pm on Tues, 2/18. You may revise your writing at any point before then. Please see Comments and tweets for the next stage of our work.
Rewarding/Frustrating/Funny: Describe a recent experience you’ve had with writing online that fits one of those categories. Use this story to introduce yourself to the class.
Writing in a digital age
Michael Wesch, The Machine Is Us/ing Us
Near the end of his video essay, Wesch lists a number of terms and concepts he feels we’ll need to rethink in a digital age, including:
Wesch composed and posted his essay in 2007. Pick one of the terms on his list and, in a fastwrite, see if you can point to some ways in which its meaning has shifted since then.
Aims and structure of this course
- Rethink writing in a digital environment
- Readings: Past, present, academic, teaching
- Writings: Class blog and digital essay
- Reading the schedule
- Access to low-end digital photography, video, and audio
- Deadlines, punctuality
x1: Responding to Baron
Comments and tweets
Will Self, Kafka’s Wound (2012)
- Tues, 2/18, 4:00 am: Read Baron. Post x1 to this site.
- Thurs, 2/20, 4:00 pm: Read x1s. Post comments to at least three.
- Thurs, 2/20, 4:00 pm: Tweet at least once to #685dw.
- Tues, 2/25,4:00 pm: Read Standage. Post x2 to this site.
Writing in a Digital Age
University of Delaware
To find out more about the course, please click on the tabs above.
To find out more about me, please visit josephharris.me.
I look forward to working with you!