Tag Archives: #685dw

The Digital Potential of Bookmarks in Further Discussions

Burning the Page: The Ebook Revolution and the Future of Read by Jason Merkoski is one of the primary resources of my digital essay. Merkoski introduces himself as “Amazon’s first technology evangelist [who] helped invent technology used in today’s ebooks and […] lunched the first three kindle devices.” As a big fan of books in both non-digital and digital form, and as a technician of the field,  Merkoski re-tells the story of ebook evolution, or revolution, while considering and analyzing human confusions, resentments and disbeliefs in that process. At the end of each chapter, Merkoski brings up a related topic discussion, in the form of an online survey, and invites his readers to share their ideas, memories or critical views on twitter or Facebook with other readers of the same chapter. He calls these textual interludes as “bookmarks” and introduces them as bellow:

The “bookmark” at the end of each chapter takes a look at an element of print books we have come to love or loathe and how it will be affected, transformed, or eliminated by the move or ebooks. As used here, the term “bookmark” is a kind of  visual pun. Not only does it refer to an artifact from traditional print books, but  each “bookmark” also is a small interlude that describes the ways books have indelibly marked our lives and our culture of reading.(xvii)

He uses the book’s website as the basic reference:  http://www.jasonmerkoski.com/ and for each Bookmark there is a link like http://www.jasonmerkoski.com/eb/1.html (this is the first bookmark where you can choose Facebook or Twitter to carry the online conversation through.) There are 22 bookmarks in the book and 22 topics for online discussion. Interestingly enough, there is no chapter numbering in this book, and chapters are separated just by Bookmarks. As I read the printed version of Burning the Book rather than the Kindle edition, I was entertained by seeing the possibility of following what I was reading on a page, by joining an instant online community focused on the same topic, knowing where to stop by for each specific chapter. Although online discussions seem to be fragmented and not as categorized as the Bookmarks, I think the author has designed an experimental activity through which he might gather feedback, chapter by chapter, for further enquiries on the same subject. Moreover, I find the direction and pattern of these bookmarks appropriate for various undergraduate activities in our writing classes. We can ask our students to read one specific chapter of this book and then take part in its online activity. Students can also use their experience of an online conversation with other readers and also the author to compose an essay. As an example, look at the last paragraph of Bookmark 11:

Each family has its own story, often partly inscribed in the pages of its books. Does your family have a book with an important inscription? A family bible? Is a chapter of your own history preserved between the brittle pages of an old book?  Care to share your story?

http://www.jasonmerkoski.com/eb/11.html

Bookmark 12 and Bookmark 17 call for sharing personal reflections upon bookstores and book covers. There are also predictive activities which challenge the reader’s imagination; for example bookmark 19 ends with questions about the future of “three major digital media retailers Apple, Amazon and Google […]”  with a “fast-forward a hundred years” assumption. Although these bookmarks do not lead the reader to any new digital space, as they end in either Facebook or Twitter, the experience could be different specifically for an undergraduate student who enjoys posting on Facebook better than taking part in class discussions. However, I find Merkoski’s readers more engaged with Twitter option than Facebook. He also sends a digital autograph to his joined readers, which could be a new topic in digital versus non-digital debates in a writing session. We can even ask our students to read specific number of other readers’ comments and respond to them or analyze them. The digital generation gap, about which I’m writing my digital essay, might come up as a new topic for further discussions, after getting into these bookmarks.

 

 

New Dimensions of Dialogue

I had a difficult time following Digital Griots central argument. I think Adam Banks devotes a great portion of his book to his own academic complaints, authorial doubts and personal stories which are not that much connected with African American Rhetoric in a Multimedia Age. I can see how he has been trying to play the role of one Griot himself, stimulating the obstacles that one digital Griot would face, by explaining his own pre-writing predicaments when the first voices he heard were not his own (41); Still, the sudden appearance of literature reviews in middle of his personal stories, or the sudden appearance of personal stories in middle of literature reviews, undermines the general narrative and makes it hard for the reader, or for me as the reader, to explore new dimensions of African American narratives in the multimedia age. However, what I like the most in his writing is the basic idea of building “two-way relationships between universities and communities [which] requires something far more than the traditional one-way service model” (67).

Two-way relationships between academia and popular culture could result in ideal moments when neither universities nor communities play the role of mere generators or mere consumers of intellectual debates specifically the racial ones. Banks criticizes the existing gaps between academic theories and people. He desires to “take intellectual work to the people themselves” in a new space “where the vernacular and the theoretical came together and where would be taken seriously” (57). Symbolically enough, although not really intended to be symbolic, this statement challenges any kind of discrimination that prioritizes one community over the other one in having the ability of narrating, analyzing or even preserving the history of a particular culture. Creating new Dimensions of Dialogue (I take this phrase from an astonishing short animation made in 1982) between two potential authorities, academia and communities who not in direct relation with each other, could definitely be a great challenge in the world of established hierarchies.

Dimensions of Dialogue by Jan Švankmajer
Dimensions of Dialogue by Jan Švankmajer

UD’s online community the Colored Conventions is a good example of a new digital space aiming to gather scattered database from different resources on a specific subject, that is “Black Americans and political organizing during the nineteenth century”, in order to “brings buried history to digital life”. The introduction page of this website tells us that “the Colored Conventions team comprises a diverse group of dedicated and energetic scholars, graduate and undergraduate students and librarians at the University of Delaware”. That means there are new dimensions of dialogue and cooperation going on between different levels of academic positions in various disciplines. I talked to Jim Casey, an executive committee member, to ask about the possibility of non-academic communities’ direct participation in this project, and I learned that the process of proving the authenticity of the gathered data would be really complicated. However, it’s interesting to see how this digital resource is going to offer classified pedagogic materials to instructors who are interested in integrating African American debates with other courses, even Eng110 (those of you who had ENGL688 last semester would remember Sarah Patterson’s introduction to this section.) The introductory page asserts that “you  will  find  all  of  the  resources  necessary  for  your  class  unit  on a convention, including sample assignments for lower and upper division undergraduate classes  as well as for graduate seminars.” I think practicing such assignments might generate new materials to be submitted to the same resource. That means having an online community designed not only to collect related materials but also to expand its territory to new spaces by generously sending out its collected, proved and categorized materials to other sections of academia, and even beyond that in the future, hoping to get back new generative responses. Of course not all attempts would receive an instant response; what really matters is to keep the dialogue going on without facing a huge definitive full stop.

Dimensions of Dialogue by Jan Švankmajer

 

 

Close Encounters of the Fourth Kind

I am concerned about our magical-realism-like position in the transitional phase between non-digital world and the digital one. There are a few generations before us and there would be few generations after us who would experience such a transitional period in their own lives before the digital world conquers the whole territory. Regarding the crazy speed of this transition, I think in our lifetime we would encounter generations who stand in the conquered territory rather than the transitory one, and would not have any experience of non-digital reading and writing, whatsoever. In my digital essay, I want to talk about a probable time in the future when we will have to teach to generations that have never experienced reading printed books.

I wonder if we are going to have a sense of alienation, inferiority, indifference or even superiority in encountering generations who have never experienced our transitory phase and what existed before. What would be the use of our non-digital reading years in facing purely digital readers? Is our background going to be diminished to a fantasy story about recent-ancient times in which books were made of dead trees, to be told to our grandchildren who will not even need us to tell them stories? What could we take with us, besides our nostalgic senses, from the centuries of printed books and our personal experiences of it to the decades of pure electronic reading?

I intend to focus on reading experience more than writing experience as a touchstone to explore the digital generation gaps that would widen when our transitional period is over. I’m thinking about creating an interactive medium, with pictures, videos and hyperlinks, to stimulate the static form of printed books versus the dynamic potentialities of digital ones. I have not decided about the ultimate formatting yet. Do you have any suggestions for that?

To talk about the resources, I am already influenced by most materials discussed in DW685; however, I might get back to Baron and Standage for this essay. Merkosiki’s Burning the page : the eBook revolution and the future of reading , Sue Polanka’s No Shelf Required  (1&2) and John Palfrey’s  Born Digital: Understanding the First Generation of Digital Nativescould be other primary resources of my work. Also, I would like to review Dr. Miller’s talk in UD, Habits of the Creative Mind, if I have access to its video or transcripts (Could I?). If there are any specific online or printed resources that you think I should see or read before getting into this project, I would be happy to take your advice.

I expect to write an exploratory essay, a mélange of imagination, prediction, and exploration; it might come up with more questions than answers.

 

Class, Fri, 3/28

Virtual 685, Lessig, and CCCC

Fastwrite: Since we did not meet together last week, I’d like us to spend some time thinking about the work we did online. Please jot down a few lines about what most interested, provoked, or amused you about:

  • #4C14
  • #685dw
  • Lessig, Remix
  • x5

Miller, Fitzpatrick, and the Undead of Academic Writingnosferatu

Fastwrite: Find a passage in one of the following texts that helps you formulate a question for Richard Miller (and the rest of us):

  • Fitzpatrick, Planned Obsolescence
  • Miller, text2cloud
  • Miller, “Habits of the Creative Mind”
  • Your x6s, and the various texts mentioned in them.

Proposals

Your proposals will count as x7 and will be due on Tues, 4/08, at 11:59. Unless people feel uneasy about doing so, I suggest that they be posted online, so you can get feedback and advice your colleagues in seminar as well as me.

Your proposal should address the following issues:

  • What texts or other materials do you plan to work with?
  • What question or problem will your writing address?
  • What sort of format are you imagining working in? (E.g., WordPress, Tumblr, video, podcast . . . )
  • Can you identify a text that could serve as an approximate model for the sort of piece you’d like to compose?
  • What questions do you have at this point for me and your colleagues?

A proposal is not a contract. I expect that your ideas for your piece will evolve over the next several weeks. Your aim for now should formulate a sense of your project in terms that are specific but open to revision, that describe what you want to do in ways that allow the rest of us to offer you advice.

To Do

  1. Tues, 4/08, 11:59 pm: Post your digital essay proposal to this site.
  2. Thurs, 4/10, 11:59 pm: Post advice and feedback to those proposals you feel you can help with.
  3. Fri, 4/11, class: Be ready to discuss Christopher Johnson’s Microstyle.

 

 

 

The Anxiety of Influence, A New Version

Chain-reactionBy publishing The Anxiety of Influence in 1973, Harold Bloom invited both critics and authors to re-read centuries of literary creation as a reactionary act against the haunting shadow of precursors;  a reactionary act from the new author’s side to establish his own voice, already influenced by forerunners, as an original one. Bloom’s theory places a historical anxiety, caused by dead poets, in the centre of both tensions and aspirations of living poets. Each new author is a late-comer shadowed by the whole history of literary creation, haunted by all canonical works, and encircled by gigantic names that have already proved their originality. There is an endless war going on. Driven by the hidden forces of anxiety, a few late-comers succeed in establishing their authorship to become the great precursors for the next generation of late-comers, the rest would be forgotten.

Being the new late-comers of the world of words, we seem to be lucky enough to be the forerunners of an updated version of Anxiety of Influence which does not draw any chronological, linear, or hierarchical lines between subjects and objects. Fitzpatrick in Planned Obsolescence: Publishing, Technology, and the Future of the Academy contemplates on the metamorphosed sense of being an author in the digital world while bearing a hidden fear of losing one’s individuality, one’s identity, and one’s distinguished voice. Interestingly enough, this new anxiety is not caused by the precursors any more, as it is the anxiety of being influenced by the contemporary fellows who are suffering from the same anxiety at the same time. This anxiety, according to Fitzpatrick, is partially caused by the fear that “someone else’s opinions might interfere with” the second author’s opinions before letting the second author establish his/her position fully (51). This is not really a pure peculiarity of digital age, even the authors of RW culture could receive influential feedbacks on their serialized or unfinished works before establishing their own intellectual position.  The peculiarity of the digital in this case is the crazy speed by which millions of ideas and words are randomly undercutting each other without establishing any enduring hierarchical orders.

I wonder if the authors’ of digital age are not suffering the historical Anxiety of Influence, described in Bloom’s theory, any more as they are all busy dealing with new fears and challenges of immediate publications and instantaneous responses. Are the shadows of great precursors, those who have been following new-comers for centuries, going to be replaced by the virtual attendance of contemporary rivals who are haunting each other in a collective anxiety? Fitzpatrick’s ideas, along with my personal experiences, imply that a digital author expects to be compared with other digital fellows rather than any non-digital precursors and wishes to establish a distinguished voice in comparison with other digital publications rather than any old canonical works. Fitzpatrick suggests that “we no longer inhabit a world in which originality reigns unchallenged” (78). According to Bloom originality is a distorted offspring of non-original ideas that truly suffered the Anxiety of Influence and tried to get rid of the haunting shadows of the past. I’m thinking about the offspring of our digital anxiety when shadows and authors are coexisting in the same circle without any hierarchical relations in between. Could Harold Bloom, a contemporary and a precursor, be a haunting figure for a blogger who is writing about literary criticism? Or other bloggers, even unknown ones, play a more intimidating role? The new medium seems to  be altering the ancient nature of anxiety.

 

 

Remix or Adaptation

I was really surprised to find out that Woody Allen’s Blue Jasmine (2013) was nominated in Academy Award for best original screenplay. I had been seriously waiting for its nomination, but for best adapted screenplay, and its originality was the last thing in the world that I could talk about while thinking about this particular film. I could not, and cannot, understand how such an obvious adaptation of Tennessee Williams’s globally recognized A Streetcar Named Desire could be considered original and even be nominated for that originality. Could an adaptation suddenly become original just because we do not call it an adaptation or we prefer to see it as an original? Is being an adaptation a subjective label or an objective reality? How would the culture of remix, following Lessig’s terms, draw a definite border between originals and adaptations regarding internal content rather than external form?

According to an extreme critical approach which has always been challenging to me, each new act of creation could be an act of adaptation, there is no originality in the world and each apparently new idea  is regenerating itself one way or the other. I try to expand the same view to the phenomenon of remix in digital age, and I tend to perceive each new product as a new adaptation. Then I would evaluate adaptations, as one usually does in basic adaptation studies, as good ones, bad ones, responsible ones, irresponsible ones, cheating ones, faithful ones, cross-cultural ones, historical ones etc. I would also need to open a category for original adaptations , the nominees would be those works that can get beyond the hunting shadow of their resources. However, analyzing a work of adaptation in the culture of remix is not always as simple as discovering or naming the pieces of music that have been cut and remixed with each other. There are hidden layers to original adaptations!

pointing-fingers

A pervasive culture of remix would be able to produce a complex generation of adaptations that are not going to reveal their origins neither to common audience nor to lawyers. To possess an idea or a process, and to prove its possession would be much more complicated than to possess a form or a product. As the smartest works of remix start to get rid of their evident dependencies on other works, there will be no authoritative origin to point the legal finger at easily. If adaptations populate the stage without introducing themselves as adaptations, how are we going to analyze adapted remixes with the same criteria that we usually have for comparing originals and copies? The answer will define our initial approach and ultimate expectation, as adaptations stand on a grey ambiguous territory between originals and copies. Adaptations are not always easy to decipher.

x3- Books and Video Games as Interchangeable Vice

Davidson’s book got me thinking a great deal about how I experienced learning as a child and what it would have been like if the tables were turned.  As an elementary school student, I was “the bookworm.”  I carried at least one book on my person at all times and was caught reading Goosebumps under my desk in my first-grade math class on more than one occasion.  Eventually, the school librarians gave me a special dispensation of sorts where I was allowed to take out five or six books per week while everyone else only got to take out two.  I read to the exclusion of almost every other activity, and my teachers and parents encouraged me to read as much as I wanted.

My younger brothers, however, were a different story.  Although they were never opposed to reading, in grade school they would have much preferred to play video games.  In the late 1990s and early 2000s, however, parents and teachers looked upon video games with skepticism, which Davidson attributes to concern stemming from the Columbine incident (147).  Much to my brothers’ constant irritation, video games were a privilege at home- you had to ask Mom’s permission to play them, and you were restricted to an hour or so of playing time.  There were no Call Of Duty-esque games in the house until about 2006, when the older of the two was about fourteen, and even after that, both boys had very restricted gaming time.  In the absence of homework or chores that needed to be done, they’d be told to go “read a book.”

Davidson asserts that “games have been considered an important tool for teaching complex principles and honing sophisticated forms of procedural thinking,” and that such activities can teach players to recognize “all parts of a problem, all possibilities for winning and for losing, [. . .] and the best set of responses (procedures) to maximize success” (146).   Science has apparently proven that they improve multitasking abilities, hand-eye coordination, teamwork, and metabolic function, (149-50).  I was not aware of any of this, to be honest.  I’ve never been a gamer, and I don’t see the attraction.   However, now that I understand a bit more of the science behind how games work, things make a bit more sense.

It makes sense now that both of my brothers are great with team work and have a more positive view of dealing with other people.  On the other hand,  I loved the isolation and pure imagination that came with books, and am typically a bit more apprehensive of working with others.  Where I love endlessly discussing strange theoretical ideas and minutia, both of my brothers enjoy and are skilled in the application and processes of creating a cohesive product.  All three of us are skilled, but in markedly different ways.  Of course, all of this begs the question:  Do games and books attract people of a certain personality type, or do they have a heavy hand in creating them?  For space’s sake, I won’t go into that.

In the above clip, from the 2006 Doctor Who episode “Tooth and Claw,” the Doctor encourages his companions– including Queen Victoria herself– to arm themselves with books and knowledge in order to defeat the werewolf-like creature that is terrorizing Torchwood Estate.  In this context,  the books are defensive mechanisms, preparing the Doctor and his companions to deal with the aggressions of a dangerous enemy.   If books were demonized even half as much as video games have been, education and childhood for children around the world would have been markedly different.  If those tables were turned and books were limited and seen as a vice because they were regarded as dangerous and violence-inducing, the Doctor, Rose Tyler, and Queen Victoria might have been in a very different sort of situation.

I was fortunate to have teachers who understood how important reading was to me, and more than one of them made a point to encourage reading, response, and analysis as a part of their curriculum.  My third grade teacher created an optional advanced reading activity group for about twelve students, in which we read different books and had our own special binders for discussion and response.  Davidson seems to agree with my opinion that reading is one of the most important ways to encourage imagination and curiosity in learners of all ages, calling the kindergarteners “the luckiest children on earth” (98).  Not only do they they have the privilege of quiet time to spend reading whatever they choose, but they have an educator who recognizes and encourages independent, self-directed learning.

On page 129, Davidson poses the concept of a year-end “boss-level challenge,” a project (or several smaller related projects) produced from the cumulative learning and particular skills of each student.  It makes so much sense that I’m astounded it hasn’t been implemented more widely in the mainstream.  Instead of testing arbitrary and generally irrelevant knowledge, such a project would give students a platform to develop useful skills like reasoning, communication, the importance of community outreach, and research.  Basically, it sounds like a masters’ thesis for kids that is almost more applicable to real-world situations than an actual master’s thesis.  Whether the project incorporates the skills and ideas they learn from books or video games, all that matters is that it would measure their useful life skills and arm them to be productive contributors to society.

I realized that I never actually got to talking about a classroom educational experience, but I will say that I wish this book had been around when I was in elementary school.  If educators had realized the apparent potential that video games have for developing skills applicable to the classroom and real life, I feel like I would have had a very different and more diversely enriching school experience.  I wouldn’t trade my love of books and the enrichment that they’ve contributed to my life for anything.  However,  Now You See It has forced me to consider the value of video games, which I have generally viewed as useless and a waste of time, and think about how learning would be different if it was books that were considered dangerous vices.

Eternal Sunshine of a Distracted Mind

I am fascinated by the attention-versus-distraction theory upon which Davidson builds the initial standpoint of her work. The idea that whatever exists and whatever does not exist in our current consciousness is a result of lifelong interactions between attentions that are marginalized by distractions and distractions that succeed in becoming attentions attracts my attention, or in other words distracts me from another attention! I would accept that my mind and my world are continuously constructed and deconstructed by two apparently opposite forces playing the leading roles of the same game. Whatever is considered to be my valuable intention today has once played the role of a deceiving distraction from an everyday life. To choose a human science as my major could be a kind of distraction when I look at it from the dominant intention of the surrounding world. However, when one spends some years inside a deliberately chosen distraction and dominates it and calls it specialization, the second level of the game shows up, when anything beyond that specialization would be estimated, or underestimated, as a distraction. This is not really a rule; this is what an educated mind accepts as a rule to get rid of the constant invasion of uncontrollable distractions that remind it of all human limitations in mastering a vast territory. Life is short, choose your path and forget about other journeys. The path is your attention, the attention is your intention, and all other journeys are distractions.

Following the current academic tendencies in the humanities, I would equalize attention with specialization, and distraction with whatever beyond that specialization. “Without focus the world is chaos” (Davidson 2) but how are we going to preserve our small order, or focus, and be satisfied with that in a world that is decentralizing everything by interconnecting infinite centers to each other. Now that in the digital world many apparent boundaries between attentions and distraction are passable by a simple click on an unrelated link and “everything links to everything and all of it is available all the time” (6) how could we draw a line around a territory and call it our field of specialization without being concerned or curious any more about anything that exists beyond that hypothetical line?

“Attention is about difference” (49) but if it is not challenged by new distractions I would call it a sign of indifference rather than a prolonged difference. I would like to go beyond the secure boundaries of conventionally defined fields that justify exclusions before inclusions. I believe in interdisciplinary approaches and interactive projects in different levels of education as the dynamic patterns of keeping balance between attentions and distractions in a world that does not draw any absolute boundaries between various subjects any more. Through interdisciplinary approaches hypothetical boundaries are pushed away and what used to be called a distraction would function as an essential component of the central attention; and that would be in harmony with the basic structure of the digital world.

To keep going through the tension of attentions and distractions,  is to dance among the illusionary boundaries of lights and shadows. I have always tried to move forward through that tension, if distractions do not entrap my attention anymore, that means  I have lost my ability of intellectual survival , and the game is over.

Resharing is Caring

In his Journal entry for March 8, 2013, novelist Neil Gaiman chronicles his travels and talks briefly about the radio adaptation of his book Neverwhere (featuring the voice talents of James McAvoy, Natalie Dormer, and Benedict Cumberbatch, among others). About halfway down the page, he writes, quite a propos of nothing: “Here is a photograph of Benedict Cumberbatch. He plays the angel Islington. Many of my friends strongly believe that photographs of Mr Cumberbatch and amusing photographs of kittens were what the internet was created for.” I remember reading that last sentence, being duly amused, and sharing it on my own Facebook page with an additional comment to the effect that Gaiman’s friends and I might get along.

This incident seems to resonate well with the ideas that Tom Standage brings up in “Poetry in Motion”  in Writing on the Wall. Standage remarks that “Then as now, people enjoy being able to articulate their interests and define themselves by selectively compiling and resharing content created by others. The mere act of sharing something can, in other words, be a form of self-expression.” (Standage 75-76). In my case, one might easily assume I enjoy Gaiman, Cumberbatch, and kittens (not necessarily in that order), even though I do have many other uses for the internet. Of course, much like the poems in the Devonshire Manuscript, it is assumed that all of our online writing and sharing—whether blogged, Facebooked, tweeted, Tumbled, and Instagrammed—is part of a constructed identity, even if that identity differs from poem to poem or account to account. In this age of everything-is-public,  I wonder if photographs of cats and British actors really the current equivalent of clandestinely circulated couplets and quips. If so, it seems there is much less at stake—quite literally in some of Standage’s examples (82-83)—and much less effort expended. Yet, can resharing “amusing photographs of kittens” really be just definitive an act of self-expression as writing an original composition? After all, both play into to curation of a circulated self.

My anecdote at the start of this post is fairly unremarkable—Gaiman and Cumberbatch make not infrequent appearances in my social media outlets and/or conversation—but in thinking about it again, I am struck by the implications of Gaiman’s choice of (social) media. As a professional writer, Gaiman’s is a personal and professional blog, a mix of reflection, self-promotion (both of himself and his wife, musician Amanda Palmer, so-called “geek royalty”), and things he himself is resharing from elsewhere. By reading it sporadically, am I part of the “court circle” of Gaiman fans, receiving and recirculating his witty missives? Does that group still count as a “coterie” (Standage 77) if it is available to the whole wide web?

Gaiman’s seemingly innocuous comment about the actor voicing one of Neverwhere’s main characters definitely endorses the radio production of the novel, but does so in a way seems to not only also promote Cumberbatch but induce a kind of media synethesia as well: those tuning in to the radio broadcast of Neverwhere are of course not seeing Benedict Cumberbatch as Islington, only hearing him (in this case, singing the Lyke-Wake Dirge).

Yet, by emphasizing the visual recognizability of the actor, Gaiman capitalizes on the fact that the readers of his blog might tune in for that reason if not for others. Interesting too is the fact that the photograph in question is no longer available on the blog, so it is uncertain which of the actor’s looks Gaiman might have chosen to reshare and what that in turn says about the original text in question—I myself have forgotten. Perhaps it was one of these:

2434194-otters-who-look-like-benedict-cumberbatch
Significant otters.

reddit: The Virtual Coffeehouse

After finishing Writing on the Wall, my life’s new goal is to either locate or become the proprietor of a real-life coffeehouse that operates like the ones Standage describes in Chapter 6.  Whether or not they actually existed, the idea of an “egalitarian new intellectual space” (104) where all can exchange new knowledge in diverse fields and imbibe my favorite caffeinated beverage sounds like heaven on earth.  In the words of Liz Lemon:

Liz Lemon always knows what’s up.

Sadly, I can’t think of a single real-life commercial establishment that functions as such.  I have never in my life been in a chain or independent coffee retailer that fosters the actively social “speculative environment” of their predecessors; they are more often filled with people glued to their technology, books, or other distractions in an otherwise social and public place.

Where I do find those environments, or at least analogous cultural structures, is in the virtual world.  Like the alleged coffeehouses in the days of Samuel Pepys and Christopher Wren, certain online communities function as networks driven by discussion and transactions that are based around knowledge sharing.   As the resident reddit enthusiast, I have to admit that upon reading the chapter on coffeehouses, the self-professed “front page of the internet” was the first comparable website that came to mind.

In June of 2012, redditor /u/Dapper77 described reddit as “a place friendly to thought, relationships, arguments, and to those that wish to challenge those genres.”  Subreddits, or topic/theme-based forums within the site, parallel the coffeehouses that developed a specific client base.  Like Jonathan’s, which drew seventeenth-century businessmen, /r/history attracts historians and history enthusiasts for questions, debate, and other content that is relevant to their interests.  The site has areas for users to talk about literally almost anything they can think of, and if a subreddit doesn’t exist, you can create it.  Best of all, it’s all free!

The diversity and availability of content options can mean different things for different people.  Personally, I like it for the opportunity to learn new things about any topic that strikes my interest.  Serial killers, suggestions for slowcooker recipes, adorable corgis, colorized historical images, and tips on skincare routines:  I can find information and communities immersed in each topic online.

Like the coffeehouses, most of our myriad social networking or information-sharing sites have been vilified as “distracting people and encouraging them to waste time sharing trivia with their friends when they ought to be doing useful work” (111).  At least with reddit, you’re (generally) learning something new, whether or not it is actually useful information.  Plus, the site hasn’t been overrun with irrelevant content such as ads and games, like the fictional “Friendface” from British Channel 4’s The IT Crowd.

While the environment of intellectual sharing and discussion is one of reddit’s strong points, there are certainly detracting factors.  For instance, there will always be people whose sole purpose in life seems to be posting responses that are rude, offensive, or generally irrelevant or irritating.  Often, these exchanges function like the one that Standage describes on pages 40 and 41, particularly the “comment thread” between Severus and Successus.

Additionally, instead of having face-to-face, real-time interaction, users are separated by time and space, which negates the socialization aspect that makes the idea of coffeehouses so attractive.  If you wanted to get really meta, you could go to a coffeehouse and use reddit from there!  As someone who is often most comfortable interacting with strangers through friendly, down-to-earth intellectual discussion, and assuming that they did actually exist, I look forward to the day when coffeehouses make a triumphant return!