Tag Archives: #685dw

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.

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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!

Do not forget to remember poetry

I’m concerned about poetry. I have always been concerned about poetry. Poetry was that white muse who held my hand when I was so young, took me to a white land, entrapped me in black words, and we never came back.  I grew up to grow my own manifesto of poetry: a real poem would carry all its needed instruments within itself. A real poem needs neither camera, nor light to be projected in your mind. A real poem creates images, music, shadow, light, pauses, rhythm, pains and joys out of words; nothing but words. They only exception for me seems to be the voice of the poet. I think a poet’s voice is a part of poetry. I have believed in pure poetry.  Am I too old to revise my manifesto? Do I even need to revise it? I still want to think about poetry, as I still want poetry to think about me.

Billy Collins, the former Poet Laureate of the United States , in his amazing Ted Talk Everyday Moments Caught in Time explains why he has decided to present some of his poems in a new visual medium   , with animation, despite his initial resistance, as he always thinks that “poetry can stand by itself.”  I am amazed by discovering a huge harmony between my own view of poetry and Collins’ standpoint. “If you are reading a poem that mentions a caw, you don’t need on the facing page a drawing of the caw”, absolutely true, I say. Now the same Billy Collins announces that he is going to present poetry-animations or animated poems to his audience, that he has been trying to take poetry to public places, “poetry on buses, poetry on subways, on billboards” and let it “happen to you so suddenly that you don’t have time to deploy your anti-poetry deflector shields.” This idea is totally strange to me, to let poetry happen suddenly to the resentful  busy audience of a crowded world. Collins presents his animated poems, and the experience turns to be unbelievably unique. I can explain it as a conceptual visualization of visual concepts or something like that! What he presents is different from the hasty juxtaposition of poems and random pictures that usually make me stop the clip before the end to avoid letting the beauty of a pure poem be ruined by some mediocre visual supplements. Collins introduces the possibility of creating new forms for presenting poetry in digital age. Poetry needs new weapons to take part in digital revolution, and digital revolution needs that call for new weapons to still be revolutionary.

The fourth chapter of Tom Standage’s  Writing on the Wall  indicates that poetry, along with other genres, has also been used as an available social medium, but as a minor participant in an ongoing act of communication. The historical stories of this chapter talk about “the circulations of poetry within court circle” (77) and how poetry was used as a hidden messenger of forbidden desires or “as a way to amuse friends, win the favor of patrons and advance their careers” (82.) Poetry in this chapter is not depicted as an art but as an available means of communication, “self-expression and self-promotion” (69) which existed before and naturally enough continues to exist. Poetry has been taken for granted. This pervasive underestimation of a super-sensitive art makes me remember once more that we should really think about poetry. The question of poetry’s position in the context of our contemporary creative and communicative world is as essential as any other primary concern that we might have today. Poetry is not really a circulating self-expressing method to be generated, replaced or adapted easily. Poetry needs to be helped to survive our new world;and  our new world would need poetry to survive.

Trust and The Blame Game

While reading though  A Better Pencil,  I noticed that people experiencing the evolution of writing technology over time viewed it with the apprehension one might direct towards an invading army.

frye
Not sure if harmless tool, or harbinger of the apocalypse.

Subsequently, once the new technology’s purpose and uses were established, it seemed that people immediately latched onto all of the horrible things that could happen, and panic ensued.

66068-panic-gif-sgeU

However, Baron conveyed the sense that the objects of this skepticism have shifted over time.  Socrates disliked writing because of its inability to actively dialogue, as he placed importance on direct intelligent discussion (4).  He recognized the inherent need for people and their thoughts to be a variable in the equation, and thus distrusted the developments because of the ways humans could use them.  Distaste for modern technology, however, seems to be directed at the technology itself, not the human minds behind it.

Which brings us to the blame game.  Baron writes that computers are “blamed by skeptics for a variety of ills” (xi).  Ned Ludd, if he existed, allegedly wrecked a loom because he “found the increased mechanization of the art of weaving alienating (25).  Placing the responsibility for perceived societal corruption on machines completely discounts their existence as creations of humans.  Technology will likely not develop sentience and the ability to create its own content without the programming or guidance of human action, yet many people seem to place suspicion and blame on the tools instead of stepping back and examining their role in its creation.

The one person in Baron’s narrative who appears to have held human beings responsible for technology and all of its effects was Ted Kaczynski.  As a disclaimer, I don’t advocate for attacking people with the intention of killing or otherwise harming them.  Kaczynski, even in all of his seriously misguided criminal actions, understood that it is people who further the mechanization of society, as well as use the conveniences it provides.  It’s the same idea of “Guns don’t kill people; people with guns kill people.”  Cell phones don’t kill people, drivers using cell phones kill people.  By targeting the progenitors and inventors of the things he so hated, Kaczynski demonstrated a twisted understanding of the ways in which people interact with new technologies.

As humanity explores new avenues for writing technology, we will be called, as Wesch notes, to redefine and reexamine what it means to interact with technologies.  Certain factions will continue to blame advances in language studies and composition tools for the destruction of civilization, and the trust and blame that we associate with the written word in all its forms will undoubtedly be the subject of further debate and revision for many years to come.  Hopefully, though, future critics will not forget the role that human innovation plays in advancing these tools.

Aethetics in Digital Writing

Once we were asked to bring ink brush and papers the classroom practicing calligraphy, not only as a form of artisitc recreation but to show students having well-trained, educated hands.

Now we are witnessing the emphasis on good handwriting dwindling on one side of the seesaw and the online technical writing growing on the other side. Never before have writers had at their finger tips the tools to almost seamlessly integrate text and graphics, savvy animation, audio, video and other elements and to dynamically publish and widely distribute the products to virtual spaces. Internet create a new kind of writing space and this space changes not only writing process but also communication dynamics between writers and readers. Authors in digital age are also attempting to reach new stylistics, binding parallex formats, font styles with customized images such as this love letter at the right corner.ee_valentinefonts

More than an aesthetic “use” of the written language, the aesthetics in digital writing is probably more of a material expression: expression of the text format and of the interactive medium between authors and audience.

In Defense of Verbosity

When thinking about the changes brought about by Web 2.0, the first thing that sprang to mind was identity, but a close second was aesthetics. Perhaps this is more reflective of my own personal priorities (and research interests) than anything more truly comprehensive, but I think that the two always go hand in hand in person so it follows that they do in our digital manifestations too. Carefully curated, these identities become abstract portraits of the people we imagine ourselves to be—or wish we were—partly through the faces (metaphorical and literal) we choose to present, and partly in the genre of writing that we choose to narrate ourselves. For instance, as anyone who interacts with my Facebook presence knows, I delight in posting extended reflections, excerpts from what I am reading, and entertaining anecdotes; for me, this type of longer writing feels natural and meets with my own standard of written aesthetics. And what is so wrong about meandering in text or occasionally deploying purple prose to make a tongue-in-cheek point?

Perhaps for these reasons, I have (so far) avoided more streamlined and pithy social media platforms. I appreciate that the greater concision demanded by Twitter is in part an exercise in precise writing, but I don’t like the constraint. I understand that the purpose of hashtags is to link conversations and weave connections between post(er)s, but too often they just seem banal. Can the aesthetics of digital writing encompass both short forms that reach out to other writers by means as simple as #sunnyday, as well as longer, less digitally-native genres that fail to link in the same way because they require a different approach? Can’t so many short snippets be just as visually (un)appealing as a block of text?