Tag Archives: Digital essay

Following Socrates Online

Main

Following Socrates Online: What the Humanities can Learn from Philosophy’s Successful Online Adaptation

Link: https://sites.google.com/site/685dwcats/

Description
Using digital media to communicate ideas is too often looked down upon by those in the humanities. It makes perfect sense. After all, creating digital things which aren’t just “fluffy” or “empty” takes a lot of work and thought. I can’t just take an essay and make it into a blog and then expect the blog to become well-read. Though some of us humanists have been bumping around with this concept awkwardly for a while—still debating over issues like “is technology a good thing for academia”—philosophers have transitioned really successfully online. My website examines how philosophers have managed to do this so successfully, with hopes that those of us in other, related fields can take hope and think about how we can do the same.

Process
I began with a conversation with my partner (a philosopher) about why philosophers are all over the internet. He knew how to find out all sorts of field-gossip, as well as what universities to avoid applying to (for jobs), and he had a really sophisticated sense of some of the important issues in academia. I wanted this for English, but it’s not really there in the same way.

I did lots of consulting David for important sites (and discussing them with him) during my conceptual process. The actual writing was mostly done in two days (I never felt really ready to write this website), but I’ve been tinkering with the website since before spring break.

Affordances and Constraints
The medium of the website is one of my favorite things about this project. As a person who loves having control over certain things (creative projects ESPECIALLY), it was really important for me to be able to, say, change the font size or pick the exact color scheme I wanted. The website allowed me to do this. I also like the flexibility of adding/subtracting pages at a whim, or even making pages invisible while I work on them (also, I can put them in any order I want!).

There were two constraints which really bugged me, though. First, I could not get the header to look exactly the way that I envisioned (stupid search bar). Second, I haven’t figured out yet how to get a blog to post as one of my pages (I want to avoid the whole “click on this link to see my blog” thing). This will be a summer project.

Advertisements

Final Draft: Remix as “Concept, Material and Method” in FYC

Overview:
My digital essay project asks what we stand to lose–as scholars, teachers, and students of writing–by insisting that multimodal composition and traditional academic writing participate in fundamentally different modes of making meaning. Though many other scholars have productively registered the dissonances between these two kinds of composition, in my essay I consider what we might stand to gain by listening for the resonances. Ultimately I suggest that the lens of “remix” can help us, and our first year writing students, to see academic and multimodal composition as founded on a set of shared intellectual practices– and so doing, help us to find new ways to bridge past and future, academic and public discourse, alphabetic and non-alphabetic writing.

If that didn’t convince you to check it out, in my essay I do close readings of the two texts below, and argue that they participate in very similar intellectual practices of making meaning. Don’t you want to see me try to make that move?

Todorov

Development:
This essay really developed out of a blog post I wrote for this seminar in response to Lawrence Lessig’s Remix: Making Art and Commerce Thrive in the Hybrid Economy. Though I was completely on board with his enthusiasm for possibilities of free, open, remix culture, I was troubled that he felt it necessary to argue that multimodal/digital remix is somehow more complex than alphabetic/academic writing. As I thought about it more and dove into the scholarly literature, I realized that Lessig made two assumptions that were widespread in discourse on multimodal comp: 1) that these are two completely different practices of producing meaning, and 2) that alphabetic (and academic) writing is our past and multimodal comp is our future. These realizations led to the first two parts of my digital essay: “The Same Refrain” and “History/Futurity.” The next two sections, “Textual Layers” and “Resonance and Dissonance” developed out of my attempt to define what I saw as the real similarities between the two seemingly disparate types of texts.

Affordances & Constraints
In my essay, the most obvious affordance I took advantage of was the ability to embed video, which allowed me to isolate and showcase pieces of the music I was close reading. (Close listening?) But I also tried to make strong use of links throughout my essay, which I found to be a much more elegant and rich form of citation than clunky scholarly citation styles. Also, although there are few images in my project, I tried to use them suggestively rather than literally, to correspond to the kind of theoretical/conceptual work I was trying to do. It’s something that seems to work in this medium, but would probably look ridiculous in print. Lastly, no other medium would allow me to extend this project over time in public as a website permits me to do. I’m really looking forward to sharing my remix-focused teaching materials and blogging about my teaching experiences in the fall!

The biggest constraint was trying to manipulate the architecture of my website. WordPress themes are incredible, on the one hand, because with very little effort, they make your work look polished. On the other hand, they are unreasonably difficult to alter or customize in any way. It reminded me how badly I want to become proficient at writing code (I took a couple of intro-level courses on Python and Java, and absolutely loved it). This makes me think that to get serious about digital academic work and making best use of its affordances, we’re going to have to get a lot more technologically proficient.

Turning Over a New Leaf

Link: Turning the Digital Page: An Exploration of Remediation and Online Archives

YB cover photo

Overview: In my digital essay, I aim to analyze the (method)ologies of online resources which compile and remediate archival texts, using The Yellow Nineties Online as a case study to examine the ways in which digitizing encodes form and content, and therefore changes the audience interaction. As per the site’s “Welcome” page, it logically centers itself not only around the study of decade of the 1890s, more specifically around the periodicals of that decade, and more specifically still about the particular periodical that gave the decade its “yellow” moniker–The (infamous) Yellow Book. My digital essay discusses these digitally re-born texts and deals with issues such as form, adaptation/homage, simulation/skeuomorph, and materiality.

Process: This project began its life as a traditional 20-page seminar paper I had done for a class in Fall 2012 so I’d already done a lot of research, writing, and thinking about digital archives in general and The Yellow Nineties Online in particular by the time I decided to revisit the topic this semester. The main challenge for me was taking that first incarnation and looking at it from a completely different angle–not that of “genres” of digital archive (my initial argument, tailored to said class), but rather looking at the ways in which the site frames content, form, and user engagement. These three themes are the one that I have tried to thread throughout each of my posts and which tie the digital essay together as a whole.

Affordances: This project works so much better as a digital essay than a paper that I’m profoundly glad I had the opportunity to transform it! Because I am working to analyze an online resource, it was helpful to work in the same medium–particularly as it is one that facilitates greater use of images (something I’m always looking to do since I work so heavily in visual culture) and enables the use of hyperlinks– these two affordances (or rather, the lack thereof) were the main constraints in writing this up as an seminar paper in the first place.

Looking back at my original paper, I also noticed that it formed less of a coherent argument than a series of observations about the site and its methodological moves. The project worked well enough as a traditional paper, but splitting it into sections in my digital essay not only helped me to re-think the different topics I was actually considering, but also allowed me to make those points much more succinctly without worrying over-much about whether I was presenting a unified whole–it was unified by virtue of admitting its nature as a looser collection of interrelated facets.

This project is something I hope to tinker further with and link to my as-of-now under-development professional WordPress site. I also plan to send the link to the creators of The Yellow Nineties Online (which I am simultaneously excited and terrified to do).

Constraints: The infelicities of my chosen Wordpress theme (including but not limited to problems with font size/color, spacing, linking, arrangement and display of pictures, etc.) did take some amount of time and troubleshooting to wrestle into submission (I won’t say all of that wrestling was particularly good-humored).

Besides technical difficulties, the second challenge (mentioned above) was how to “digitize” my original essay, particularly in terms of organization. I cannot even guess how many different subheadings I created and discarded, split, and combined as I tried to organize my themes as clearly as possible without feeling like I was spending too much time on one and giving short shrift to others. These many changes to page themes (and therefore titles) unfortunately also had the unintended effect that most of my body pages still bear now-defunct titles in their web address. This annoys me somewhat, but I don’t think there’s anything I can do about it now.

Overall, however, I’m really pleased with how the essay turned out, aesthetically and organizationally.

Several Layers of Writing about Writing. About Writing

Link: https://medium.com/bereavement-and-mourning/2f7a2f1dc473

Description:

“Telling a Story of Stillbirth: Accepting the Limits of Narrative” is my way of grappling with the discomfort I felt when I found out that my collection of essays, They Were Still Born: Personal Stories about Stillbirth, would come out in paperback this summer. I realized that, along with excitement and gratitude, I felt a startling dismay. I set three goals in writing and publishing my digital essay: first to work through my own ambivalence and to puzzle through why I found the story I had worked so hard to get into print troubling now; second to give voice to the way that grief and narrative changes over time; and third (probably the least important) to use a different platform to help publicize my collection and reach new readers.

medium front page

Process:

I began by writing some reflective vignettes. They came out in whatever form they wanted to. When I reached the end of one, I would just hit enter a couple of times and start something else. Of course, I can do that ad nauseam (and judging by the number of people who visited my essay on [Medium] only to flee when they saw an estimated reading time of 14 minutes, perhaps my final version is still too long!). But when I had a few thousand words, I stopped and starting trying to find the threads to weave together into a coherent whole.

I took the essay through four distinct drafts. Several chunks from my earliest drafting did end up in the final version. The hardest part was deciding how to navigate the disjointedness of writing about writing about loss. I wanted my readers to experience some discomfort, but I didn’t want it to be so much that they were completely thrown off.

Then the question arose of platform. I put the entire essay draft up on a wordpress site I created for general book promotion. But it didn’t work there, and visually it was too long of an unbroken stream of text. My peer group suggested putting it on its own site and then just linking as needed.

Finally, I ended up publishing the essay on Medium because I loved the simple, clean aesthetics of the site, and I also wanted the ability to add it to various collections on the site.

Medium screenshot 2

Affordances and Constraints:

Writing my essay online and on Medium specifically offered the ability to link,  to promote my work in a community, and to revisit and revise it later. I like the way the whole essay looks and reads. It’s like a beautiful, very pared-down magazine.

Interesting constraints came up when I tried to embed links in the essay. Medium’s simplicity does come at a cost; it was not possible, as it is in WordPress, to set links to open in a new tab or new page. So anytime a reader clicked on a link, it would take him or her away from my essay. I ultimately decided, rather than risking the loss of readers, I would place asterisks and then have a “links” section at the bottom of the piece.

The Badness Catalog

TBC Screenshot
Click This Image to Go There!

Description:

The Badness Catalog is a hybrid digital essay and ongoing project (more on that in “Affordances”). The project argues, in essence, that writing on the internet, and particularly writing that at first appears to be “bad” (unconventional, grammatically erroneous, et cetera) is actually performing serious discursive work, and often takes on a deeper, symbolic meaning than its obvious features. In short, The Badness Catalog argues that meme-phrases (things like “I can’t even”) point to deeper meanings, often unique to life on the internet. Instead of reading them as degenerate writing performances (basically, instead of disciplining them as bad performances), we might read them as deliberate rhetorical or discursive choices, indicating a specific phenomenon or signaling membership in an online community. The Catalog takes a serious, but often humorous, look at these phrases and tries to illustrate how they can be used.

Process:

In my head, I began with my impatience for “Grammar Nazis” on the internet–particularly when those lexical fascists are so fixated on a prescriptivist use of the language that they ignore that new meaning is made in “mistakes” (also, incidentally, I was frustrated by how frequently incorrect the Grammar Nazis were). So I rallied to the defense of these “bad” phrases, because in using several of them, I began to realize they serve an important function–they often describe phenomena that are the result of life on the internet, like “I can’t even”‘s breathlessly dorky enthusiasm, or the flat, perhaps sardonic tonality expressed by a lack of punctuation in certain contexts. I drafted a brief manifesto (originally entitled “The Mission”) and began writing posts. I didn’t necessarily want people to read this in a linear fashion, especially since I fully intend on adding new posts frequently, compiling a sort of menagerie of internet phrases and the phenomena they signify.

In a strange way, I knew the politics of the mission before I really had people or scholars in mind. The site acts as a sort of public pedagogy–a resistance to prescriptivist grammarians and those who imagine a literacy crisis. It took quite a bit of soul-and-hard drive searching before I traced the genealogy of my sentiments back to an interaction between Min-Zhan Lu and a bunch of other comp/rhet scholars and my cultural-studies/postcolonial training, and so I re-wrote my mission statement (now the “Why Do This?” page) to be the scholarly manifesto of my project. The “What Is This?” page is the general population explanation, the PR release–the “Why Do This” page is the scholarly heart of the matter.

Incidentally, I coined what I thought was a new term, “multiliteracy,” but it turns out other scholars beat me to it–and thankfully, they meant almost exactly the same thing I did.

Affordances and Constraints:

Because I’m not exactly a pro at web design, I had to settle for a pre-made WordPress theme–and it’s a wonderful theme, but it imposes a bit of a linear structure on a nonlinear idea. Ultimately, I had to make certain affordance choices in order to present The Catalog as something that continues on–it’s not a one-off WordPress site, but an ongoing project. This meant that I had to really emphasize the new content, which meant moving the manifesto off the front page, since repeat readers don’t need to see that every time. But, at the same time, I didn’t want to hide it from new visitors–hence my constant anxiety about “Why Do This?”, which got moved, renamed, and rewritten half a dozen times, with infinite thanks to the Woodchucks for reading it more than once.

Right now, the biggest constraint I have is organizing my project according to the theme WordPress gives me, which means there’s a way of thinking built in to the site. I’m big on multiliteracy, and so that made me “have a sad,” to quote the LOLcat.

Not to mention the fact that I can’t change the font size. I kid you not.

My face when I couldn't change the font size.
My face when I couldn’t change the font size.

What this form was wonderful with doing was treating and maintaining images–the format is .gif friendly, displays header images on posts without those images having to be in the post, and there’s not a lot of aggressive graphic design interfering with the presentation of the images. Embedding html elements gets a little wobbly, but WordPress and the theme I chose clings happily to practically anything visual. The form also allows a banner menu, footer elements (for categories) and categorical reorganization–meaning the reader can screen posts by category easily, helping with the whole nonlinear thing.

URL: http://badnesscatalog.wordpress.com/

Tashirojima-Cat Island

The link of my digital essay Museum in the Future: http://cldigital685.wordpress.com/

Noticed Katie changed her website background page from a picture filled with lovely cats to a more philosophical image (to suit better to her digital essay’s theme), I would like to stretch the topic of “cat” a bit more from a fresh angle (which is not directly connected with “Writing” or “Digital” theme, but all thanks to the world-wide web that I am able to access those adorable cat pictures).

Long time people around the world have picked up Japanese love cats: 招き猫, Hello Kitty, cat cafes (I went to one in Tokyo, very pinky soft and relaxing, highly recommend) and cat accessories and cat mascots all over the streets. But there is one spot in Japan called Cat Island, where the cats are outnumber the humans.

The Cat Island, 田代島(たしろじま) or Tashirojima in pronunciation, lies off the west coast of Japan. The island has a history of silk farming and originally cats were brought onto the island to keep mice out of the silk farms. While now the silk farms are largely gone, the long existed creature, cat, never ceased to popularize its species.

Tashirojima isn’t a large island, currently it has the population of less than 100, with most working in fishing tradition. In these past years, the island has become a place of tourist interest, thanks to the cats, with many visiting to take a look for themselves of this village where cats are outnumber humans. The local governance believes feeding cats bring good fortune, so even the cats are strays, every household keeps them well fed and checked up on to be healthy.

The saying always goes that cats and dogs can’t keep best terms with each other. Not surprisingly, if a visitor is thinking of coming with the pet dog, he or she probably has to give up the plan and be prepared to leave the poor puppy at the dock on the mainland. The regulations of the island prohibited any dogs to be on the dock, and there aren’t any dogs in local households either.

This website,

Tashirojima, Cat Island
Tashirojima, Cat Island

http://www.atlasobscura.com/places/tashirojima –has a whole gallery of cats.

Amusingplanet.com specially showed gorgeous photographs of the cats and the island, recounting its history and current population.Capture009

Dailymail.co.uk (click the image) gathered very neatly written captions for each image of the island:

Capture003

This tiny island has quite developed service industry for tourists and abundant offers for amenities. Any cat lovers who would like to enjoy the company of a furry feline, or just want to see these cuddly creature strolling on their paradise home Tashirojima, can consider to take a trip during this summer break for a treat!

Betty Who?: Social Media and the Construction of New Pop Celebrities

Link to project: Somebody loves this.

Overview: The basic premise of my digital essay is to explore the intersection of social media (specifically YouTube and Twitter) and proto-celebrities—those artists that are still relatively unknown but who already have a well-established, committed fanbase and the talent necessary to be “the next big thing.” On a more analytical/theoretical level, my digital essay explores how fans use social media and engage in digital participatory culture to construct celebrities from the bottom up—how we interpret, synthesize, produce, and disseminate texts, images, and meanings that surround our proto-celebrities of choice. I use Australian-born singer Betty Who as a case study to highlight how the digital mechanisms of participatory culture actually work by providing a close-reading of two specific online events related to her music: the viral video “Spencer’s Home Depot Marriage Proposal,” which features Betty’s debut single “Somebody Loves You,” and the release of her second EP Slow Dancing because of how her fans—the “Who Crew”—reacted to it on Twitter.

Process: This project developed, unlike some of the more “traditional” essays I’ve written as a graduate student, out of my passion for pop music, which I always thought didn’t have much of a place in the academy. I first began by collecting and synthesizing a wealth of scholarship that proved quite the opposite: that popular culture could very much be a valuable source of inquiry. The second part of my essay, entitled “Convergence Culture and Redefining Fandom” is essentially my trying to work through all of that source material and to create a theoretical framework.

Moreover, unlike most of the other essays I’ve written, the peer review process had a considerable impact on how I drafted and revised this project. Having to go through multiple peer review sessions forced me to take a more proactive approach with my writing process, whereas I normally would have left most of the drafting until very near to the final deadline.

Affordances: Although I would like to think that most of my digital essay could easily translate into a more traditional form(at), the fourth part entitled “The Twittersphere and the Who Crew” would not because of its reliance on the use of embedded tweets. By embedding those tweets into the body of the post, they become a much more participatory aspect of the essay, in that they provide important visual and verbal cues as well as enable readers to actively form a network between my blog and Twitter with a simple click, like so:

If I were to have written part four in a Word document, I would have had to reduce these tweets to static screen shots or worse, to summarize their content, neither of which would have had the same rhetorical impact.

Constraints: The one aspect of this project that I struggled with the most was, as Naghmeh aptly called it, its “digital flexibility.” I knew that a blog could be multimodal very easily, but I wasn’t sure how to achieve such multimodality without it looking contrived. In a way, then, I became overwhelmed by the sheer amount of the web’s affordances, feeling like I needed to include as many of them as I could. But as the “final” version of my digital essay shows, I decided to use multimodality sparingly and to concentrate it mainly in my case study of Betty Who, which I felt was the place that needed it the most (rhetorically speaking).

After reflecting on my digital essay in this post, I want to try to offer some semblance of an answer to Joe’s question, “What changes when you write for the screen rather than the page?” As I stated above, I believe that writing for the screen enables us as writers to create projects that have a liveliness to them that writings for the page do not. Likewise, we can more (pro)actively create a network among our projects and the work of other scholars, bloggers, users, etc., in a digital environment, whereas simply citing or quoting in a static essay cannot or does not.

But I also don’t think that everything has to/does change when we write for the screen rather than the page, that we don’t have to adopt huge fundamental changes just to “fit in” with digital aesthetics and values, or to “look cool” as if we “get” what everyone is trying to do. To me, that feels incredibly disingenuous. We can write as academics on the web and use very few of its affordances (as I showed with Henry Jenkins’ blog in my post last week), or we can choose to be more conversational and creative—something I think Tumblr is really great for; it all depends on what each of us is comfortable with. And if a work is sound (read: effective, compelling), then why should it have to include multimedia just to grab our attention if that media isn’t going to add anything?

I’d like to conclude my post with the official music video for Betty Who’s song “Somebody Loves You.” It not only feels more apropos, given the subject of my digital essay, but watching it will also (hopefully) give you all a feel for who Betty Who is as we anticipate our arcade on Friday.