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Following Socrates Online

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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.

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Philosophers Online

Hello, Gophers!

Here’s my stuff.

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

Cover Memo:

Summary:
While humanities programs in the university are worried about their future, philosophy as a subject has quietly, but successfully, moved online. There are, of course, those who abstain from the public sphere, but philosophy has done really well online. The pages on this website are divided by method, in hopes that they can give an overall picture as to which methods work well (and for what reasons). It is also my hope that other fields can look to these public philosophers as they learn how to embrace and engage the public. My current sections are: Simulation, Illustration, Community, and Failures. Each page is divided into two sections: (1) an overview of several key online players and (2) an analysis.

Gaps or Problems:
So right now I am still drawing all of these sources together. I’ve fleshed out the pages on Community and Simulation (as well as the main, overview page), but I’m not sure that all of the pieces are working together. It seems to me that I need some process-education research or something to give my observations a framework. I mean, I can do all of the analysis that I want but there does sometimes need to be something I can tie my analysis to.

Feedback:
I really want to know the following:

First, how do you like the layout of the pages? Is this working for you? Why or why not?

Second, am I doing enough analysis? Should I add more examples from these works? Do I need more reasons?

The Overview worries me the most, because I feel like it’s not as interesting as I would like it to be. Any suggestions?

Also, it feels to me like I need some sort of concluding idea somewhere on the website. Does it also feel like that to you? I might be reading too much into this feeling because I’m envisioning an essay and working with a website (two very different genres).

Philosophers Online: Popularizing Ideas in a Digital Age

Who can forget the existential cat videos?

Overview:

I was recently reading a book review in the Atlantic Monthly (online, of course) called “Playing with Plato.” This is a review of a new collection of ‘modern’ imagined dialogues between Plato and various characters of our time (a Google engineer, for example) in a book titled Plato at the Googleplex: Why Philosophy Won’t Go Away. The author of the review (philosophy professor Clancy Martin) reminds us that the sorts of questions that this book asks (What is progress? What is morality?) are the same questions that the ancient philosophers entertained and are the same questions that still motivate people—both philosophers and non-philosophers—to try and understand the world.

I was impressed with the review, in which Martin traces his own journey to the welcoming arms of philosophy, but I was dissatisfied with the end result. This is a review published in a digital magazine about a text that engages the engineers of modernity … and the book is printed as a physical book. There is a Kindle version and an audio version, of course, but like nearly every book published in print too, the digital version is a for-purchase, mimicry of the physical text.

Though philosophers often publish academic work like the rest of us in cumbersome, paper journals and university presses (tenure march!), many of them also pride themselves on the free dissemination of their ideas to students and the public through lectures, conversations, and small discussions. “The beauty of philosophy,” these scholars argue, “is the fact that anyone can—and should—engage in these important questions.”

“Surely philosophers can do better than this,” I complained to my own philosopher. “How can philosophy adapt these new forms of media to participate in the necessary exchange of questions and dialogue?”

I could hear the surprise in his voice, “Well, they already have.” Then he flooded my inbox with links to podcasts, videos, and blogs.

Some of these digital texts are extremely popular with  non-philosophers. Something like Philosophy Bitesa free podcast—has hundreds of thousands of hits. Further, philosophers have developed really creative videos which illustrate difficult concepts (and fun thought experiments) like David Harvey’s animated video “Crisis of Capitalism” and a video that my own philosopher uses to teach experimental philosophy in his own classes (“Experimental Philosophy”). Philosophers have also experimented with some very popular Yale Open Courses and Open University courses (one set of which sparked a large controversy). Also see The Partially Examined Life, which is terrifically awesome.

So many questions!

Question or Problem:
My essay will examine how philosophy has used digital media to further the public nature of the discipline (I am not interested in academic philosophy). I hope to explore what kinds of sources work well, identify the factors that are the most successful in these sources, and propose ways that philosophy can continue to be a presence in the public discourse. I hope that the information I compile and dissect will be useful for discussions about public humanities in the future.

I’m interested in this subject for many reasons, but the primary one is that there are lots of awesome ideas that the public would love to engage with so how do we make these ideas free and as accessible as possible?  Philosophy is doing this, therefore let’s look to philosophy.

Texts and Materials:
– Free philosophy sources (videos, podcasts, blogs, open courses) – if the sources are not free then they are not relevant to my study.
– I need to read sources about teaching philosophy, I think.
– Interviews with philosophers (including mine).

Format:
I’ve already created a Google website, which I imagine to be divided into pages in a creative way (not just by an exploration of different media, but by concept perhaps?). This will be a compilation of videos, links, posts, (hopefully) an experimental podcast/interview, and cats.

Text(s) to Imitate?:
I have no idea. I’ve seen nothing exactly like this, though I imagine that there is some sort of educational website in this format.

Questions:
1. Do you think that a website is the appropriate medium?
2. I’m afraid that this might be lingering too much on the cusp of a study and less an argument. What do you think I should anticipate in order to keep this from being a “look, I have cool stuff” website?
3. As educators in the humanities, what sorts of questions/branches/side trails about this potential study are the most interesting or would be the most helpful for you?

Keep Your Paws off My Ideas

philosophers need each other or things get weird
philosophers need each other or things get weird

Last semester, my philosopher was granted a semester free of classes and teaching responsibilities so that he could finish his dissertation and apply for jobs. He decided to spend this semester in Delaware with me, which removed him from his extremely vibrant and collaborative philosophical community. Now that he’s back in his department this semester (at the bitter end of his graduate student days) his hours are completely taken up with conversations, papers to review, class discussions to lead, and discussion-heavy events with other philosophers.

“You can’t do philosophy in a vacuum,” my philosopher always tells his students.

As his statement implies, at the heart of analytic philosophy is the idea that our ideas must be constantly shared and butted up against the ideas of others. Analytic philosophers delight in the process of examining each other’s’ argument bits: they call for definitions and redefinitions, challenge premises, test out thought experiments, and figure out each other’s’ philosophical lineage of beliefs (is this person an ethical Kantian? If so, this influences all of the arguments they will make within ethics). To the non-philosopher, these exchanges look like heated, super-intelligent battles over very strange bits of premises.

When I contrast this with my own experience in English, I see why Kathleen Fitzpatrick challenges us humanists to think differently about collaboration and authorship in Chapter 2 of Planned Obsolescence: Publishing, Technology, and the Future of the Academy. Fitzpatrick notes the anxieties we feel as academics in the humanities when it comes to the concept of collaboration through a series of questions: “What, exactly, will we be given credit for—or held accountable for—when our texts form part of a larger network, when other authors’ responses appear within the same frame as our own writing? How will the multivocal nature of such texts transform our sense of authority?” (82, in my e-text).

Without being deliberately condemnatory of English departments in general or of this department in particular, I will say that my experience in the process of creating papers has been either extremely isolating or semi-collaborative (and semi-collaborative only during the research process). Perhaps part of this is my own fault (the perception that one’s peers will suddenly realize how unintelligent one is), but to my eyes we don’t really have this same sort of community most of the time that philosophers do.

Now, there are times, especially after classes, when we do get together and discuss ideas from class. There are also times when we meet up somewhere and write together (sharing researching experiences along the way!). There are even times when we share bits of our work with people. These times are so sweet but so limited.

we say “uh, stay out of my ideas-business, people”

To go a step further, even many of our sources are isolating in nature rather than welcoming discussion. When I see something awesome like the Dickens Serial Novels Collection, I just want to share bits and pieces of the cool stuff I find there with other Dickens-folk. Now, technically I can do this if I find out who these secretive beings are and connect to them though social media sites, but the Dickens-folk are often closeted or hiding behind another institutionally acceptable designation (19th century periodicals). Further, removing the content on this site from the ability to comment also creates the illusion that these are untouched by the eyes and interest of others. I feel like I’m coming to these texts for the first time. Wouldn’t it be awesome if I could comment right underneath, say, the first Pickwick number with an observation or a connection to another recently posted article on Victorian societies?

This said, I can’t help but consider this proposition of reimagining authorship as a collaborative practice—not necessarily writing papers together but sharing ideas together—as an absolutely fantastic idea. Yes please, let’s talk about our ideas! Let’s give up our dusty ideas about ownership and authority and create digital (and physical, please?) communities of idea-sharing!

Any additional thoughts about collaborative writing/speaking/publishing? Has anyone come across a digital archive that allows for comments? What are you most afraid of in collaboration?