Reading Reaction, Week 13

Photo credit: Talia’s Tidbits

When I recall Jean Baudrillard’s “Precession of the Simulacra,” one quote in particular stands out in my mind: “Therefore, pretending, or dissimulating, leaves the principle of reality intact: the difference is always clear, it is simply masked, whereas simulation threatens the difference between the ‘true’ and the ‘false,’ the ‘real’ and the ‘imaginary'” (3). In preparing my Shelf Scout Literacy Project website, I couldn’t help but think about how this applies to the online presence I created. Although, arguably, nothing online is “real,” I do not feel like my website fits the aforementioned definition of simulation that threatens the “difference between ‘true’ and false,’ the ‘real’ and the ‘imaginary.'” Because my website is grounded in socially accepted reality (i.e., a real college student or a real teacher is looking for real resources to achieve real marked improvements in a real academic setting), I do not feel like Shelf Scout Literacy Project is blurring the lines between reality and virtuality.

Rather, I feel like my project is best described in Ian Bogost’s first chapter of Persuasive Games: The Expressive Power of Video Games. He writes, “Rhetoric thus came to refer to effective expression, that is, writing, speech, or art that both accomplishes the goals of the author and absorbs the reader or viewer” (Bogost 19, emphasis in original). I feel like my project is effectively expressing my own goal of creating better readers and writers, as well as absorbing viewers who share a similar goal for themselves or others. In terms of visual rhetoric, one question in particular guided my consideration of visual elements in my own project: “In reference to these and related uses of images, visual rhetoricians ask, ‘how, exactly, do images persuade?'” (Bogost 22). I did not want to overuse images; I have a slideshow of images on the home page and a couple of those images throughout the site, but I would venture to say that I have an overwhelmingly larger amount of writing (especially once you open the PDFs). This also led me to consider the less obvious visual elements that will persuade viewers of the reliability of my site, such as page colors and themes. When I think of my own experiences surfing the web (the only kind of surfing I am capable of doing, by the way), I think of how I am much more inclined to trust a website that is streamlined and simple, as opposed to one that has colors giving it the appearance of having been developed by the Easter Bunny. My goal in terms of visual rhetoric, then, was to have a website that is clean and uncluttered.

Ultimately, I find myself thinking of the future of this project in the same terms that Meryl Alper and Rebecca Herr-Stephenson set forth in their JMLE article “Transmedia Play: Literacy Across Media.” Alpert and Herr-Stephenson propose, “As the complex relationships between media audiences, producers, and content continues to evolve, let us forge collaborations among researchers, designers, and media literacy education practitioners to determine how best to utilize transmedia logics to craft enticing learning experiences and environments for youth of today and tomorrow” (369). Although I personally have very little interest in developing Shelf Scout Literacy Project into a fully-fledged transmedia project, I think that this question of what successful future transmedia endeavors will entail is an essential one to consider as I move forward with my website.

Wikipedia Editing Project

Photo credit: Talia’s Tidbits

My present is informed by my past. Then again, whose isn’t?

For my Wikipedia project, I decided to allow my past to inform my editing decisions, as well. For this to fully make sense, I need to tell a story:

Pearl had no way of knowing that in 24 years, her daughter (now just in the midst of her teenage years) would also have a daughter, nor had she any way of knowing that this girl–her granddaughter–would come to admire every fabric of her being. At that moment, in 1971, all Pearl knew was that her journalistic instincts had led her to an interview with the jazz musician Thelonious Monk. When the article was finished, it would be published in Downbeat magazine. But to think of that now was to get too far ahead of herself. Pearl resigned herself to her beauty rituals–lipstick, of course, dominated this sacred tradition. This was step one. Step two was going to meet Thelonious Monk. The interview would be the third step, and it would guide all others.

I am that “yet to be known” granddaughter, and it is no work of fiction that I have a great amount of admiration for my grandma. Of course, I admired the grand-maternal elements of her character–the hugs, the laughs, the inside jokes and games. However, I was lucky enough to be able to admire her as a person, too. Before I came along, she was a freelance journalist. She was one of those adventurous spirits who would go wherever the wind blew her. It is no work of fiction, either, that the wind blew my grandma to an interview with Thelonious Monk in 1971. Not only was this published in Downbeat magazine, but it was compiled in a 2001 Oxford University Press book entitled The Thelonious Monk Reader. This past, then, informed my present project of editing his Wikipedia page.

Although I initially chose to edit the Thelonious Monk Wikipedia page because researching a subject my grandma had once interviewed made me feel connected to her, I had different reasons for making the specific edit that I did. After reading the introduction of the aforementioned book, I realized that information was missing in the “late years” section of his page. His wife Nellie was nowhere to be mentioned, even though she was a primary companion throughout his life. Driven by the knowledge that women are often marginalized in this online community, I was in disbelief that someone so important in his life had failed to even garner a mention, let alone any kind of acknowledgement of her role. Thus, my edit served to add the second sentence of this paragraph:

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Amazingly, my edit has stuck so far. Although it may seem like an insignificant tidbit of information, it feels like a small victory. Going into this project, I was intimidated to enter the Wikipedia community because of what I read in Sue Gardner’s blog post “Nine Reason Women Don’t Edit Wikipedia (in their own words).” She lists as reason #5: “Some women don’t edit Wikipedia because the information they bring to Wikipedia is too likely to be reverted or deleted.” Immediately, I began to worry that my gender would be an obstacle that could potentially make any attempts at editing fruitless endeavors.

I began by coming up with a list of three potential editing ideas and then whittled it down to one: Thelonious Monk’s page. When I discovered that Nellie had been a constant companion in his later years but had received no mention, the feminist in me went on high alert. This was a person with whom Thelonious Monk had one of his closest relationships, and yet she did not receive any acknowledgment of her importance. My mission then became to create an edit that would appease my inner feminist by giving Nellie a mention, while not ruffling the feathers of any other Wikipedia editors. I had to be cognizant of the wording I used; I tried to craft a sentence in which I could introduce Nellie without trying to suddenly make the article about her or revealing my personal feelings. I made sure to include a citation for The Thelonious Monk Reader so that no one could argue that my claim was unfounded.

When I think back on this process, it amazes me how much stress was attached to adding  a single sentence to this online community. In Tom Simonite’s article “The Decline of Wikipedia,” he writes, “The loose collective running the site today, estimated to be 90 percent male, operates a crushing bureaucracy with an often abrasive atmosphere that deters newcomers who might increase participation in Wikipedia and broaden its coverage.” As one of those newcomers, I found the process not only intimidating, but also not one that I was likely to engage with again any time soon.

Personally, I would rather devote my time to writing an essay on the misogynistic online culture that enables people like Nellie to go entirely without mention than exert my effort to write a single, unbiased sentence that still has only a marginal chance of permanence. I’m not saying that Wikipedia doesn’t have value and purpose, because it does. However, I enjoy being academically assertive, and this just isn’t the forum for that kind of engagement.

While my edit might be short, sweet, and to the point, I spent a great deal of time ensuring that it would reflect my personal values in an undetectable way that would not be read as biased. In some regards, I almost feel like it is better to produce one simple edit that sticks than attempt to make a profound edit that doesn’t ever get the opportunity to be seen. I may have only played the tiniest of roles in attempting to balance the gender representation in the Wikipedia community, but I hope that my future scholastic endeavors beyond this online forum help to remove these systemic barriers.