Next Ten Years

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Photo credit: Talia’s Tidbits

“There are far better things ahead than any we leave behind.” –C.S. Lewis

As a person with an extremely high level of anxiety, I have to say that one of the things I fear the most is change. If one small detail changes or something doesn’t go exactly according to plan, I have a tendency to fall apart. As I get older, I realize more and more that the biggest difference between who I am now and who I was when I was a teenager is that I anticipate that change…and brace myself for it.

I’ll give you an example. I got my very first tattoo the day of my seventeenth birthday, and I decided what I was going to get probably an hour before I actually got it. For some reason, I was convinced that I would always like it and want it. The thought of having any regrets or change of heart about my tattoo never even crossed my mind. Today, just five years later, I wish I had never gotten it (or the other two that impulsively followed).

I’ll give you a technological example. When I first started Facebook as a freshman in high school, I really didn’t think too much about what I was posting online. I didn’t post anything inappropriate, per se, but the thought that I would one day be on the job market or applying to colleges never crossed my mind, either. I would use Facebook status updates as a way to log my every thought and emotion–something that greatly embarrasses me now, needless to say. I deleted that Facebook a couple of years ago (rather than sift through and delete hundreds of posts) and created a new one. I try to keep it–along with all of my other online presences–as professional as possible because if I’ve learned anything, it’s that I’m not beyond regretting past decisions.

I think my conscientiousness in respects to my online presence will enhance the future that I currently envision. In ten years, I want to have graduated from a Ph.D. program somewhere back east and have a tenure-track position (one can dream) as an English professor at a small liberal arts or community college. (Of course, this future vision is subject to change.) My five point plan regarding maintaining an online presence that is cohesive to my aspirations, then, is as follows:

  1. Avoid posting controversial things online. I love to argue until I’m blue in the face (I was voted most likely to become a lawyer in elementary school), but  I don’t think that hashing out political opinions online is the way to go. I wouldn’t want my beliefs to compromise my ability to be a college’s ideal Ph.D./teaching candidate.
  2. Limit the time I spend on social media. I love Instagram as much as the next person, but I might want to consider only going on once a day so that I don’t have a constant distraction when I’m studying or working.
  3. Make a presence on professional media forums, rather than just social ones. Although one could argue that professional networking sometimes happens on Facebook and Instagram, I know that there are other platforms more geared towards that networking that I have not tapped into yet (i.e., LinkedIn). I need to make a profile so that my credentials are more readily accessible.
  4. Use sleep mode on my phone more often. Even though I can ignore texts or other pinging noises from my phone when they occur during my studying, the noises still distract me from whatever I’m doing and make it difficult for me to refocus myself. If I were to start using the sleep mode more often, I might actually get through a task without having to glance at the screen!
  5. Focus on being more tech-savvy. I tend to have a kind of pessimistic view of technology, which is not good if I am going to be teaching a generation of people who grew up with phones in their cribs. I need to stay up-to-date on things (without becoming addicted or obsessed) so that I don’t get completely left behind in the dust.

Digital media can be friend or foe; it all just depends on how you use it. Five to eight years ago, I didn’t ever assume that I would I change, and so I created my online presences accordingly. Now, I realize that digital media can be my friend as long as I am actively in control of my consumption and remain conscientious of what I’m using that technology for. To fully actualize my goal of releasing myself from a total, debilitating dependency on technology, I need to start limiting my usage and utilizing some of the sleep mode and airplane mode functions (stated above in my five-point plan). Since I’m currently in finals week, I would say that I’m in a good position to begin carrying out my plan (since I’ve already had to detach from my phone a little bit).

I have to work constantly on accepting that change is always around the corner. The great thing about growing up though is that I actually have the foresight to anticipate these changes. (No pun intended, as I just got my first pair of glasses!)

So, here I am about to finish a writing class

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Photo credit: Talia’s Tidbits

I grew up hearing my mom say, “every mind is a world all its own.” As I worked, learned, and grew through the course of this semester (specifically this class), I have realized more and more how much truth is in those words. In the process of creating my own online presence, I’ve come to find that people consume digital information differently. What I learned about myself as a writer, then, is that as long as I exercise my authentic voice, I will find an audience who appreciates that voice.

In line with this idea of an authentic self, I call upon James E. Porter’s words from “Recovering Delivery for Digital Rhetoric”: “The sincerity of one’s commitment to the appropriate coordination of one’s thoughts, feelings, and bodily expressions are important to rhetorical effect” (209). In channeling this “authentic self,” I am myself a rhetorical being. From this perspective, I feel like how I say something is just as important, if not more, than what I say. I also find that Jean Baudrillard’s “The Precession of Simulacra,” while complicated, is one of the more interesting texts I engaged with this semester. Baudrillard writes, “Something has disappeared: the sovereign difference, between one and the other, that constituted the charm of abstraction” (2). Especially in this current sociopolitical climate, I think it is of particular importance to study how the lines between “reality” and “abstraction” become blurred, especially when that blurring occurs online. Perhaps more than anything else, this is knowledge that I want to continue working with beyond the scope of this semester.

Focusing back on the scope of this semester, I am pleased to report that I feel like I was able to work with all of the concepts that I initially wanted to focus on in the course. I would say that I had the most success exploring visual elements in online rhetoric (my Instagram and website project, respectively, work with this) and developing my “on demand” creativity (again, my Instagram and website project allowed me to work with this). Also, I can happily report that there isn’t anything that I feel like I wanted to learn but didn’t get a chance to, especially since I didn’t really have any expectations of what I would learn going into the course. “New media” was such a broad term that I just committed to being along for the ride from the git-go.

And what a great ride it has been.

Final Website Introduction, Theoretical Analysis and Reflection

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Photo credit: Talia’s Tidbits

In defense of my final project (that sounds so formal, doesn’t it?), I’m referring all the way back to Jay David Bolter’s “Writing for Technology” chapter of Writing Space: Computers, Hypertext, and the Remediation of Print: “The linear character of print is the outcome of the constant interaction between the properties of the printed book and the decisions that Western authors and readers have made about how to exploit those properties” (21). Although I would probably refute the word “exploitation” because of the negative connotation, I feel like Bolter’s words really hone in on the work that I am doing with Shelf Scout: Literacy Project. I have combined the elements of more traditional printed text (the Word document downloadable activities) with the less-linear technological text (vertical text and images). I actually referred back to this quote frequently in the formation of my Instagram project, so using it again makes the whole thing feel like it has come full circle.

I also found that Krista Tippett’s On Being podcast episode entitled “Tech’s Moral Reckoning” resonated with me. Guest speaker Anil Dash says, “We bake our values into the choices we make when we design these tools.” I am creating my website because I value fun and creativity in higher education, so this is something that I consciously have to weave into every decision: text, color scheme, activities, images, etc. While my website is just as creative and fun (I hope) as the Shelf Scout Instagram, I would venture to say that it does much more than the Instagram project in terms of Transmedia engagement. The two projects are linked–literally and theoretically–but the website gives people the opportunity to interact with the content more fully, as they are encouraged to develop and modify activities to their needs and likings. It will be exciting to see if anyone uses the activities and provides feedback on how they engaged with the downloadables to make them their own.

Check out Shelf Scout: Literacy Project here!

Reading Reaction, Week 13

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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

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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.

Wikipedia Thoughts and Reflections

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Photo credit: Talia’s Tidbits

Going into this, I have to tell you that I am not a Wikipedia fan whatsoever. As a college student, the reference I hear to Wikipedia most often is from professors: “No, Wikipedia does NOT count as an academic resource.” In fact, all of my high school teachers spouted the same catch phrase–an effort, I’m sure, to prepare us for hearing it from a professor later. If you say something enough times–or, in this case, hear it–it becomes true. Whether for better or worse (though I would argue for better), I have absorbed that mantra. I even took it one step further; I avoid Wikipedia at all costs. I’m not denying that it has purpose and use, but it’s something that I personally avoid whenever possible.

When I was in middle school, my friends and I discovered how easy it was to change the entries for things, and although the entries did not stick, I remain wary from that experience. A knowledge base that anyone can contribute to is not a place that I go for information, unless as a last resort. Just the other day, I saw that Buzzfeed had uploaded a picture to Instagram showing that Mariah Carrey’s birthday on her Wikipedia page remains unresolved. Thinking that this had to be photoshopped, I put on my investigator cap and headed on over to Wikipedia. Sure enough, her age is listed as 46 OR 47.

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In the “age of information,” how is this even possible? I tried (kind of) to give Wikipedia the benefit of the doubt, but I remain determinedly steadfast in my belief that it’s not the site for me.

Tom Simonite said it best in his article “The Decline of Wikipedia”: “Authoritative entries remain elusive. Of the 1,000 articles that the project’s own volunteers have tagged as forming the core of a good encyclopedia, most don’t earn even Wikipedia’s own middle-ranking quality scores.” While I respect Wikipedia’s goal of creating a collaborative knowledge-base, I don’t think that a forum that technically allows anyone to try his or her hand at editing makes for a good resource. Maybe this is too traditional an approach, but I think we have experts for a reason…and we should use them! What message does it send to experts when anyone lacking similar qualifications can delete and edit information on a whim?

Quoting Justine Cassell, Sue Gardner writes on her blog: “To have one’s words listened to on Wikipedia, often one must have to debate, defend, and insist that one’s point of view is the only valid one.” I believe that debate and defense are of the utmost importance to reaching a democratic consensus about information; however, I don’t believe that Wikipedia is the right place for that activity to occur. In the academic community, people engage in this kind of debate and defense by way of scholarly essays and conferences with other people whose life work has been dedicated to a particular topic. The fact that anyone can assume a mask of authority on Wikipedia completely undermines all of the pain-staking work and education that experts commit themselves to.

I’m not in the business of criticizing for the sake of criticizing. I point out these flaws because I think we need to explore ways of reinventing the online encyclopedia so that it is less of a conglomeration of questionable contributions, and more of an easily accessible wealth of reliable information. Experts should be called upon to collaborate with one another to create pages related to their fields of study. This expert classification is not exclusive to Ph.D. holding, critically acclaimed, wonder man/woman types of people; I imagine this classification similar to TED talks and how they determine what makes someone “expert enough” to speak authoritatively on a subject.

I don’t make this suggestion, though, without considering the way that this displaces the community of volunteers; these volunteers should have easy access to an email or message feature in which they can question elements of the page or suggest edits directly to the experts. As it is, I don’t think that the constant editing wars and heated (but often not productive) debates that occur on Wikipedia serve its mission to the best of its ability. Something needs to change. Perhaps my suggestion is not the answer, but it’s important that we start thinking about what could be the answer. We need to work collaboratively to brainstorm how to save the online source of the world’s information from falling victim to its own failed collaborative endeavor.

Remediation Narrative Project

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Photo credit: Talia’s Tidbits

Unlike my very first experience creating content online (I made a website for a dearly departed hamster), I was determined that this online endeavor would actually show a level of intentionality and resonate with an audience. Had I chosen to literally translate the story of my hamster and his website homage into new media, I would have been replicating the same lack of deliberate online activity and audience awareness–after all, who (besides myself) cares about Cookie’s passing, especially ten years later? I decided to start from scratch, coming up with an idea completely untouched in my DLN to explore these issues that did arise in the memory my narrative relates.

I decided to create a persona dedicated to recommending books, which, as it turns out, actually has a very active and vibrant place on the internet. I chose to use Instagram as my primary platform (aided by Twitter and a blog), since I wanted to explore how I could use visuals as rhetoric to communicate with an audience, as well as build a niche within a digital community. Guided by my basic research mission on how to attract view/likes/clicks, I heeded Jay David Bolter’s words from “Writing as Technology,” the second chapter of Writing Space: Computers, Hypertext, and the Remediation of Print: “The linear character of print is the outcome of the constant interaction between the properties of the printed book and the decisions that Western authors and readers have made about how to exploit those properties” (21). Instagram is the perfect platform to challenge linearity, since its primary function of photo sharing is combined with a vertical structure. It turns out that capitalizing on the idea of “judging a book by its cover” made my platform choice, where I could share images of book covers for others to “judge,” the best option for this particular purpose.

As you look through my remediated DLN, I hope that what stands out is my effort not only to create a project that is harmonious across platforms, but also one that uses visuals to establish an audience relationship.

Multi-Platform Personas

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Photo credit: Talia’s Tidbits

If you’ve been reading Talia’s Tidbits from the very beginning, this might seem like a strange time for me to introduce myself. Maybe you feel like you’ve gotten to know me because I told you all about my hamster and the website I made for him, but I think it’s time that I intentionally introduce myself via my revised “About me” pages. For my remediation project, I’ve changed the “About me” for Talia’s Tidbits, designed a “Q & A” that serves as an About page for the Shelf Scout blog, and created a bio for the Shelf Scout Instagram and Twitter accounts. Check them out:

Talia’s Tidbits:

Most of us have tidbits of ourselves spread out all over the internet, from Instagram accounts to blogs (and everything in between). Talia’s Tidbits is here to explore digital presence and promote intentional online activity. Let’s navigate this crazy, wonderful internet world together.

Want to see this exploration in action? Check out my latest project Shelf Scout to get ideas about how to intentionally create a cohesive online presence across platforms. If you’re a bookworm, this project’s for you!

Shelf Scout blog:

What can Shelf Scout offer that larger-scale book recommendation websites cannot?

While larger-scale book recommendation websites are wonderfully detailed, we find that their databases can often be overwhelming. You have to log on with a very clear idea of what kind of book you want to read or you’ll end up lost amidst thousands of titles. Shelf Scout is intended to guide those who want to build their literary repertoire, but don’t know just quite where to begin.

Check out this cool little feature to learn more.

Does Shelf Scout post the same things on all its social media platforms?

Ick, that would be so boring! Shelf Scout has different social media accounts so that we can take advantage of the neat tools each one offers, but we take special care not to be redundant. When we recommend a new book, each platform will add something unique to the discussion: our Instagram shares original photography, our blog articulates the book selections, and our Twitter gives you a chance to take polls and interact with us more.

How are the Shelf Scout blogs structured?

Every book recommendation on our blog is structured the same:

Title and author
Why we love it
Favorite quote from the book
Citation (we’re conscientious recommenders!)

We keep it simple enough to not exhaust your eyes, but thoughtful enough to create intrigue.

Shelf Scout Instagram Bio:

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Should I add emojis to the Instagram bio, or do you prefer the simple, clean look? Let me know in the comments!

Shelf Scout Twitter Bio:

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Like a crab (pictured above by yours truly), I can thrive in multiple modes of existences–land and water, paper and online.

The Minesweeper Memoirs, Featuring a Hamster

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Photo credit: Talia’s Tidbits

Most stories end with a secret being revealed, but my story is a little unorthodox. This narrative is going to begin by sharing a secret: I have a fear of the digital world. My anxiety isn’t so different from many people’s common uneasiness around the ocean; my online anxiety, like phobias of the ocean, is about the depth—the unknown. However, if I am really going to sit down and trace my fear to its inception, I am going to have to place all the blame on Minesweeper.

Allow me to backtrack a little.

By the time I was six years old, I had my own computer in my bedroom (check out the bulky setup behind me in the featured picture). This might not seem so impressive now, since many preschoolers are technologically savvy by the time they are half that age. Nevertheless, this was a pretty big deal in 2001 when we were still watching VHS tapes and still had a corded telephone hooked on the kitchen wall (which I avidly used as a limbo bar or jump rope when my mom made calls).

It all began with that computer—a clunky white box with no online access, just some preprogrammed games. I started by playing Pinball, attracted by all the whizzes and beeps and glowing lights. Once I felt like I had gotten the hang of the game, I moved on to Solitaire. Because of the strategic awareness involved in this game, it took me much longer to get the hang of. It did happen though, so I moved on again—this time to Minesweeper.

I never have managed to get the hang of Minesweeper. It became a game of just randomly clicking all over the place until I was unlucky enough to click on a hidden bomb, at which point a defeated smiley face (no longer smiley) would signal a “game over.” In many ways, I feel that my early digital experiences were identical to my guesswork while playing Minesweeper: click here, now here, now there, now—oops. I clicked the wrong thing. BACKSPACE. BACKSPACE. EXIT.

Since my technological coming-of-age occurred during the online “boom,” I feel like there was a lot of gray area surrounding my digital presence. People would come to my elementary school and tell us not to trust strangers on the internet. Essentially, the “stranger danger” slogan that had once warned my generation against getting in the car with someone we didn’t know had just been attached to the word “computer,” as if that was all it took to make it appropriate for an entirely new challenge in personal safety. There was no consideration given to evaluating the trustworthiness of sources, nor was there any substantial mention of the permanence of online activity. By the end of high school, education had caught up to these challenges and made us aware of them; however, many of my peers—myself included—had already been clicking high and low all over the internet for at least a decade by the time these warnings came.

I turned on the CPU and monitor, listening to the loud purr of the system waking from a long slumber. I went to the kitchen, grabbed a snack from the cabinet, and returned to my spot in front of the screen, excited to try my hand at making a website. Click the internet icon. Google “make your own website.” Weebly? Sure, I’ll try that. I’m feeling inspired by Hilary Duff’s character in “The Perfect Man,” where she blogs every detail of her life to an unknown audience. My mom is not boy-crazy and forcing me to move all over the country, though, so what should I write about? My hamster, Cookie, just died… I’ll make a website in his honor. I’ll post some pictures from my phone (I finally have a camera feature) so that everyone can savor his cuteness. I’ll write a heart wrenching tribute to his gentle, furry spirit. Just some finishing touches…and, voila! I’m eleven years old with a website.  

This memory, in many ways, marks my initiation to the online world, coinciding with the general initiation of the online world itself. There were not many guides—a lot of it was just guesswork. Is this a reputable source? I don’t know. Will this website give me a virus? I have no clue. Should I make a website so that I can post pictures and tales of my dearly departed hamster, Cookie? Sure—what is permanence, anyways? Click. Click. Click. It was Minesweeper all over again, but with higher stakes. The Minesweeper bomb had become a tidal wave of misinformation, a virus, or a permanent online presence at an age when permanence had no meaning.

The importance of learning to effectively maneuver the hidden bombs in the digital realm, rather than just randomly clicking your way through it, cannot be stressed enough (something I wish I knew when I was committing my obsession with my hamster to the online netherworld). The real question is: How do we strategically navigate the internet in a way that allows us to benefit, rather than suffer, at the hands of its medley of information?

On the Georgetown University Library website, this issue is addressed thusly: “Unlike similar information found in newspapers or television broadcasts, information available on the Internet is not regulated for quality or accuracy; therefore it is particularly important for the individual Internet user to evaluate the resource or information” (Evaluating Internet Resources). The days of being able to type anything into Google and click on the very first thing to appear are, quite frankly, long gone. (Perhaps I should not have Googled “make your own website” and just clicked on the first result.) There are many times when the first two results are sponsored content, and many more times when the top results are from websites with strange URLs. It is our responsibility, then, as consumers of information to pay close attention to these details and consider them before passing final judgment.

When I find myself on a website trying to inform me of something, I find Jay David Bolter’s words from the “Writing as Technology” chapter of Writing Space: Computers, Hypertext, and the Remediation of Print floating around in my head: “The open architecture of the World Wide Web allowed individuals to create sites and add them to the Web without the approval of any authority” (20). As of yet, there is no general committee to approve people’s individual online endeavors. Particularly unsavory projects, such as those concerning illegal activities, are monitored, but everything else seems to be fair game. It is this freedom that allows people to disseminate false information on the web, and it is this freedom that allows a young girl to prematurely establish herself as a member of the online community.

On a similar note, James E. Porter uses his Computers and Composition essay “Recovering Delivery for Digital Rhetoric” to further explore ideas regarding online presence and purpose. He writes:

Writing—all writing, I would say—resides in economic systems of value, exchange, and capital. These systems are not necessarily monetary or commercial systems […] The kind of economics I am talking about has to do with value more broadly defined: yes, it might involve the exchange of currency—but the motivation could be based on desire, participation, sharing, emotional connectedness. (Porter 218)

Keeping the idea of “motivation” in mind is essential to evaluating online sources. While the producer of website content might not be paid for making information available, the pay-off could come in a different form, such as persuading, uniting, or igniting an audience. (The motivation for my own online writing was to unite an audience in adoration of a very cute, cuddly creature.) Rather than clicking aimlessly all over a website, sometimes with the uninvited consequence of a virus or irritating pop-up, looking at where information is coming from can be very telling of why that information is being shared. Without even having to click on a website, the URL can be a great goldmine of information. Personally, I find it incredibly flattering that all of these online platforms have such an intense focus on drawing little old me into their digital depths. Keeping this in mind, though, I stay diligent of these motives whenever I am working on the computer.

Six year old Talia would probably be very disappointed to learn that I have never mastered Minesweeper (although she might be excited to know that she’ll be getting a hamster in four years). I can picture that tiny girl who had stuck Hello Kitty stickers all over the side of her desk asking, “What have you been doing all these years?” I might reply, “I stopped clicking all over the screen—on Minesweeper and on the internet. The only difference is that I stopped clicking all over Minesweeper because I never figured out the game; I stopped clicking all over the internet because I did figure out the game.” This would almost certainly go over tiny Talia’s head, but it certainly has meaning to me now. My digital literacy journey began simply, a product of a basic computer with even more basic capabilities, but it has led me to a place in my life where I feel like I have the skills to navigate the complexity of the digital realm…however scary that might sometimes be. Mindless Minesweeper clicking is a thing of the past—and for that, I am truly grateful.

Reading Reaction Week 2

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Photo credit: Talia’s Tidbits

As technology improves in leaps and bounds, it becomes increasingly necessary to acknowledge how systems of rhetoric define themselves within a new digital medium. In reading Jay David Bolter’s chapter “Writing as Technology” from the 2nd ed. of Writing Space: Computers, Hypertext, and the Remediation of Print, four quotes stand out that seem to address this issue:

  1. “Ancient and modern writing are technologies in the sense that they are methods for arranging verbal ideas in a visual space” (Bolter 15). In this sense, digital interfaces seem to not have changed the overarching purpose of rhetoric; rather, they have just changed the spatial arrangements in which rhetoric is presented.
  2. “No technology, not even the apparently autonomous computer, can ever function as a writing space in the absence of human writers and readers” (Bolter 17). This connects to Aristotle’s assertions in “Rhetoric” (translated by W. Rhys Roberts) in which he states, “Rhetoric falls into three divisions, determined by the three classes of listeners to speeches. For of the three elements in speech-making–speaker, subject, and person addressed–it is the last one, the hearer, that determines the speech’s end and object.” Aristotle’s thoughts about what influences rhetoric still hold true in the age of computers, for, as Bolter rightly points out, a computer must still be influenced by a rhetorician and an audience.
  3. “Individuals and whole cultures do mold techniques and devices to their own purposes, but the material properties of such techniques and devices also impose limitations on their possible uses. There are many things we cannot do with contemporary computers, even things that some would obviously like to do” (Bolster 20). This is where technology leads rhetoric to deviate from its historic roots. A traditional rhetorician has the benefit of being able to expose his or her audience to vocal inflections, facial features, and gestures, none of which translates into type on an online forum.
  4. “The open architecture of the World Wide Web allowed individuals to create sites and add them to the Web without the approval of any authority” (Bolster 20). Essentially, this highlights the “gray area” that occurs as rhetoric moves into a digital existence. Prior to the advent of the internet, there were laws in place regarding what people could or could not say in a public forum or in print. However, the internet, in its infancy, proved (and still proves) to be a challenge in regards to determining what is appropriate and legal rhetoric.

My website project (see Final Website Introduction) really gained a lot of momentum thanks to these ideas. Although everything that is organized in a visual space appears to have just sprung up from thin air, there is a real person (me!) behind it all. Moreover, I recognized the limitations of the computer, which is why I have downloadables throughout the site. As the old fashioned person I am, I can’t completely abandon an opportunity to have a physical copy of something!

Because I find the chapter to be such a wealth of information, I have also included definitions that really enhance the potency of the text:

  1. Techne: “could be an art or a craft, ‘a set of rules, system or method of making or doing, whether of the useful arts, or the fine arts’ (Liddell & Scott, 1973, p. 1,785)” (Bolter 15).
  2. Literacy: “among other things, the realization that language can have a visual as well as an aural dimension, that one’s words can be recorded and shown to others who are not present, perhaps not even alive, at the time of the recording” (Bolter 16).
  3. Linear character of print: “the outcome of the constant interaction between the properties of the printed book and the decisions that Western authors and readers have made about how to exploit those properties… appropriate to print technology both because the printed page readily accommodates linear text and because our culture expects that printed prose should be linear” (Bolter 21).
  4. Remediation: “a newer medium takes the place of an older one, borrowing and reorganizing the characteristics of writing in the older medium and reforming its cultural space” (Bolter 23).
  5. Hypermediacy: “an intense awareness of and even reveling in the medium” (Bolter 25).

Although the reading is (need I say it?) technical, it provides insight into the continuous development of rhetoric. Since technology has not seen a slowing down in its development, it should go without saying that the study of how rhetoric is digitally transformed will not see a slowing down either.

At this point, I imagine a car salesman in a cheap suit filming a commercial and shouting at the camera, “But wait… There’s MORE!” I am the car sales(wo)man, and the MORE I’m shouting about comes from James E. Porter’s 2009 essay “Recovering Delivery for Digital Rhetoric.” Four quotes that stand out from this text which also highlight the relationship between rhetoric and technology are the following:

  1. “Is it possible to ‘gesture’ or create a bodily action online? Yes, of course, as we well know from the simplest and most well known of all bodily representations in online space:     :)” (Porter 212). I pull out this quote because it is one that I would like to be so bold as to challenge. A shrewd reader might have noticed that this quote seems to contradict my response in the third quote on Bolter’s text (above), and I still maintain my opinion that the range of human emotions and gestures cannot fully be replicated in a digital forum. If I choose to put emoticons next to my online posts or texts, I am taking time to locate the correct emoticon, whereas a facial expression would have been instantaneous in real life. Additionally, emoticons are not an accurate reading of a person’s emotions; I could have read a text that really annoyed me, but responded with a laughing emoticon–who would ever know? It is much harder to mask facial expressions and reactions in a face-to-face interaction. In this sense, I maintain that digital interfaces cannot completely translate all of the intricacies of human behavior and presence.
  2. “These virtual worlds are becoming spaces for business transactions, for legal consultations, for political activity, for community support groups, and for training and education” (Porter 213). If we accept Aristotle’s idea that rhetoric is used as a legal, political, and community tool, then it is not a far leap to suggest that the shift to online platforms has not diminished the purpose of rhetoric in the slightest. The means have changed, but the end has not.
  3. “Approaching the problem from the perspective of audience access/accessibility means starting with audience need–and with the diversity of audiences–and then developing a rhetorical approach (or, more likely, a variety of approaches) to address that need” (Porter 216). I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again because it’s that important: Rhetoric is hardly rhetoric if there is no audience. Again, this connects to Aristotle’s idea that while many variables influence the effectiveness of rhetoric, audience is the most significant one. Thus, Porter’s idea to start at the end (considering audience need) and work backwards from there is intuitively effective.
  4. “And that drive of people to interact socially is a key feature of the new digital era” (Porter 219). No matter how much technology has changed since Aristotle’s time, one thing has remained constant: Humans are social creatures. Therefore, the effectual and practical implementations of digital rhetoric will need to ensure that it is not encouraging users solely to use new media, but to engage with other users via that new media, too.

My website project owes a debt to these ideas, as well. I created Shelf Scout: Literacy Project with the intent of catering to the education community and addressing a need for activities that support student learning (in a fun and creative way, no less). Many of the activities require that students interact with one another, therefore incorporating the social aspect that Porter deems so important.

In addition, I have included further definitions from this reading that are essential to understanding and applying the practice of digital rhetorical delivery that Porter promotes:

  1. Cyborg: “a hybrid metaphor that challenges the human-machine distinction and questions conventional body boundaries and notions of the writer as purely human” (Porter 213).
  2. Digital distribution: “refers to rhetorical decisions about the mode of presenting discourse in online situations” (Porter 214).
  3. Access: “the more general term related to whether a person has the necessary hardware, software, and network connectivity in order to use the Internet–and to whether certain groups of persons have a disadvantaged level of access due to their race, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, gender, age, or other factors” (Porter 216).
  4. Accessibility: “the level of connectedness of one particular group of persons–those with disabilities” (Porter 216).
  5. Interaction/interactivity: “refers to how users engage interfaces and each other in digital environments” (Porter 217).
  6. Commons-based peer production: “refers to a mode of economic production in which the creative energy of large numbers of people is coordinated into meaningful projects, mostly without traditional hierarchical organization or financial compensation” (Porter 219).

The camera is no longer rolling. The car salesman is no longer yelling that there’s MORE. This is your vehicle of knowledge about rhetoric, and while it may not be shiny and new (it’s been written about since Aristotle’s time, for goodness sake), it’s still reliable and useful information.