Category Archives: Prompts

Longer Blog Post #1: Love and Humanity in Neuromancer

The improvement of technology is a double-edged sword; intelligence increases at the expense of humanity. In the novel Neuromancer by William Gibson, the futuristic dystopian world shows that the more technology invades people’s lives the less human people behave. The dystopia of the novel illustrates a society riddled with crime, debauchery, greed, and cruelty. The advanced technology of the world in Neuromancer gives people more control, but they use this control for devious purposes. How does Case’s relationship with Linda show that technological advancement causes the deterioration of humanity in society? The technology is used to manipulate others, steal from others, and torture others. Through ROMs, RAMs, and simstims, the characters artificially make emotional connections with others, which make it easier to be detached from others. Through Case’s relationship with Linda Lee is where humanity is restored and technology is demoralized. Case seems to actually love Linda, but as technology further invades his life that love gets corrupted. Continue reading Longer Blog Post #1: Love and Humanity in Neuromancer

Blog Post Prompt: Uncreative Writing/Flarf

As we discussed in class today, your blog post this week should be either:

(1) A work of uncreative writing or a Flarf poem (of any length of your choosing), with a 50-word artist’s statement. You can disclose as much or as little of your method and sources in the 50-word statement as you’d like.  If you wish, your artist’s statement can be fictional.

OR

(2) A 200-300 word explanation of why you opt out of the assignment.

FEED and the Teachers of the Purpose of Existence

Skip Epigraph

“His inventions and valuations maybe utterly foolish and overenthusiastic; he may badly misjudge the course of nature and deny its conditions- and all ethical systems hitherto have been so foolish and anti-natural that humanity would have perished of every one of them if it had gained power over humanity- and yet, whenever “the hero” appeared onstage, something new was attained; the gruesome counterpart of laughter, that profound emotional shock felt by many individuals at the thought: “Yes! I am worthy of living!” Life and I and you became interesting to ourselves once again, for a little while” – Nietzsche “The Teachers of the Purpose of Existence

Nietzsche, Feed, and the Teachers of the Purpose of Existence

        Generally speaking young adult novels are not compared to high modern philosophy. However, in Feed M.T. Anderson offers up a dystopia that shows what happens when the herd mentality over takes civilization in a technologically advanced world. In the world of Feed, Nietzsche’s “teachers of the purpose of existence” are the feed: Anderson’s machine offers his characters an incessant stream of information dictating to them how to live their lives. The mechanical impulses of this technology function the same way that Nietzsche’s ridiculed teachers of the purpose of existence do. The feed provides the impulse, for those who have it, “the profound emotional shock” which spurs the thought “Yes! I am worthy of living!”. As Titus sits in a hospital bed, having been temporarily disconnected from .feednet, the internet-like service which broadcasts the information, he thinks about the corporations controlling the feed:

they’re the only way to get all this stuff, and it’s no good getting pissy about it, because they’re still going to control everything whether you like it or not… In fact, the thing that made me pissy was when they couldn’t help me at all, so I was just lying there, and couldn’t play any of the games on the feed, and couldn’t chat anyone, and I couldn’t do a fuckin’ thing except look at that stupid boat painting, which was even worse, because now I saw that there was no one on the boat, which was even more stupid, and was kind of how I felt, that the sails were up, and the rudder was, well, whatever rudders are, but there was no one on board to look at the horizon (49)

Without the influence of the corporations controlling the feed Titus feels empty. The vehicle for Titus’s clumsy metaphor is not the boat, which he scrambles to accurately articulate in his mind, but rather the person who is missing from the boat. His tenor is absence and nothingness. Without a functional feed Titus’s life lacks direction. He is the “no one” who is not on board to look at the horizon. Titus is unable to process the loneliness of silence. The days spent in the hospital are the only time in the novel when the characters are given the opportunity to think independently of the feed. Rather than develop a sense of individual purpose, Titus spends the first couple of days in the hospital clumsily expressing a sense of ennui that in a more verbose character might read as an existential crisis of faith. The novel makes it explicitly clear that the feed is not necessary for the survival or well-being of the characters; a day after Titus has his heady rant he declares the days without the feed to be “one of the greatest days of [his] life” (57). And yet, when the time comes to reconnect to .feednet Titus does not even think twice about re-engaging with the technology. The feed is switched back on and Titus is inundated with corporate information.

        More concerning than the character’s perceived dependence on the feed, is the way in which the commercial culture perpetuated by the feed interferes with that character’s rational decision making: Anderson illustrates the degeneration of healthy decision making through the development of lesions. On a large scale, the lesions are a consequence of poor air quality and a decimated environment. The body rejects the new technologically dependent way of living but instead rectifying the underlying environmental issues, the human race treats the symptoms exacerbating the environmental issues.

        On the individual scale, the feed takes the lesions, the product of an unhealthy environment, and twists them into a fashion statement. At the beginning of the novel, the lesions are unsightly. Quendy, the resident fashion plate of the group, asks “how far is the air lock” upon discovering that her lesion has grown in size, implying that she would rather die than have the open wound on her face (22). By the end of the novel, after the characters on the popular feed show Oh? Wow! Thing! Make lesions fashionable, Quendy shows up to a party covered in artificial lesions. Quendy’s surgical incisions are a reaction to Calista’s artificial lesion which she got because, according to Quendy, it was “brag” (183). The two girls are posturing for higher social standing in a society where cultural values are dictated by the feed. In this case, the ways in which they achieve higher social standing is not only disgusting but it is unhealthy and expensive. Both girls have undergone major surgery to mutilate their bodies because the feed told them it was cool.

        The technological advances in M.T. Anderson’s world reveal a deficiency in human intelligence. With the devaluation of individual thought comes an increase in the herd mentality. Anderson’s world is not entirely without hope; characters do attempt to resist the feed. However, the character that resists the feed the most, Violet, ends up dying due to a malfunction in the technology. The novel is critical and pessimistic about the future of humanity. The last words, on the last page, are from the feed. The characters are unable to escape the influence of the feed even as their lives fall apart because of the feed. The characters are the herd and they have succumbed to the failings of blindly following the teachers of the purpose of existence.

Long Blog Post 1: The effects of technology on human autonomy, ethics, and authenticity

In just the mere twenty-one years that I’ve been alive, technologies have advanced tremendously, and as a result, society has transformed to rely on these advancements. Young people’s engagement with this media culture of television ads, marketing campaigns, texting, emailing, facebooking, etc. is relatively a new phenomenon, and these innovations threaten the integrity of our lives. M.T. Anderson’s novel positions the reader in an even more technology-dependent world, delving into the potentiality of technology in the future, where young people are implanted with “the feed,” a computer chip which connects them with a global network of images, audio messages, and text-based communication. As technology advances, and we are provided with easy-to use products that allow us to access information easily, how are we, as humans, as learners and thinkers, affected? In the future world of Feed, FeedTech Corp is a powerful corporation, which acts as a conduit for advertisements and attainment of information, supplying children with “the feed”. Through data mining, people’s thoughts and emotions are monitored and studied in order to engineer desires for products and experiences that accord with consumers’ profiles.

So, how does technology affect our ability to make autonomous and ethical decisions, as well as authentic thought? The centrality of The Feed questions our human agency and ethics in a world where individuals are bombarded with information about products and services. The constant attack of advertisement warrants the loss of individuality, through conformity to the group consensus. The novel shows the juxtaposition between the characters of Titus and Violet; Titus indulges in the patterns of The Feed, and lives a life focused completely on vacuous consumerist pleasures, whereas Violet tries her hardest to resist The Feed, and seeks to disrupt it by pretending to have an interest in arbitrary products so that the FeedTech Customer Assistance component of the corporation is unable to develop a reliable consumer profile for her. Violet’s resistance to the norm of the effectuation of The Feed is due to the way in which she was brought up. Her parents resisted the idea of implantation, so that her feed is less securely established than those of her friends. It is by the resistance to The Feed that allows Violet more autonomy and ability to make ethical decisions. She states plainly, “Because of the feed, we’re raising a nation of idiots. Ignorant, self- centered idiots.” (112) For example, a scenario that particularly exposed the juxtaposition between Titus and Violet was when the Coca-Cola company had announced a promotion where “if you talked about the great taste of Coca-Cola to your friends like a thousand times, you got a free six-pack of it” (158), and so the friends agreed, and Titus said he was, to “rip off the corporations, which we all thought was a funny idea” (158) by talking incessantly about Coke. His use of “we” suggests an element of groupthink, acting according to the consensus, rather than individually. However, on the contrary, Violet takes a different action, but not before truly thinking over the information presented before her.  Violet bravely and assertively disrupts the group’s effort for free Coke by reflecting on the processes whereby individuals are introduced as subjects. She says, “Sometimes I try to think back to the first time I ever had Coke… If something’s an acquired taste, like, how do you start to acquire it? For that matter, who gave me Coke the first time? My father? Who would hand a kid a Coke and think, ‘Her first one. I’m so proud.’ How do we even start?” (164) Thus, Violet’s resistance to the norms of The Feed doesn’t affect her autonomy the way it does Titus. He’s quick to act upon these advertisements of The Feed, whereas Violet carefully chooses her own actions, despite the information forced in front of her. Even after proposition of a different action, the boys are still greatly affected by the advertisement. “The boys conclude that “all this talking about the great taste of Coke” has made them thirsty, so they decide to go out and buy some.” (162)

By loss of authority, society loses its ability to take moral and legal responsibility. For example, as Violet’s Feed begins to fail, Titus received messages from her about her circumstance, but decides to ignore them, stating that he didn’t receive them, in part because he didn’t want to stray from the majority. When the “software/wetware interface” (170) of her feed breaks down, which results in physical and mental failure, FeedTech Corp refuses to repair it on the grounds that she is not a committed consumer, and by the end of the novel she is comatose and near death. It’s not until it’s too late, that he speaks with a glimmer of authenticity. “I cried, sitting by her bed, and I told her the story of us. “It’s about the feed,” I said.  “It’s about this meg normal guy, who doesn’t think about anything until one wacky day, when he meets a dissident with a heart of gold.”(296) However, despite this seemingly awakened moment of ethical capability, there’s a sense of high-saturated media language, taking their interactions and painting a picture of perfect romance; something their relationship is definitely not.

Not only does excessive invasion of information create the loss of autonomy and ability to make ethical decisions, but it also impedes the process and ability to create authentic thought. The novel questions the sense of agency we have as technologies advance, and the influx of information doesn’t necessarily make us smarter. It actually makes us dumber, for we don’t need to acquire and store information, for it’s placed in front of us for us, at all times. This is shown when Titus wakes up in the hospital with a broken Feed. Rather than having a moment of clarity and catharsis, he declares, “our heads felt real empty.” (46) From this pivotal point moving forward, we as readers are threatened with what too much technology can do to the integrity of our motives, and the decisions we act on, and the authentic thought we are able to generate. When the feed is broken, their minds felt empty. This therefore suggests that the increase in information will implement a dependence on readily accessible information, rather than acquiring information through learning.

Longer Blog Essay #2: Nightingale’s Playground

The piece of electronic literature I explored is Nightingale’s Playground by Andy Campbell and Judi Alston that I found through the Electronic Literature Directory. It is a work of digital fiction that follows the story of the main character, Carl Robertson, who is trying to decipher the vanishing of his friend from high school, Alex Nightingale. The story begins as Carl has returned to his hometown for his high school reunion after splitting with his girlfriend. He reconnects with his old classmates who he has seemingly lost touch with, but strangely, none of them remember his old best friend, Alex. In order to quiet his own doubt, Carl becomes determined to prove that Alex did in fact exist and to uncover where he is now. This is where the reader becomes involved in the story.
nightingale pic 1

Nightingale’s Playground allows the reader to uncover the mystery surrounding Alex along with the main character, Carl, by scrolling around different locations in order to discover text extracts. It is told in four parts, “Consensus Trance”, a browser-based experience, then “Consensus Trance II”, which is in the format of a 3-D game, followed by “The Fieldwork Notebook”, in the format of an online notebook, and then the conclusion, a PDF file. The locations in “Consensus Trance” are creepy, opening in a dark, dilapidated bedroom, moving to different dreary locations like an abandoned house and a forest. Text extracts are spread throughout locations that the reader must uncover to be able to unlock the next locations. At the end on this part the reader runs through a forest being chased by “the Sentinel”, which is a computer game that Alex and Carl used to play. This then opens to “Consensus Trance II”, the 3-D game. The reader navigates as Carl through his dark and scary childhood home looking for Alex’s school fieldwork notebook, in hopes that it will prove Alex’s existence and his sanity. Continue reading Longer Blog Essay #2: Nightingale’s Playground

Short Blog Post 2, Group B

Last week, students wrote about Digital Humanities projects. This week, you’ll write about a DH tool.

If you’re able to, install or explore the tool you’ve been assigned to get a sense of what it’s for and how it works. Some tools will be easy/practical to install, while others may simply require research on your part to get a sense of what it does. Once you have a sense, tell the class about the tool, how it works, and whether it is likely to be useful for our digital projects. The questions here are not meant to be a list that you answer systematically, but to spur your thought process as you write about the tool:

  • What is the primary purpose of this tool?
  • How have people used this tool in a digital-humanities context OR how might someone use this tool in a digital-humanities context?
  • What does this tool do that other tools can’t?
  • What is distinctive/notable about this tool’s approach?
  • How would this tool be useful to scholars doing/presenting research?
  • If we wanted to use this tool, how would we get started with it?
  • If this is a tool that many of us are already familiar with, what are some features of the tool we might not know about?
  • Are there any aspects of this tool that might be useful to the project groups in our class as they conceive of, design, and implement their digital projects?

The goal of this report is less to judge or evaluate any given DH tool than to explore how DH scholars are doing and to find aspects of these projects that might inform the approach of groups in our class.

The specific assignments/projects we discussed in class are after the break.

Continue reading Short Blog Post 2, Group B

Short Blog Post 2, Group A

In the next two rounds of blog posts, students will explore and report on a Digital Humanities project or a DH tool. Our first group, group A, will be working with projects.

Spend some time with the project you’ve been assigned/the project you’ve chosen, and ask yourself some questions about it:

  • What is the primary purpose of this project?
  • What does this project hope to do that a print resource (a book/books, a journal article, a reference work, etc.) couldn’t?
  • What is distinctive/notable about this project’s approach to its subject matter?
  • How would this site/project be useful to scholars doing research?
  • Is this project designed such that it might reach a broader audience/readership than scholars doing research?
  • Are there any aspects of this projects approach that might be useful to the project groups in our class as they conceive of, design, and implement a significantly smaller-scale digital project?

Keep in mind that some of these projects made compromises based on the constraints of the time at which they were started. The goal of this report is less to judge or evaluate any given DH project than to explore what DH scholars are doing and to find aspects of these projects that might inform the approach of groups in our class.

The specific assignments/projects we discussed in class are after the break.

Continue reading Short Blog Post 2, Group A

The project plan/schedule/contract

I’ve added description of the group project plan to our assignments page.

The plan should be a collaborative document your group works on together. During the initial writing process, you might used a shared Google Document, but eventually, this plan will be posted to your group’s WordPress site. The document should have five basic components:

    • A mission statement. Articulate your group’s purpose in pursuing this digital project (beyond fulfilling the course requirement). What do you imagine as a user group/readership for your project? How would it add to a beginning reader/researcher’s knowledge on the topic? What do you as a group hope to learn as you pursue the project?
    • Existing resources/”competition”, both digital and traditional. What resources do readers have to better understand the text in question now? What do they offer already, and how can what you offer be different? Which versions of the text are available to readers online? What has your group discovered about print resources for exploring the text in question?
    • Group organization plan. How will your group make decisions? How will you manage tasks? If you are dividing responsibilities, how are you dividing them? What does the group expect of each of its members?
    • Tools. Discussion of the digital tools your group will use as you pursue the project. What tools would you use in an ideal world? How much will you need to learn? Why are the tools you’ve chosen the right ones for your project?
    • Detailed plan and timeline. What components will the site include? What do you expect each component to look like? What will be the process for completing each component? What are the milestones toward completion your group is setting for itself? If the group is unable to complete the initial plan fully, which aspects of the site will be enough to represent a finished project of which the group can be proud?

Blog Post 1, Group B

As we head into our second week of short blog posts, we’ll hear from Blog Group B. To reiterate: last names up through Hu should post with Group A, and last names from Kim on should post with Group B.

Now that some of your classmates have done initial experiments with the OED and with Google Ngrams, I’d like Group B to experiment a bit more with the parameters and settings that Ngrams allows. Either build from one of your classmates’ experiences with Ngrams, or design a new set of words to consider.

The “Advanced” section in Google’s information on the NGram viewer will reveal new parameters you can play with in your search. You can, for example, make your search case-insensitive, compare the corpus of English to the corpus of English fiction, search words according to parts of speech, or use wildcards to expand your searches. If we search, for example, “digital *”, Google will reveal Ngrams for the top 10 search hits of that phrase.

Screenshot 2014-01-27 14.25.13Apparently, “digital computer” was very hot as a phrase when “computer” needed specification as a type. Now, we just assume that computers are digital, so it’s largely waned in usage.

In addition to these new search tools, you’ll notice the various links Google supplies underneath the Ngram viewer. These will take you to Google Books searches for the phrases in question, but isolate those phrases by a range of years.

Screenshot 2014-01-27 14.28.23If I want to see some typical examples of how “digital computer” was used between 1972 and 1974, I could see the top hits from Google Books for those years by clicking that link.

By tweaking the parameters and looking into some actual search results, we can get a bit more context about how these words were used at any given time.  So blog group B: your goal is to do a new search, or extend an old one with some of the “Advanced” Ngram parameters taken into account, and then to click through some of these links on the bottom of the page to get a sense of how the words in context read differently or confirm the more blunt information that an Ngram gives us. Then, as before, reflect on the experience–do the new parameters give you more faith in the information? Does being able to click through to Google Books search results make this a better research tool?

 

 

Short Blog Post 1

Yesterday, the New York Times published this interesting overview of the Oxford English Dictionary (OED)The OED tries to document every word in the English language, including the first appearance of that word in print (and lots of other instances of that word in print. Here’s what part of the second edition looks like on the shelves in Alderman:

2014-01-21 14.44.03Here’s the very beginning of the entry on word:

2014-01-21 14.45.02Of course, the OED is online now, and on grounds (or with the VPN), you can access it at http://www.oed.com.

Screenshot 2014-01-22 14.51.07

The OED offers a remarkable way to think about the histories of words. Another, more controversial, way to take a long view of the history of a word is the Google Ngram viewer, located here. While some of the details of what this tool does aren’t fully transparent, it basically searches for word frequencies across some subset of the archive of Google Books (a project to scan every book in lots of major academic libraries).

For example, I can have the Google NGram viewer make a diagram tracing the relative frequency of “old” and “new” from 1800 to the present:

Screenshot 2014-01-22 14.44.46This picture is a bit small, but in the 20th century, you’ll see that “new” overtakes “old” right around 1912, at the birth of the modernist movement. There’s all sorts of things this diagram doesn’t show us, but it does seem to roughly indicate a shift in emphasis from the old to the new at that time–a shift of great interest to me, since I’m a scholar of modernism.

For the first blog post, I’d like you to brainstorm words that it might be interesting to think about in historical terms. See what the OED has to say about that word/those words, and see what the Ngram viewer indicates about it. Briefly write about your findings–if you can think of a claim we could make using the Ngram viewer, briefly make it. Then, reflect on the value of each of these tools–what are the advantages and disadvantages of using each of them to think about the histories of words?