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Treehouse: A Found E-Mail Love Affair

“I’ll be sure to write to only you, my dear Jackson. To save my pennies for a midnight thought.” – Treehouse (Pennies for midnight)

 

Sifting through the myriad selections of works that the Electronic Knowledge Database has to offer, I stumbled upon this rather unconventional love story compiled by Joseph Alan Wachs. The romance is told through an interactive storytelling iPhone application, based on a series of real-life email exchanges between a man named Jackson and his lover nicknamed Treehouse. In the foreword of the application, Wachs explains how he uncovered this online love affair: “In early 2008, while restoring the corrupted computer files of an old hard drive, I discovered a lengthy back-and-forth e-mail correspondence between two people…As I sifted through the countless megabytes of fragmented data, I realized there was a love story buried within the files.” These exchanges take place over the course of six months, between February 6th and August 5th, 1996. There is a total of four appisodes, and the first one hundred exchanges are featured in the first appisode that I downloaded onto my phone and read (the other three appisodes require payment).

When you first open the application, it provides you with a tutorial of how to read through the exchanges in a chronological order. The screen is divided into two columns: the left hand side features the titles of the emails that you can easily scroll through, while the right informs you of which email number you are currently looking at. This function allows you to scroll through all the emails picking out the one that interests you, almost like chapters to a novel. This however is not advisable, as the story really only makes sense if you read from beginning to end. The length and format of the exchanges vary, as most emails do. Within each email/chapter, you can tap the screen to scroll down to read what is below. One tap on the paper clip featured in the top right corner of your screen would bring you to the next email. Jackson’s emails have blue headings, while Treehouse’s are yellow. All emails feature date and time stamps. The design of the application is fairly logical; the only one flaw I can think of is that while it is easy to access the email that comes next, there isn’t a function to easily return to the one before.

Click here to look at a screenshot of the menu

The story begins with an email written by Jackson to Treehouse, and we learn very quickly that the two lovers have been communicating for a very long time, even when Treehouse lived in Japan and was in a relationship with another man named Adrien. Jackson tells her he loves her and that he’s proud of her decision to return to school in Arizona. Treehouse proves herself to be rather witty in her response: “Man, I wish I could get in your Levi’s 2night (ad campaign!). But for now, I will resolve myself to lay between the keys on my keyboard, instead of between the sheets. Then, perhaps I could shift/command you to cap-lock my space bar. Is that an option (alt)? Too much Ctrl? Should I delete my request?” In response to her provocative words, Jackson composed her a digital collage that featured a denim printed background that repeated the Levi’s ad campaign in her previous email, and he accompanied the collage with the words: “You inspire me, you know.”

Click here to see Jackson’s digital collage for Treehouse

One of the most interesting aspects of this tale is how the lovers’ story is set against the backdrop of the Internet revolution. Reading through their exchanges, you are brought back to the days before most of the amenities we have grown so accustomed to became readily available. For example, the couple discusses the possibility of having a “real time conversation” (a.k.a. instant messaging), and Jackson writes: “Real time conversation is how I first got turned on to the ’Net in the first place in ’93…and I have wanted to figure out how to do it outside of AOL.” As the story progresses, we are made increasingly aware of Jackson’s familiarity with the Internet, and how he correctly anticipates our inevitable transition from AOL to World Wide Web: “But, now that you’ve gotten online and you have a taste (mmmm…) for it, and you see how lame AOL is and you’re STILL not seeing the World Wide Web and you’re missing out on all the action.”

What is impressive about this application is how Wachs was able to repair and decipher the corrupted data, translate them back to their original content, and then reformat them into a presentable, cohesive, and interactive story. As you flip from one email to the next, you become more and more immersed in the lives of the lovers, it is almost as if you are injecting yourself in their love story because you are tapping your finger to move from one day of their lives to the next. The cliffhanger that concludes this appisode, featuring the return of Adrien, is prompting me to purchase the entire app series. I really enjoyed this story and I am planning on downloading the next three appisodes.

Blog Post #2- Neatline

Coke and pepsiNeatline is designed to display exhibits made through Omeka in an aesthetic manner, through customizable maps and timelines.  Last semester in my American Studies class, I created a neatline site to display items related to the Soft Drink Industry–particularly with relation to the rivalry between Coke and Pepsi. I kept it pretty simple, but there were many ways in which I could have customized it more if I wanted to. This is my project/ the link to it:

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http://amst2001.neatline-uva.org/neatline/show/the-evolution-of-the-soft-drink-industry

The map is definitely more useful for things that have a more geographical base–it was a little difficult to find ways to map the history of Soft Drinks because they have to do with consumer behavior all over the place.  But if it were to be used for a book where someone is traveling, it could be very useful. When you click on a spot on the map, an item (photo, video, document, etc.) pops up with a short description. This is what differentiates it from other mapping tools such as google maps or google earth, because they are strictly used for navigational purposes.  Neatline was specifically designed to be a digital humanities tool. You can play around with how things look. I know there is a cool looking water-color map that you can make, and you can create your own color scheme with the dots on the map and timeline.

On the neatline website they have some demo exhibits, and one I thought was cool mapped out different letters from the civil war, and actually has the physical pictures of the letters placed on the map:

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I think this makes it a little bit difficult to actually read the map, but if reading the map isn’t as important as making it look good, then that probably doesn’t matter. Neatline definitely offers a lot of possibilities, and while it is sometimes frustrating to use, if it is implemented successfully neatline could be a very helpful addition to a project.

 

Blog Post #1- Is Chivalry really dead?

I took a slightly different approach to this assignment, because my central interest was in how Ngram could shed light on the phrase “Chivalry is dead.” I went about exploring this in several different ways. First, I just searched the word by itself to get a general idea of the history of how it was used. In the default timespan of 1800-2000, the data completely supported the idea that chivalry is dead, but when I decided to expand the time span to 2008, I was surprised to find that chivalry is on the rise once again.

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I thought perhaps this recent rise was due to an increase in discourse about the fact that chivalry is dead, so I decided to search that phrase, and found out that it, in fact, declined around the time that the word “chivalry” began to be used more:

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So, with this information, I added in some other words that I associated with chivalry to see if there was a correlation between them, and there was.

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It is difficult to see the pattern of chivalry since it is not used very much in comparison the respect and dignity, but in general the trend of the three words is the same, which I found very interesting.  To push this even further, I decided to compare chivalry to its opposite, disrespect, and see the relation between the two.

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It appears that sometime in the 1990s and early 2000s chivalry was at an all time low, and disrespect had for the first time surpassed it. Yet, in what is good news to an optimist and romantic like myself, chivalry recently regained its dominance, suggesting that it might be becoming important once again.

I then looked up the books that had these words in them. The top result for chivalry in the early 1800s was titled “Tales of Superstition and Chivalry,” and it is unclear whether or not it is suggesting that the two are the same.  However, it appeared to be discussing chivalry in the present moment, whereas recent texts were all historical fiction or non fiction accounts of the days when chivalry was more valued. As for disrespect, the earlier texts had much to do with reverence and religious matters, whereas the more recent ones had to do with racial issues and bullying, which displays how society’s values have shifted over time.

I think Ngram definitely illuminates the trends of words that would take lots of time to gather data upon otherwise. I found it interesting to see the correlation between these different words, and I never would have guessed that words such as “respect,” “dignity,” and “chivalry” would be taking a turn for the better, but Ngram has fueled my sense of hope.