Posts tagged: technology

I’m Not So Special (and that’s okay)

Netflix shattered my sense of self a few weeks ago. It’s the nature of technological advances these days, and I should probably get used to everything I thought I once knew being undercut by the series of 0s and 1s that rule my life.

For many of us, it was Google that started this assault. We were bopping along through life, feeling all one-of-a-kind and uniquely us, and then a search engine came along and said it wasn’t so. I’m not the only Ericka Taylor in the world. I’m not the only black Ericka Taylor. I’m not even the only black Ericka Taylor with dreadlocks. Fortunately, that kind of realization is only briefly off-putting. After all, what’s in a name if you’re not a Capulet or Montague? The fact that an Ericka Denise Taylor who isn’t me resides in Florida doesn’t exactly bring on an existential crisis. Our names are, in the end, just identification markers, not things that define us. I’m betting that even someone whose name is truly exceptional, say Umberkrunktil, has at times been more annoyed by her name’s distinctiveness than she has reveled in it.

'Cause there's no one like you left.

Where you gonna go, where you gonna run, where you gonna hide? Nowhere.

That’s because, in the end, we all want to be special, but only to a degree. We’re a social species, and fitting in matters because it’s at the core of community. When you do a Google search for “hot tub, armpit” and the next term you were going to enter—“soreness”—pops up automatically, you feel better. Not only can you now avoid scheduling a doctor’s appointment, but you’ve gotten affirmation that it’s not just you.

For me, the scariest part of 1993’s “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” is when Meg Tilly’s (snatched) character says, “Where you gonna go, where you gonna run, where you gonna hide? Nowhere. ‘Cause there’s no one like you left.” Those lines have stuck in my head for 20 years because the sense of being absolutely alone, of having no one who can relate to you in any meaningful way, is kind of a freaky concept. So, I’m at peace with the fact that Google’s predictive searching reaffirms that I am but one of many. Read more »

Writer’s Tools

Don't ask how many documents are in the "Final Thesis" folder, and DEFINITELY don't ask how many are in the "Video Game Articles" folder.

I recently discovered a new word processor called Scrivener that is “changing my life” and that is big news for someone like me who would probably not be writing at all without a computer (or lots of other things too, but that mostly). Not only is my handwriting the worst (my signature is frequently stared at in disbelief by cashiers because my last name is thirteen letters long and my technique for writing it is to move my pen up and down at a leftwards slant as quickly as possible) but while I appreciate the sometimes less distractible and cozy environment of paper, handwriting is just too slow. My typing speed is nothing to brag about, but it is pretty close to the speed it takes me to make a coherent thought, while I spend a lot of time on paper bored, waiting for my hand to catch up.

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The perfect Mac

Last week, I bought myself a Macbook Pro. It’s shiny and beautiful and oh so much faster than my old laptop. But it’s empty. I don’t have a case for it. I haven’t put any cute/funny/weird stickers on it. I haven’t even bought Microsoft Office (though some people might say that’s a good thing). What I do have is a $100 gift card for the app store. So Mac lovers, you tell me: what software/accessories are must haves for my shiny new companion?

Workshopping in the classroom

In my training this week we’ve been talking about using workshops in our first-year writing courses. It’s old news, I suppose, that some people find the workshop to not be all that helpful, but I’ve always liked them. Well, perhaps not always, but definitely ever since I stopped thinking that the real purpose of a workshop is to make a better piece of writing. To me, good workshops should be teaching evaluation skills and preferences. A writer whose work is not up for evaluation should be getting pretty much the same amount of useful material from the workshop as should the writer being workshopped. Because, really, it’s not about your piece so much as it is about your (or our) tendencies.

Today we sat in on a presentation for a piece of online workshop software. You submit your work online and your professor or teacher assigns your piece to some (or all) of the class. Then the evaluators look at the piece of writing and critique it. But what makes this software different from an in-person workshop is the fact that the professor can set criteria. For instance, if your class were workshopping resumes, the professor might include check boxes asking if the writer had included contact information, if the jobs were presented in an appropriate order, etc. Then, the software runs some equations and shows the professor some stats that can reflect some information about the class as a whole. So if only 63% of your class has an obvious thesis statement in your five-paragraph essay assignment (we don’t still assign those, do we?), you know you might need to review. Read more »

When technology and art collide

My sister is a singer. She’s taken years and years of voice lessons, been in musicals, had solos, and even spent some time as a vocal performance major before deciding on anthropology instead. And a few days ago, she showed me the following video.

For those of you that don’t have 15 minutes of spare time in which to watch the entire thing, this composer  videotaped himself conducting one of his own pieces and then asked singers from around the globe to record themselves singing it. The videos were then combined to form a virtual choir. The video is the talk he gave at the TED conference describing how he came up with the idea and how he implemented it. Check it out, and see if it doesn’t inspire you to look at the intersection of technology and art in a new way.

*Edited to fix a broken video link. For shame!

Twitter is for more than sharing what you had for breakfast

I signed up for a writers workshop through the local evening college, and in the first class yesterday, I mentioned a Twitter chat for writers of children’s literature. I don’t follow the chat myself, but many of my followers participate in it, so I’ve seen enough to see how useful many people have found it. Except, my suggestion went over the heads of the other class participants because it turned out that I was the only one using Twitter.

The idea still persists that Twitter is a waste of time, a pointless social media site designed for people who actually think the world cares what they do all day. Go to Twitter and click on any trending topic. These people use Twitter, yes, but these are not the people that Twitter was designed for.

I tweet mainly about topics related to reading and writing, though I also discuss topics related to politics, feminism, design, technology, and MSU sports. And yes, very occasionally I will sink to the level of what I did that day. But mostly I stay within my niche, knowing full well that my followers expect a certain thing from me. I post links to articles, blog posts (mine and others’), and news stories. I retweet (repost) other people’s tweets that I feel are important or insightful. And I of course produce original content with insights of my own. Read more »

Writer/Geek Convergence Imminent!

I want one of these:


And I want it now.

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The right wing war on the arts

Okay, so spending cuts are coming. And no one’s pet projects are safe. This, I think, is fact. Not even the man with the veto power can afford to keep safe a certain set of things out of pure preference or sentimentality, or just because politically they’re dyed blue (or, perhaps purple, as his recent move toward bipartisanship might have it). But lately, Republicans have been releasing budget proposals left and right, and they seem to want to cut spending pretty much solely by asking for yet more sacrifice from the less-well off in our nation. (As a fun aside, the top 1% in our country now hold over 25% of the wealth, which is more than is held by the bottom 50% of our country combined. Seriously. Google wealth distribution in the U.S. If anything, my numbers are low. Also, as a general rule, I give more money to the IRS than, for example, Exxon Mobile does.)

But anyway, here’s a selection of programs designated for elimination under Rand Paul’s budget cuts proposal:

  • Commission of Fine Arts (over 100 years old, advises the gov’t on matters pertaining to the arts, specifically the architectural development in Washington. Includes monument, sculpture, medal, and currency design, as well as historic preservation.)
  • The Corporation for Public Broadcasting (over 40 years old, but let’s be honest, they’ve been after NPR ever since Juan Williams got fired, and getting rid of all public broadcasting gets rid of NPR unless it finds outside funding. PBS would also be affected.)
  • National Endowment for the Arts (over 45 years old, awards grants to projects—individual and community—that support and promote the arts. See their website for a list of recent projects that have been awarded grants.)
  • National Endowment for the Humanities (same as above, except this organization supports “research, education, preservation, and public programs in the humanities.”)

But in reality, framing this as a right-wing left-wing divide is twisting the facts somewhat. I listened to the entire State of the Union speech, for example, and I didn’t hear one mention of the arts, of English, or of a well-rounded education (though I did hear the tired old rhetoric—ironic, by the way, that it’s rhetoric that gets us here—that science and technology education will be what improve our students and turn our country around). So my question is—who fights for us? Who fights for our interests? And what can we do to fight for ourselves?

Too serious or not serious enough?

I’ve been thinking lately about Shira’s discussion of blogging and introducing high school students to a world of Internet communication wider than Facebook, wondering if they (or I) even really have Facebook nailed yet. Two weeks back I posted a link to an infographic on my Facebook that, due to the content that had been analyzed and designed, riled a few feathers (to put it lightly). The comment left on my post was sent to my email and came through while I was at work, which meant that I had all day to think about what to respond but couldn’t actually go on and craft a response until I got home. And I admit, I stressed more than a little bit about it.

On the one hand, it seemed so silly to me to be worrying about it. I mean, it’s Facebook, for heaven’s sake! People write articles about how to handle Facebook breakups and whether or not you should friend your ex. And here I was wondering how to respond in a way that people visiting my profile would (1) see me standing up for myself and my views and (2) doing that in a respectful and logical manner. Judging by the articles across the web, not the concern of your average Facebook user.

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What counts as valid writing

I found this article in my local newspaper yesterday, and while it’s specifically discussing text messaging, it got me wondering about what counts as writing—and what doesn’t.

First, full disclosure, the professor mentioned in the article teaches in my former department at Michigan State, and I have nothing but good things to say about both the Professional Writing program and the Digital Rhetoric program. And I think what it comes down to is this: “The study, led by Jeff Grabill, a professor of rhetoric and writing, was an effort to characterize student’s writing lives, to figure out what sort of writing they do so that the people charged with teaching them to write better will know where to start the conversation.”

This isn’t to say, of course, that writing a text message is the same caliber of creation as writing a ten-page research paper, or a braided essay—and that’s coming from someone who uses correct capitalization, spelling, punctuation and grammar in all of her text message, no exceptions—but that communication and the ways in which its done are both changing.

Grabill still believes writing teachers have a ways to go in acknowledging changes in the way writing is done, the environments where it happens, the technologies used to do it.

“The fact that we still more or less teach writing the same way we taught it 100 years ago is kind of a remarkable thing,” he said.

And this, too, I can’t help but agree with. Granted, I’m not familiar with other disciplines like I am writing, but off the top of my head I can’t think of others that are this stuck in the past. And this is something that my professional writing degree, and professors like Grabill, as evidenced in the article, are trying to change: To teach students that communication matters, you first have to show them that you recognize their forms of communication as valid. Because like it or not, they’re here to stay, so let’s do what we can to make them successful.

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