Tuesday, February 11, 2014

The BookTube Community! (Project Post)

My end project was a paper about BookTubing (or booktubing): YouTubing about books! There's a whole community out there just waiting for you to join it . . . and you can also read this paper! In a way, we're already part of it, since we did those video book reviews. (The next step is to keep making videos and to comment on others' videos.) Here's the link to my paper.

I'd also like to share some research that didn't make it into the paper. Before deciding to focus exclusively on  the BookTube community, I compared presentation skills in TEDTalks and booktube videos. Here's the link to the spreadsheet of information. I chose teenage TED presenters because their demographic is similar to the main booktube demographic. Like all TED presenters, they receive special coaching from the TED speaker team (source).  I chose the TED videos based on age and high views. These are the teenage presenters with the highest number of views on YouTube, with the exception of this presenter's video about "hackschooling." (I didn't have the full criteria hammered out when choosing the TED male teenage videos.) I chose the booktubers in a similar fashion that is fully explained in my paper.

Absorbing and analyzing the videos taught me a few things about making a good presentation and helped me become somewhat familiar with the booktubing visual dialect. Because of these things, I feel more confident about putting myself out there; I actually made my own book review video last week! I implemented several things I learned; I edited out 'um's and dead space (choppily at times, but hey, it was practically my first time video editing!), picked a medium distance away from the camera, and made notes about topics I wanted to cover, and used the book as a visual aid. I also incorporated a simple visual aid into a class group presentation a couple of weeks ago, to help people keep track of what our group was discussing, and it was a little tricky to restrain myself from walking around the 'stage' too much. 

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Anchored in Humanity: Digital Insights in Literature

Studying literature in the traditional way is a key to powerful insights into digital culture. It's because literature and digital culture stem from the same thing: people. The literary tradition has a long history of delving into the human condition through its forms, and it helps people better understand the effects and biases of digital culture in and among humanity. Here are a couple of examples of insights I have seen this semester.

Our classmate Aleesha saw correlations between Pinterest and her literary study of Moby Dick. Her questions about the identity (e.g. genre) of the novel Moby Dick prompted questioning and a project about how the individual and collective pins of a person's Pinterest board reflect (or don't reflect) the identity of the pinner. Kayla pointed out how Captain Ahab deliberately gathered people around him and sought the advice of his peers in going after the whale. With their help, he succeeded. Sure, you could say that that was the way everyone had to do things, back in the day, but - it was effective. 

What literary study helps us discover can and should change digital habits. The amount of information online and in print is overwhelming, like the amount of organisms in a world of ocean. As well as consulting his fellow captains for up-to-date information on Moby Dick, Ahab had on hand with him more traditional aids in his search: "yellowish sea-charts" and "piles of old log-books" (177). These print resources were also invaluable to him in making his "reasonable surmises" (177) about the route of the white whale. Recognizing the limitations of each method, Ahab used both textual information and social research and proof to accomplish his goal. While many Web users might be tempted to favor either a search engine or asking people for help to find what they are looking for, we would do well to follow Ahab's example and use social and mechanical ways to find what we want. 

Aleesha, Kayla, and I are digital natives, but studying Moby Dick gave us valuable insights into our world.

Essay #2: The Advantage of Online Publishing

I propose the department take advantage of and teach the pros (and cons) of online publishing. With digital culture there is an awareness and availability to criticize and create content in new forms unavailable in traditional formats of publishing literature. Traditional publishing happens through submitting a scholarly article to a print journal which takes months, maybe even years to get to publication. There is reviewing, maybe getting accepted, then waiting for publication, and all of this to only have a few libraries hold the journal you have submitted to. Online publishing takes the waiting out of the process and allows for anyone to publish anything, and there are ways to keep it scholarly and academic.

Outlets online have continued traditional scholarly outlets of academic journals, but they are faster because submission is all electronic. It cuts costs. There is a wider availability. Using curation tools such as Twitter, Facebook, and Google+, an author can announce their intent to research and publish on a topic. Then they use crowdsourcing and social proofing to gather information from friends, peers, enthusiasts, and scholars to contribute to their research. Then as the author publishes their work and continue to curate their researched content, they get more feedback or information on their topic by comments or reviews or submissions from others interested in the field. Even if someone was publishing something nonacademic, personal blogs or websites can claim authority in a field by amount of views, responses, gatekeepers, and/or following.

Digital culture makes publishing an accessible to anyone, which leaves a lot of room for amateur or unedited publications. In these cases people must be aware of the sources they get their information from as well as where they intend to publish. Websites with .gov or .edu are usually more reliable than .com sites. The more times an item or article has been reviewed, the more chances you have of reading accurate reviews of a piece. Goodreads and Amazon for example has rating systems for book reviews that can help narrow down the academic reviews from the more emotional-based ones. In the end, there are ways to find scholarly and authoritative sources of information from the freelance works.

With online publishing, students can be successful quickly. Fellow students Paul and Greg have proven that social proofing gets their works recognized and/or published (see here and here for their successes in social proof and digital publication, respectively). In a world with digital opportunities to get ideas curated and published, the humanities department should be taking advantage of these opportunities to promote their own work as well as teach students how to enter the digital world with their own writing.

Essay #1: Collaboration and Community of Moby Dick and Digital Culture

When we read literature, it is an individual action. It is between the reader and the text. Sure there are ways to discuss a piece of literature such as publishing an anthology or writing a research paper, but these avenues take time. Digital culture makes it bigger. With literature, we are able to see the world through one book’s perspective and as a critically thinking community, interpret the book’s ideas and either agree or disagree with them. In digital culture we do the same, but now on a massive scale where people from all different backgrounds come together to collaboration and give feedback on literature. It turns an independent reading to a global one.

In the introduction of Moby Dick it reveals that “Melville himself certainly believed that all men are united by the bond of reciprocal dependence, by a community of function and responsibility” (xv). The book itself is an example of this “community of function.” We have discussed in class how the book functions under different genres: epic, fiction, prose, allegory, play. The compilation of all these genres makes it impossible to identify it as one genre. In digital culture, people are represented by the different social media sites they use. As Aleesha demonstrates in her research, Pinterest is a way for pinners to repin a variety of pictures, outfits, recipes, etc. Identifying a person by one pin will not be a full representation of who that person is or their pin board. It would be like identifying Ishmael as only a sailor and ignoring his obvious knowledge of cetology, his background in teaching, and the fact that he is the narrator.

As a community, men “united by the bond of reciprocal dependence” create subcultures in which members mutually depend on one another to not only consume content, but to create and curate it as well. In Lizy’s research on fandom collaboration, crowdsourcing materials such as memes or articles on a particular show or book creates a wider fan base in which content can be remixed and shared to an even larger crowd. Information is shared and spread through curation tools such as Tumblr or Facebook or Twitter. Captain Ahab gathered his crew together, all of them dependent upon finding Moby Dick to complete their whaling mission, and together they sailed in search for the great white whale. Ahab used "every means at his disposal to find and kill the white whale" (30), including sea charts, books, and logs to determine where to find Moby Dick. He was crowdsourcing information when he spoke to fellow captains on the Rachel for example to get spotting information. It was a community effort for one common goal. The subcultures within digital culture come together as a community to read, review, comment, and remix content found in literature. Reading is no longer independent, or at least it doesn't have to be.

Interpreting Texts through Digital Formats and Why It Will Help the Study of Literature

An enormous part of digital culture today comes from user-generated content. We are now in Web 2.0 where audiences are not just passively consuming media that was created by companies or organizations. They now consume media that is constantly created by their friends, neighbors, or complete strangers. Anyone with access to the web can create and share content. Part of becoming literate in the digital age is the ability to consume, create, and connect. There is online content that is superficial and created without much thought, but there is also content that causes us to pause, to reevaluate, and to understand.

In the same way, great works of literature cause us to pause, to reevaluate, and to understand. Epiphanies, ideas, or insights that come from reading literature are traditionally expressed through academic essays. These essays may lead to greater scholarship if they are sent to a journal for peer review and publishing. But are these interesting interpretations of literature and profound examinations of humanity really benefitting the global community when they are housed in a journal under the lock and key of a subscription? How much consuming, creating, and connecting is really happening in this format? There is some, especially among professors, experts, and university students, but in order for the study of literature to stay relevant and warrant funding, it must be practiced in ways that are applicable to wider audiences. The knowledge must be shared with others and improved upon by others. Our digital age has provided wonderful means for this kind of sharing and feedback which leads to greater analyses, insights, and creation.

Literary discussions in an academic format are not the end-all-be-all method of gleaning valuable information from texts. Texts that have been examined and reexamined for decades can receive new life when they are reinterpreted using different genres and mediums. Memes, typography images, illustrations, poems, songs, remixes, big data analyses, and more are ways people find meaning in literature. Many of these mediums are easily accessible digitally and intellectually. Students have already created imaginative and stimulating interpretations of literature through these methods. See Ahab's Poetry: Reformatting the Text of Moby Dick and Prototype Moby Dick Blog and Moby Dick Digitized. These are just a few examples of how using digital mediums and genres to interpret a text can improve our understanding of literature.

Digital technologies can help the Humanities and the study of literature continue to be worthwhile and relevant in this day and age by promoting discussions on literary criticism among a wide audience. When more people understand how accessible and valuable the study of literature is, they will want to engage in it. More interest and engagement in the Humanities and in the literature department is worthy of more funding.


Digital Curation: Optimizing Literary Study

I propose that the department increase its usage of online curation tools.

Curation is a staple of the digital experience is a big part of popular online services like Pinterest and Flickr, YouTube’s Playlists, and Diigo. With Google+, one can even curate and organize their friends. For academic purposes, curation can be up-to-the-minute crowdsourced research on a student’s topic of choice. 

Traditional sources for curated content include academic journals and printed books. These resources are invaluable to much literary study and analysis by providing context for the work and to bring people into the conversations surrounding the work. However, an individual must often go to a library, a store, or (more recently) subscribe to an costly online database like JSTOR to access these treasures. If they use a library, they cannot make notes in the book to help themselves process its contents and pick out what parts are useful. Additionally, since these traditional sources and the usual ways of finding them involve few if any human sources to recommend the best titles, what the student does access may be an off-target, barely relevant, or simply incomplete resource for the topic at hand.

The department and its students would greatly benefit by have students research and curate together using online tools. If two students are studying similar topics, digital curation will help them easily access each other’s research as well as the research and resource recommendations of tens of other amateurs, students, and scholars. With a more efficient and current research system, students will use the curation tools of the digital age to become more knowledgeable scholars and analysts in their fields of interest, leading to lifelong learning and teaching.

Moby Dick as a Guide to Understanding Digital Form, Content, and Curation

The traditional study of great literature is indeed a valid way to understand our world, including the digital world. This semester our class has analyzed and critiqued the classic Moby Dick through a traditional literary lens. One way we have explored the text is through looking at its form. Is Moby Dick a novel, an epic, a treatise about whaling? Melville's work takes on many tones in different chapters. In the beginning, the story is a first person narrative told by Ishmael. Later, in the chapters about whaling and cetology, the story is an information guide to species of whales, to their anatomy, to the art of whaling itself.

The way Melville uses form to convey content and meaning is very helpful in navigating the digital world. Digital culture comprises a list of ever-expanding genres, from remixes to mashups, from videos to gifs, from blogging to online scholarship. Through examining Melville's use of Moby Dick as a multi-genred work, we can understand how important form is when conveying content. We can shape our own writing and content better by choosing a form that best conveys the message we want to send. This makes us better analysts and better creators, allowing us to contribute more meaningfully to discussions in the academic world and in the digital world.

Another application of Moby Dick to digital culture and of literature to digital culture in general is how the elements of Moby Dick are organized or curated. All novels are a curation of an author's thoughts, ideas, or experiences. Moby Dick is a curation of several themes, ideas, and as mentioned genres. Curation is now becoming something of substance in its own right. But as we can see through Moby Dick and through other works of literature and texts including histories, dictionaries, novels, etc., curation is an old art form. The students in the course have a better understanding of curation as an art form and as a practical way to organize and analyze information because of their critique of Moby Dick

The following links are examples of how students have used their study of Moby Dick to create content and curate information, showing just how valuable traditional literary study can be in understanding digital culture.

Moby Dick and Metadata
Pop Song Remix Needs a Music Video
The Parts of Whale in Moby Dick