I’ve got good news and I got bad news…

Hello all. I’m guessing you want the bad news first, that’s what I usually want. Don’t worry, it’s nothing dramatic.

I just wanted to properly announce that I am taking a hiatus from my blog. I suspect that it will be about a month–kind of like when I took a break between December and January. While I love writing this blog, I know that if I was to continue posting through April and May, my posts would be irregular, short or simply lackluster due to finals, job applications and all things associated with the dreaded g-word (that thing with the caps and knots and stuff that signifies the end of the world on May 18th).

I hope that when I return mid-May I will have senior yearish everything wrapped up, some new research material read, and a job secured (I can dream, can’t I?). Until then, come find me on Facebook, LinkedIn or Twitter, or feel free to contact me at adelsontro@gmail.com. I’m going to promote some of my older blog posts on those hubs in hopes of generating some discussion.

Continue reading

Authorship and Digital Technologies: A Partnership of Poetic Proportions

This post is being broadcasted from my bed, where I’ve been spending a lot (but still not enough) time the last couple of days. This is part recovery from an awesome publishing-related trip to New York City, and part some awful virus. Hopefully by my next post, whenever that may be, I’ll have something better to say about my health.

On Thursday, April 10th, I will presenting at the annual Ithaca College Whalen Symposium (it is also my father’s birthday, but I digress). This marathon of research-related presentations is an Ithaca College tradition, now going 17 years strong. Thursday will be my second time presenting–last year, I read an essay about my dog. This year I will be discussing my experience as a blogger.

Now if you can go to my live presentation on the Ithaca College campus in Emerson B at 10:50 am, then you should stop reading now. The following is basically what I will be reading for my presentation, which is entitled: “Becoming Digital: Being a Writer in the Digital Age.”

When I presented for the Whalen Symposium last year, I was presenting an essay about my dog that I wrote in Writing as a Naturalist. I was not thinking about technology at all. Then, all I had was a Facebook, which I used  in a personal way, and a pretty professional-looking email. I thought, for writer who only wanted to be published in real printed books, this was enough of a web presence. What would my writing be worth if it could not be held or placed on a shelf? It was a sentiment I shared with many of my peers.

Last summer, I was lucky enough to obtain two internships in Washington, D.C., both of which involved writing. At Rails-to-Trails Conservancy, I researched and wrote copy for five webpages, representing the most words I’ve had published to date. My other internship, Island Press, was a publishing house. In my editorial position, I drafted digital correspondence to authors and photographers as I worked on a major image research project. I also sat in on meetings in which the staff considered book proposals. At my first “decision to publish meeting”, I sat in the corner eagerly with a pen and pad of paper, not exactly knowing what to expect.  I thought, maybe they’ll discusses the books theme, or audience? Or perhaps they’ll consider printing cost… Those, I tht, were some of the more important features of a book proposal.

The intense trade of ideas and opinions that transpired over the next hour was mind blowing. Of course the concept of the piece and the logistics of color pictures were discussed, but the loudest voice was that of the marketing team. “Does this author have a web-presence?” was the main question. It all boiled down to how much time/money/effort it would take to make this book marketable. What kind of email contacts did the author have, and did they have a Twitter? How many followers? Did they have a blog, and how much information did said blog share with the book? Would they be open to publishing their work just as an ebook, a market Island Press was looking to rapidly expand in? Basically, it was all about the internet. I saw more than a few projects be pushed off because their lack of viability in terms of social media marketing and staunchly technophobic writers. I took furious notes and later started panicking: was my own opposition to the online ruining my chance at ever being an author?

Later on at my time at Island Press, I was given the duty of copy editing the ebooks on the Nook. I groused about the assignment, for at the time, there was nothing I loathed more than ebooks. I was stuck in the physical world. I thought the object of the book was sacred while digital text seemed temporary, flippant and worthless by comparison. I, like many of my colleagues, gave a plethora of excuses for my blatant stubbornness. “Its just not the same if you can’t turn the page,” I would say, or “It’s easier to pirate that way.” But, being an intern, I accepted my duty without comment. When I received feedback on my work on that particular project, it turned out my performance was stunningly awful. Some things that I pointed out as “mistakes” were standard for an ebook; other errors were matters of text size, which I had no idea I could change; then, there were issues I had missed entirely. My aversion to ebooks had actually made me useless in that department. I was a dinosaur.

By the end of the summer, I realized that the author-internet relationship was one I barely understood and needed to explore further if I ever wanted to be a successful writer. In the fall semester of my senior year, in attempt to shed my technophobic ways, I entered an independent study on technology, rhetoric and composition with Professor Mary Lourdes Silva of the Writing Department. I read books and articles and watched presentations on the topic of technology, the internet and social media, and then responded with analysis through multiple web-platforms. Particularly, I kept a reading journal in the form of a blog at recoveringtechnophobe.wordpress.com–my still-going blog titled “Becoming Digital.” Later, using books such as Datacloud by Johndan Johnson-Eilola and Alone Together by Sherry Turkle as resources, I rhetorically analyzed the sites I was using for these responses.

What I learned over the last eight months, 37 posts and 606 Tweets is that technology is an integral part of the writing process. Writing is technology. In the Phaedrus, by Plato, there is a dialogue about the follies of the technology of writing. Using the technology himself, Plato complains that writing creates a false memory that is actually just recollection, and that it imitates wisdom while not actually creating knowledge.  Most, including me, would define writing as a way to facilitate critical thinking now. As writers, we must accept writing as a technology, or else be as curmudgeon-esque as Plato. Technologies advance. And although nothing will ever be quite like the tangibility of a book, digital books are so much cheaper, environmental, portable, accessible and convenient. And the truth is, the value of a book is the words it contains, not the binding it is set in.

Additionally, the internet and the digital does not replace the writer, as some may say, as I have said, but creates a platform for a lot more text then could ever be contained within a book. The writer is not snubbed out by the internet–the web represents more publishing opportunities for authors than ever.

Overall I found that all the sites I was using (WordPress, Facebook, LinkedIn, TaskStream and Twitter) have a purpose in the writer’s tool-kit both for both marketing and innovative modes of composition. I’ve finally learned how to use Twitter, a technology which once escaped me. Due to its high-paced and brief nature of each posting, organizing posts with good tag grammar and consistent posting are the keys to being noticed.  I have garnered 76 followers since I started promoting myself on the web. For a writer, Twitter is an invaluable resource of free advertisement, and the 140-character post limit forces writers to be innovative with composition. WordPress, or a blog in general, is useful in the way that it gets a writer writing on a weekly basis. Despite how much of a curmudgeon I was at the beginning of this project, I have now fallen in love with blogging. I’ve always been a fan of essays in general, and when I could make it personal or narrative in any way, that just made things even more fun. For a cheesey punsmith and rambly, over-explainy person like myself, a blog has been a near ideal platform for me. Knowing these mini-essays have been glanced at by 1200 users since September is the stroke that my writer’s ego desperately needed.  

It is important to realize that web platforms are not there to usurp or destroy our current cultures of writing, but rather embolden them, and make them more accessible. It is up to us as writers to use these tools effectively to make ourselves louder, more creative and  more readily shared. We are given this free megaphone, notepad and publishing opportunity, why not use it?

“Only joking,” laughed the blogger.

(This blog title is brought to you by one of my favorite children’s books, “Only Joking!” Laughed the Lobster.)

Here is an obligatory sentence where I say that I am sorry for not posting, I’ve been busy–You know the drill. It’s unintentional but I believe I warned in my first blog post this year that my blog cannot be my priority right now with all that I have going on. As much as I enjoy writing/thinking about technology and rhetoric, the truth is that I need good grades and a job much more than I need a writing outlet. I have plenty of those. It’s a miracle I’m even able to write this post, which is a result of a mix of will power and wanting to avoid writing yet another cover letter, yuck.

So today I am reviewing a new social networking site that seems to be taking attention away from Facebook. Rapidly, teenagers are leaving the once popular blue-and-white website to communicate with each other on another platform. Below is a news report on the phenomenon:

The comment section of slow motion deer video has garnered millions of comments over the last few weeks as a demographic of 14-18 follow conversation threads in the comment section. In the past, Youtube’s comment section has been more-or-less used to provide a dialogue between the video poster and video viewer. Everything in the site’s design points towards using it in that way: the video is always above your comment box, there are not that many comments visible per page, and the reply feature has only been recently added (in comparison to how long Youtube has been around). So why is it now being used to facilitate user-to-user conversation? Perhaps it has to do with the aforementioned addition of the comment feature, but the whole thing seems serendipitous. Why this video? The deer is magnificent, but according to frequent users, commenting on the animal itself is bad form. It seems that teens will do anything these days to avoid their parents while networking socially…

Yes, that paragraph is one long joke. I know the Onion is Satire–I am a huge fan. So here it is: April Fools!

I am not usually a fan of April Fools day, or even pranks in general, and that’s not a joke. While there is a such thing as a “harmless” jest, the execution and reaction rarely matches the intention when it comes to pranks. People get hurt, both physically and emotionally. Something as simple as putting hair dye in someone’s shampoo could ruin their month (especially if they have an interview). The problem is that to prank someone, they need to be a certain type of person, and that type of person often expects pranks on this day. So, in real life, I rarely see pranks happen or have them happen to me.

In contrast, the internet is full of pranksters every day of the year, but especially on April 1st. For instance, ThinkGeek, a purveyor of “stuff for the smart masses,” always throws their chainmail coif into the ring. Often, they advertise products I’d actually like to buy, such as coffee-flavored cereal or this year’s beer-can-attachable stien. Similarly, Google is always a major player, putting in a lot more than one paragraph of effort into their joke campaigns. If Google does not take over the world with their robot army, they certainly will with their sense of humor, as evidenced by this enormous Wikipedia entry on their hoaxes and Easter eggs. While most of the upgrades and offers they announce sound weird, awful or extraneous, this year’s Google application in the form of a Google Maps Pokemon hunt is something I painfully lust for. When people first started sharing it on Facebook yesterday , I was legitimately fooled (before I watched the video).

Surely this afternoon will bring announcements of false engagements, pregnancy and sexuality through major social media hubs, sprinkled with some over-reaction and dissemination of the above material. Today, you are more likely to be RickRolled then you are to find a bucket over your door, and that is because internet jokes can be truly harmless (barring things like fake death announcements and breakups, which are rarely okay). These jokes are all about the sharing of false information, because what is the internet but information? Worst case scenario is that someone believes you until they notice what day it is, which is available on one of their corners of their screens for all likely hood. It may be possible to forget the day in real life, but on the internet, people will immediately debunk the myth with “April Fools” in the comment section. Companies and individuals also tend to publicly and obviously incriminate themselves to their prankster ways–they don’t actually want people to believe something that isn’t true about them, and identities stick on the internet.

Participating in the holiday via the web has the added benefit of making the dupes public and sharable. The more people you can convince at once, the more impressive your joke. And instead of just having a story about how you “totally got grandma to think we shaved the cat!”, you have the primary source material to prove it. The best part of computer-bound pranking? It is easy to avoid. Just don’t be on the computer today, or be incredulous. If there is ever a day to not take people seriously on the internet, this is the one.

TEDxCITING!

It was a busy week for me, which culminated in an event I’ve been looking forward to since January: TEDxIthaca College! Yep, that’s right, we had our own little mini-TEDTalk conference on my campus. As soon as I heard about it I was dying to attend.

How TEDx works is that the TED organization will give out licenses to use their name and logo and such for free to individuals interested in hosting a conference. The only catch is that right now only 100 people are allowed to attend. As a result, I had to apply to go and after a three weeks of waiting I got an email telling me I have the green light. I mentioned this blog in my application, and I can’t help but wondering if that had something to do with my acceptance.

That's our awesome logo. I have it on a tee shirt.  Jealous?

That’s our awesome logo. I have it on a tee shirt. Jealous?

I got up unusually early for a Saturday morning. I was in my kitchen drinking tea by  9 am. As I sipped my favorite blend, My Morning Mate, I wondered what I should expect in the day ahead. I had done little research into who was speaking, since I’d be there for everyone anyway. Somewhere in the back of my mind I assumed the event would not match the mastery and entertainment of the TEDTalks I’ve watched on line in the in the past (you can check out my TEDTalkitive tag for some of them). What unfolded between the hours of 10 am and 5:30 pm ended up being just as striking, challenging, inspiring and at times moving as any TEDTalk I’ve ever seen. The entire event was academicaly invigorating and I have to say it was an honor to attend.

All the presenters had something different to say and a different way of saying it. For Anne Rhodes, who gave the presentation What Does it Mean to Be White?, that meant framing the troubling nature of white privilege in the form of a theatrical monologue. A talk on the similarity between video games and apocalyptic texts, Xbox Apocalypse, was given in two parts by a professor and student, Rachel Wagner and Rachel Gray. Nia Nunn-Makepeace gave a pretty straight forward speech in Town-Gown Transformative  Action: Community Unity Music Education Program (CUMEP), but integrated some of the call and respond nature CUMEP’s exercises in with it. Topics ranged from economics, to music, to conservation all the way to SPACCCEEEE! (That last one was Michael Lam’s Celestial Clocks and Ripples in Spacetime which really interested me because I’ve been watching Carl Sagan’s The Cosmos in my spare time.)

But as different as that all sounds, the narrative was cohesive. There were multiple angles on disability and homelessness; several discussions on blended learning with technology (I’ll get back to that later); lots of talk about perspective and perseverance; two speakers even competed in similar races. Though, the most common thread was the Ithaca community. Ultimately, TEDxIthaca College was TEDxIthaca. Every presentation was in some way about what the Ithaca community is doing, where is it going and how can it be improved. The funny thing is, even though I’m just a student here, I was familiar with many of the programs, locations and characters that the speakers mentioned. I’ve worked so much in this community and met so many amazing people that I know more about Ithaca than I do about my “home.” I think that’s why I’m scared to leave this place. The way my curriculum was set up forced me to become one with this town. My own personal interest brought me in even further once the way was paved. Ithaca is the perfect size for a walker like me, and there are so many environmental initiatives. As I prepare to graduate I wonder if I will ever feel so “in” a community, so connected to a place ever again…

I’ll digress before this keyboard is underwater.

As you can see, there is a lot I could talk about here. I imagine I will be discussing these talks in several different blog posts. For now, I at least want to think about the talk that started the day, Click Here: Blended Learning and the Future of Education with Monique Markoff. As you can imagine, I was excited when I saw that title. It was just begging to be summarized and written about here.

Markoff began the presentation by posing a question, “What if every student had their own teacher?” That seems impossible, but if computers were the teachers it would be a bit more doable, would it not? The idea behind blended learning is that students spend at least 25% of their day using a computer to learn. This is not to say they are to take online courses or to have the teacher disappear. Instead, the teacher would be there to facilitate computer learning–freed from lecture and able to work with students one-on-one, Markoff said that this could make a teacher’s role more integral to the classroom. Although the idea of blended learning is fairly new, there are several models in place, including the rotation, lab, open classroom and flipped classroom.

This talk focused on the Alpha model, which has some students on computers and some with teachers. What are these students doing on these computers? They’re not just being Digital Natives and learning the PowerPoint and database skills jobs are looking for–they might be, but that’s not the point. Blended learning is not about learning to use the computer but interacting with it as a tutor of any subject. This tutoring comes in the form of the games Marc Prensky once dreamed of, Khan Academy, Code Academy, YouTube lecturers like the VlogBrothers and, yes, even TEDTalks. The hope is that this type of environment will produce students who are independent learners that do not need teachers for review. The speaker mentioned that as long as schools are responsive, reactive and committed, a technology-based blended classroom could be cheaper than what we do now.

The creator of the Khan Academy actually presented on the flipped classroom model in 2011, which works pretty well alongside Markoff’s talk.

Spending an entire day in wonderful lectures, and learning about all these free teaching resources available online, makes me really happy as a student and a researcher to have the valuable tool of the internet. It is true that before the internet that you could learn from books or tutors beyond the classroom, but money runs out. People have lives. Libraries close. The internet is a resource that is always on and ready to teach you. While this can be problematic socially according to Sherry Turkle, I find it comforting to know that when I have a 9-5 job sometime (HOPEFULLY) in the coming months with an inevitably long commute, I can continue doing my favorite job: being a student. I am clicks away from a math lesson, or a humanities lecture. OR SPACE TRAVEL.

What Buzzfeed Quiz are YOU?

Hello all. Allow me to blow some dust off this ol’ blog.

It is Spring Break now and I hope to fill my queue with a handful of  posts. Perhaps there will not be a lapse again for awhile? (I can dream, can’t I?) Sorry I didn’t post last week! It was midterms, and I had a friend in town. If you follow my Twitter, LinkedIn or Facebook you probably noticed I was all together silent, and not just not blogging.

… Although, I was filling out a lot of Buzzfeed quizzes. How is it that when I am the busiest I always find the dumbest things to do on the internet? In past years, I’ve revived old addictions like Neopets and Tumblr. Others, I’ve stalked the Facebook profiles of complete strangers or read the TVTropes of shows I don’t plan on watching. My poison this year was finding out what kind of potato I am. (I’m curly fries, in case you were wondering.)

Ah, yes, the rhetoric of tabbed browsing (and the split-screen feature of Windows 7 and up) has made me and many a lot more distractable. I remember a time when our browsers and programs completely consumed our screens, requiring computer users to make the certain decision to minimize or quit to go into something else. Once, there was little to nothing that could be done in a sidebar or invisibly behind your currently open window. Distractions still could happen then, and they did, but they were less passive and excusable than they are now as we shift from social media, to email, and back to work seamlessly. BACK IN MY DAY, our distractions came from the unflattened outside world! (And we walked uphill! Backwards! Both ways!)If I wanted to goof-off, I had to do so obviously and with intention, and sometimes with a floppy disk.

Something to do with your old floppy disks if you have them.

My first tabbed browser was Mozilla Firefox. After I got that mid-high school, I was rapidly going between AIM (which had a smaller than normal window to begin with and already managed to be distracting with how it floated inside the AOL browser), Facebook and Wikipedia, with a permanent in-case-of-parents tab at the wait. From what I’ve seen, I’m not the only one.

LiveJournal, Zynga and even Myspace had some distractions to offer too at the height of their popularity. If you were bored, you could take a second to click out of that essay or research and click into your Hey Arnold identity. It was appealing in it’s quickness. It indulged even the the strangest of curiosity. But when Facebook hit the seen with it’s Apps, quizzes became all but a fad of the past…

And yet, they’ve made a comeback. Click-bait sites like Buzzfeed are now filling our Facebook feeds with new exciting possibilities like “What’s YOUR Patronus?” (A doe) or “Which Fast Food Chain are You?” (Dunkin’ Donuts). In fact, me and two of my friends spent most of our Friday night discovering which president we were or what contemporary artists we were most like. If you check out the questions on these quizzes, half the time the questions have nothing to do with the results. I mean, really, what does your favorite Little Mermaid character have to do with what pie you are? And why do we need to know what pie we are, anyway?

As I was saying earlier, how computers, operating systems and the internet are designed is all very distracting. Even within my WordPress word processor, I have not only my tabs and bookmarks, but also about 30 links begging me to click away from this post. In other blog entries, I’ve heard suggestions of our brains being wired differently because of changes in media, thereby making us either less able to concentrate (or perhaps just making us more productive in a constantly changing environment). The return of quizzes may also have to do with their viral sharibility through the abundance of buttons and outlets. Instead of shouting your likeness to a period of European history into the void, you can share it with all your friends and hear a resounding “OMG that’s so you!” in response.

My boyfriend and consistent reader recently linked me to a post on Jezebel that had a few more ideas as to where our sudden and serious Buzzfeed quiz addiction comes from. It could be existential: it’s calming to quantify the human condition, to break it down into easily understood metaphors or ubiquitous cultural references. Our old friend Sherry Turkle apparently had a thing or two say about this:

People have always been taking quizzes like this, but [before social media], you were doing it for yourself… But now they’re specifically for performance. Here, part of the point is to share it, to feel ‘who you are’ by how you share who you are. [It’s] the conflation of who you are and who thinks you’re okay.

It’s funny how so many of us despise tests and testing but continue to quiz ourselves and share our answers to validate our own existences, as Turkle implies. It makes me wonder how much of this fad has spawned from our largely standardized-test based education or how every sitcom in the 90s had that personality-test-for-a-career episode. In any case, these quizzes will not stop being produced: they help Buzzfeed and other publishers collect data for more accurate advertising (because what Batman you are somehow indicates what clothing brand you’ll click on?) says NPR. And as creepy as that is, something tells me we aren’t done taking quizzes yet. After all, how ever will I live without knowing what shoe brand I am most like?

In all seriousness, though, these quizzes are major time-sucks that often tell us the most obvious and inane facts about ourselves in just a variety of  pop-culture contexts. My advice? Don’t let a quiz tell you who you are if you can help it. If you want to “quantify the human condition” read through your old Facebook posts and draw your own comparisons to your favorite characters. It’s a great exercise and you might actually find a better reason why your strong female character alter-ego is Buffy Summers than blonde hair.

Stay focused, everyone!

Swidjiting it Up!

Nope, that’s not a typo. It’s a website start-up that seems really cool!

So, back story. If you follow my Facebook or Twitter, you already know that’s its been an extra busy week, even for my perpetually busy self. It’s basically going to be that way until Spring break starts (March 7th) between my Proposal and Grant writing class and the job application deadlines I have coming up (ugh). BUT this week was extra busy due to my attendance at two different career fairs in Ithaca (my theory is that if I keep putting effort into finding a job, my Karmic pay off will be a job, whether or not I made the right connection).

Today was the career fair at Ithaca College, and I generally had a good time. I networked with several nonprofits I’m interested in working for, including the Southern Tier Aids Program. I found some positions I may apply for and even a couple of writing opportunities–I even got some free stuff, and I love free stuff.

I also made sure to stop by the Swidjit booth. On the college’s list of visiting companies, it was given a one-line description as a website start up looking for help. Of course, considering I run a blog on technology, I was ecstatic to stop by and find out what was going on. Although the table did not have employment/internship opportunities for me since I’m not planning on staying local to Ithaca, it did have a pretty awesome concept.

So Swidjit is basically Craigslist, but better. While Craigslist is difficult to navigate and, frankly, hideous, Swidjit is taggable, searchable and very modern looking with it’s interface. Judging by the looks of Craigslist, it doesn’t surprise me that shady stories are normally associated with it.

Craigslist shows a lot of links at once, making the website as overwhelming as it is unappealing.

Craigslist shows a lot of links at once, making the website as overwhelming as it is unappealing.

swidjit

Swidjit has a more pretty, more modern design that invites the user to interact with the posts.

If you cannot tell by the above picture. Swidjit also has some social-media qualities. At the booth, the creator of Swidjit informed me that he wanted it to be like Facebook, Twitter and Craigslist all at once, but the combo makes a website that is completely original, community-oriented and very easy to browse. Actually, to get lost in. Even though I have nothing to give, sell, buy or announce right now, I found myself clicking from tag to tag, much like I do on Twitter.

There is even a pleasant forum quality to the site, making it a lot sticker than it’s competition. The “info/ideas” tab on the sidebar directs  users to local advice, tips, and news. I see this website as a newspaper opened at the classifieds that can be flipped to the editorial and news sections. Best of all is the wonderful philosophy of this social enterprise:

Our product is designed to fill our pressing need for a more carbon-thrifty, economically-balanced, socially-just way of meeting our needs. The global system we currently rely on is wreaking environmental & social havoc, so we are providing a platform for a totally-awesome and sustainable alternative.

The idea is to recycle and reuse goods easier by connecting local people, and in those connects with each other create a strong community that keeps their money local! That’s an idea I, as a environmentalist, can really get behind. The line between technology and nature becomes more narrow…

Presently, this service is only available local to Ithaca, but I think it could be national, if not GLOBAL, someday. No matter where you live, I suggest checking it out. Meanwhile, I’ll be clicking around, looking at all the couches and scrapbooking paper I want to buy…

A Wall of Pixels and Vines

Hello readers! So today I’m kind of “cheating” with my post. I want to keep to my posting schedule but I’m terribly busy this week. If you take a look at my TaskStream* web portfolio, I’ve added two new projects (along with my constant project of trying to gain employment). As such, I’m posting a paper I wrote for my Public Essay class last semester. In my defense, this essay was inspired by research I did for my blog and is on a topic I plan to write more about: the technology/nature divide. It was my final essay for the class, though it was a bit on the rushed side. Either way, I hope you enjoy!

*Also, in other news, because of the work I did with my web portfolio, future writing majors at Ithaca College will be required to make their own as well. I’ve changed the curriculum, in a way. Does that count as “bad ass”?

Continue reading