Week 15: Digital Literature

What has changed with the use of digital technology to produce literature?

New doors have opened with the use of digital platforms to create literary works. The ability to express oneself using a technological platform has allowed for a different way to let a reader into an author/artist’s world. These technological advancements have offered a creator new modes of expression as well as given the audience new means to interpret and interact with a piece of work. But before a digital work is created, the creator needs to know a bit about the medium they are using to produce the work. How can the author best convey the message using a digital platform? The way in which they accomplish this is different online versus on a printed page, but that is the point.

Authors have found ways to use algorithms which can be used to create literary works; the pen/pencil and paper and/or the traditional typing in Word has been replaced with an author providing some kind of a program with instructions for creating a work. Traditionally, readers are used to reading words that are permanently fixed on a page, but now this seems a thing of the past. With animations, words can now pop out at the reader, circle around themselves, appear at you one at a time, etc.

Week 14: The World of Books

What is a book? Typically, when one thinks of the physical structure of a book, it is a stack of pages fixed on one edge and then bound to a cover. It is like a box waiting to be opened. It induces wonder as to what is inside and how the contents can change the way we see the world or even ourselves.

It is the relationship between the reader, the author or authors, and the medium which allows for insight into the author’s mind, the reader’s mind and the object that brings the two together. The word object seems a simple designation for something that can bring about such power and electricity.

Although it is up to the creator of a piece of work to try to convey some kind of a message or story or what have you, it is essentially the reader that is in charge of the interpretation of a work. Even with the common printed book in a specific arrangement with words comprising sentences, comprising paragraphs, with a finite beginning and end.

it is the reader that interprets the meaning of that work. Two individuals can read the same book and come up with two different interpretations of its meaning. Readers can also create their own meaning using recombinant structures such as seen in one hundred thousand billion poems.

Although the fundamental aspect of the work is the author’s creation, it is up to the reader to create poems that are meaningful to them.  But meaning does not need to come from words on a page, it can come from a book that has no words.

The reader can transform the work in a number of ways that reflect their uniqueness as an individual and the way in which they choose to represent that through the manipulation of another’s world. This is not to discredit the author in a work because it is an author’s imagination, talent, and genius which permits this interplay among readers and what they are reading and/or visualizing.

An author gives a piece of themselves to the world when they produce and disseminate something. This is seen in ABC-We Print Anything-In the Cards. This brings about the medium for dissemination. Many moons ago, readers were able to interact with printed books, but now we have reached an age in which interactions with books have transcended the boundaries of what we traditionally assumed would always be bounded.

The digital age has given us the ability to interact with books like never before adding sound and various other types of media to enhance our experience with the work. It has also allowed us to attempt to preserve the printed book by combining it with technology.

Augmented Reality is the new trend for some book readers, mainly children. It provides a different and, right now, exciting way to engage younger people in educational topics such as human anatomy and paleontology which might not seem so interesting at a young age.

Although this art project seems fun, are we alienating older generations that find things like augmented reality too complex and distracting. When you go to a non-academic library (yes, they do still exist) who do you see in there? Older people. Why?

So, as exciting as all of this seems, what are we losing by selling our souls to technology? I say – a piece of history. One day a library in a building will become a historic site to be studied by archaeologists and the touch and feel of a book will be something long forgotten.

Kind of like 8 tracks, beepers, and vinyl. Except vinyl actually did make a comeback. Maybe printed books will “make a comeback” one day, but we have to think about why these types of materials fell out of favor in the first place.

Maybe the trend died and people just like new things, maybe moguls like google just needed data to fuel their futuristic world of artificial intelligence and we fell for it hook line and sinker. I often wonder what today would look like if google never existed.

Week 13: Markup Language

Today, I am going to talk about the wonderful world of markup languages. It’s the behind the scenes process that most people don’t really think about when they do something such as go to a webpage. It’s like eating veal without thinking about a baby cow being slaughtered. You just eat it unless you are a vegetarian, pescatarian, or vegan.

Why do we even have mark-up languages? Something about computers and the internet? These languages made it possible for us to create web pages that can be understood not only by other web designers but also by most web browsers and whatever other applications need to be involved.

What are markup languages? Markup languages are designed for the processing, definition and presentation of text. The term markup gets its root from editors making revisions to writer’s manuscripts back when people looked at a printed book and didn’t think about the annilation of the environment. Three common markup languages are XML, HTMl, and SGML.

You can think of these like a family. SGML, or Standard Generalized Markup Language is the parent. SGML passes structure and format rules to markup languages.

Then you have the child, html or HyperText Markup Language, which is the application of SGML. It is used to design webpages. What images do I want on the webpage, what type of font do I want my text to be in. Things like that.

Then you have the cousin to HTML and the nephew to SGML, XML, Extensible markup language. This is a subset of SGML, in which it can be used to create markup languages while html is a markup language.

Tags are key components in markup languages (no, not the size medium, made in china tags, on your jeans). They indicate what should be displayed on screen. With markup language you usually have an opening tag and a closing tag and the content displayed is everything in between. Ah, but tags can get messy so there is Markdown to the rescue. Markdown is a lightweight markup language. It was created in the early 2000s as a way to make our lives easier and has been improved upon since.

Although markup languages can seem depressing for some. They are very beneficial in these digital times that we just can not escape. Knowledge of markup languages can be used to produce a manuscript, edit a manuscript, and/or digitize a printed publication.

But the mere digitization of text is too simple for today’s times. It’s like digging up an archaeological site just to see what’s there. Although it is nice to provide people with access to materials that maybe were previously inaccessible, we can transcend this to include supplementary information which enhances the readers experience with the material.

So this takes me to O’Briens phrase regarding Kenneth Price’s Scholarly Electronic Editions “gateway into a new world of textual experience”. I would not mind having an interactive map to Edgar Allen Poe’s childhood home while I am reading Annabel Lee. Or to be able to see his process from start to finish and not just the final product of genius and madness combined. The use of markup language is one way to accomplish this with future works. For this reason, it is necessary to have some working knowledge of markup language and design if you want to produce something like Price’s Scholarly Editions or otherwise. But as we saw in our readings for the week, markup language can have its own issues. How can one electronically display poetry without the appropriate markup language?

This is just one thing to add to the already full plate of embarking on a large digital project. Another includes the need to collaborate with various types of individuals. This includes librarians, archivists, graduate students, undergraduate students, academic administrators, funding agencies, and private donors, just to name a few.

But the benefits of having printed books turned digital are numerous. One of which being preservation. What if the last copy of dante’s inferno was burned and lost forever? Digital materials allows for the preservation of great works and not so great works for an eternity. Or at least until some other technology comes out which makes the project obsolete.

Week 12

Recently, I attended a mandatory workshop hosted by the USF Office of Diversity and Inclusion. This workshop was mandatory for all graduate students that were funded by the department. The workshop began with the speaker asking everyone in attendance to declare their pronouns (she/he, him/her, hers/his, they, them, their, non-binary pronouns, and more). I guess I have been living under a rock (or in the basement laboratory of the Social Science Building with dead things that do not speak unless you give them a voice…) because I was not sure what the speaker was referring to until I heard other students announce their pronouns. I started to catch on before it was my turn to announce my pronouns (her/hers/she). At that moment, I realized that I was desperately in need of this workshop. During the workshop, I began looking around the room at my peers. I wondered how much of this type of knowledge was easily accessible and understandable to people outside of academia; no one outside of the Anthropology Department has ever asked me what my pronouns are…if no one has every asked me what my pronouns are – does this mean they do not know that gender should not be discussed in only binary language and/or are they not aware of terms such as transgender, cisgender, asexual, etc. ? If the answers to the aforementioned are “yes” than I am not surprised. I know many individuals that are “blissfully” ignorant to the changing of the times in which people that fall outside of the categories of male and female are now being rightfully permitted a voice and support in place of silence and discrimination. As anthropologists, humanists, and human beings in general, it is important for us to promote a diverse and inclusive community within our own network as well as outside of it by making people aware that there is in fact a problem. Text-mining is one way to accomplish this task but…again…how many people outside of academia even know what text-mining is…

There needs to be a way in which people within the academic community can translate the knowledge they receive in the classroom to individuals that are outside of the scholarly network. Any ideas?

Week 11: Reverse Engineering

Reverse engineering is the process of taking things apart and putting them back together to gain an understanding of the process, form, and function of something. For example, in our reading for this week, Steven Jones (2018), and others, are attempting to recreate and understand the inner workings of a historic center in Italy (to put it simplistically), called the Centro per L’Automazione dell’Analisi Letteraria — the Center for the Automation of Literary Analysis, by reverse engineering. The center was the brain child of Roberto Busa, a Jesuit scholar thought to be the father of humanities computing. The center was operational in the 1960s and is now nonexistent; the center used punched-card machines created by IBM to process data.

The process of reverse engineering this center mainly involves the analysis of photographs obtained from Busa’s archive and historical documents. This project is not just about elucidating how the punch-card machines worked or what the inside of this center looked it. In my mind, it is also about gaining an understanding of the political and social climate of the times, the social interactions of workers in close quarters, the technological availability to humans, and the collaborative nature of industries with “regular humans”.

The use of reverse engineering to recreate a period in time which is now lost is highly applicable to understanding and remembering the past. This is made possible with the advent of new 3D technologies. Jones is collaborating with other individuals to produce a virtual lab of the center which will allow others to experience a piece of history that might otherwise have been forgotten.

Jones, “Reverse Engineering the First Humanities Computing Center,” DHQ 12.2 (2018): http://www.digitalhumanities.org/dhq/vol/12/2/000380/000380.html

Week 9: More on AI

Unfortunately, if I want to put on my reductionist pants, most things in life are just systems of patterns that algorithms can infiltrate and mimic. As Greenfield (2018) essentially states, machines can learn the same things that humans can learn, such as how to play a game better than any human has in over 2,500 years (Go), how to replicate paintings that were produced by one-of-a-kind artists, how to swing a sword like a samurai, etc. The difference between a machine and a human is pure uncensored emotions. However, a machine does not need to possess emotions to create or do any of the things that humans do. Greenfield touches on this idea that a machine’s ability to exploit a human’s weaknesses is brute force. I would have to agree, but isn’t brute force a humanistic term? Does a machine understand the concepts of exploitation and brute force? No, not currently, but that is not to say that that possibility is off the table until the end of time (AI is evolving…). It is very interesting to think that the very machines that we are afraid of are being created by our own species. The desire for money and profit has completely overshadowed the fact that “we” might be creating instruments that will one day have the ability to take away our livelihoods, provide us with no security, and ultimately place us in metaphorical cages (and possibly actual cages if things get really wild).

On a note away from cyborgs that will one day rule the planet – it might be somewhat hard for me to imagine a world that is completely run by objects that were created using algorithms, AI, and machine learning when the automated voice from my credit card company can not distinguish between my saying a “one” or a “two”…but, I can not predict the future so who knows.

Greenfield, Adam. Radical Technologies: The Design of Everyday Life (Verso, 2018)

Week : 8 Automation and Machine Learning

Lets get into machine learning versus automation. Both types of technology use algorithms to accomplish some type of task: cleaning your house, unknowingly stealing your job, sending an email for you, etc.

What people might not realize is that algorithms are a part of our everyday lives. They are used to determine our credit score, where we will be seated in a restaurant, who we should date on a dating app.

The concept of automation and machine learning has been around for quite some time in the media before materializing. The 60s, 70s, and 80s witnessed a lot of this (Timecop, Knight Rider, Gilligans Island, Back to the Future), but why haven’t these concepts really taken off until recently (I expected to be in a hover car by now…). Maybe some humans are afraid of the implications this might cause such as job loss, a complete and total take over in which the robots gain feelings and thoughts of their own (Blade Runner anyone?)…or maybe it just takes awhile to get through all of the bureaucratic red tape…

So what does this world of algorithims and robots mean for society? Why do we need things robots that run a hotel for us when we are not in short supply of humans to do work? Seems to me the motivation is money. Everyone wants to save a buck.

Why do we want to replace ourselves? Again, there is financial motivation for this replacement, or supplement, if you want to be PC. The owner of a company can hire a robot to do a humans job without the messy financial burden of matching retirement, workers comp, and shelling out money for raises and overtime

So, what is a human worth in this capitalist society driven by the almighty dollar? This age of automation, machine learning, robotics, and algorithims tells me that we are not worth what we should be worth. It seems We are worth nothing if we can easily be replaced by a robot because it is cheaper.

This age doesn’t seem to be about humans but rather how certain humans can come up with ways to make a buck by stomping on the backs of blue collar workers.

Oh, but some might give the impression that an aspect of this age of autonomous systems is a good thing for human preservation. For example, the use of drones in the military and cars that can drive themselves. Having a drone shot down by a so called enemy of our great country instead of a human piloting a plane is good, right?

Less fatalities on the road. This seems very selfless of the creators and in the interest of everyday individuals. But, no selfless act is unselfish when money is involved. Less fatalities in any situation means less chances for having to pay out for a human life (i.e. insurance companies and the government).

Aside from the financial gain associated with autonomous systems, there is this idea that automation and machine learning can provide humans with a more leisure life. If you don’t have to drive yourself to work or clean your house than you have more time for hanging out. Well, for the non one-percenter if you are unemployed or partially employed than your existence in this capitalist society is somewhat limited by the constraints of not having any money.