Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Proposal: Creating a Class All About Ebooks

In this time of the digital age, people have had to make a lot of adjustments to a new digital culture. One of these adjustments is to how people are reading and consuming content; it’s not just in print format anymore. With today’s technologies, people can have access to lots of information virtually anywhere, provided there is an internet connection.  People read texts on their phones, computers, tablets, and e-readers.

Ebooks are gaining more and more popularity. To adapt to this change from a print culture to a digital culture, there needs to be a greater understanding of how ebooks work and also how they are published. To ease into this adaption, I suggest that universities start offering more classes regarding how to publish ebooks.

Benefits to learning about ebooks will be of great use to those who are interested in the future of the publishing business and those who are interested in self-publishing. To start, people should get used to the idea of using them. Some people are just not used to the technology quite yet. Getting them used to the technology as it is now will prepare readers for the future when books will be on a digital reader and when they will be more interactive, such as infusing images, video, and audio with the text.

To be prepared for studying literature in the digital age, we should know how to consume and create content in the form of ebooks. Despite the resistance of a few traditional-styled people, this is where the technology is going. People who are interested in publishing, commercial or self, should especially be adapt to this new format, because it is still changing and has the potential to change even more. So, as an editor who is excited about the future of this technology, I propose that a class about ebooks, how to use them and how to make them, should be an added class to the editing minor.

Humans versus Machines

Humans use machines to make a task simpler in some aspect. They are generally thought of as two separate entities—the human, which is living, can think, can feel, and the other is the machine, not living, can’t think for itself, unfeeling, and soulless. When these two are put together, however, they can accomplish things that wouldn’t have been possible without it. In Moby Dick, there are a few examples of humans working with machines in order to accomplish something or have new meaning.

We talked about in class how Ahab used his crew as a machine to sail to find Moby Dick. The crew itself only followed Ahab’s orders and didn’t think of a different viewpoint together. It was essentially a static figure that lended itself to Ahab to use for only Ahab's purposes. There were a few other examples that I thought fit this example of humans and machines. Queeueg shaves his face with his harpoon, using an unconventional tool to do a normal thing. To Ishmael, and probably to some others, this would seem barbaric; however, it got the job done, so why should it matter? Another point to bring up is about Moby Dick himself. In the chapter, The Whiteness of the Whale, Ishmael is describing the good—it’s purity—and the bad--of the color white in the whale, in other words, the human and the machine parts that make up Moby Dick. See Shelly’s post for a little more elaboration.

The two working together make a new kind of hybrid—part human and part machine. This hybrid, because of it is part human, is still considered to be human, however there are few exceptions to that. The biggest one I think was in the example of Ahab’s crew hybrid chasing Moby Dick, something that was also hybrid. Which won in the end? Moby Dick. Why? You could say that in the end, it was his humanity, his instincts that saved him. The crew still acted together as a machine in order to capture Moby Dick. 

Broadening our Scope: Incorporating New Media Forms into Formal Literary Studies

The study of literature is integrally connected to the study of culture as a whole. Traditionally, literary scholarship has embraced not only a study of texts but also art, music, and other forms. Truly understanding literature and its import within our modern culture, then, requires that we acknowledge the interconnectedness of textual and other artistic forms and integrate novel media forms into our study of literature. Curricula for literature and writing classes within the English department need to instruct students in the use of novel media formats as a part of the formal research process. This includes not only digitally mediated interpretations of traditional forms like music and art but also contemporary forms like user-created videos, video games, blogs, and a wealth of other creative media formats.

Matthew Arnold proposes that great literature is possible only thanks to the “current” of ideas that exists within a given culture, citing Shakespeare’s success as a clear demonstration of this point. This current depends on a diversity of media formats, as Paris’s Lost Generation of Hemingway, Stein, Fitzgerald, etc. demonstrate in their close association with prominent painters and musicians like Pablo Picasso and Cole Porter. Incorporating a broader study of media, both modern and traditional, as part of an academic study of literature will improve students’ understanding not only of the works themselves but also in the cultural relevance within a modern context and will additionally provide for a richer stream of ideas and influences upon which students can build their personal writing. Novel media forms prove especially pertinent in their ability demonstrate the relevance of the literary studies to modern audiences and to adapt seemingly “old” ideas to new contexts. By modifying curricula to include new media studies as a part of a formal study of literature, the English department would thus be able to improve the breadth, relevance, and vitality of students’ research and of the department as a whole.

Final Exam Essay 2: English Major Update

Updating the English Major to the digital age could be advantageous to professors, students, and the broader academic community in several ways and could keep the major relevant in a world that increasingly questions its importance. One such way to update the major to the digital world would be reshaping the course outcomes to always include a project that somehow extends beyond the classroom into the broader world and enter the real-world conversations happening on that topic, rather than just live and die in the classroom. We've studied ways to do this in our digital culture class this semester, both discussing ways to socially optimize our research to both prove its relevance and find communities interested in it and ways to reach beyond the classroom with our research. Ideally, students would have the flexibility to follow their own research topics and trends from class to class, building over the course of their college career a portfolio of work as well as an individual voice, style, and research expertise.

Such an approach would actually be closer to the original spirit of university study, to come and follow a specific passion and study it out over a long period of time, building skills and talent through mentoring and professorial guidance to prepare to go out into the world and show a new and unique idea. Ironically, updating to the digital age would in this way also be a return to the roots of higher education. Such a system would allow students to leave their university not only with a degree, but with a reputation and a direction for further study and work that would lead more naturally into graduate study and/or the workplace.

Increasingly, the digital world requires students to have not only degrees, but portfolios to enter the work field. Graduate schools also always require a writing sample and a clear sense of research direction from a student to be considered for admission. The current model doesn’t allow much time or room for students to build such a unique voice and direction in their research. By updating the English major for the digital world, we can allow students to not only build such a voice and direction, but also build connections, communities, and networks by way of publication and sharing of their ongoing research such that by the time students graduate, they already have in place everything they need not only to apply to graduate school or the workplace, but to continue to succeed there as they have a wide network and body of work to pull from and build on.

Currently, such a model isn’t followed because the focus of undergraduate study is to expose students to a broad range of literary genres, periods, and works. This ideal is not wrong, and could still be preserved in the proposed update to the English major. For instance, I have gone through my college education according to the traditional English major, taking classes from a broad range of time periods and genres to fulfill the major requirements for graduation. However, over the past school year, I have also pursued research relating videogames to literature, and have been able to apply every one of my classes to such a study. In Early American Literature, for example, I studied how Edgar Huntly set up many expectations for the American novel that have persisted into American videogame story tropes, specifically the Assassin’s Creed series. In Advanced Studies in Genre, my section was focused on the rise of the British detective novel, and I was able to explore not only film adaptations of Sherlock Holmes, but videogame adaptations as well, and deal with the issues of a videogame trying to make the player feel like a detective as intelligent as Sherlock Holmes. In a Shakespeare class, I was able to explore how Shakespeare legitimized English language drama as a high form of art and relate that to possible ways videogames could become a culturally legitimate art form in our own time.

As I began to follow this single strain of research in all of my classes, I opened opportunities that I hadn’t even considered before for myself. I ended up presenting alongside a Ph.D. candidate and an established professor at the annual conference of the Rocky Mountain Modern Language Association, and scarcely two months later had three offers for publication on three separate articles I had written in the vein of videogames as literature. I started my own blog to get more of my thoughts out there, and within a month of starting it had over a thousand page views and several comments that led me to people interested in similar topics that I could connect with. Also within a year, I had connected with some big names in the field by keeping to socially optimized research methods and had personal feedback from major writers and creators that have lent intelligence and credibility to my research. My prospects for graduate school and a career have increased considerably as a result.

This kind of path through the English Major should not only be more accepted, but encouraged as it is the best way to ensure that students land on their feet after graduation and have a clear direction with their education. Without such an update, the English major faces increasing obscurity and ridicule from the world at large. The world has moved into a new age; the English major must go there with it.

Reading Digital Culture: How Literature Aids in Understanding the Digital Age

Literary works like Moby Dick help us to make sense of digital culture by investigating key themes pertinent to digital interaction. One of these themes is the idea of isolation, a concept that I discuss in some detail in "The Sea and Solitude." Moby Dick essentially presents the reader with a number of disconnected individuals and asks what is necessary to bring them together. This theme shows up early in Queequeg's and Ishmael's relationship, but other relationships, like that of Queequeg to Tashteego or of Ahab and Pip further illustrate the idea that even though these individuals are from different backgrounds, the mere fact that they are together serves as a foundation on which they can build meaningful relationships. The Internet works in a similar manner, facilitating powerful relationships for people from different countries and backgrounds and providing means for people who feel isolated or left out to find a "home" of sorts. Kristen, for example, shows how digital tools can be used to help returned missionaries who return home early to feel connected and loved despite the negative feelings or comments that others might hold against them. It demonstrates that those who feel excluded or separate can, in fact, find a place where they belong in digital culture.

Moby Dick likewise investigates identity, a theme that is pertinent to to digital culture on a number of different levels. Moby Dick's famous opening line, "Call me Ishmael," is perhaps the book's most well-known and robust exploration of this idea. In three little words, Melville establishes an identity for his narrator, and throughout the rest of the book, as we hear more of his stories and see more of his interactions with others, we learn more of who he really is. This is similar to how identity is established on the Internet, where often, we have only a name and a picture or a catchphrase to go off of in terms of defining a person. Gradually, through their comments, posts, pictures, etc. we come to understand more of who they are, yet we understand that even these "facts" are in some sense constructed specifically for the Internet: just as Ishmael reveals only that which he wants to share about himself, so also are Internet identities constructed to convey certain ideas, qualities, or images. This is a concept that Aleesha investigates to some extent in her study of Pinterest, where users define themselves by the clothes, accessories, decorations, and quotes that they post to their respective pin-boards. Others, like Lizy and Victoria, look at identity as parts of a larger collective, as in fandoms.

Final Exam 1: Moby Dick in the Digital Age

Moby Dick helps us understand digital culture because it deals with a vast array of themes that have only become more pertinent and important in the digital age. One such theme is that of fixation. In the digital age, it’s easier than ever to get wrapped up in just one interest as it is easier than ever to find massive amounts of content on that topic. This has caused problems in several ways, perhaps most prominently with videogame addiction, fandoms, and social media and other forms of digital communication that take a lot of time and energy to keep up with. 

Moby Dick teaches us of the dangers of obsessive fixation, but also explores the psychology of it in realistic ways that could help us understand the mindset of those who become too fixated on the digital world and begin to neglect the real world. Also, it helps to show the merits of fixation as well that can easily go overlooked. For instance, Ahab was certainly crazed, but he also created a strong sense of community and brought different kinds of people together for a single cause. Obviously, Ahab’s methods and reasons were wrong, but that doesn’t mean that passionate interest can’t also lead to a strong sense of community among a diverse group of people. Moby Dick shows both sides of this coin, and both obsessive fixation and healthy passion have only become more important in the digital age as new technologies provide greater connectivity and greater access to content and people than ever before, raising both opportunity and danger. 

Literature and art have always instructed humanity on how to live, and Moby Dick proves that they will continue to do so in important and powerful ways that expand people’s perspectives and open their minds to the broader world around them. In some ways, you might say that Moby Dick is more important in the digital age than ever before, and its study has only become more important. Moby Dick can and should be applied to aspects of digital culture whenever it is taught.

Reflections on Digital Culture

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One of things that has been impressed upon me most this semester is the idea that the digital age allows us (and in some cases, requires us) to specialize. Whereas in traditional settings creators, innovators, Paul, Heidi, myself), fandoms (Victoria, Lizy), rethinking print literacy (Shelly, Kayla, Danielle) and social media for social change (Kristen, Cheri) are just the beginning. For me, digital culture is a loose term, because it's composed of so many diverse and sometimes isolated culture so much so that to make broad generalizations in an attempt to classify the culture as a whole would likely exclude vast subsets of digital users. Nevertheless, I'm going to try.
and enthusiasts are limited by the accessibility and popularity of certain ideas or sub-cultures, the Digital Age is a time of fandoms and specialization and unbridled creativity. Chances are that if someone, somewhere is interested in an idea, then there are likely others talking and thinking about those same ideas, and the Internet provides the means to connect those people together. It has been interesting to see different themes and subsets of digital culture evolve even in our own class: gamer culture (

In my view, digital culture is about the following:

  1. Personal and group expression
  2. In light of the first item, the somewhat paradoxical recreation the self
  3. Resistance to traditional forms and paradigms
  4. Accessibility of information and means of creation
  5. Sociality