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

Wikimedia Creative Commons License
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

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Final Reflections: "How I Have Come to Understand Digital Culture"

I came into this class knowing a good amount about digital culture already. I had taken a course from Dr. Burton before in which he emphasized academic blogging and using social networks for social discovery and social proof. I had already been researching and writing about videogames as art and literature for a while. However, what I really took away from this class is a view of the truly digital world we’re now living in. That world is open, complex, beautiful, even though in many ways not exactly new.

The new digital world I saw through this class is open in more ways than I thought. It’s open access, open opportunity, and largely open-armed. I learned a ton about copyright law and the complex issues of fair use and creative commons that I hadn’t understood before as I saw just how much information really is entirely open and free to be accessed through the internet, and how much creative content is being made open source for anyone to use and add to or adjust (the Linux operating system, for example, or Wikipedia). Our lectures on crowdsourcing were especially eye-opening to me because I hadn’t understood just how complex, powerful, and beautiful projects done asynchronously by people from all over the world could turn out to be, like Eric Whitacare's virtual choir. I saw also a wider range of opportunity provided by the internet as we talked about the do-it-yourself movement and maker culture, as well as e-publishing, social networks, and tinkering. This especially hit home to me in the video we watched of a homemade space craft. I also saw how open-armed the digital culture really can be as we talked about all the different opportunities to share undergraduate research, and how communities can and have formed around almost any topic somewhere on the Internet. I especially felt these three aspects of digital culture—open access, open opportunity, and open-armed—as I started my own blog to collect my thoughts on videogames and ultimately published with one blog and am now in the works with two others. In gathering resources to put in my writing, in collecting and forming my own thoughts, and in working with other people through the internet to get my ideas out there and receiving feedback, I have seen digital culture at work in all three of these meanings of the word “open.”

Two students who have especially helped me take my understanding of digital culture even further as I’ve gone throughout this course are, unsurprisingly, the other two students in my blogging group, Greg Bayles and Aleesha Bass. Greg showed me how the three meanings of open in the digital world can become the foundations for an entirely new kind of civilization—how real human organizations can exist entirely within the digital world, and how most physical organizations are becoming increasingly digital as well. Aleesha helped me see how our digital activity reflects our true identity in a clearer way than I ever had before. As I went through the course, I understood more about how our online actions express our identity, but as Aleesha looked specifically at Pinterest and we talked about it together, even concluding that one could tell the personality and major life events of a person based on their Pinterest boards alone, something clicked in my brain and I saw just how our digital selves connect to our real selves in a clearer way than I ever had before.

I’ve truly seen a whole new world throughout the course of this class. Even though our readings of Moby Dick have proven that the concepts, issues, and foundational ideas of the digital world certainly aren’t new, new technologies are allowing us to take those ideas and concepts and deal with those issues in bigger, faster, and deeper ways than we ever have before. It truly is a brave newdigitalworld.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

You Are What You Pin: An Analysis on Pinterest Identity

Below is the link to my final paper.

P.S. Sorry about the screenshots from the survey. They are getting messed up when the .pdf is uploading to Google Docs, and I'm not sure how to fix it. Here are the links to the pinboards if you would like to look at them.


Civilization in the Digital Age: Virtual Spaces and Hybrid Reality

Well, the White Whale is slain. My final paper is done. Soon the Rachel will come round to pick up the surviving orphans from the sea, and I'll go back home to warmth and solitude.

In any case, I decided to include a link to the paper in a .doc format, as I know I hate reading papers like this on blogs. I hope you enjoy!

UPDATED: (TWO of my) Final Product(s)

Like I said in my last post, my final project has kind of broken into many different pieces, but I made good on the promise from my proposal and made a little ebook of my essays on games and literature, which you can find here. It's in epub format, which most e-readers, tablets, and smartphones should support with the right app, or you can read it on the web through Firefox or Chrome with the right add-on/extension. A good Chrome e-reader add-on I found is Readium.

Also, I can't post my paper on the classical unities in videogames online because it's going to be published at First-Person Scholar, but here's a link to a doc of it.

If e-readers aren't your thing, all of the essays are also available (along with some other stuff I've written on games) at my personal gaming blog, Complicate the Narrative.

Thanks for reading! Enjoy!

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

One Success, Two More Potentials

So my final project has fractured into many different things all at once, but I've submitted three different articles/essays to three different people, and they've now all responded.

First of all, the gaming blog/game blogging aggregator Critical Distance accepted and featured my piece "The Romantic Dead" in their feature "This Week In Videogame Blogging" for this week (week of December 8). That's a big deal because it puts my name right next to a lot of the biggest in the business of videogame writing right now (and it's given a healthy spike to my blog views for the past couple days, too).

Next, Dr. Olvier Turle, founder of the literature blog Interesting Literature and now writer at the Huffington Post, liked my post "Journey and the Epic" and has said he wants to feature it as a guest blog piece in the near future, but it busy right now and will get back to me in a couple weeks.

Finally, the guys over at First Person Scholar liked my "Romantic Dead" piece, but said they don't host things already hosted somewhere else (even my personal blog), so I wrote a new piece entitled "All in One: Open World Games and the Classical Unities" that I've sent to them and they said they'd like to feature it, I just needed some revisions and a few more references. So I'm hard at work on that.

Anyway, so far at least that's 3 for 3, as long as those last two work out. This is amazing results and I'm so excited to see where this goes.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Digital Spaces: Working Outline

I. Introduction
                A. What is a civilization?
1. "[A] grouping of at least several thousand people with a common culture, usually a common language, usually a geographic locale, some significant (usually monumental) buildings and architecture, and a political structure that is not necessarily unified” (Blaha 2002).
2. "Civilization is fundamentally a cultural infrastructure of information and knowledge that serves survival and continuity. What distinguishes a civilization from a culture is that this infrastructure, having reached a critical level of complexity, becomes autonomous from constituent cities, nations, and empires" (Bosworth 2003). At what point will digital/Internet culture reach its critical complexity?
B. With a majority of the world's physical frontiers having been swallowed up in expansionism, many are looking to digital spaces as a new frontier—a place where they can establish their own culture and stake their claim in a rich and vibrant future within the Digital Age. Whether independent civilizations will emerge from this new frontier is yet to be determined, but already we see the close integration of real and virtual 'civilizations' as we know them, and the future will surely witness further advances in this area. Though at this stage of its progression the Internet and its substituent communities are still very much so dependent on real-world authorities and spaces for their being and maintenance, the foundations are already in place for the eventual emergence of virtual civilizations.
C. Working Thesis: Virtual spaces are becoming increasingly independent, and while they necessarily remain linked to the real world, they nonetheless provide the social underpinnings for the genesis of digital civilizations through their facilitation of virtual government, economy, and culture.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Pinterest Project Proposal

Working Title:
You Are What You Pin: Analyzing People Identities Based on Pinterest Pins

Working Thesis:
As people become involved with Pinterest, they not only showcase their interests but also show their identities through their likes, pins, and repins on Pinterest.

Preliminary Exploration:
For my preliminary exploration, I have been gathering data via Google Alerts--not that much comes up regarding Pinterest and identity, but I have found some good articles on social media in general and identity, which I think have pointed me in the right direction.

My previous blog posts have also looked at Moby Dick and Pinterest and a couple of curation posts here and here. What got me interested in this topic in the first place was reading Girl Wide Web 2.0, especially the chapters that dealt with identity and social media.

I think that this is topic is relevant because as we are spending more time with social media, we are needing to adjust and find ways to best represent ourselves online. There are different ways that people can represent themselves online, such as personally or professionally. From a Pinterest account, not only can people show their likes and interests but they also can show what is going on with their lives at the current time, such as a decorating for a new house or planning a party.

For the format of this project, I've decided to do a survey (click right here if you would like to take it) about Pinterest and identity to see if I could find a correlation between the two. I will then write a paper describing my background research and my findings and conclusions from the survey.

As stated from my last blog post, I was interested in the CATaC Conference because its theme is the closest to what I want to present. The papers can be in a short (3-5 pages) or long (10-15 pages) format. Since I plan on including the stats of my survey, the paper will be in the longer length. The paper is due on February 14.

My curation includes gathering data from the survey and pinning images on Pinterest that correspond with the personality traits I used in the survey. The pinboards are as follows: extroverted, introverted, sensing, intuition, feeling, thinking, prospecting, and judging--the pins are typical of those personality traits, and I tried to get as wide of a variety as possible.

Social Proof:
I've gotten lots of people to respond to my survey so far, and I've had a couple of shares for my survey on Google+ and Facebook. I've also shared the survey to communities on Google+ (the Pinterest and Digital Identities communities to be exact), and I am looking forward to sharing my conclusions with these groups after I finish this project.

Next Steps:
The next steps include to finish gathering data from the survey, compile it all, and see if there really is a strong correlation between personality traits and pins on Pinterest. Since I don't know exactly what they will entail, I want to gather more secondary sources about analyzing identity from personality traits so I can see if the results from my survey might actually mean anything. It will be interesting to see how this turns out.

That's it for now. I would appreciate any feedback and will offer up my feedback for your proposals as well.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Virtual Nation: Civilizing the Digital Wilds

Image by Greg Bayles. CC BY 2.0 Generic.
Adapted from Jastrow's public domain photograph.
1. Working Thesis Statement
The Internet represents the heir apparent to the cultural and social wealth of the American 'Empire' and will ultimately serve as a crucible for new, transcultural, digital civilizations.

2. Preliminary Exploration
I've explored the concept of virtual civilizations in a number of posts:
  • Digital Nations: The New Frontier takes a look at the historical inheritance of cultural/social wealth that in part led to the rise of the Roman, British, and American 'Empires.' It looks forward to the rise of the digital nation from the cultural and social infrastructure of America. This is essentially my first focused exploration of the concept of digital nations and represents my earliest thinking on the matter.
  • Monuments of our Age: Foundations of Civilization in the Digital World addresses the concept of civilization from a historiological perspective, examining the requirements for civilization and providing a number of scholarly definitions for civilization in a modern context.
  • We the People: Digital Civilizations is the post that I've used for most of my social proof, because it provides a brief overview of the topic and presents some foundational evidence as to the foundations of civilization already exigent within virtual worlds. This post received a good amount of feedback, and it's been one that I've circled back to at various points. This was also my first real call for colonization of the digital wilds: "Rather than anathematizing video games and virtual realms as base and 'savage,' we need settlers who will actively shape the digital frontier for good. Rather than complaining that digital worlds are mindless and violent, maybe we need to be the ones to find out how we can make them thoughtful and exalting."

I Got a Little Eager

So Greg just sent me a link to this great post at Interesting Literature, an academic blog focusing on a wide range of literary topics. I saw that my recent post on my gaming blog, "Journey and the Epic" spoke a lot to that guest post, so I just went for it and submitted that to them as a possible guest post.

Then I figured while I was at it, I should just submit my other post, "The Romantic Dead" to another academic blog I've been looking at, First Person Scholar. So I did.

Over the Thanksgiving break, I put both of those posts into a word document and discovered the were both already in the 8 page range, and I was worried about how I could translate them into regular papers from a blog format (especially "The Romantic Dead," since I depend on pictures a lot in that one) so I decided submitting to academic blogs was a good idea so I could preserve the original format. Also, I figured academic blogs would be a good idea because they generally get back to you faster and publish quicker, and I'm trying to gather as much clout as possible for my graduate school applications that'll be going out early next year. Since I don't know where I'll be or what I'll be doing in the Fall, I decided against a conference submission, especially since I just did a conference and wanted to try something new.

So that was quick, but quite a rush. We'll see what they say and I'll let you all know how it goes.