The Changing Spaces of Reading and Writing

Remediation

“…a newer medium takes place of an older one, borrowing and reorganizing the characteristics of writing in the older medium and reforming its cultural space.” (Bolter, 2001, p. 23)

Bolter’s (2005) definition of remediation struck me a bit like a Eureka! moment as I sat at lunch in the school staffroom, overhearing a rather fervent conversation between a couple of teachers, regarding how computers are destroying our children. They noted how their students cannot form their letters properly, and can barely print, not to mention write in cursive that is somewhat legible. The discussion became increasingly heated as one described how children could not read as well because of the advent of graphic novels, and her colleague gave an anecdote about her students’ lack of ability to edit. When the bell rang to signal the end of lunch, out came the conclusion—students now are less intelligent because they are reading and writing less, and in so doing are communicating less effectively.

In essence, my colleagues were discussing what we are losing in terms of print—forming of letters, handwriting— the physicality of writing. However, I wonder how much of an impact that makes on the world today, and 20 years from now when the aforementioned children become immersed in, and begin to affect society. Judging from the current trend, in 20 years time, it is possible that most people will have access to some sort of keypad that makes the act of holding a pen obsolete. Yes, it is sad, because calligraphy is an art form in itself, yet it strikes me that having these tools allow us the time and brain power to do other things. Take for example graphic novels. While some graphic novels are heavily image-based, there are many that have a more balanced text-image ratio. In reading the latter, students are still reading text, and the images help them understand the story. By making comprehension easier, students have the time and can focus brain processes to create deeper understanding such as making connections with personal experiences, other texts or other forms of multimedia.

As for the communications bit, Web 2.0 is anything but antisocial. Everything from blogs, forums, Twitter, to YouTube all have social aspects to them. People are allowed to rate, tag, bookmark and leave comments. Everything including software, data feeds, music and videos can be remixed or mashed-up with other media. In academia, writing articles was previously a more isolated activity, but with the advent of forums like arxiv.org, scholarly articles could be posted, improved much more efficiently and effectively compared to the formal process that occurs when an article is sent in to a journal. More importantly, scholarly knowledge is disseminated with greater ease and accuracy.

Corporations and educational institutions are beginning to see a large influx of, and reception for Interactive White Boards (IWB). Its large monitor, computer and internet-linked, touch-screen abilities make it the epitome of presentation tools. Content can be presented every which way—written text, word processed text, websites, music, video, all (literally) at the user’s fingertips. The IWB’s capabilities allow for a new form of writing to occur—previously, writing was either with a writing instrument held in one’s hand, or via typing on a keyboard. IWBs afford both processes to occur simultaneously, alternately, and interchangeably. If one so chooses, the individual can type and write at the same time! IWBs are particularly relevant to remediation of education and pedagogy itself, because the tool demands a certain level of engagement and interaction. A lesson on the difference between common and proper nouns that previously involved the teacher reading sentences and writing them on the board, then asking students to identify them—could now potentially involve the students finding a text of interest, having it on the IWB, then students identifying the two types of nouns by directly marking up the text with the pen or highlighter tools.

Effectively, the digital world is remediating our previous notion of text in the sense of books and print. Writing—its organization, format, and role in culture is being completely refashioned.

References

Bolter, J. D. (2001). Writing Space: Computers, Hypertext, and the Remediation of Print (2 ed.). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.

December 13, 2009   No Comments

This is it!

I must be honest and admit that I simply could not take in all the assigned readings, the forum discussions, the wiki building, and the community weblog; however, I was able to learn a lot from what I could absorb.   Reading Ong and Bolter were some of my favorite activities in ETEC540 for a couple reasons.  The first reason was that I really enjoyed seeing the contrasting views of these two authors and the second reason was that the reading was on paper.  Even though I have a nice new monitor, my eyes could only handle so much digital reading and I found myself craving reading an actual book.  That was an interesting realization as we were learning about different writing spaces and the benefits and drawbacks of each.

Before reading Bolter, I found myself seeing eye-to-eye with Ong.  His great divide perspective about technological determinism is so black and white and makes sense.  Then we read Bolter and his humanistic perspective not definitively labeling a cause and effect relationship on the remediation of writing was slightly disconcerting at first.  Being more of a humanitarian myself, I have come to agree more with Bolters ideas than Ong’s.  By understanding their contrasting views of text technologies, I was able to gain a solid understanding of the implications of the evolution of writing all the way from papyrus to Web 2.0.  To be honest, I as slightly impatient learning about all this history while I was reading about it, but I am glad to have as good of perspective on writing as I do now.

The collection of material created by my classmates on the community weblog is incredible.  There are so many creative and innovative ideas incorporating much of what we have read about and lots of other knowledge brought to the table from outside this course.  Our blog is a good example of the wisdom of the crowds and thankfully most contributors have added appropriate tags and have categorized them accordingly making it easy to find connections in the contributions.  I only wish I had access to our community weblog indefinitely for an instant source of inspiration!

Thanks to all of you for sharing all your knowledge and making this a very enjoyable course.

December 1, 2009   3 Comments

It’s Up To You

For my course project, I decided to create an interactive fictional story for students learning English as a foreign language.  The target audience is a small to medium class of upper intermediate students between the ages of 15 and 25 who have recently learned the difference between direct and reported speech.  Appropriate level reading material for non-native English students is hard to come by, especially in a non-English speaking country and is greatly appreciated when available.  As indicated in the directions to be read before students start their reading journey, the activity can either be completed individually or as a group.  Often when there is a competitive element to activities such as these, students are much more motivated to participate as a group.  It could potentially be completed remotely but would best be suited for a face-to-face-to-screen computer lab scenario.   

This project is a product of my exploration and experimentation of the mixed media hypertext as a teaching tool.  Therefore the focus should be much more on the medium than on the actual content.  The storyline is of course fictional and is relatively inconsequential other than providing some authentic dialogue (between the reader and their cellmate) and vocabulary appropriate to the students’ level.  The story is somewhat shorter than I originally expected, however as I was writing it, I realized that it would be better to start with a simple storyline both for students and a writer that are new to this genre and the tools to create it. “An interactive fiction is an extension of classical narrative media as it supposes a direct implication of spectators during the story evolution. Writing such a story is much more complex than a classical one, and tools at the disposal of writers remain very limited compared to the evolution of technology” (Donikian and Portugal, 2004).  I also had an idea of how the story would go before I started writing, but the direction changed in the process as well and I learned that creating a graphic storyboard is very helpful for organizing the different directions it can take readers.  There are multiple endings, yet students are redirected to try the story again until they reach “the end.” 

Bush, Nelson, and Bolter were the three main authors we read in ETEC540 in order to gain an understanding of the origins, complexity and implications of hypertext.  Both Bush and Nelson were primarily concerned with hypertext as a natural means to disseminate nonfictional information, while Bolter’s chapter on fictional hypertext is the by far longest chapter in Writing Space: Computers, Hypertext, and the Remediation of Print.  In that chapter, he presents many literary techniques using hypertext to move readers between elements such as time, place, character, voice, plot, perspective, etc.  Although these techniques are intriguing, their complexity is not appropriate for my target audience.  Bolter’s analysis of hypertext goes further by pointing out that instead of being nonlinear, it is actually multilinear. He points out that all writing is linear, but hypertext can go in many different directions.  Even in his chapter titled Hypertext and the Remediation of Print, he writes, “The principal task of authors of hypertextual fiction on the Web or in stand-aloe form is the use links to define relationships among textual elements, and these links constitute the rhetoric of the hypertext” (Bolter, 2001, p. 29). 
 
Unlike a traditional storyline, hypertextual storytelling gives the students the freedom over how they read it.  This (perceived) control is a much more common characteristic to the way we interact with digital information today and therefore should be incorporated into classroom activities regularly.  Putting the student in the proverbial driver’s seat is indicative of a constructivistic teaching approach, which is especially effective when employing ICT in the classroom.  However, as Donikian and Portugal observe, “Whatever degree of interactivity, freedom, and non linearity might be provided, the role that the interactor is assigned to play always has to remain inside the boundaries thus defined by the author, and which convey the essence of the work itself” (2004).  For that reason, I have suggested that students actually modify and customize the story after they have read it.  They could do that individually or in pairs in class or for homework.  Most often, the more control students are given, the more they are motivated to participate and learn.  For their final project, they could create a complete story with multiple endings.

There are so many possibilities when writing fiction with hypertext and I have hardly scratched the surface in my first exploration into this genre.  This project has given me a solid base from with to create longer and more complex pieces for wider teaching contexts.  I hope you enjoy it and that it inspires you experiment with this exciting medium as well.  Click here to access the story or copu and paste this url: http://wiki.ubc.ca/Course:ETEC540/2009WT1/Assignments/MajorProject/ItsUpToYou

References:

Bolter, J.D. (2001). Writing Space: Computers, hypertext, and the remediation of print. Mahway, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, pp. 27-46, 121-160.

Bush, V. (1945). As we may think. The Atlantic Monthly, 176(1), 101-108.

Donikian, S. & Portugal, J. (2004). Writing Interactive Fiction Scenarii with DraMachina. Lecture notes in computer science, pp. 101–112

Nelson, Theodore. (1999). Xanalogical structure, needed now more than ever: Parallel documents, deep links to content, deep versioning and deep re-use.

November 29, 2009   2 Comments

Major Project – E-Type: The Visual Language of Typography

Typography shapes language and makes the written word ‘visible’. With this in mind I felt that it was essential to be cognizant about how my major project would be presented in its final format. In support of my research on type in digital spaces, I created an ‘electronic book’ of sorts, using Adobe InDesign CS4 and Adobe Acrobat 9. Essentially I took a traditionally written essay and then modified and designed it to fit a digital space. The end result was supposed to be an interactive .swf file but I ran into too many technical difficulties. So what resulted was an interactive PDF book.

The e-book was designed to have a sequential structure, supported by a table of contents, headings and page numbering – much like that of a traditional printed book. However, the e-book extends beyond the boundaries of the ‘page’ as the user, through hyperlinks, can explore multiple and diverse worlds of information located online. Bolter (2001) uses the term remediation to describe how new technologies refashion the old. Ultimately, this project pays homage to the printed book, but maintains its own unique characteristics specific to the electronic world.

To view the book click on the PDF Book link below. The file should open in a web browser. If by chance, you need Acrobat Reader to view the file and you do not have the latest version you can download it here: http://get.adobe.com/reader/

You can navigate through the document using the arrows in the top navigation bar of the document window. Alternatively you can jump to specific content by using the associated Bookmarks (located in left-hand navigation bar) or by clicking on the chapter links in the Table of Contents. As you navigate through the pages you will be prompted to visit websites as well as complete short activities. An accessible Word version of the essay is also available below.

References

Bolter, J.D. (2001). Writing space: Computers, hypertext, and the remediation of print. New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Publishers.

To view my project, click on the following links:

E-Type: The Visual Language of Typography (PDF Book)

E-Type: The Visual Language of Typography (Word Version)

November 29, 2009   4 Comments

Commentary #2

Commentary #2

Writing Spaces: Hypertext and the Remediation of Print Re-examined

Erin Gillespie

ETEC 540

November 15, 2009

 

The debate surrounding the future of text is never more exciting than when considering the relationship between print and hypertext.  It is in the middle ground that the debate over what is the future of text, hypertext or print, is nicely packaged and tagged as “both” by Bolter (2001) due to one process: remediation. Bolter (2001) contends that interactivity and the merging of text and graphics are strategies inherent in electronic writing that create a more authentic experience for the reader, yet they are dependent on the knowledge of print. In chapter three of Writing Space, Bolter (2001) presents hypertext as the remediation of print, not as its replacement.

Bolter’s (2001) remediation walks a fine line between enthusiasts of new electronic writing and the old guard of traditional print. He argues soundly that hypertext remediates print because it is historically connected to print, while at the same time the two are easily distinguishable from each other (Bolter, 2001). According to Bolter (2001), electronic writing affords movement amongst visual space and conceptual space, and these spaces are different from the space in a book, yet knowledge of a book helps us recognize these affordances.  To optimize our experience when writing electronically, we depend on our former knowledge of print (Bolter, 2001). In other words, hypertext does not stand alone, uninfluenced by the history of print technology. Bolter (2001) argues that this fact is what makes electronic hypertext, ironically, new: Our dependency on and confrontation with our knowledge of the printed book when processing hypertext.  

Remediation may be difficult to apply to the field of text in a few generations, a possibility Bolter (2001) does not explore in chapter three of Writing Space. It is interesting to consider this extreme, and contrast it with Bolter’s (2001) middle ground theory by examining the field of education from an ecological point of view.  One way to re-examine the argument surrounding print and hypertext is to consider Darwin’s theory of evolution. Complex organisms evolve from simplistic organisms over time in an undirected progression of modification (Futuyma, 2005). Continuing with this theory, Darwin’s  natural selection suggests that a member of a species develops a functional advantage and over time, the advantaged members of the species survive to better compete for resources (Futuyma, 2005).

Consider print the simplistic organism: the reader and writer have one entry and exit point and information is linear and fixed, according to Bolter (2001). Less simplistic is hypertext, which can be read from a variety of entry points, is fluid and associative (Bolter, 2001). If we continue with this metaphor, the advantaged members of the species of text will be hypertext if we evolve to value fluidity and associative characteristics in text. Considering the popularity of hypertext and the flow of microcontent in Web 2.0 applications as described by Alexander (2006) and the speed of Jenkin’s (2004) media convergence, this direction in evolution is not unrealistic. Hypertext may survive in the place of print. However, the survival of a species is still dependent on the balance of its ecosystem, an in this metaphor the ecosystem is the student.

It is not illogical to apply an ecological perspective to the pedagogy of a school when discussing the adaptation hypertext. In an examination of factors that affect the use of technology in schools, Zhao and Frank (2003) used an ecological perspective and found it to be an effective analytical framework.  Zhao and Frank’s (2003) framework considers students as the ecosystem, computers a living species, teachers as members of a keystone (the most important) species and external educational innovations as the invasion of an exotic species. It is fair to consider hypertext an external educational innovation in this framework due to its very recent introduction to the field of education and thus, the student. Print, on the other hand, would be a species comfortably functioning in the ecosystem as a textbook. Consider again Bolter’s (2001) contention that hypertext is distinct from yet dependent on print. As an invading exotic species, hypertext is initially dependent on the pre-existing species of print for survival in the ecosystem. Students need to know how to read and how to write text in order to understand hypertext.

However, Bolter’s (2001) theory of remediation holds true only if the ecosystem, or student, is dependent on the species of printed text prior to the introduction of the exotic species of hypertext. However, Bolter (2001) does not look further ahead than remediation. It is possible that in the future, students will be introduced to hypertext prior to developing a dependency on print knowledge. Currently, hypertext is functioning as the exotic, invading species for Tapscott’s (2004) Net Generation and Prensky’s (2001) Digital Natives. However, these same students will produce the Net Generation 2.0.  As parents of the Net Generation 2.0, they will function as Zhao and Frank’s (2003) keystone species, a species already adapted to survive with hypertext. In chapter three, concerning remediation and hypertext, Bolter (2001) argues that print is the tradition that hypertext depends on. However, Bolter (2001) did not consider hypertext as being dependent on previous versions of hypertext. Bolter’s (2001)remediation does not project far enough into the future. The ecosystem, as Net Generation 2.0 students, will remain balanced as the functional advantages of hypertext ensure survival of this exotic species through displacement of the disadvantaged species, traditional print. Remediation of print may lead to the extinction of a dependency on print itself.

 

References

Alexander, B (2006). Web 2.0: A new wave of innovation for teaching and learning? EDUCAUSE, Review, 41(2), 33-44. Retrieved from http://net.educause.edu/ir/library/pdf/ERM0621.pdf

Bolter, J. D. (2001). Writing space: Computers, hypertext, and the remediation of print. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Futuyma, D. J. (2005). Evolution. Sunderland, MA: Sinauer Associates.

Jenkins, H. (2004) The cultural logic of media convergence. International Journal of Cultural Studies, 7(1), 33-43. doi: 10.1177/1367877904040603

Prensky, M. (2001). Digital natives, digital immigrants. On The Horizion, 9 (5), 1-6. Retrieved from http://www.marcprensky.com/writing/Prensky%20-%20Digital%20Natives,%20Digital%20Immigrants%20-%20Part1.pdf

Tapscott, D. (2004). The net generation and the school. Custom course materials ETEC 532 (pp. #2). Kelowna, B.C: University of British Columbia Okanagan, Bookstore. (Reprinted from Milken Family Foundation, http://www.mff.org/edtech/article.taf?_function=detail&Content_uid1=109).

Zhao, Y., & Frank, K.A. (2003). Factors affecting technology uses in schools: An ecological perspective. American Educational Research Journal, 40(4), 807-840. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/pdfplus/3699409.pdf

November 14, 2009   1 Comment

How word processors and beyond may be changing literacy

Commentary #2

The word processor, in combination with the computer disk and CRT monitor, was first introduced in 1977 (Kunde, 1986). As Bolter points out “the word processor is not so much a tool for writing, as it is a tool for typography (p. 9).” It seems that, even today, the word processor is essentially used as a tool to mimic conventional methods of typing. Whereas older printing processes lock “the type in an absolutely rigid position in the chase, locking the chase firmly onto a press,” a word processor only differs in that it composes text “on a computer terminal” in “electronic patterns (letters) previously programmed into the computer (Ong, p. 119).” Bolter notes this by stating “most writers have enthusiastically accepted the word processor precisely because it does not challenge their conventional notion of writing. The word processor is an aid for making perfect printed copy: the goal is still ink on paper (p. 9).” The word processor helps better facilitate the processes that were once done on the typewriter. That is, writers still type in text letter by letter, but the computer greatly improves revision. A few of these improvements include copying/cutting and paste, changing fonts and paper size, and inserting automatically updating table of contents, outlines, references. It is “in using these facilities, the writer is thinking and writing in terms of verbal units or topics, whose meaning transcends their constituent words (Bolter, p. 29).” In this regard, the word processor did not change the printed word. However, although the word processor did not fundamentally change how a printed product looks, it did have a major impact on industry and business and on literacy in education.

In the early 1980s there was much focus on the difference word processors were making in industry, business, and scholarly work. Bergman points out that “this electronic revolution in the office [word processing] may change who does what sort of work, create some jobs and eliminate others (p. F3).” In fact, in 1977 5.8% of jobs offered in the New York Times mentioned computer literacy skills such as word processing, this number doubled by 1983 (Compaine, p. 136). This was especially evident in clerical positions in which “the proportion of secretary/typist want ads that required word processing skills went from zero in 1977 to 15 percent in 1982 (Compaine, p. 136).” Furthermore, Word processors, coupled with a phone line greatly increased the speed that documents were sent and received. Instead of mailing or dictating documents to another person, documents including graphs and charts could now be written and transmitted, in seconds, over the telephone, more cheaply than previous methods (Bencivenga, p. 11). Scholars “with the help of a computer programmed to scan the text quickly, picking out passages that contain the same word used in different contexts (Compaine, p. 137).” In the early 1980s Word processors and computers fundamentally changed how we process information and thus had much impact on literacy. Compaine refers “to computer skills as additional to, not replacements (p.139)” to literacy and that “whatever comes about will not replace existing skills, but supplement them (p. 141).” Compaine’s essay was written in 1983, but this trend continues today.

Furthermore, the word processor has affected literacy amongst students. In 1983 Ron Truman published an article in The Globe and Mail in which he reported that elementary teachers said word processors were “having a remarkable effect on how children learn to use language: writing on a computer screen improves spelling, grammar and syntax (p. CL14).” An article by Goldberg et al. entitled “The effect of computers on student writing: A meta-analysis of studies from 1992 to 2002″ summarizes that thirty-five previous studies concluded that the “writing process [in regards to K–ı2 students writing with computers vs. paper-and-pencil] is more collaborative, iterative, and social in computer classrooms as compared with paper-and-pencil” and that “computers should be used to help students develop writing skills . . . that, on average, students who use computers when learning to write are not only more engaged and motivated in their writing, but they produce written work that is of greater length and higher quality (p. 1).” Similarly, Beck and Fetherston conclude that “The use of the word processor promoted students’ motivation to write, engaged the students in editing, assisted proof-reading, and the students produced longer texts” and “produced writing that was better using the word processor than that which was achieved using the traditional paper and pencil method (p. 159).”

Different forms of electronic writing have participated “in the restructuring of our whole economy of writing (Bolter, p. 23).” Even as early as 1983, Compaine predicted that in respect to electronic texts, “many adults would today recoil in horror at the thought of losing the feel and portability of printed volumes . . . print is no longer the only rooster in the barnyard (p. 132).” Looking at present day and into the future, the computer continues to reshape and challenge the traditional form of the printed book: “our culture is using the computer to refashion the printed book, which, as the most recent dominant technology, is the one most open to challenge (Bolter, p. 23).” The World Wide Web and most recently the advent of web 2.0 have challenged traditional writing media and the way in which we create electronic media. Word processors have become one tool in an arsenal of programs developed for electronic publishing (such as Dreamweaver for web development, PowerPoint for presentations, iMovie and Movie Maker, and Adobe Flash for animations). As such, literacy still includes traditional texts, but much has been added with digital literacy. Books, magazines, newspapers, academic journals, etc. predominately written using a word processor (or another desktop publishing software), in their traditional form will not be replaced in the near future, but they have certainly had to give up much of their dominance to non-traditional, electronic, writing spaces.

John

References

Barbara R. Bergmann (1982, May 30). A Threat Ahead From Word Processor. The New York Times. p. F3.

Beck, N., & Fetherston, T. (2003). The effects of incorporating a word processor into a year three writing program. Information Technology in Childhood Education Annual, 2003 (1), 139 – 161.  Retrieved January 15, 2009, from http://www.editlib.org/index.cfm/files/paper_17765.pdf?fuseaction=Reader.DownloadFullText&paper_id=17765.

Bencivenga, Jim (1980, March 28). Word processors faster than dictation. The Christian Science Monitor. p. 11.

Bolter, Jay David. (2001). Writing space: Computers, hypertext, and the remediation of print [2nd edition]. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.

Compaine, Benjamin, M. (1983). The New Literacy. Daedalus, 112(1), pp. 129-142.

Goldberg, A., Russell, M., & Cook, A. (2003). The effect of computers on student writing: A meta- analysis of studies from 1992 to 2002. Journal of Technology, Learning, and Assessment, 2(1). Retrieved November 7, 2009, from http://escholarship.bc.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1007&context=jtla

Johnson, Sharon. (1981, October 11). Word Processors Spell Out A New Role for Clerical Staff. New York Times, p. SM28.

Kunde, Brian. (1986). A Brief History of Word Processing (Through 1986). Fleabonnet Press. Retrieved November 7, 2009 from http://www.stanford.edu/~bkunde/fb-press/articles/wdprhist.html

Ong, Walter, J. (1982). Orality and Literacy: The Technologizing of the Word. London and New York: Methuen.

Truman, Ron. (1983, November 24). Word processors prove boon in making youngsters literate. The Globe and Mail. p. CL.14.

November 8, 2009   1 Comment

Revolutionizing information organization and academic authority

Commentary #2 – In response to Michael Wesch’s video, “Information R/evolution” (Module 4)

Appropriately “hyper” for the purposes of framing hypertext and the changing technologies of writing and archiving information, Micheal Wesch’s Information R/evolution is a dynamic interplay of text technologies that incorporates both the hypertext discussion of Jay David Bolter and the organization discussion of Walter Ong. Wesch speaks to the evolution of the pre-typographic notion that information is “a thing… housed in a logical place… where it can be found” and how we have now moved towards a place where technology affords the ability for anyone to create, critique, organize and understand. Information R/evolution touches upon two interesting developments supported by the hypertext environment of our technological world: the nature by which information is stored and the nature of authority.

Information R/evolution starts out with images of the typewriter, standard filing cabinet and card catalogue. This is intentional as each of these three objects were, for many years, definitive symbols of the way by which information was recorded, stored and retrieved. In unpacking the information evolution, these images quickly transform into those of word processing programs, blogs and search engines. Wesch suggests that it does not take an expert to attend to organizational tasks; rather, we are all responsible for the tagging, bookmarking, categorizing and otherwise organizing of information. The organizational affordances of technology are illustrated in the video and echo Walter Ong’s discussion about categories and lists and how they create meaning out of space, impressing through “tidiness and inevitability” (Ong, 2002, p.120). Wesch illustrates this revolution as a true transcendence of place with regards to the means by which information can be rethought “beyond material constraints”. The ability to store information simultaneously in multiple places is not only crucial to the way information is stored but also crucial to the speed at which information is retrieved. Bolter (2001) further discusses this issue in his study of hypertext and cites hyperlinking as the process by which the reader can “continue indefinitely…through the textual space…throughout the Internet” (p.27). An interesting facet of Wesch’s video is that he does not rely on lengthy text to illustrate his point, rather, he demonstrates visually the remediation of print by modeling the organizational affordances of hypertext on a single computer screen, devoid of the paper trail that previously defined information technology.

The nature of authority is touched upon in Information R/evolution and it is suggested that the nature of modern typographic culture has broadened the constraints of previously established information authority (academics, librarians etc.). Information R/evolution raises the issue of how people, either for personal or academic purposes, come to find the information they are seeking and what format they are ultimately presented with. Simply put, “together, we create more information than experts”, is a powerful truth that highlights not only the responsibility of those posting on the web to categorize their information, but also the fact that authorship is seemingly more open. The boundaries of expert and non-expert were more defined in a chirographic and early typographic culture whereby there was an entire process surrounding how one became an author and therefore, an authority. Wesch encourages the viewer to think about authority in the context of this information revolution. While there exists scholarly access points through university libraries, Google Scholar etc., the mainstream user relies on search engines such as Yahoo and Google in order to find definitive sources of information. The breadth of information allows the viewer to view not only authoritative sites (National Geographic, BBC, etc.) but also collaboratively edited sites (Wikipedia) and personal sites (parenting blogs, personal interest sites, etc.) thereby creating a multidimensional approach to any given topic.

However, Wesch indirectly highlights the flip side, which is the uncertainty of the information found. The access itself may be much easier by being able to use one’s personal computer to access library catalogues and search engines rather than searching, in person, through an onerous card catalogue, however, the expanse of the web does lessen the power of established authority. Wesch cites Wikipedia as an example by stating “Wikipedia has 15 times as many words as the next largest encyclopedia, Encyclopedia Britannica”. While this is a seemingly simple statement, it has much larger ramifications for the growing debate about authority on the web, as Wikipedia is a collaboratively created encyclopedia that can be openly edited. More powerful than this statement is the fact that Wesch uses a live screen clip showing himself editing Wikipedia in “real time” and then adding one more person to the tally of the 282,874 contributors that appeared at the time, illustrating the very fluid and “living” nature of information on the Internet.  While effective in drawing forth questions about authority and research, I would be interested to see Wesch explore, more closely, the nature of how one conducts research through a similarly styled video.

Bolter speaks of the “breakout of the visual” and in that spirit, Wesch shows that the dominating visual message of Information R/evolution can be just as powerful as written prose exploring the same topic. Wesch’s visual inspires reflective thought about the evolution of information but also the current revolution taking place in terms of information organization, conducting research and the nature of authority.

References:

Bolter, Jay David. (2001). Writing space: Computers, hypertext, and the remediation of print [2nd edition]. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.

Ong, Walter. (2002) Orality and literacy: The technologizing of the word. London: Methuen.

Wesch, Michael. (2007). Information R/evolution . Retrieved from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-4CV05HyAbM

November 7, 2009   1 Comment

Mithila Art as a Communication Technology

Ram ScenesLong before there were computers in most of our homes, there was Mithila Art in homes of what is now India and Nepal. Originally, this folk art form mainly consisted of lively murals painted on the walls of homes in rural villages. But it was much more than simple art for art’s sake. “Mithila painting is part decoration, part social commentary, recording the lives of rural women in a society where reading and writing are reserved for high-caste men” (Arminton, Bindloss & Mayhew, 2006, p. 315). This was art that gave a voice to powerless rural women as a communication technology.

Historical and Cultural Context
This art form acquired its name from the kingdom of Mithila where it originated around the seventh century A.D. At that time, the region was a vast plane located primarily in what is now eastern India as well as in southern Nepal. However, the cultural center and capital of the region was in what is now the city of Janakpur, Nepal only 20 kilometers from the Indian boarder. Janakpur is of course the home of Janakpur painting while the town of Madubandi, India is home of paintings of the same name. Mithila art consists of both kinds of paintings of which Madubandi are more common.

It is said that Mithila art was born when King Janak commissioned artists to create paintings at the time of the marriage of his daughter, Sita, to the god Lord Ram. This might have to do with the fact that most Madubani paintings are created during festivals celebrating marriages and births, religious and social events and ceremonies of the Maithil community. Others say that, “Its original inspiration emerged out of the local women’s craving for religiousness and an intense desire to be one with god” (Janakpur Women’s Development Center, n.d.). However it actually began is not clear, but what it became after being passed down through many generations surly is.

“Mithila is a wonderful land where art and scholarship, laukika and Vedic traditions flourished together in complete harmony between the two” (Mishra, 2009, 4). This harmony was uncommon during this time in many other regions in southern Asia as well as the rest of the world. The general attitude toward artists in this region is one of utmost respect and they were even compared with gods. That could be a major reason why women in ancient Indian society, whom were traditionally regarded as much less significant than men, adopted Mithila art as well as other art forms as not only a communication technology, but as a means for empowerment as well.

“Picture writing is perhaps constructed culturally (even today) as closer to the reader, because it does not depend upon the intermediary of spoken language and seems to reproduce places and events directly” (Bolter, 2001, p. 59). The murals were originally painted during important community events as a kind of subjective snapshot as well as social commentary. This was a positive way for rural women to have a voice and to be heard.

Implications for Literacy and Education
In a communicative context, ‘literacy’ is commonly defined as “the ability to read and write” where to ‘write’ is defined as to “mark (letters, words, or other symbols) on a surface, with a pen, pencil, or similar implement” (Oxford University Press, 2009). So although most Mithila artists were not literate in phonetic writing, they were exceptionally literate in picture writing. As with oral communication, this type of literacy served to bring people together and strengthen their communities. “As we look back through thousands of years of phonetic literacy, the appeal of traditional picture writing is its promise of immediacy. By the standard of phonetic writing, however, picture writing lacks narrative power” (Bolter, 2001, p. 59). The “narrative power” of which Bolter refers to, is the ability of phonetic writing to convey detailed information from a first person perspective.  Unfortunately, this ability also has a tendency to actually distance those in communication rather than bring them together as in picture writing.

Bolter goes on to write that, “Sometimes, particularly when the picture text is a narrative, the elements seem to aim for the specificity of language.  Sometimes, these same elements move back into a world of pure form and become shapes that we admire for their visual economy” (2001, p. 63).  This explains the duality of this art form as both a communication technology and an aesthetic art form.  Another perspective of visual communication technologies is that, “Display is, in respect to its prominence and significance and ubiquity, the analogue of narrative” (Kress, 2005, p.14).  So while Mithila paintings perhaps lacked the ability to convey a first person narrative, they narrowed the gap between the composer and her audience in a beautiful visual mode of communication.

For the Maithil artists, the ability to express their desires, dreams, expectations, hopes and aspirations to their community in (picture) writing through their painting was most likely much more valuable than communicating detailed information to outsiders by means of phonetic writing.  “Unlike words, depictions are full of meaning: they are always specific.  So on the one hand there is a finite stock of words—vague, general, nearly empty of meaning; on the other hand there is a n infinitely large potential of depictions—precise, specific, and full of meaning” (Kress, 2005, pgs.15-16).  The meaning they conveyed through their art was unmistakable and accessible to all. In this case, picture writing literacy did not lead to phonetic or alphabetic writing literacy.  It did, however, require education.

As all writing is communication technology, Mithal art required education to master the particular tools, materials and techniques of this unique style of picture writing. Most of these artists were not formally educated and were illiterate in the ways of phonetic reading and writing. But they did have to learn about the range of natural hues that could be derived from preparations and combinations of clay, bark, flowers and berries as well as how to fashion brushes from bamboo twigs and small pieces of cloth (Mishra, 2009).

Conclusion
Although Mithila art did not directly lead ancient India to a conventional sense of literacy nor to formal education of the masses, it did give a voice to the voiceless. As a communication technology, it provided something for those artists that was and remains a critical element of their society: a heightened consciousness. As Ong writes, “Technologies are not mere exterior aids but also interior transformations of consciousness, and never more than when they affect the word. Such transformations can be uplifting. Writing heightens consciousness” (2002, p. 81).

Mithila art still exists today, but unfortunately has been commercialized with the introduction of tourism.  Much of what this art form and communication technology was and did for these people has been lost.  Most pieces are painted on paper and many are of scenes made-to-order that have nothing to do with Maithil culture, although selling their artwork has proved an increasing source of income and has in turn improved their quality of live.  With the support and guidance development organizations, groups are now promoting the consumption of Vitamin A, voting, safe sex, and saying “no” to drugs to their communities (Janakpur Women’s Development Center, n.d.).  So although it has changed considerably over many generations, Mithila art is still a meaningful communication technology.
Train

References
Armington, S., Bindloss, J., & Meyhew, B. (2006). Lonely Planet: Nepal. Oakland, CA: Lonely Planet

Bolter, D. (2001). Writing Space: Computers, Hypertext, and the Remediation of Print. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc.

Janakpur Women’s Development Center. (n.d.). Retrieved October 3, 2009, from http://web.mac.com/nadjagrimm/iWeb/JWDC/Welcome.html

Kress, G. (2005). Gains and losses: New forms of text, knowledge, and learning. Computers and Composition, 22, 5-22. Retrieved from http://www.sciencedirect.com/science

Mishra, K. K. (2009). Mithila Paintings: Past, Present and Future. Retrieved October 4, 2009 from Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts. Web site: http://ignca.nic.in/

Mithila Art – Madhubani Painting and Beyond. (n.d.). Retrieved October 3, 2009, from http://mithilaart.com/default.aspx

Ong, W. J. (2002). Orality and Literacy. New York: Routledge

Oxford University Press. (2009). Ask Oxford. Retrieved October 10th, 2009 from http://www.askoxford.com/

November 2, 2009   1 Comment

From Handwriting to Typing

Please visit this link From Handwriting to Typing to view the research project by Catherine Gagnon and Tracy Gidinski.

October 31, 2009   No Comments

Derrida and Writing

In a number of the readings for this course the philosopher Derrida has been mentioned, along his “graphocentric” view that writing is a more primary type of communication than speech. He is a difficult philosopher to understand, but I’ve studied his thought somewhat in the past and I’d like to try to clarify his ideas about writing as far as I understand them.

The background that Derrida was coming from, and reacting against, was structuralism. According to structuralism, words have their meaning by how they relate to other words in a whole system of language. Proponents of structuralism thus draw a distinction between language (the whole system that gives words their meaning) and speech (the things we actually say). The distinction is discussed by Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie in this comedy sketch

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A related distinction made by structuralists was that between the signified and the signifier. The signified is the place a word takes in the whole system of language and the signifier is the spoken sound of the word or written mark of the word.

Derrida rejected the idea of a fixed system of language giving meaning to everything written and spoken, and rejected the idea that there is a signified that gives meaning to the signifier. He believed that language should be understood in terms of the signifiers only, which in turn are to be understood as dependent on acts of signifying. These acts of signifying have meaning, he thought, only in relation to all other acts of signifying. With new acts of signifying, these relations could change, and so meanings are never fixed but are open to change, their meaning being constantly “deferred”. His method of “deconstruction” is an attempt to change received meanings and received interpretations, using methods such as reversing the received view about what is important and what is unimportant in a text.

Derrida believed that the notion that speech is primary and writing secondary was based on the mistaken view that, with speech, the meaning of our words is something “present”. According to this view, the person who speaks has mastered the system of language to some extent and is an authority on what he or she means. For instance, when you speak to me I am able to respond to your questions and reply, “No, what I meant was…” The written word, in contrast, is something whose meaning is more elusive, for it depends on what the writer meant when he or she wrote it, and the writer may be absent and might even be dead when we read it.

Although he acknowledged that from a historical point of view speech appeared before writing, Derrida thought that writing revealed the nature of language more fully than speech did, for it reflected the way in which the meanings of what we say are not within our control and are constantly open to revision and reinterpretation.

The clearest introduction to Derrida’s views on writing that I have come across is in Richard Harland’s book Superstructuralism. You can see some of it here.

There’s also a movie about Derrida on google video, which is not too bad

http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-7347615341871798222

October 11, 2009   No Comments

Technology – tool or lifestyle choice?

Technology is an indicator of intellectual progress.  When I think of technology, I picture grinding gears, the industrial revolution.  It never occurred to me before I read O’Donnell, that the simple invention of writing, the simplest of technologies,  was to cause an irreversible change in the history of our civilization.

I have used technology to make my classes more lively and relevant.  I’ve used it to teach useful work skills to my students.  But I have never, until now, considered the far reaching effects of technology.  It seems that whatever it touches cannot remain unchanged.

Our society pursues all things technological.  We’ve been convinced that our life cannot be fulfilled without increasingly sophisticated electronic objects.  Cell phones for children, Baby Einstein movies for mental stimulation of infants; the language of technology is so pervasive that we are being told to “upgrade” our lives.  Visit the following link to view Oprah.com’s take on this: http://www.oprah.com/article/home/homeimprovement/pkgupgradeyourlife/20090401-orig-upgrade-your-life-landing

Next birthday, when I am asked how old I am, I’ll answer “I’m a version 5.2”.

September 14, 2009   No Comments