The “Collectively-Taking-Control-of-our-Destinyers” ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Placing people into categories has long been a device to position ourselves with and simultaneously against others. From race to gender, we often think of characteristics (socially constructed or otherwise) as confined to neat little self-contained boxes as opposed to existing fluidly on a spectrum. In his 2011 New Yorker article “The Information”, Adam Gopnik continues this tradition by describing three frames that we can use to understand humans relationships to technologies. Gopnik’s categories, which in my view are problematically reductionist, break down people into belonging to the “never-better”, the “better-nevers”, and the “ever-wasers”. In other words

1) those who believe in an upward progress where life is perpetually being improved upon because advances in technology

2) the nostalgic or neo-Luddite type who see changes in technology as de-evolution

3) and the more ambivalent group that that see the modern age as defined by changing technology that will please some and displease others.

Although Gopnik has you believe these groups are distinct and mutually exclusive, it would be hard to argue that any one person or society’s relationship to technology could neatly be reduced and packeded up into such opposing ideologies. Instead, I propose that we all contain these attitudes simultaneously—holding different attitudes about different technologies, or even holding different attitudes about the same technology. As someone who grew up in an age before the internet was widespread, I both hold the belief that the internet has improved my life drastically, while simultaneously longing for the days before it was co-opted as a tool for capitalist gains through advertising and other forms of commodification.

Socially we are not nearly as dogmatic or reducionary as these frames provided. Opinions on technologies are deeply situation to time, place, capital, powder, and how specific technologies are used—including by and for whom.

Furthermore, our attitudes about technologies cannot be understood apart from the specific social context and unequal distribution of capital and power from which they originate. There is a tendency to ascribe an innate teleology to technological development, and to ignore the social processes through which advancements in technology are made. This might explain why Gopnik divides people into the categories of “never-betters” and “better-nevers”, with the only third option being pure ambivalence. I would suggest that in opposition to all of these categories, there are those of us who believe that technology is a tool that can be used towards better or worse ends. In order to do this, however we need to ditch the laisse-faire attitude towards technological development, and realize that we do not only interpret advancements in technology, but we create, shape, and determine the direction they take. The three categories proposed position society as passive interpreters to technological advances where instead we should position ourselves as an active part in their creation. Since these category don’t work, perhaps we should fall into the “collectively-taking-control-of-our-destinyers”. Maybe we should view technology as Marx viewed philosophy in his eleventh Theses on Feurback—“Philosophers have hitherto only interpreted the world in various ways; the point is to change it.”(Marx, 1845).

Which Cheese You Like Will Determine How The Internet Is Inside You!!!

Avvai K

There was a period a few years ago when Buzzfeed quizzes were a popular thing – maybe they still are. Here are a few I pulled from Buzzfeed.com:

It was fun and I think it was so popular because (other than the sheer absurdity of it) perhaps a small part of us felt like we were discovering more about ourselves.

I just did the cheese quiz. I’m swiss cheese – I wear my emotions right on my sleeve and am a terrible liar. I’m not edgy because I prefer to savor the best parts of life, and people admire me for that.

That was slightly entertaining to know, but now what?… I guess I continue on with my life.

By the end of Gopnik’s article, The Information: How the Internet Gets Inside Us, I felt similar to how I felt after all those Buzzfeed quizzes…the feeling of so what? What do I do with this label now?  Gopnik categorizes people of how they react to technology as Never-Betters, Better-Nevers, and Ever-Wasers. To me, this just confusing terms for what can be plainly said as pessimists, optimists, and realists. Using examples and quotes, Gopnik did a great job of describing the general thoughts of people who may identify themselves with the categories. I also appreciated him trying to show some of the faults of thinking about technology in one particular way. I don’t think one person can just be one type of class. Even just narrowing in on the web, it’s very diverse, and it might be impossible to feel the same about all aspects of it. I am definitely a little bit of all three. But again so what? I know how I react to the Internet and how other people may think about it..it’s nothing new. What do I do with this information now?

Gopnik briefly touches on the most interesting part of the whole article:

“The real demon in the machine is the tirelessness of the user.”

I’m interpreting this as how we use the web matters.  This article would have been far more interesting if Gopnik dug deeper into how these classes of people use the web. What we think of the Internet to how we use the internet may or may not be related. As a personal example, I’m a Better-Never when it comes to Facebook and yet I still use it and contribute to it. It’s where all my friends are connecting and keeping in touch. I would have been just as happy sticking to the telephone or snail mail but everyone’s on Facebook and I’d like to be a part of it. No matter what we think of the Internet, it’s still part of our daily life and as Gopnik and this week’s reading by Chimero (The Good Room mentions, we live in it now, and whether we like our home or not we still have to use it and how we use it is important to understand.

I’m currently observing my housemates sitting in the living room as I write this. I ask my first housemate, Jayme, what she thinks of the Internet. (I made them all read this article to help me with this reflection). She says she’s a Never-Better. I ask her what she spends the majority of her internet time doing. She admits she spends most of her time online scrolling through Instagram and Facebook and binge-watching Netflix. I’ll pull a Gopnik and coin a term for this: The Passive Scroller. I turn to my other housemate, Sam. He’s a Better-Never. He uses the Internet when he has to for school (research and accessing scholarly articles). He has no social media but uses the Internet as an alternative telephone to chat with his friends via Skype or e-mail. He says he rather spend time in nature. Sam is a Bare-Minimumer.  The final housemate is Kyle. He says he relates with a Better-Waser. When he’s on the Internet, he’s almost always reading articles on his favorite websites or accessing podcasts. For him, the Internet is a tool to expand his horizons and learn. He avoids passive entertainment on it. Kyle is a Life-Enhancer.

This is interesting to me. If we can be more aware of what we spend the most time doing on the Internet, maybe we can change how we even think or react to the Internet. Maybe Sam, who claims he’s a Better-Never, can learn that there are resources online to further his connection with nature (like the link that Chimero shared in his Good Room article:  “The Internet of Natural Things”. This may lead him to a better opinion of the Internet. Kyle who doesn’t approve of passive Netflix watching may be thrilled to know that there are tons of forums actively watching entertainment – discussing, analyzing, and critiquing it. Maybe Jayme, who’s slowly realizing how she’s spending her time on the Internet might seek out other stuff to do on the web like read about things she’s always been curious about, access water-color tutorials on YouTube and finally achieve her dreams of becoming a water-color painter. Who knows!

Of course, Passive Scroller, Bare Minimumer, and Life Enhancer are not the only ways people spend most of their time on the Internet.  I’m sure if I talked to more people I would get some really diverse ways of using the Internet. But I think it’s a more interesting and useful question. It has more of a potential for reflection and can lead to a change in behavior and thinking.

Fuzzy Wuzzy Was an Ever-Waser

No, I’m not comparing myself to the titular bear, but doesn’t all of this lingo remind anyone else of that tongue twister?

Anyways, let’s get down to it: Adam Gopnik, in his New Yorker article, “The Information,” lays out three categories of people, divided according to how they feel about the evolution of technology. The Never-Betters feel very optimistic about technology’s continued evolution; The Better-Nevers, as a foil, feel equally pessimistic. The Ever-Wasers have a more ambivalent relationship to technology—or, at least, they accept it for what it is currently and acknowledge that it will continue to evolve and change.

I’d sort myself into this third category. Quite frankly, the Golden Era rhetoric is getting a little tiring. I get that for people whose livelihood/identity was associated with the Internet at a specific point in its evolution, there’s more on the line. They have a horse in the race that I admittedly do not. I think also for my generation, who grew up as the Internet was growing up, maybe it’s easier for us to take these changes in stride.

But I also think that underlying this conversation is a bit of a blindspot regarding technology and evolution. Technology and media exists as a continuum, and it’s never really been stagnant. People have always been pushing forward—be it by combining different parts of the printing process into one mega machine, putting telephone’s in people’s homes, or building smaller (and then bigger) and smarter cell phones. Also, at every point in history, as technology has evolved, there’s been someone saying that it was so much better before  X existed, and that X is corrupting The Youth, ruining humanity’s collective existence, etc. Perhaps the issue is that technology evolves faster and more dramatically than we do.

There’s also a part of me that feels like the Golden Era rhetoric is ageist. Saying “the Internet/technology was better way back when” is at least similar to saying “my Internet/technology is better than your Internet/technology” (which, also, returning to my previous point, is more or less the same as “my generation’s music is better than your generation’s music”.) I feel like it goes hand in hand with “you had to be there”. But we weren’t.

Finally, an issue that was raised in this week’s readings that I feel relates back to this conversation is the issue of the Internet/technology being misused and generally evil. I resent the implication that humans for the first time in history are being mislead or being exposed to biased information. Media and news has always come from somewhere, and as long as it’s been coming from anywhere, the framing and colouring of the news has reflected the views/biases of the person writing the copy, or paying for the broadcast station.

Technology is not any better or worse than it’s ever been. It may be stronger and bigger, but I’m positive that in 20 years, someone will look back and call this a golden era. So, relax. These are the golden days. They always have been. They always will be.

 

The Never-Betters, the Better-Nevers, and the Ever-Wasers

There is a saying in Urdu, my national language:

پانچھوں انگلیاں برابر نہیں ہوتیں۔

“None of the five fingers on your hand are the same size”

It is a very common saying, often muttered when someone’s perspective is poles apart from your own.

In any society, there are all kinds of people with all kinds of thinking. Every person has a completely different worldview, their own set of experiences and style of expression. Similarly, every single person feels very differently about the Web. I do not think I have lived in Vancouver long enough to testify about her society. I will elaborate on what I do know.

Personally, I am 70:30 never-better:better-never. We live in fun times: the Web has given us this delicious liberty to camouflage who we are in our normal analog lives. We can choose who we want to be online. Evidently enough, it has as many cons as it does pros. We have all heard the horror tales of privacy astray. The tiny better-never part of my feelings toward the Web is because of the tactics used to extract personal information. The ability to share goes hand-in-hand with the fear of possible mistreatment. It is deeply unsettling to know that every “private” conversation can be manipulated by anyone with a moderate amount of technological skill. A big fear for me is sensitive information falling into the wrong hands, e.g. banking information or cellphone number.

But the optimist in me loves the fact that I can find out the size of beavers’ teeth in less than 30 seconds with the Web. I use this anonymity to ask Ms. Google questions; questions and concerns which would be trite for a person to person interaction. This hoard of information and resources available to me through the web makes me a never-better.

My thoughts on the Never-Better, Better-Never, and Ever-Wasers

In Gopnik’s article, he classifies three different ways people respond to technological advancement which are generally defined as follows: the Never-Betters- the optimistic view, the Better-Nevers- the more pessimistic view, and the Ever-Wasers- the middle ground.

As a whole, I think that I fall in with the Never-Betters. I think technological advancement is generally a good thing, if it is tempered with common sense and left without altruistic intentions. I know that this isn’t often the case, but I think humans are capable of being good to each other and thinking of the common good.

As a society, I think we are divided pretty solidly between the three classifications. The older generations and the general news circuit usually fall into the Better-Nevers, as they focus pretty extensively on the failings of new technology and the dangers of the next generation of tech. Although there are negative aspects of tech, I think a lot of the media/political coverage about technology aimed at older people is an attempt at fear mongering. A good example of this is the recent Google hearings, where the head of Google was interviewed by government officials. Although the hearings did have an important purpose (to investigate how google stores private data, etc) it turned into a media frenzy, where older politicians asked incredibly ignorant and personalized questions about Google search.

Young people seem a little more optimistic about the possibilities of the internet. This optimism seems to be changing a little bit, with the current political climate and the state of social media. I think, more than being distrustful, the younger generation is more aware of the “rules” of technology. There are certain social norms on the internet that have grown, despite the “lawless old west” vibe it exudes. Generally, younger people know to double check their sources and to be more skeptical of the internet in and of itself, but they generally utilize new technology more than the older generations.

There have always been dire warnings about the power of new technologies. These warnings have presented themselves through the generations in books like 1984 and The Time Machine and now in TV shows like Westworld and Black Mirror. In many ways, 1984’s predictions have come into being, with devices like Alexa and the Russian bot interference in the 2016 US Election. These warnings make us distrustful of technology, but in a way that doesn’t disparage it completely. The robots in Westworld are often more human than the human characters. The robots in the show are used to hold up a mirror to society in a way that modern technology can be used to hold up a mirror to us.

I think a community’s view of technology often corresponds with what they want to see, rather than what is truly there.

A journey from cables to people´s minds

Ok, so here we are, it has been like one of those roller coaster rides where you experience a lot in such a short time and by the end you say: Its that all? After you were (probably) screaming during the ride.

I leave this ride shook but very satisfied with what happened. Suddenly, as everything starts to calm down and I write this, my very last assignment for the term, I realize so much had happened week to week. Yes, I was sitting here, most weeks “rolling the squirrel” (that is how we Mexicans say… Oh forget it!) thinking about what we discussed earlier in the week about the topic. The routine, to read, annotate and write something coherent has been the most enriching exercise for me, it helped me get more disciplined, academically speaking and preview what was coming next. I certainly wrote most of my blogs at this time, 7, 14, 21, (not 28) days ago. But I can say I spent many other days just thinking of what we talked or telling  my wife about those articles that did not make sense to me.

So for knowledge, yes, the internet and DARPA, interesting story, “Its just a Cable” said Juan the first day, “The web is not the Internet” and started to shed light over those tiny details that make the whole thing as fascinating, powerful and dangerous as it is. This is the modern Pandora’s Box, except that we open it regularly without it exploding in our faces… most of the time.

Having references and learning some  tags and categories was very useful, we were building our internal agreements and vocabulary, Never-Betters, Better-Nevers and the other lukewarm water guys helped a lot to understand further topics, but most important, to understand each other in the discussions. Obviously the categories were simplistic and the words changed over time, (early/late adopters for example) but the discourse kept growing over the weeks, we were discussing “What Rachel and Anu” said the other day for example.

More than a study of technology, was a discussion about the human mind, or if you allow me, the human soul. I can say I learned from every reading and from everyone, whether they share my point of view or not, the world is a big place, and it becomes even bigger in cyberspace (finally found a place to use that word). Being the oldest around also helped (yes, older than Juan, if not as smart), as I was raised in a world where computers were just a luxury accessory and you dialed the phone, literally. Where you could create things with 512 Kb of RAM, had to be careful to save an image with 1.3Mb of capacity and the user friendly concept was a work in progress (for computers anyway). I certainly may have seemed alien in many of my opinions during discussions but as much I learned from other views, respected them (mostly) and I can say they changed my own vision.

I am sure this was the plan so the ride was successful, as for my favorite topic… I am still debating. I really enjoyed reading about Copyright from a different perspective, always was glad we did not take it off the syllabus, but Digital Reading was also fascinating. In the end, I can say the one I enjoyed most reading was Interacting and socializing, although this may be because it triggered a lot of things and the focus Trenton and Lena gave to it was great, after all, what is the future of Publishing? We will find out, probably soon. … well, not that soon anyway.

So excuse me for being enthusiast, I could talk about “what I learned” in terms of knowledge, but that is well known and has been discussed already, the most valuable thing is what I learned from my cohort  and Juan, because all of them are exceptional people and I am honored to have been part of this group. It saddens me not to be able to hear your opinions in the same forum although it may be interesting to create a group for that… I can see your faces saying “Are you crazy? Get some sleep!”

Anyway, its been a great ride! Now, let’s get out there.


FIN  WAIT!

Lets go back to the fundamental question:

What happens to publishing in an era where the vast majority of publishing and reading happens on the Internet?

My impression is internet and printed books are seen many times as poles of the same thing, while it is not the case, we love the dialectic discourse and had been trained to look at things this way.

There are reasons why some really BIG corporations and individuals see it as a problem, they were shaken by the advent of the Internet, they were happy curating, editing and printing books, magazines, newspapers and other printed materials, enjoying a great power and misusing it often to shape the world along with their friends, the mass media: TV, Radio, Movies, etc. Then comes this thing, the Internet with the Web and suddenly, everyone is talking, discussing, expressing opinions they did not asked, they did not allowed to ask and actually nobody had a way to ask publicly. When heard, read and discussed, these questions raised more questions, in a snowball effect.

Suddenly everyone was aware of many more things than those that were filtered through the TV screen, newspaper, books or radio, everyone was giving an opinion and not hearing to those “expert” writing books or talking in shows and programs, people started sharing events not sanctioned by the publishers and media and making the whole thing a mess.

It has been some times discussed in class, publisher houses have been progressively absorbed into “Media Groups” as have been the case of film companies, and like Alphabet is starting to understand, these Media Groups, like Bertelsmann and Pearson (Owners of Penguin-Random House), do not like to be under the light, after all, people is happy having those funny “big” companies as referents, while the real BIG ones just watch the game unfold.

In the above example, it would be definitely bad for the business if someone finds use for the fact that Penguin-Random House is actually co-owned by Bertelsmann a German Company that has been around for nearly 200 years (183 to be exact) and which, for example, during World War 2, was a leading supplier to the Wehrmacht and even used Jewish slave labor to increase their profits. But also Pearson plc, the other co-owner, started as a construction and engineering company which among other things, built Tanks for WW1. Nothing farther from “the preservation of culture” unless your idea is to preserve your culture by wiping out the rest, which is a discussion point for later.

Those really BIG companies started to build their empires, way before the publishers we know today, and like them, other BIG players came into scene like CBS (Owner of Simon & Schuster), Viacom, Time Warner, etc. They are not concerned with readability, legibility, privacy respect, ebooks, etc. They just want YOU.

So what the internet has to do with this? Like I said, it came to shake the way we shared and consumed information. But then it derailed somewhere, when America On Line (AOL) came into the picture, it growed exponentially, like them, allowing to merge (buy) with Time Warner while retaining 55% of the shares, they really screwed up so Warner took it back some years later. In the meantime, other companies benefited of the big boom and then, later we had the players we love to hate  (some just love them) Google, Amazon, Facebook, and the other guys who really don’t matter. What does that mean? That the Internet has become another great power source, and just like the other media companies, it has given us more titans that fight among the older ones with no clear victory foreseeable and the only real effect in that they “change people’s lives”.

But wait! Wars and disease also change people’s lives, so don’t be deceived by the kind-related motto, product of years of marketing seen almost everywhere.

The whole point of this picture is to these companies have been there for a while and struggle today for having the big prize: US (as in we, not the country). It has been sad and terrifying to hear many of my classmates to say: I am no one, my data is not important, let them track me if they give me what I want and things like that. It points out that the indoctrination has worked, and so, everyone is jumping freely into the furnace (enter cartoon of people hitting the “I Accept” button and jumping into a fire pit).

Yes, we share, we laugh and we give our data “freely” having little space to rationalize it. Events like Cambridge-Analytics are opportunities for that. What happened to that internet that would free us from the BIG ones? That caused them to shake and even be acquired by the new players? Weren’t they supposed to change the world? So many questions but lets back to the first. What happens to publishing?

We now are aware of the potential power a Publisher has, not only in the book industry, but as an expert in making things public, to divulge, to understand what is happening, to get information, setting up strategies, tracking and distilling data, all those skills that will help us not only in the immediate industries, but as a human activity. The conclusion, Publishing is not disappearing, far from it, is outreaching and adapting to other fields, interacting with them and figuring out what to do.. Game publishers, interactive narratives, video game publishers, podcasts, bloggers, social media, social causes, publishers can make a change in many places now, not just the book and magazine industry. The key here is observe, learn and adapt.

Now that I know better, I don’t find a reason for the printed books to disappear like many early adopters suggest. I am contemplating a huge landscape with millions of possibilities, this is what this course has taught me. To think about who are the players, to know what is my role as an individual and as a future publishers and to learn the existing technologies and business (rather difussion) models we have available. It has been really helpful to learn this because even if I decide to set up a Scriptorium where we make books manually old-style, I will be aware and watching what is happening outside and for sure, I will be using what I have learned here to promote these hand made products. It has been helpful to know other’s opinions, we gave the best and we gave it for free, we even hit the I Agree button.

So what is coming next? We will see, now, lets get those tacos!

 

Tech It or Leave it

I may sound like a broken record by the end of PUB 802. Each week, I’ve inevitably taken a philosophical or spiritual route to express my views on topics relating to technology. I am conscious that some of my thoughts have taken a wide arc to arrive at certain conclusions. The tech class was more about the journey, rather than a particular destination.

For me, the class was less about what I know, but more about what I need to know and may never know. How technology evolves during my lifetime (whatever it may be) is anyone’s guess. The tech class helped me put things into perspective the potential of human communication and knowledge sharing. It also presented me with some hard truths about how technology can be misused or misinterpreted.

If there is one clear takeaway I have from this course, it is awareness. Through the entire course, we waded through a wide spectrum of topics relating to technology and publishing, in particular. I appreciate the learning and insight I have at the end of this course. But most of all, I appreciate the conscious thought I have about technology and how it affects me as person, and how I inevitably affect the society as a whole.

The course made me aware of what my contribution and interaction means in the bigger picture. I realised that I am not separate from the system I am part of. I know I need to examine my routine actions (digital footprint) more closely. Technology is a two-edged sword.  Either I use it consciously, or it’ll end up using me.

I am also thankful to my amazing cohort for bringing different point of views to the table. I enjoyed the discussion on annotations and how it was carried forward into the class. Even though I had my reservations about the self-driven pedagogy of this course, I was more than happy with what each and everyone in the class contributed to the conversation. In a way, this course was a perfect example of collective and conscious group effort, which eventually became greater than the sum of its parts.

This course, in a nutshell, gave me perspective, objectivity, consciousness and awareness . . . not only about technology, but myself too.

Thanks Juan, I enjoyed every minute of it.

Reflection on my experience in PUB 802

Going into this course, I didn’t know what to expect, but assumed it would be more about hands-on training in the use of technology; in particular I had coding in mind. And in fact I did learn how to use a browser plug-in called Hypothes.is for annotations, and gained a little familiarity with editing WordPress. But also before the class began, I wondered how much we could learn about a given technology in such a short time. So it made sense when I learned that the course would be more of a seminar and discussion about the “digital landscape” than hands-on training in particular software or apps. I would say this is as close to a takeaway as I can describe from this course.

The starting point was getting us to understand the difference between the Internet and the web. That was helpful for me. I also wrote in my notes that Juan wanted to prepare us to navigate the shifting landscape around publishing, enabling us to see what’s happening and the active forces behind it. This course did provide more of a perspective than a set of skills.

The grading contract was a good incentivizing tool and I definitely was stricter with myself about my engagement with this class than any of the others. The required Hypothes.is annotations on readings were also a good incentive to do the readings. I did notice that when I was reading under time constraints, I skimmed to find points to comment on, rather than skimming to find points indicating the author’s argument. This led to me making comments I didn’t really feel strongly about, but that’s no different from the skimming I did in my undergrad when preparing to write a precis.

Some of my peers gave really excellent and engaging lectures. I would also have liked to hear more from Juan. The early lecture where we learned about the history of the formation of the Internet was excellent, and whenever he allowed himself to interject, he offered interesting and important perspective. In one class discussion many students expressed how little they cared about their personal privacy on the internet. In response Juan tried to clarify the importance of the issue, and this is an example of the type of issues I would have liked more directed conversation about from someone whose work involves thinking them through. That said, I appreciate the trust Juan put in us and the level of engagement and discussion this class facilitated.

If someone asks me what I learned, I would be hard pressed to say anything specific. But I feel like I’m a little better prepared to understand conversations in the media around Amazon and Facebook, AI and machine learning, data and privacy, and the changing business models around the publication of content. Also, because of discussions like the ones we had around print and digital reading, I also feel more aware of personal biases publishers are susceptible to, and how they affect our attitudes toward technologies, the internet, and web apps. This course mainly gave me a little experience in trying things out, and a level of comfort discussing technologies today.

Reflection of Learning

After having spent the past several days moving out of my apartment in Vancouver it feels like PUB 802 was so long ago. The content of this course was something that I was already enthusiastic about and had a basic working knowledge of many concepts, however the discussions that occurred both in class and within the online annotations certainly pushed my thinking and challenged my beliefs.

I spend a considerable amount of my leisure time watching educational YouTube videos including video series about the history of the internet, intellectual property, and machine learning. As these were topics that were discussed within the course, this prior exposure to concepts allowed me to contribute during class discussion as well being able to share these resources with classmates within annotations as well as in the MPub facebook group. The fact that I regularly seek out this type of information for fun shows that this content is something that I have a keen interest in and am consistently looking to further expand my understanding. This course provided additional resources to continue to learn about these topics and to build upon my existing knowledge.

There were times throughout the course that my opinions and believes were challenged. There were two areas that pushed my beliefs the most, the first was digital tracking. Prior to this course I was aware of digital tracking however I was not of the opinion that this digital tracking was wrong, something to be alarmed by, or that this data could be used in malicious ways. After news of the Cambridge Analytica scandal first broke it caused me to reflect on how this information could be used and for what purposes. I had previously thought of digital tracking to be solely for the purposes of marketing and advertising. While it is sometimes unsettling to see an ad for the pair of shoes you were just browsing for on Amazon, there is nothing inherently nefarious about Google Ads. I was surprised by the sheer number of my classmates that had installed different ad blockers on their web browsers because I firmly believed that ad blockers were morally repugnant and punishing online content creators for not wanting their content to be placed behind pay walls. What pushed my thinking was the sheer number of trackers that were installed on websites and how the information they were harvesting could be used to influence politics. This use of digital tracking is something that I find much more unsettling than Google Ads and while I am not about to install an ad blocker onto my web browser, the discussions in this course have resulted in me installing Ghostery and thinking more critically about the potential for digital tracking. Another topic in the course that has challenged my thinking is the idea that companies such as Google, Amazon, Facebook, and Apple (GAFA) alter people’s consumption habits. While I was willing to admit that these companies had a tremendous amount of influence over people I had not considered how Amazon opening a physical retail location was for the purpose of shaping people’s shopping habits to better suit the business model of Amazon. Unlike my thoughts on digital tracking this was nothing something that I had a firm stance that was contrary to the course discussions, but rather that it was not something that I had considered as motivation prior to PUB802.

Both of the topics that challenged my thinking the most within the course are areas that I would consider to be the somewhat alarming reality of how technology (and giant tech companies) shape and influence individuals. My first blog post in this course rejected Adam Gopnik’s categories of  “Never-Betters”, “Better-Nevers”, and “Ever-Wasers”. While I did not align myself within a particular category, and I still believe that people’s interactions with technology is a spectrum and cannot be easily fit into three neat categories, I would consider myself to be between the Never-Betters and the Ever-Wasers at the start of the course. I still maintain a level of optimism that I think it a defining feature of the Never-Betters, however this course has caused me to reconsider certain areas and as a result I have moved more towards a more realist understanding of technology and therefore am closer to the Never-Betters on the spectrum that I was in January.

Pub802 Reflections, refractions

Way back in October I wrote a paper for John Maxwell’s course Pub800: Text & Con­text: Pub­lish­ing in Con­tem­po­rary Cul­ture hoping and dreaming about what a “socialist” publisher might look like. The paper came out of my early naïve look at the book publishing industry, where I received shocking a wakeup call in the form of the realization that, hello, book publishing is a business, and accordingly is concerned with making money as much, if not more, than producing important works of art. I posited then that “If publishing was truly one of the forebears of modern capitalism, as [Richard] Nash suggests, and if capitalism is a factor that has thrown the global mood into this malaise of spirit–not to mention the suppression of knowledge–doesn’t publishing as a field have the unique opportunity to serve culture and counteract this current iteration of capitalism at the same time?” My paper went on to look at alternate business models for traditional book publishing. At the time I was aware of but didn’t want to get into Open Access publishing due to its association with academic publishing.

After Pub802 this semester, however, I feel like I might actually be able to better round out my revolutionary dreams. Our work in thinking through the business models that have emerged via e-commerce, as well as considering Open Access as a business model or case study for literary or, I daresay, art publishing, is extremely exciting. I greatly appreciate our exploration of the Creative Commons in relation to publishing, though I can’t say I’ve yet been able to walk away with answers or a clear sense of a way forward. What does it take for Creative Commons to take hold on a mass scale, a commercial scale? Is it possible? Along with more questions, what I do have is a growing toolbelt of concepts that I can engage with, continue to grow, and attempt to apply to real aspects of the publishing industry.

Funnily, I was struck by how this course continuously reiterated the contradiction of the internet: that it embodies the potential for a democratization of publishing while at the same time almost seamlessly turns every publication into a capitalized subject. I find this to be an endlessly challenging topic, but also perhaps one of the most important of our time.  Possibly the most important or urgent lesson I took from this course was how to be aware of and take agency over my data and interaction with different parties online. I think I am better equipped now to advocate for online privacy and both the functions and dangers of data tracking for studying a market.

The Hypothes.is annotations were a surprising and amazing way in which I could unpack issues like this. The ability to respond to specific ideas, and have to opportunity to receive feedback in an almost chat-like setting was like no educational experience I’ve had. Most important was how it helped foreground classroom discussion, allowing those who might not usually speak up share their opinions, and provide the initial response we felt to the readings against the synthesis of classroom discussion. Between annotations and the blog posts, which also came to feel like relatively low stakes, I felt notably that I was able to explore ideas in an academic setting without the pressure of having a finished or complete understanding of a concept.

Looking back over our assigned blog posts this semester, I’ve noticed a distinct pattern emerge in many of my responses: the Internet has changed all the rules, and we need to learn to adapt and be creative about the capabilities of new technology rather than hold onto habits of print or real-life interaction. I do recognize that this has an edge of sounding like one of Gopnik’s “Never Betters”, but that isn’t my intention: the point is that I see the way we function on the Internet, particularly in relation to publishing, opens up possibilities we haven’t yet embraced, and by necessity must leave behind forms which are better suited to other technologies. The missing piece, for me, remains that more often than not I wasn’t able to predict or extrapolate for what these different possibilities are; I just recognize that they are there and feel a pragmatic disassociation from any kind of nostalgia for print (it’s still there, believe me, I just place it to the side). Moving forward I want to maintain this criticality while continuing to imagine ways in which technology may best be applied, especially in relation to publishing on/offline and the display, annotation, and sharing of images in a digital realm. I also want to add that this course very satisfyingly tracked with our Pub801: History of Publishing seminar which we participated in concurrently: the topics explored in history’s past informed and often corresponded to our explorations of publishing’s rapidly progressing present. 

I want to add a final note about the Contribution to Public Knowledge assignment, which seemed to take a backseat to the course in some ways though, in the end, was a very interesting exercise. For starters, it was a challenge of looking at oneself and thinking “What do I have to contribute?” to a seemingly bottomless repository like Wikipedia. However, once one gets digging, the gaps and underground caverns in public knowledge become clear. From my personal experience, I was surprised, intrigued, and frustrated by how difficult it actually is to write a Wikipedia article from scratch that met its stringent guidelines. I understand the need for moderation and appreciate it; the acceptance of Wikipedia from a questionable website to a relatively reliable starting place (if a not source in and of itself) is a marked evolution I’ve noticed over my academic life. However, the guidelines that lend Wikipedia its “credibility” are through its citation and reference process: if something hasn’t been written about or published, it cannot be credibly referenced, and therefore can’t exist, at least not on Wikipedia. This self-enforcing system reminds me somewhat of academic peer review and makes me suspicious of those entities which may not appear “legitimate” enough because they haven’t gained credibility through the Web, and who truly is given access to write or be written about.

Pub 802 Reflection

As I sit here at home, munching on an apple, reflecting on my experience in Pub 802, trying to boil an entire semester down into a couple of talking points, I realize how hard it is to put my take away into words. So I’m going to try to speak to it through what I liked and didn’t like about the structure of the class.

In regards to the structure, for the most part I thoroughly appreciated the unusual way of doing things. Student-led syllabus and discussions, readings and blog topics worked out to let us have more say in what we wanted to learn. It was a unique way to give us students more agency, and therefore feel more engaged, in the course content. What I found to be the best aspect of the course structure was the annotated readings. I do disagree with how it factored into marks–mainly that there is an arbitrary requirement to comment enough times to get a satisfactory for a week, which to me encourages superficial engagement with a topic but doesn’t actually represent the time or thought put into a reading–however I found it to be the most helpful portion of the course. I’m a slow thinker and generally spend a lot of time doing something that most people do at a fraction of my time, including putting my thoughts into words. The online annotations allowed me to participate in discussion around the readings in a capacity I cannot achieve in seminar discussions. It allowed me to read, reread, comment, reply, and think about what external source to bring into the conversation. It also played into the psychology of social media notifications through emails about replies, which made it kind of exciting to participate and leave a comment.

What I didn’t like, and mostly because I found it more difficult to engage with or care about, were the weekly blog posts. I’m the type of person to prefer few big projects over consistent small projects, as I have a binge-work ethic. The requirement to write a bunch of small blog posts meant I had to force myself to write for a topic I didn’t care about, which I never think is a good thing, or force myself to write short for a topic I had a lot to say about, which I also don’t agree with. Both result in me feeling like I just submitted a rushed work for the sake of submitting. Factor in the fluctuating workload of other courses throughout the term and the “consistent” workload of 802 became more and more of a burden. I would have much preferred a system of choosing fewer topics from all available and being able to write a more detailed blog post. While I understand that that would create an imbalance in the amount of blog posts each peer would be saddled with to give feedback on, I ultimately think that would be a more productive form of learning, at least for me. (What if students signed up for topics much like we signed up for weeks to lead the class, in order to balance the blog post to response ratio workload?) Even as I read the blog posts for my week that I need to give feedback on, a lot of them read like they are just going through the motions to answer the prompt. Perhaps that is also because it is the last week, too, but I also think it is because they are too short for students to go into enough depth, and the fact I’m reading through 10+ of these short bursts of thought, and it leaves me feeling like, as the feedbacker, I’m just saying the same things over and over again on each post. “Oh this is your opinion? Did you think about this part, though?”. In summation: I do not feel engaged or that my time is being used productively. (Note that this is what it feels like and is not a reflection of the actual quality of the blog posts).

I have spent most of my words on the structure and how it worked for me because I honestly do not think the content of this course changed my idea of the role of technology in our lives. That is not to say the class was not valuable, as it certainly deepened my understanding, but I have not come out of the class with a different approach to my future than before the class. No, I will not be taking away new information about the ways in which technology is changing our society and blurring the roles of the people within. My relationship with technology has not changed because of this course, my opinion on tracking has not changed. What I will be taking away are questions, thinking points about the implications of technology that will, in the future, continue to influence my changing understanding of the effect of technology on society. A couple years down the line I will look back and be like: “You know what? I wouldn’t have had this current perspective on technology without those thinking points given to me in that pub802 course so long ago….”

PUB802 – final essay

Coming into PUB802, I was worried that I would have to have programing knowledge of some kind. It’s not like I don’t think practical knowledge of programming or coding is important, but very often that gets prioritized over actual discussion about the role of technology and I am glad this course gives preference to theory over application. I don’t think I have ever enjoyed the required reading for any other course like I did for this one. I felt like each reading of each class opened my mind to something I either did not know before or knew about but had not thought about it in a certain way. For instance, I knew that people’s internet activity was tracked. That’s the reason I have Ghostery on my browser. But I did not know the details about how it works, what it tracks and what implications that has on my personal information. The extent to which data is tracked these days, especially in light of the Cambridge Analytica case, is truly astounding and I am glad I got to study this.

I also did not know much about AI, beyond that yes, it exists! And so, to learn about AI and its various offshoots like Machine Learning, Deep Learning and Natural Language Processing, was extremely fascinating. Both tracking and AI have a huge role to play in the publishing industry. As someone who is about to enter the book industry, it was very useful to know the ways in which these technologies can impact and change the publishing landscape. I also really enjoyed annotating each article. I am glad that this was enforced. Sometimes just annotating an article required me to read more articles so that I could offer some meaningful food for thought, and there were times that this, no doubt, felt like a chore, but I am still glad this was enforced. It forced me to read carefully and not skim over the articles. It was also the first time ever that I was using Hypothes.is. It seemed intimidating to me at first. But I am amazed at how you can install it within minutes and start annotating. Like others, I have been tempted to annotate other articles I read on the web, just because Hypothes.is gives me the option to do so. I think the annotations played a huge part in creating a sense of community within our cohort. I liked reading what my class mates had written and responding to them. I also enjoyed the class discussions. Most of us – and I might be wrong here – don’t usually read the kind of articles that we did for this course. I had a lot of apprehension about writing an essay each week and compulsorily annotating 5-6 articles. The “contract” only heightened this apprehension. But the workload was doable because the articles were short and manageable reads. I thought the discussions in class were helpful and important. Writing the blog every week was tough at times, especially because some research was needed to be able to write a thought-provoking piece, but I think this was a worthwhile exercise. I had never written about technology before, so the blogs helped me expand my writing vocabulary.

PUB802 is a unique course in that it forces us as students to do nothing but immerse ourselves in thinking and philosophizing about technology. I feel like this is a luxury, one that when we start working, we will no longer have.

Comments: On

I’m beginning to feel like a broken record, but seeing as this is the last response of the course, let’s have one more for good measure: in regards to the social life of online texts, writers, readers, and publishers all need to think forward about not only how text is currently received and interacted with online, but also about the possibilities for interacting with these interactions. Of course bracketing all of this is how these parties must deal with the challenges of fully public discourse in the face of hatespeech or trolls, the Internet’s native fauna.

In week 4 I talked about Marshall McLuhan’s prediction that the invention of the Web would cause a societal shift from a print/written culture to an electronic/oral one, and how this would signal a change in the public’s interaction with media and each other. I want to go a step further in thinking about texts. Within print culture, interactions with text were mediated through a culture of discourse where one publishes an idea and any responses to that text move lineally onward, either publicly in a similarly published form or lecture, or privately, in the form of marginalia or conversation. The scope of responses in this mode were greatly limited by both the classic “gatekeepers” standing at the doors of publishing and education. The electronic oral age brings a culture of participation, where the public may not only be content publishers but also content critics. Couple this with the looping, tangled, multi-dimensional way in which texts exist and interact on the Web. This is worrisome for those comfortable in the previous era, especially authors or content producers who fear negative– or just, opposing– conversation around their work. However, the advent of the Web and social accessibility means that social hierarchy has the opportunity to be levelled, and that all opinions can at least be publicized. Obviously, in today’s context, this is threatening to a neoliberal society of creators or intellectuals who have been trained to protect and capitalize their unique gifts of wordsmithing and critical framing. If any Average Joe can respond and even challenge a published text, modern civilization will surely descend into anarchy and chaos.

Which is why I say “Comment on!” Nothing grows or evolves without challenge. I might even add–cautiously– that the truly negative or insidious commenting that takes place is a necessary part of a democratic ecosystem. For a writer receiving trolling on their work, a new kind of critical eye must be honed. First, publishers and writers must learn to distinguish real criticism or opposing views worthy of discourse from comments that are not only inflammatory but more importantly, meaningless. Second, they must learn how to respond (to those where response might be productive) in a way that grows the work, or the public’s relationship to the work, in new or more nuanced directions. Dylan Marron’s podcast “Conversations with People who Hate Me” is one such example of how an author might learn from and interact with trolls in a productive, and I daresay transformative way. In each episode, Marron calls up people who had left hateful comments on his online work and engages them in an open conversation about their experiences. More often than not, the hatespeech the commenters espouse comes either from a place of ignorance or from their own seat of trauma and online conflict. When actually listened to and questioned, as Marron does, these commenters are able to see themselves critically and possibly the ways in which they would change in the future. 

The Sound Of Silence

The question about the rights of a writer and a commenter is full of gray areas. It used to be pretty straightforward when publishing was limited to print. Readers used to write letter to authors and editors. Reviewing of text was in the hands of few critics or peers who had the credibility to comment. Books used to exchange hands via libraries and used books stores, gaining annotations along the margins with every exchange. The chain of dialogue was always consecutive and never concurrent.

Online publishing does not enjoy this privilege.  The web has opened the flood gates of social interaction. Anyone can express any opinion and find a large audience with few measured efforts. Publishing your thoughts is easy. So is commenting on it. We live in a day and age where everyone is “Google expert” and feels it’s their right to express opinion. We rarely stop to think – what, why, who, when, where and how we should articulate our thoughts.

Lack of barriers means there is a growing gap between what gets published and what actually needs to be published. Similarly, who comments on what is a complicated concept. In both instances, someone decides that it is a good idea to break the silence and write about a topic or for someone to comment on someone’s work.  Perhaps this Zen story can convey the conundrum of social interaction:

Four monks decided to meditate silently without speaking for two weeks. By nightfall on the first day, the candle began to flicker and then went out.

The first monk said, “Oh, no! The candle is out.”

The second monk said, “Aren’t we not suppose to talk?”

The third monk said, “Why must you two break the silence?”

The fourth monk laughed and said, “Ha! I’m the only one who didn’t speak.”

Each monk broke the silence for a different reason. The first monk became distracted by one element of the world (the candle) and so lost sight of the rest. The second monk was more worried about rules than the meditation itself. The third monk let his anger at the first two rule him. And the final monk was lost to his ego.

There is no right or wrong way of looking at who gets to moderate feedback or who is entitled to give one in the first place. What we, as a society, need to spare more thought to is our reasons for breaking silence. Yes, freedom of speech gives us the write to express ourselves, but this fundamental right comes attached with duty. We’re responsible for what we express. And that applies equally to the writer and the commentator. Self-moderation is what we need, where online text is concerned.

Maybe there was a fifth monk in the story, who slept through peacefully, blissfully unaware of the value of his silence.

 

 

“Daunting no more?”- PUB802 Reflection

I remember speaking to Professor Alperin briefly in the fall semester about how much the Technology syllabus looked difficult. I was nervous going into the course because of the lack of knowledge I thought I had. The grading system, which I have now come to understand, was initially a big shock. With all of that in mind, now that I am at the end of the semester with the help of hindsight, I can finally say that I am confident to have conversations about technology and its evolving forms. I know what Big Data is, I know what the different business models on the internet are. I can talk during the “eBooks vs print” debate and give a nuanced opinion. The ability to articulate my stance clearly is something I have learnt from the class discussions but especially the Hypothes.is annotations. Never have I been more engaged with academic readings (seriously I actually looked forward to reading them). I set aside entire mornings and afternoons to leave my comments and reread articles because I knew that my opinion would be valued.

A week that made me realise that we cannot live in an opinion vacuum was the week on Copyright Law. The issue of copyright restrictions in relation to the publishing industry is contentious. The class discussion on it,  which happened quite early on in the semester, set the precedent for how I handled subsequent discussions. I am generally a leftist person, a liberal, I would say. However, when it comes to copyright law in the creative sector, I take more of a conservative stance: one that states that the laws should be extended for the benefit of the author and subsequently the publisher. This is a stance different to the majority of the class but I at least felt that my reasoning and opinion as much as it was contested, was listened to. And on that note, I stand by it.

I would have preferred more classes or mini-lessons from Professor Alperin. The student-led system of teaching is interesting but I sometimes missed an overriding voice of experience. That being said, I was happy to lead the class with my colleague, Octavio. The reactions and feedback from our peers was a confidence boost and if ever we have the opportunity to lead discussions or classes again, we have learnt how to engage an audience (for three hours straight). A few recommendations for the future based on my personal experience in the class: When assigning blog prompts, the students leading the class should discuss the topic with peers beforehand. This is something I wish Octavio and I had done and I feel like other weeks could have benefitted from this too. The language in the syllabus could be changed to be more inclusive – this was mentioned earlier during the semester but “Incomplete and Complete” ring better than “Satisfactory and Unsatisfactory”. More guests from the publishing industry, working with evolving technological forms could be invited to add dimension to the range of opinions we have access to (kind of like when Jamie Broadhurst came in week 8).

In conclusion, I believe that my biggest takeaway was the perspective I gained on audio books and audio production. This has shaped my thinking regarding where I want to go in my career from here on out. I am grateful that this class gave me a chance to explore this further, with thoughts on how to incorporate it into my business plan.

I will miss annotating the same articles with my peers but be sure to find my opinions in public forums. (Daunting no more).

REFLECTION

Being a user of technology at every seconds of my life, I was excited to learn more about technology in this course. PUB 802 was a very interesting course; I have learnt as evidence by this reflection.

My lecturer, Mr. Juan Pablo Alperin, has afforded me the opportunity to learn more technological terms and trends. We were also exposed to different materials highlighting the importance of integrating technology in the publishing industry. As I reflect on the course, I must say that I have really learnt a lot.

I believe that technology integration continues to increase in the publishing industry. It is important that we, as future publishers, possess the very skills and behaviours to better survive in a digital age.

Applying technology at school has had a great impact on me as it has given me more knowledge, such as sannotation, e-book and Amazon. This course has taught me different ways that I can use to plan effective technological integration for working in the industry.

In this class it was challenging at times, especially with the weekly assignments but I have learned to use different technological tools. I opted to try different things even though I wasn’t sure how it would work, but because of my determination and curiosity, I did it anyway and it worked. I guess this says that I take risks in learning on my own at times.

As I willingly accepted the opportunity to explore educational technology, my darkened state was lit as it was brought to my attention how technology savvy the 21st century learners are. However, as the course progressed new information surfaced. At some point in the course I felt frustrated, but I continued to do what I had to do, knowing that it would only redound to my success.

As I continue to reflect I realize that this course has helped me to understand that the use of interactive educational activities can promote higher order thinking skills, such as problem solving, critical thinking and creativity. I have proven this to be true, based on the discussions and group activities done in the class. This course has helped me as I work with my colleagues and we collaborate and make decisions to create meaningful, learning experiences.

Without a doubt technology has become a vehicle for educational growth and I am happy to be a part of this vision. This course has definitely helped me to realize it.