The Death of the Author—Again

Peter Brantley in his article, “The New Ones: The Only Horizon is Before Us,” discusses a software developer who is interested in digital authorship as he “wants to play with versioning, reader collaboration, and all the other cool things you can do on the web,” such as “deal[ing] with iterative story-telling, and foster[ing] reader engagement.” This new, fluid, multi-voice authorship of the Web 2.0 challenges both the romantic ideal of the author-as-sole-creator (or genius), and concepts of the singular authorial voice and the author’s role in textual production. Divorced from the notion of the author in a place of importance as the sole provider of a unified text, Ana Sevilla-Pavón explains in “Examining Collective Authorship in Collaborative Writing Tasks through Digital Storytelling” that “the notion of author of contents created and shared through digital technologies has shifted and evolved towards a state of what in many cases could be considered as being nearly invisible.” She notes that before this type of collaboration, readers consumed information passively, but now we have “enabled individuals to become simultaneously users, receivers and producers of content and information,” which increases overall learning. The concern of not having “an author” per se is one of responsibility—should we trust the information if we don’t know whom the authors are? Do they feel less responsible for the content if their names aren’t attached to it, or they are relatively unidentifiable? Sevilla-Pavón’s assertion that “Very often, we do not know the ‘original’ author(s) of the content we are constantly accessing, reinterpreting and modifying” made me think of Wikipedia, which is in my mind one of the greatest successes of digital multi-authorship. I think of Wikipedia as a useful academic resource for both a broad overview of any particular concept as well as an avenue for finding relevant source information through user-generated citations. In my opinion, Wikipedia has only become more reliable with increased use, collaboration, and engagement. Also of concern for academic writing are citations: how would one cite a Wikipedia page? Interestingly, Wikipedia provides auto-generated citation for each of its pages. For example, when searching for “Puppy,” the citation is as follows:

Wikipedia contributors. “Puppy.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 7 Jan. 2016. Web. 31 Jan. 2016.

Normally the author name begins the citation, but here, even credit is given among all contributors (all 1,476 as of today), thereby attempting to acknowledge its multi-authored nature.

 

Works Cited:

Brantley, Peter. 2013. “The New Ones: The Only Horizon is Before Us.” PWxyz (Archived).

Sevilla-Pavón, Ana. “Examining Collective Authorship in Collaborative Writing Tasks through Digital Storytelling.” European Journal of Open, Distance and E-Learning, 6 Dec. 2015.

Thinking as a Digital Native

Reader Response | Monica Miller | 31 January 2016

Brantley’s post from 29 April 2013, “The New Ones: The Only Horizon Is Before Us” tells a brief narrative of a young graduate who designs web-based solutions for books. Brantley’s assessment seems both horrified and amazed by the lack of knowledge this colleague has about the history of epub. On one hand, it is important to know what came before, so you can learn from history. Yet on the other hand, the young programmer is unburdened by the expectations or perceived limitations of the form. I think this is the point that Brantley drives home by the end—because this programmer thinks as a digital native, he also problem solves as a digital native.

This is the crux of many arguments around adapting books for screens—that the industry is burdened by existing assumptions of how the book looks on the page. The limitations of the page do not translate to the web, yet the industry cannot seem to think off the page. Brantley, as we can assume by his conference Books in Browsers, is a huge proponent of a web-first strategy for publishing.

It’s incredibly important to keep in mind that this post is from 2013. So much has changed for epub and books online since 2013, probably even 6 months after Brantley wrote that post. In fact, it’s a bit significant that the O’Reilly’s Tools of Change conference also wrapped in 2013 and now the Books in Browsers conference has gone on hiatus (as of 2015). A cynic could say that this is because these forms are going nowhere, but I don’t think that’s entirely accurate. I think that the idea of books in browsers— digital storytelling, web-first publishing, long form online journalism, whatever you call it—has changed so much and so rapidly that it’s impossible to keep up. The idea of web-first publishing is so pervasive and exists in so many different iterations and forms; how do you encompass it all in a single conference? How do you even begin to define it when it encompasses so many hundreds of thousands of content producers online?

This reading also ties in to what we were speaking about last week, with Mike Shatzkin’s article about publishing being in a world not of our own making. Online narratives are so dependent on the platforms of browsers, computer systems and the web itself, that keeping up with best practices is a full-time job. Just taking one look at www.caniuse.com makes my head swim.

There seem to be two camps: those stuck in the existing assumptions of print-first publishing, where digital reading is treated as “paper under glass”; and those who come from a completely different direction of what online narrative can be. However, these two camps are not isolated from one another. It is not one or the other; I see it as a fluid spectrum of content creators. Those closer to the latter camp are changing the concept of online content, how people read digitally, and how we interact with narrative online. Companies like Wattpad and Medium are good examples of this, as are practically all the examples we read about a couple weeks ago from Josh Stearns’ article on Medium, “The Best of Online Storytelling and Journalism of 2014”. I think what Brantley’s post embodies is this awe that in 2013 there are people who belong exclusively to that latter camp, as many arguments against digital-first publishing have come from the former archaic assumptions camp.

Is That Really True? Do We Care?: Online Citation in the Digital Age

Reading the article “On the marginal cost of scholarly communication” this week, started me thinking more about what it means to legitimize a piece of scholarly research in the age of the internet. And not only scholarly articles, but also any source of information or piece of writing found on the web.

In another article this week (Maxwell & Fraser), our cohort began a thread of discussion around the fact that one of the sources the authors cited and linked to was no longer available. An error message appeared. This link to a source that initially provided backup for what the authors were claiming no longer exists, and thus, one could argue, this missing citation undermines the ultimate authority of the text, all because a link doesn’t work.

This raises the question: How do we validate the accuracy of information in an ever-changing online web where many people could potentially edit and contribute to one thing and hyperlinked sources are frequently changed? And is validation in the traditional sense even important anymore?

The article on scholarly communication demonstrated how the scholarly model legitimizes certain authors and researcher by charging them for the publication of the their work on a respected online academic platform. This service also ensured the ongoing preservation of that work on the platform. Through paying a fee, the author is therefore ensured legitimacy by the platform.

I would like to suggest that the importance of citation, the value we place on it, and the way we understand its function in writing and gathering knowledge and accurate information is changing and will change even more in the coming years.

With universal search tools, easily accessible online databases, and archives of historical and current information by the thousands, fact checking no longer means going to a printed page of a book or a long file drawer in the library. These more traditional forms of getting information, a physical book or peer reviewed article, are what we naturally place more trust in, but I think this is changing.

If a hyperlink doesn’t work, or a citation seems questionable, and your average reader is still interested in finding the related information, they will just “Google it” or do some more extensive online research. I believe users are less and less concerned about the accuracy of what they consume online. This is purely a speculative opinion, but it is based on my observation of the online behaviors of my peers.

More and more people now know that something written even a month ago on the web might be out of date given the rapid rate of research and new data and facts coming to light everyday. Therefore the modern digital media consumer goes into a web reading experience knowing that it might not be perfect. And if they are the type of person who actually does care about the accuracy of something they will seek out additional confirmation through a myriad of other channels.

However, if this shift towards less concern about perfect online citation and accuracy is true (and research into this would be fascinating), does this mean having an “authoritative” or validated text will become increasingly less important? What does this mean for scholarly publishing? I would argue that scholarly online publishing will become the ONLY place where proper citation and validation is still valued enough to be found. Yes, this is a sad prospect. But I think we are moving in that direction.

Hearing Voices: Reading Response

Peter Brantley’s article, “The New Ones: The Only Horizon Is Before Us” really challenges many of the ideas we’ve been considering this semester. Namely, who should be allowed in, and by extension control, the publishing industry. He does this by introducing readers to a new breed of book creator. His creator is both novelist and reader, involved in book creation from concept to coding.

Brantley offers the idea of welcoming in new perspectives within an industry that seems to be struggling. The article “How Diversity Makes Us Smarter” examines the way diversity makes people more creative and innovative. It forces people to problem solve. Examining the needs of the consumers buying books in addition to the authors conceptualizing them is just one example of how new voices can be heard within the publishing industry. Asking an author what they intended may produce a book or a practise that was previously not considered, but that can contribute to a great product with the only cost being time spent in understanding what the original idea for a book was. This is one example but it can extend to asking independent booksellers what helps books sell instead of creating a book without considering how it will be presented. Ultimately, more voices means more understanding of where books begin and end, creating a fully-formulated image of a book’s life.

Brantley also states that this book creator has no knowledge of “all the stuff that the publishing industry struggles with, their whole workflow and distribution and editing and curation and pricing algorithms and promotions and marketing and even the transmedia experiments of the last decade.” Traditional knowledge would indicate that this person should not be accepted into an industry they know nothing about. But once again, diversity and by extension, novel perspectives, need to be considered if this industry wants to thrive instead of struggle. It’s important to retain the voices of experts on the industry, but perhaps they are unable to see a solution because they are figuratively too close to the issues within the industry. As bowerbird comments, “the bad news, of course, is that if a person is saturated in the web, without a fundamental understanding of the core values of books as their print foundation evolved over the past five hundred years, the electronic-books that you create might well lack some features.” Fresh insight should always be examined, especially when collaboration is possible. Being open to change and being willing to hear new perspectives alongside traditional knowledge is the start of innovation and creativity.

It has always been difficult for the publishing industry to adapt to changes, from bookselling, to marketing, to production. Ultimately, Brantley makes an important point about this industry’s evolution. There is always resistance to new voices, as experience dictates knowledge. However, none of us are sure where this industry is going. Brantley is right when he states that the “horizon is before us.” Experienced voices are necessary, but so are new ones, as we try to navigate a market both online and in print that has never really existed before.

How Technology Has Changed Sports Writing

How Technology Has Changed Sports Writing

 

ABSTRACT: Very much as with other aspects of publishing, data and digital technology has fundamentally transformed how we publish about professional sports. Over the past ten years technology has affected how fans watch professional sports, how fans interact with professional sports and professional athletes, and how people publish about sports. This paper explores how the technological changes around how we consume sports has affected the ways which we publish content about sports— in social media, journalistically, and digitally.

Continue reading “How Technology Has Changed Sports Writing”

The Relevance of a Past in Digital Publishing (?)

Peter Brantley’s article The New Ones: The Only Horizon Is Before Us gave me a lot to think about in terms of my own abilities and ambitions. The article, in sum, talks about a young software developer and aspiring author in graduate school at UC Berkeley. Though talented, this student represents thousands of others like him that don’t know anything about the history of publishing software before 2012. They know everything about EPUB3, but they are blissfully unaware of the time and effort it took on the part of other software developers to get it to its current status. They have the luxury of taking advantage of its simplicity.

 

As I mentioned in a comment on the article, I understand where the author is coming from. He, not unlike the young man at UC Berkley, cares and has found success in the field of digital publishing. That said, he is older and more and experienced and has therefore been present throughout the entire evolution of ebooks. Indeed, I can see the advantage of a young tech developer collaborating with a more experienced one, but this premise applies to all fields – it is not limited to the field of digital publishing. For instance, if I were to get a job as an editor at a magazine, while I don’t fully grasp the evolution of the medium, I have a great interest in the latter; my skills are still relevant and my interest still significant. Moreover, in this situation, I would be trained by a skilled and more experienced industry professional, who, incidentally, knows more about the history of the magazine than I. Yet, in this situation in which I get a job at a magazine, the skilled professional training me still won’t have been alive for the entire history of magazine publishing. This skilled professional doesn’t know what issues were found in the first editions of magazines. Yet, he or she is still qualified to train me. I understand and have many examples to prove that the past influences the future. Don’t get me wrong, this knowledge is absolutely beneficial, but it doesn’t mean that someone without an understanding of the past can’t do his or her job properly. In the case of this young software developer/aspiring author at UC Berkeley and all others in his position, I would even argue that his lack of understanding of ebook history could prove useful. Because the history of the ebook is so short, the benefit in knowing about it is to know what mistakes not to repeat; this is where the aforementioned collaboration comes in. On the other hand, not knowing about this history allows room for more creativity in this young developer’s work. This premise removes all restrictions.

 

Experienced professionals will always get privileged in terms of looking for jobs; this is natural. It has always been the case and will likely remain so. But a new take on an admittedly still new (yet rapidly growing) concept won’t prove detrimental.

User-Controlled Advertising in Digital Publishing

Admittedly, my reading experience of Baldur Bjarnason’s article on ad blocking was somewhat tainted because of his opening comment. At the end of the article, he writes, “All of the above is assuming ad blocking goes mainstream. If it doesn’t then this was all a flash in the pan and you all were foolish for worrying so much.” To this I responded that I wasn’t sure whether or not that many people actually bothered with ad blocking. I know that I do (because a friend of mine installed it after noting that I hadn’t done so yet), but I don’t actually know that many people who use it or who want to take the time to find out how to use it. I had forgotten about ad blocking all together; when I opened the next article, The Coming Book Wars: Apple vs. Amazon vs. Google vs. the U.S., a note came up that said, “This site has been known to show targeted messages to Adblock Plus users. Do you want Adblock Plus to hide targeted messages?” This made me think about Bjarnason’s article, that I had admittedly objected to in the beginning, and his words finally resonated with me. Of the people who actually bother with ad blocking software, which in my experience has been few (but growing), I doubt very many will take the additional time to figure out how to block the ads that have been overlooked by the software. If I, who overlooked this by closing the notification, represent anyone, I can assume that others will do the same. So Bjarnason’s has a point: If money is involved, the ad blockers will not win. Bjarnason says that most ad networks have pre-emptively planned their codes to bypass ad blockers. Of course they have. What’s more surprising to me is that no publisher has made it a serious priority to work around ad blockers. Like the ad producers, whether we like it or not, publishers are in the business of making money (to a certain extent). Why would they try to block ads when this could benefit them? I imagine that all attempts to transform the Internet into a for-profit platform have been unsuccessful. As such, advertising is a critical source of revenue. In this October 2015 Adweek article, the authors claim that digital publishers are the ones that have suffered most from Apple’s recent work with ad blocking apps. They also mention that the number of Americans using ad block software has increased by 48% in the last year. It appears the only solution for digital publishers is direct contact with consumers on the type of advertising they would like seeing, hence making it user-controlled advertising. This will likely prove difficult given that most consumers won’t want to be contacted regarding this sort of thing.

 

David vs. the Goliaths?

Mike Shatzkin wrote “Publishing is living in a world not of its own making” in 2011, at the crest of the ebook wave. The concept of digital publishing is one that Shatzkin is passionate about, having written numerous articles on the subject, and founding a company based on publishing strategies, particularly how they relate to the digital.

The article discusses the oligarchy of e-publishing, specifically the power that Apple has over the apps of competitive ebook companies such as Nook and Kindle and the battle for consumers was between Apple and Amazon. He argues that publishing companies have to adjust their strategies to ensure that their books are reaching the intended audience, and that they are still able to operate among increasing competition. What changed the game at the time of this article, was Apple’s iBook. With this they effectively had a new ebook reader with every purchase of an iOS device. If a consumer wanted to read an ebook, they would turn to the device already in their hand and use an app that is similar to other iOS apps that they use on a daily basis. Continue reading “David vs. the Goliaths?”

Libraries & Publishers Need to Work Together

Peter Osnos in his article “The Coming Book Wars: Apple vs. Amazon vs. Google vs. the U.S.” writes that everyone in the publishing industry “will find it very hard to keep up with the pace of sweeping changes underway connected to the impact of the enormous expansion of digital reading.” The fact is that people are reading online and reading ebooks, and Osnos cites 21% of Americans had read an ebook in 2011, and digital readers consumed an average of six more books yearly than just the print reader alone. One of the issues Osnos foresees that “greatly complicate[s] the evolving book culture and the publishing business” is the concerns of libraries and digital reading. Libraries have the issue of “how to integrate e-books into the traditional role of lending libraries” for two reasons; they want to “remain relevant by increasing the universe of material that is available electronically,” as well as “maintaining their venues as destinations people choose to visit.” Osnos claims that “publishers remain wary of making current e-books available through libraries, because of the likelihood that potential buyers instead will become borrowers of digital books that never wear out,” but I don’t think that’s necessarily what their concern is. Publishers know that potential print buyers can take out their print books from the library just as they always have, and instead of buying their ebooks, they could also rent ebooks from the library. OverDrive is one system through which the public can borrow ebooks from the library. Just like print books, the library purchases ebooks, which are then signed out by one person per copy at a time. So readers have to wait to read the digital file, even though there is no physical object that needs to be returned. What kind of user experience is that? It seems crazy to me (I mean, as of now, if people need the book right away, they can buy the ebook). The library buys a copy of the ebook, which Osnos states as one of publisher’s pricing difficulties: should they charge “as much as triple the price of e-books to libraries” in order to account for the repeated circulation of the item? Instead of having to guess at a fair price, and of making patrons wait to check out the ebook, why don’t libraries pay the publisher on a per-checkout basis? And before you think that’s crazy, think about the Public Lending Right. The PLR system is designed to “compensate authors for the potential loss of sales from their works being available in public libraries.” So why can’t we extend this type of system for publishers for their ebooks within libraries? (And the publishers could then pay authors based on their agreements). As of now, the Public Lending Right has variations on payment, but setting up a system whereby publishers can be paid for their ebook offerings through libraries makes the most sense for all parties concerned. The publisher will be compensated correctly, the author will be paid fairly, and the patron will have a better experience.

 

Reading:

Osnos, Peter. 2012, April 17. The Coming Book Wars: Apple vs. Amazon vs. Google vs. the U.S. The Atlantic.

What publishers really should acknowledge and deal with: the overwhelming power of data

In his article from 2014, Shatzkin says that Google and Ingram “have a robust and accurate database of book metadata which, if combined with Google’s data and search mastery… could challenge Amazon effectively” (2014). This topic of metadata collection and the power of data more generally, keeps bubbling up in various tech debates. It was this area of discussion that most stuck with me from the summit as well. And yet, the power that data is proving to provide is rarely the overwhelming center of the discussion in any one of these articles/debates. As with Shatzkin’s article, it is brought into the argument to strengthen another point, but then is not dwelt upon for long.

To me, the significance of data collection is being underplayed. This is the key to power for online giants such as Google and Facebook as well as book companies like Kobo. And it cannot be taken for granted as we discuss other issues surrounding it. Without the data they collect and the smart strategies they employ to manipulate that data, they would not be as powerful as they are.

In our book summit this January, it became clear that the publishers, physical book retailers and online ebook retailers could all equally benefit from a better understanding of each other’s data use and what it means for their respective businesses. However, it is the publisher in particular who easily finds himself in a place of disadvantage since they are one of the few players in the book game that don’t collect data themselves. In this respect, publishers are at the mercy of the retailers (such as Kobo, Indigo and Amazon), Google, social media engines, and even to some degree BookNet Canada to feed this information to them.

It is this divide – centered around who has access to the data – that is vital to acknowledge.

I think Shatzkin’s point about the potential power of a Google/Ingram cooperation is valid, this consolidation of data teams could do a lot to equal Amazon’s power, but I think an even more valuable lesson that publishers can take from this discussion, is that to become more powerful in this evolving tech savvy world, access to and effective use of data is the key.

This is where publishers need to become creative and do two things, 1) find ways to make friendly relations with those that have this powerful data and 2) learn how to create smart strategies using this data as other companies already have.

This might be one way to better ensure a healthy publishing future. A future where the power balance has shifted to where publishers can finally join in carrying the scepter of power for the 21st century: data.

The Battle for the Ebookstore

Not being an Apple user, aside from the iPhone and my cute little nano, and since I also don’t have a Kobo (I know, I’m a tech grandma) I can’t speak to the changes  described in Mike Shatzkin’s “Publishing is living in a world not of it’s own making” directly. However, I think this idea that users will resent any inconvenience will not hold true for very long. We mentioned in class the other day, I think it was a point made by Zoe WH, that whenever our daily websites or apps make a change, there’s an initial uproar. People are pissed, and then they get used to it and forget how it was done in the first place, and any resentment disappears. The number of people who are angry enough with the change and unwilling to adapt, or opt to remain loyal to Kobo, and are driven away, are, I’m sure, so insignificant to Apple. Also, they still own Apple’s product, and are walking advertisements for Apple, whether they use Kobo or Apple’s bookstore. Additionally, new users wouldn’t know any different. It’s a very smart and sly and undoubtedly shady move for Apple, but at the risk of looking like jerks for a while, I don’t see why they wouldn’t automatically direct all users to their own ebookstore.
Continue reading “The Battle for the Ebookstore”

Who is really in charge here?

In response to The Coming Book Wars: Apple vs. Amazon vs. Google vs. the U.S.

In light of Google’s decision to drop its agreement to be independent bookstore’s ebook provider, it appears that independent bookstores have a large business decision to make: either they have to expand and become large enough to offer good quality digital service and ebooks or stick to plainly print books and only incorporate links to ebook providers on their websites. These bookstores can still provide links to kindle, kobo and ibook versions of the ebooks on their websites, if they want to gain a share of the revenue from ebook sales, they will have to expand in order to provide this service to their customers. Independent bookstores need to realize that Apple made this decision based on the revenue that they were not pulling in, and that they also need to make the decision to either expand their companies so that they can gain a share of ebook revenue or just stick to print books, if expanding to include quality delivery and technical support for ebooks would involve more expenses than the revenues would offset.

There is also another option for authors when they sell their manuscript to publishers: there could be a move to not sell their digital rights. This way, they could retain the rights themselves, either create an .epub file themselves and distribute it, or pay a third party to create an .epub file (for a fee) and then distribute it. This way, they could sell their ebook to independent bookstores and the stores can distribute it and gain a share of the revenue. This theory would be difficult because it would be hard to negotiate keeping the digital rights to your book at first, until it became common. We know from Tech project first semester that you can take an .epub file and put it into a Kindle app, a Kobo app, and iBooks. These digital companies would not be receiving a portion of the revenue for these books, but the books would still be readable on the different platforms. This option might be an advantage for the publishing industry and also might be detrimental: the advantage would be that the digital companies would not have any power over the distribution of these ebooks (unless they close their platforms so that exterior .epub files not bought from their online store cannot be read on their platform). The disadvantage would be that it would drastically change the distribution model: readers would have to go to the author’s’ individual websites to buy an ebook, or to the independent bookstore’s website to buy the ebook. There is no way to tell whether the advantages would outweigh the disadvantages or the inverse.

Storytelling 2.0

Bryan Alexander and Alan Levine’s article, “Storytelling: Emergence of a New Genre” favourably explains Web 2.0 storytelling — a nonlinear, interwoven type of storytelling that utilizes today’s web-based technologies. It’s an interesting examination of how storytelling is evolving. The last time storytelling modes changed as drastically as it is today, the written word had been invented. To clarify, before the written word, stories were repetitive and rhyming so that they could be remembered. Once written language was invented, these tropes were not required anymore. With that being said, it’s a fair assumption that with the advent of the web, we are living in one of human history’s greatest turning points regarding language. The morphing of storytelling in this ways still in its infancy relative to the evolution of language and narratives.

I think that the only issue with this type of storytelling is that if it’s done poorly, the narrative can become chaotic. This is possibly because human brains organize information in a linear sequence mirroring our experience of time. However, the human brain also categorizes information by creating groups made up of similar-concepts. If done well, this type of storytelling could be very effective and stimulating for a reader. There are many examples of good Web 2.0 storytelling. For instance, NPR’s project A Photo I Love combines audio, visuals, and text to promote the Chicago Tribunes book Gangsters & Grifters. The project showcases a photograph from the book while the editor explains why she loves the photo for approximately three minutes. Alternately, Pitchfork utilizes audio, gifs, photos, text, and flash for their cover stories, making their articles multi-sensory. An online music magazine where readers can listen to the music they’re reading about is an incredibly effective and satisfying experience.

I liked this article because it stood in contrast to previous readings, such as “The Web We Lost” and “The Web We Have to Save.” It discusses one of the innovations of the web and how this is both entertaining and educational. This form of storytelling also offers an alternative mode to a genre such as memoirs. I believe that Web 2.0 storytelling can be considered an accurate depiction of our daily lives, which are often experienced in small snippets of information and feelings that we ultimately make sense of. On the other hand, memoirs attempt to help a reader understand a person’s everyday life in a cohesive, often linear format. For this reason, Dani Shapiro’s article “A Memoir is Not a Status Update” was a really interesting comparison to have this week, as a person who finds value in both forms. Ultimately, this reading put words to the phenomenon that we are all witnessing in 2016. I just wish that the authors had utilized their own advice and made the article less like a language arts textbook and more like a piece of Web 2.0 storytelling.

A Reactive Response

With my reservations coming into this class on a topic I’ve always (for the most part) separated myself from, I thought it’d be fitting to do a reading response concerning my initial reaction. Truth be told, my feeling towards the internet have always been: I don’t really want to know how it works, I just take part in it and I know it works for me. However, after reading for this week, a couple pieces really stood out to me, and got me to really re-evaluate my relation to the mighty Web.

Continue reading “A Reactive Response”

Can I Have Your Attention Please?

The readings for this week focussed on how the Internet has changed and consequently how our interaction with the web has changed. One of the most interesting trends noted in “The Web We Have to Save” is that the web used to be more text-based content driven, such as reading online magazines, and has now shifted to more video- and image-based content (Derakhshan). This aligns with Dash and Kottke’s insights on “the death of the blog,” or how independent websites/blogs used to host valuable and focussed content on the free web, and how content is now couched within third-party sites and apps like Facebook. The goal of these apps is for users to spend as much time within the app as possible, and to not navigate out of its platform, hence the devaluing (or disabling) of the hyperlink (Dash, Derakhshan). The structure of these major apps contributes to their ability to keep our attention intra-app. This structure is called “the stream,” where users are “fed by a never-ending flow of information that’s picked for them by complex… algorithms” (Derakhshan). The algorithms rank based on how users interact with the content, and privilege and promote what is popular and habitual, reinforcing its grip on our attention. According to “Internet Trends 2015” it is working. We are spending more time on digital media—2.9 more hours per day than 7 years ago—for a total of 5.6 hours per day on average (Meeker 14). This is why Clay Shirky tells his students to put their laptops away during class, and in his research he explains that multitaskers have impaired “declarative memory,” or the what-did-you-just-learn memory that is so important to students. Shirky’s assertion that “hardware and software is being professionally designed to distract” is corroborated by Meeker’s data that notifications are growing rapidly and are more interactive (54). How sinister, too, that “Humans are incapable of ignoring surprising new information in our visual field” (Shirky). Instead of just assuming that we have shorter attention spans, after this reading I am convinced that the real problem is we are attempting to multitask during every second of our day. We are constantly being interrupted by our devices. When we do check our phones, we are sucked into the perpetual streams on our apps, which happen to feature really interesting personalized information with eye-grabbing pictures and videos. My main reaction from these readings is: What are we doing to ourselves? Wouldn’t it be best to unplug and focus? The next time someone laughs at me for taking notes on paper (my specialty) I’m going to smile to myself silently.

 

Readings:

Shirky, Clay. 2014, September 9. Why I Just Asked My Students To Put Their Laptops Away. Medium.

Meeker, Mary. 2015. Internet Trends 2015 – Code Conference

Dash, Anil. 2012. The Web we Lost.  Anil Dash: A blog about making culture.

Derakhshan, Hossein. 2015, July 14. The Web We Have to Save.

Kottke, Jason. 2013, December. The blog is dead, long live the blogNiemanLab.