Reflection time

What is a tech course doing in a publishing program? Before this program I would have thought it strange to find such a course in a program that is supposed to be about the book etc. business. Now I can see that the course accompanies it nicely, that books are fish in the tech sea and they’ve got to figure out how to thrive. Technology is ubiquitous in our lives; it became so rapidly integrated into our everyday in a very short period of time that we often don’t think about the implications and consequences of that. This course really forced my eyes open to the world we’re living in and the road we’re going down with tech. With a fair bit of background knowledge from the first semester with John in PUB 800, I went into this course not knowing what to really expect other than going even deeper into the tech realm. Two aspects of the course which I enjoyed the most were the throwback days of the 90s/00s bloggers and the open web, plus the more contemporary possibilities of using data mining and reader analytics for good, while two critiques I have are the digression from publishing and the book world to the much heavier tech world that wasn’t related back to the industry and the lack of incorporating the online discussion into the physical discussion. Through discussing both sets of my takeaways, I intend to address each of the learning objectives, both explicitly and implicitly.

Despite the internet only being roughly 30-years-old, it sure has gone through a lot of changes. As someone who grew up alongside it (literally, we’re almost the same age) it was interesting to also reflect back on the internet’s childhood and to dive into those idealistic views of the web. The web was meant to be an open space with endless possibility, however a Capitalist society cannot sustain something so free. It feels like the story of the Wild West all over again, with people carving out their plots of land on the internet landscape and then corporations came to put everyone in boxes. Now we fall at the whims of our benevolent overlords and hope they don’t take away the things we like (here’s looking at you Tumblr). The Alex Singh’s Twitter thread on feudalism for that week was an interesting metaphor for this. However, this metaphor of the Wild West just takes me back to thinking of the internet as a physical space we each inhabit, that each URL has its own “feeling,” which was articulated in one of my favourite articles of the semester, Frank Chimero’s The Good Room.

After we explored the terrifying might of Facebook, Google, and Amazon in the following weeks and the struggle for artists to make a living off the few sites that are supposed to help them (Patreon), I was definitely not optimistic about tech. Something so powerful can be used for good or evil, but which do you think the mega-data-collecting corporations are going to choose? Well, there are glimmers of hope in ventures like Jellybooks or the studies being done on the structures of stories and how data mining can help the writing instead of hinder it. I stand by the idealistic view I hold in my blog post on the matter. In the end, for better or worse my new understanding of the complexities of the tech world leads to opinions that are no longer indifferent or neutral. I also feel that if new technologies spring up (as they do) and current ones continue to flourish and change I will be able to better interpret and analyze the events and trends that coincide with it.

Onto the (small) critiques. While I understand that the tech world is integrated into the publishing world, and that Google, Amazon, and Facebook effect our industry I just felt that we digressed from the book conversation most of the time. Our thesis is “books and publishing” with a tech lens, and the points we discuss should always be referring back to the main thesis. These topics of course did more for my general knowledge and education (a positive), but I would have liked to have more publishing examples tied more into certain weeks, especially in the discussion. Yes, at least one article (often more) each week was related to our industry, but I found we avoided talking about it in class.

Speaking of class discussion, I did love using Hypothesis and engaging with my peers in an online discussion of each reading. I felt we were really able to flesh out ideas, musings, perspectives and gain more collective knowledge on a reading. It was always a safe space where I didn’t feel like it was high-stakes to develop and express my thoughts and ideas. Now, Hypothesis offered a preliminary round for thoughts on these readings and I would have really liked to expand on them in class. There were ideas my peers brought up in their annotations that I would have loved to dig deeper into. However, it often felt like even if these annotations were brought up in class they were only acknowledged and not developed. It felt like we’d had these rich and interesting conversations online and then when we came to class they felt more like a fever dream or something we were all aware happened… but that was in a different world. The discussion online just felt disjointed from the conversation in class, but I’m happy we had both.

Overall, this was a class that challenged my outlook on technology and its uses and it opened me to the different ways we can interpret and analyze something that is prevalent in our lives. Digital technology is here to stay, and I imagine it will only become more integrated into our lives. With what I’ve learned in this class I know I won’t be able to accept things at face value anymore and feel prepared to assess whatever new tech trend is on the horizon. Now, it’s time to ride into the sunset of the not so Wild West.

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