Reading is Reading is Reading is Reading is…

The summer I discovered fanfiction, I started to do the bulk of my reading online. I was thirteen years old at the time, reading on homemade fan sites and platforms that had either been co-opted or were fanfic-friendly with awful interfaces (those spaces were not the web libraries Frank Chimero envisions, let me tell you). Still, I have been reading online for years, and if my experience with digital reading has taught me anything, it’s that:

  1. We definitely have to train our brains to read digitally.
  2. People can be just as snobby about how they read online as how they read books.

Firstly, it’s important to acknowledge that cultural capital of digital reading is already less than that of print—though the reasons why could fill an entire semester’s worth of blog post and won’t really be covered, here. Suffice it to say that there is something about the digital medium that makes it be perceived as lesser than to its print counterpart. Therefore, it’s no surprise that within the digital medium, those forms that most resemble print (i.e. eBooks, online articles) are the forms that hold the most cultural capital. Though I don’t agree that one from of reading is more “pure” than another, I do feel that the sentiment exists.

Audiobooks are a great example of this. Associate professor of education Beth Rogowsky of Bloomsberg University of Pennsylvania says she viewed audiobooks as “cheating.” This implies that listening to a print book is not a form of reading, but a way to consume stories that is viewed negatively due to its accessibility and ease of use; it’s a short-cut for people who don’t want to spend their time reading Real Books.

The act of reading a book traditionally is something that requires a certain degree of privilege: one must know how to read, which means having the ability to attend school. Traditionally reading a book also requires leisure time, whereas audiobooks can be listened to on the go—while driving, working, etc. This supports the idea of audiobooks as being less valuable, or as a technology that is used to “cheat.” The expectation is that it’s what you listen to when you can’t get to a Real Book, not as a valuable piece of technology in its own right. There are even misconceptions that we do not retain as much information when listening to audiobooks.

Essentially, these arguments use the same logic surrounding the question of what books have and do not have literary merit: those use plain, easy-to-understand language, and can be read quickly—like romance, crime, and erotica—are considered to be commercial fiction, which are considered to be low brow for many reasons, but mostly for their accessibility (in language, in price point, etc.). Commercial fiction is not Important, and is therefore not part of the literary canon, which is curated by tastemakers and the Academy. Not called an ivory tower for nothing, university English departments are still rife with snobby professors who believe that the English literary canon, for all its lack of diversity and generally inaccessible language and writing (James Joyce, I’m looking at you)—is the only thing people should be reading. In my opinion, this argument has merely been superimposed onto the question of form in digital environments; instead of viewing commercial fiction as lesser due to its accessibility, we think of audiobooks as such. The scope has shifted from what you read to how you read, despite the fact that the underlying arguments are the same.

So, yes, I think that there continues to be a belief that “pure” or “tainted” reading experiences exist—but I want no part in them. People who feel this way about audiobooks do not consider how helpful they can be to those learning how to read, or those who can’t read in a traditional manner due to accessibility issues. I believe that as technology changes, our ways of reading change as well, and no one method is not better than the other.

Mission Complete…

Like most of the cohort members, I walked in this class at the beginning of the term with an expectation to learn about some actual technology-related skills such as coding. I was surprised to find out that this class was mostly philosophical. Honestly speaking, part of me was relieved because I did not want to learn to code (I just feel that I need to do that because of the trend); part of me was also curious about the big picture topics we were going to discuss. In the end, I did enjoy most of the readings and discussions we had. I would like to elaborate on the objectives listed below.

  1. To whet your appetite for thinking about the role and effects of digital technologies, especially as it relates to the content we consume.

This course has 100% whetted my appetite for thinking about the role and effects of digital technologies. As I mentioned in my first blog, I had terrible experiences with some Chinese social media before, so I was aware of my behaviours on any Chinese social media. However, I did not apply the same degree of consciousness when using Facebook, Google or Amazon. This lack of awareness was probably due to my biased perception of Capitalism. Before this course, I did not actively think about the shortcomings of Capitalism because as an immigrant, I wanted to believe that I am now living in a society with more respect to individual, freedom and transparency. However, during this course, I started to think about the relationship between Capitalism and digital technologies, especially during the week on data privacy and surveillance when Echo and I lead the seminar.

  1. To help you develop a framework to analyze and interpret technology-related events and trends.

This course has helped me to develop a framework to analyze and interpret technology-related events and trends. First, I learnt about where to find the technology-related content. I really like platforms such as Medium, the Guardian, Electric Lit, The Shatzkin Files and etc. I am considering choosing a platform to subscribe after this term so I will still be able to follow the recent technology-related news and trends. Second, I learnt about how to critically think about technology-related controversies and apply it to my personal life. For example, I used to turn on my ad blocker all the time without any second thought, but after we talked about advertising and Internet business models on Week 5, I became aware of the importance of advertising to some websites and started to adjust my use of ad blockers accordingly.

  1. To better understand (but not necessarily fully comprehend) how different technologies work.

This course has helped me to better understand how different technologies work. I appreciated that at the beginning, Juan told us about the origin of the Internet which was maybe a basic knowledge but very helpful. I also like the mini tech lessons on topics such as XML, HTML or DRM. I did have a better understanding but also felt that my knowledge of these different technologies was still very minimal. I wish we could spend more time on elaborating these topics or we could have more readings on how these technologies work and fewer readings on the big picture concerns.

  1. Give you practical experience with three digital publishing tools and formats: blogging (WordPress), wikis (Wikipedia) and annotations (Hypothes.is)

I enjoyed using Hypothes.is. because usually I am not used to talk in class but with Hypothes.is, I am able to participate in discussions and engage in conversations with my cohort members. I really appreciated their input. Also, if someone mentioned something I am interested in, I would be able to keep a record, reflect upon and go back to the topics afterwards. In retrospect, I realized I may have asked too many questions in the annotations, but I was happy when my questions were answered. I also like sharing my thoughts via blogging and reading what my cohort members had written. I like this chance to research, practice my writing and learn something new about my classmates. However, I found that sometimes, it was difficult to keep blogs every week. I was not sure if each blog should be research-based, but for those are research-based, I ended up spending a lot of time on researching and it was especially time-consuming when something else from other classes was also due in the same week.

  1. Allow you to develop and express your own thoughts about various aspects of technology.

As I mentioned previously, I appreciate that I can express my own opinions with Hypothesi.s and blogging. I was very happy to write about my own experiences with Chinese social media in the first two blogs because those were unique experiences that my cohort members may not have. When I read the comments from Avvai and Juan under my second blog, I was very glad that I could contribute something to this class and motivated to keep exploring the cultural differences of technology.

Mission Complete!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Overall, I think this class is definitely inspiring to me. I did learn a lot from every topic and I enjoyed the assigned readings. This course does not only change my perspectives on digital technologies but also affects my views on Capitalism and western societies. This class will end soon but my life will still be full of technologies and I will think about what the class had taught me whenever I encountered any controversy regarding digital technologies.

 

 

Pub802 Reflection

Me, looking forward to my new relationship with technology

Before taking Pub802, I had a fairly good understanding of a slice of many of the issues surrounding technology and media, but I wasn’t able to express my opinions nearly as coherently as I can now. I also did not have or use information from both sides of arguments to draw upon for my understanding and discussion. In this essay, I will draw upon the objectives stated in our course syllabus to reflect on my experience and growing relationship with technology. 

Objective One: To whet your appetite for thinking about the role and effects of digital technologies, especially as it relates to the content we consume

This course whet my appetite in that it made me more aware of the effects of digital technologies. This was particularly relevant during Week 6: Copyright! and Week 10: Digital Reading which both focused on the ways in which the internet enables information (especially copyrighted information) to spread more freely and unrestrictedly through the digital space. I am particularly interesting DRM after Week 10, as I have a deep interest in audiobooks and their growing role in the publishing industry. I found Linda Flanagan’s How Audiobooks Can Help Kids Who Struggle With Reading particularly fascinating.  

Objective Two: To help you develop a framework to analyze and interpret technology related events and trends

This course laid out the current events and trends surrounding technology in a more approachable and in-depth way than I’d previously been exposed to in my own reading. I found that Alex Singh’s twitter thread On the Web’s transition from nomadism to feudalism particularly thought-provoking. I often used this twitter thread as a “historical” lens to view other topics we covered in class. 

Objective Three: To better understand (but not necessarily fully comprehend) how different technologies work

Nothing illustrated this objective to me more than our discussion of how the internet actually works in Week 2: The Web Changes Things. Before this, I never thought of the internet as a physical technology. I also liked the introduction to the intricacies of Youtube in Week 4: Internet Business Models. I’m very interested to see how this particular technology develops and affects society, in both positive and negative ways.

Objective Four: Give you practical experience with three digital publishing tools and formats: blogging (WordPress), wikis (Wikipedia) and annotations (hypothes.is)

My experience with digital publishing tools prior to this course was very limited. I feel like I’m now fairly well versed in word-press and hypothes.is, particularly with the later. I’ve also learned that my online style of annotation is to write many annotations that are on the medium to shorter side, which also mirrors my physical annotation style. One note on hypothes.is; I would like to see an easier way to integrate GIFs. I used them often, but it was difficult to implement them. I have not yet finished my Wikipedia article, but I have finished all of my training and have edited on Wikipedia, which demystified the Wikipedia process a lot for me. 

Objective Five: Allow you to develop and express your own thoughts about various aspects of technology

The blog posts, in particular, were a way for me to thoroughly develop my ideas before expressing them online, as they took a bit more distilling to make them coherent, in comparison to in the class discussion. I do wish that there was a little more direction early on in the blog post assignment. The title was misleading and I felt that it was difficult to express my thoughts in a way that met the assignment requirements. However, as the class progressed I think that my writing about technology became clearer. 

Conclusion

Overall, I thought that the class expanded my understanding of digital technologies and ideas. There were some weeks where I felt that there was a strong overlap of information that perhaps should have been touched on a little less in class. I feel like we discussed data privacy a lot in this class, which is fine, but it meant that we didn’t get to focus as much on other subjects I personally found more interesting. This class did give me a new framework and lenses in which to interact with and view digital innovations. 

I’ll miss these GIFs…

Bibliography

Flanagan, Linda. 2016. How Audiobooks Can Help Kids Who Struggle with Reading. KQED

Singh, Alex. 2018. On the Web’s transition from nomadism to feudalism. Twitter.

Time to Say Goodbye: A Review of PUB802

Before taking this class, not only did I not think critically about anything involving the digital technology in my day-to-day life, but I didn’t have the vocabulary to talk about anything tech-related in a serious way. Now, at the end of the semester, I can hold my own in a casual conversation about technology-related events and trends, drawing on the various lenses through which we looked at the digital technologies to do so.

Objective One
This class has definitely whet my appetite for thinking about the role and effects of digital technologies, and how they relate to the content I consume. Learning about the Web versus the Internet in our first class immediately captured my interest. In the future, I’m curious to learn more about some subjects than others—as a fan and frequent remixer, I’m still very interested in learning about copyright as laws continue to change—whereas I have less interest in online business models. In short, my eyes have been opened with regards to critically thinking about technology and the tech industry; the way the Web has evolved over time, the way we think of data collection and privacy versus what’s being collected and how that data is used, the dangers of using only one business model both on and offline, and the web as a space as it pertains to design were all of special interest to me.

Objective Two
As I said in my first blog post, this course has provided me a vocabulary and framework to analyze and talk about technology-related concepts, events and trends. I’ve become much more cognizant of how I interact with technology in the digital spaces I frequent, and now have the framework to be critical of them. I can analyze any platform through multiple lenses: business model and data privacy, measuring and tracking user behaviour, design as an integral part of the online experience, etc. As such, I’ve been able to develop my own thoughts regarding various aspects of technology—especially concerning the issue of data privacy, and user measuring and tracking. After reading and discussing in class, I’ve managed to better understand what my comfort level with regards to these things are, and why I feel the way I do.

Objective Three
While I have a very good grasp of copyright law, XML, various online business models (subscriptions services, the Patreon model, advertising, etc.), and how the Internet works, I wish we had learned more about how to implement a lot of the technologies we talked about, such as spending time learning to code. That being said, I definitely understand how the technologies we covered work, and can implement this knowledge in my future endeavors. My knowledge of metadata comes to mind, here; knowing how it works as well as its function permits me to understand why it’s important and how it can be better used to help publishers in the future.

Objective Four
After completing all required blog posts, annotating all the readings, and posting my Wikipedia assignment, I can confident say that I have experience with all three of these digital publishing tools. I really enjoyed annotating all the readings—I feel that they helped me grasp the material, and the sense of community created within the annotations was a welcome addition to the class, and provided further learning opportunities through links, explanations, and anecdotes. I’ll continue to use them. I found the blog posts to be extremely difficult to keep up with—they were very time consuming and the expectation for the assignment was unclear until later in the semester, which I found frustrating. That being said, I think I’ve hit my stride with regards to the assignment objectives and requirements; I’m linking, tagging, and adding gifs to my posts and have balanced the narrative reflection with information and analysis.

I’m very happy the Wikipedia assignment was optional; the weekly blog posts and annotations are a lot of work by themselves, but combined with that assignment and my other classes, the class workload was impossible to keep up with. It was still very difficult—I wish there had been fewer blog posts with longer word counts, and that they had been presented as mini-essays or articles.

All told, this class provided me with a solid framework to understand, use and analyze various digital technologies, and I’ve come out of it better equipped to be critical of the online world.

Working Towards Big Data Ethics

The use of big data has skyrocketed within recent years opening up new opportunities for traditional industries such as publishing. Through the use of data collection and the ever-evolving way it is gathered, publishers can now gain insights into which sections of digital books are popular with readers, how long it takes the reader to finish a book, and whether or not they do indeed finish it. These insights help publishers make strategic decisions on everything from the emotional content arc of a story, to finding the next blockbuster, and how to capture reader engagement. But like all things great, with big data comes big responsibility. Regardless of what information publishers find beneficial, I believe there should be strong governmental regulations which set the moral responsibility of publishers and create an ethical code to govern how data is collected and used. This extends beyond current personal data laws and requires policymakers to keep up to date with the latest data mining approaches.

Continue reading “Working Towards Big Data Ethics”

If I had unlimited access to the world

As global COO of Macmillan Science and Education, Ken Michaels, states, access to data and the analysis of what is out there allows publishers to “chart better strategic business objectives, improve the effectiveness and efficiency in all parts of the business, including developing better products and audience outreach, enhancing how we market, even one to one [marketing].”

I would use the information out there to do all of the above. I would not necessarily start letting data or computers make all of my marketing or acquisition decisions, but I would work to interpret the data and let it inform my decisions in a way that is collaborative. I also think once publishers have a greater wealth of data and a greater understanding of it, it makes sense that that data would then become a larger factor in pitching titles to Indigo, Barnes and Noble, and other buyers. I would also use the data to shape which kind of titles to commission, as the data would enable us to determine where there is a niche to be filled and what audiences exist.

Speaking on a more specific level, having all the user data for Facebook would enable me to optimize my marketing by helping me learn more about specific reader demographic profiles and how to optimize my audience information when generating ads for specific books and branded contents. Using Facebook’s infinite amount of user data, we could learn more about how people read online, what makes them engage with content, and how directly target consumers likely to actually read our products. As a publisher, I could use data to identify historical trends of what has traditionally succeeded in terms of themes, format, and more. The data from social media platforms could help me identify social trends and I would utilize that knowledge to publish titles that are topical (with an understanding that some trends really are just “trends”) and I would combine this knowledge to see which patterns exist in the overall market.

Using Amazon’s data, we could find out more about what kind of metadata works and how best to optimize our titles for discoverability in a way that takes advantage of Amazon’s algorithms. We could also create more effective comp titles if we had access to all the similar titles a consumer tends to buy (rather than just the ones listed on the website), and we could create more in-depth reader/persona profiles by having further access to the full purchasing or browsing history of users who bought these similar titles.

According to WNWP (What’s new with publishing), a company called Storyfit has been using AI to determine which art is appropriate for which media. The artificial intelligence answers questions such as the following:

“Is this book a good fit for a Facebook marketing campaign across Europe? Is that book series a wise investment for a movie studio to option the film rights? In comparing these three books on sending a spaceship to Mars, which is the most likely to be the most popular and sell the most units, if all are priced the same way?”

The technology is likely not 100% dependable, but being able to gather data helps us improve discovery, create more effective marketing plans, and ultimately drive the sales. Despite all the class discussions about the ethics around using data, I think that publishing right now is largely a guessing game, and that any quantifiable information you can gather about the market and readers is an advantage that one would be foolish to ignore. While I do not think I would build my acquisition strategy, I think the data would prove pivotal for convincing other industry professionals once the practice of gathering better data fully catches on. I think any data I would be able to gather would give me a competitive edge and enable me to push for the books I am already passionate about.

Mega-Metadata

An easy way for me to wrap my head around metadata was the hashtagging style: a style of tagging that rose to popularity while I was a digitally active teenager. An idea launched into the Twitter ether by former Google developer, Chris Messina, would help sort and categorize ideas, without the need for any special backend working or any sort of coding knowledge. “He chose the # symbol because it was an easy keyboard character to reach on his 2007 Nokia feature phone and other techies were already using it in other internet chat systems”, as explained in this article.

As it usually happens when change is introduced, Messina’s new idea got its fair share of hate. He said:

People were like, that’s weird, that’s kind of dumb.

Yet it was an idea that caught on. Now, hashtags are decided, created and user tested before campaigns are formally launched on social media; the hashtag being of prime importance to decide the campaign’s social media success. A very successful example is the recent #metoo hashtag; with global reach, it is now called the #metoo movement.

Similarly, metadata is easily explained by Edward Nawotka as

All of the information associated with a book or publication that is used to produce, publish, distribute, market, promote and sell the book.

In the publishing realm, perfect metadata can better serve niche audiences. In addition to word of mouth, mega-metadata can round up the thematic content in one place. Similar keywords would yield consolidated searches, thus making discovering a particular genre or topic relatively more straight forward.

Secondly, I think algorithms could improve. Mega-metadata means the algorithm could respond to our queries in an exact way and maybe even give perfect suggestions.

Thirdly, I feel that SEO (Search Engine Optimization) would have to be re-worked or maybe even eradicated since people would be able to find what they wanted with a couple of correct keywords. Maybe there would be a website that has an anthology of all the keywords ever registered! I imagine it would look like Craigslist (hopefully with a less offensive blue). Mega-metadata has the power to make finding/searching more convenient, although it asks for a painstaking categorization and curation of information at the publishers’ end.

I’m not very certain but I also think that marketing would not be the same as it is today. Book Marketers/Publicists would have to change tactics to work around equally discoverable titles in a sea of keywords. Since searching for a particular keyword could bring forth all the relevant titles, marketing might have to go through some extra steps to get a particular book noticed. Everyone could get the same amount of exposure; it would be just “fads” dictating the bestsellers’ lists.

I’m kind of excited for this: since I often fail to find a similarly themed book without going through Reddit (which, for me, is the least credible source). My quest for engrossing content leads me on many online voyages which costs me time and effort (not to mention being an excellent way to procrastinate).

It is a concept too good to be true, but maybe we see mega-metadata in a couple of years.

Something’s Gotta Give: The Perils of Dominant Business Models in Online Environments

The general consensus seems to be that the current online advertising system is broken. People don’t like online ads (based on views and/or clicks), so AdBlock Plus is extorting publishers and content creators like some kind of digital mafia boss, with those who rely on ad revenue helpless to stop it. This makes actually making any money very difficult, especially when we tend to pass on the responsibility of dealing with the current broken advertising model, and then use the excuse of “neutral” platforms, software and extensions to explain why it is not our job to fix them/why they cannot be fixed. Of course, no platform, software, or extension is neutral. At some point in the process, a biased human being is on the other side of the screen making very biased human decisions about how things are designed, and how they operate. If we want to fix the system, we shouldn’t “[…] build systems that let us pass the buck to someone else, in exchange for passing them a few bucks”; we should demand and take responsibility for the things that affect us. Or, at least, that’s Anil Dash’s argument.

I think this is easier said than done.

The problem with a single business model becoming dominant in an online environment, and in fact in any environment, is that no one model is infallible. Being completely reliant on a single revenue stream makes you vulnerable should that stream dry up. Furthermore, when a business model becomes dominant, it limits the incentive for business owners to create or build new models or go looking for other revenue streams—if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it! This stagnancy and lack of creativity makes the model vulnerable as the market evolves, until everyone is in crisis because, say, traditional online advertising no longer works as effectively (if at all) in a digital environment. This “panic mode” either forces creativity and an evolution of the model, or demands its replacement with something more sustainable—and the cycle continues. This loop can be seen in the evolution of TV and radio advertising: forced to compete with Netflix and rapidly changing social climate, TV advertisers have been forced to become clever in their ads.

With the rise of ad blockers, it looks like we’ll soon be seeing the same shift in online advertising—though if advertising will change, or if business models will shift to remove it from their revenue streams completely still remains to be seen. Either way, something’s gotta give.

Thoughts on the Medium Model

The with growing dominance of adblock (which has decimated digital ad revenues), it is worth speculating how publishers can adapt by creating models that enable website traffic and monetization without alienating readers. Medium’s recent model changes put into play an interesting structure: a membership model that, for 5 dollars a month, enablers readers to access “the best” of Medium’s content. Before deliberating on how publishing can apply such a model, I want to first look at what is and is not working with the system.

Continue reading “Thoughts on the Medium Model”

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.

Final Reflection: User Journey

The Technology course, for me, was a perfect fit. Like a cozy mitten or a mermaid-tail blanket. Coincidentally, I did a lot of reading and annotating in said blanket. I grew up with friends that went to both IT high schools and universities, then I also ended up working as an Executive Assistant for an IT recruitment company. In a way, it’s like a moth to a flame kind of relationship for me: there is an undeniable magnetism because there is no limit to my curiosity, just as there is no limit to the Technology field’s progress.

Along the way, some things have fascinated me – like learning about Halt and Catch Fire and watching it without blinking at the very beginning of the term, or learning about Online Business Models, or learning about Annotations and their implications. Some things, on the other hand, have scared me – like the tracking apps or machine learning (and Sophia), things that were once only in sci-fi books and yet my generation is experiencing as “normal.” Overall, though, the underlying feeling has always been of satisfaction because there was always something to keep my mind busy and my spirit vested.

It was not all pink and rosy, however – being an introvert and a go-getter, I took the word of the contract as Law and drove myself into an anxiety attack two-thirds through. I have been told I am the Type A kind of personality, the kind that needs to do everything, needs to do everything right and if something goes wrong, tends to punish themselves with much too harsh consequences. It might stem from the type of household I grew up in, and by “might” I mean “for sure.” This is something that I have been working on over the last few years, especially because the Publishing industry is so fast-paced, entails so much group work and thus, means interacting with different creative and business types. I’ve definitely rounded my edges a bit through this academic journey, both during the Technology course, as well as through the final projects that we worked on. I also found a healthy balance where I restructured my personal goals, switching from wanting to do everything like a robot so I can tick away at tasks to focusing on the learning and managing the many tasks on my plate, and patting myself on the back for each small accomplished task.

In addition, I reminded myself to enjoy my passionate self and continue on my path of learning and success, and mind less what others might do or say or think. Writing the blog posts, for example, was for me an exercise for both expressing creativity and for practicing concise writing. I made it a personal goal to stay between 500 and 600 words, and that was something I did for myself to make it fun. I dabbled in some Toastmaster-ing here and there over the years, and there is a certain art in saying the same thing in less words. It’s a really fun game for me to constantly practice this skill. I may not always get it right but it’s the process itself that I enjoy. Writing these blogs was tough to manage at certain points during the Term, like when our demands for the Group Project were breaking our back, but again, my feelings when going into this Master’s was to make sure I focus on the learning and not to obsess over the marks (for once – even though just saying this gives me a bit of a *ZGR* on my brain).

I am in just a few days heading over to Simon&Schuster and during the Emerging Leaders’ week, my supervisor plain advised me to keep in mind that “the real world” might end up being nothing like what I am learning during the terms. So that’s perhaps the key takeaway: to keep an open mind. I think the lectures, activities and discussion certainly focused on this aspect, and I remember going down the same staircase during my undergrad so I can pass by my favourite quote on campus: “One’s mind, once stretched by a new idea, never regains its original dimensions” (Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr.). If I could get paid to be a student, that would be brilliant, but at the same time, I have learned through this course that there is a ceiling for me in terms of academia… and then I start to ache for practicality and actual work.

So with what I have learned during this course, I feel like I am entering the workforce knowledgeable in many aspects. Or if nothing else, I’ll be one ridiculously fun factoid machine at publishing parties!

Anna Stefanovici

Pub802 Reflection

Hypothes.is:
Using Hypothes.is as a tool for annotating course readings was very beneficial to me. It made me think critically about and engage with the reading on a level that I rarely achieve in other classes. I appreciate reading others’ opinions on the subject matter, and I appreciate reading their comments on my own opinions. Hypothes.is gave community to our comments. If I ever feel the need to comment on an article, I usually avoid doing so because I feel that my comment will lost in the abyss, never to make any significant impact. I know that when I comment using Hypothes.is my words are heard and considered by people thinking about the same things as me. I like having many smaller assignments (Hypothes.is annotations as well as the blog posts) because I know that if I fall short one week, it won’t make or break my final mark. Knowing this causes me to feel less pressure, and I think I ended up doing better than I thought I would, both in terms of the quality of my contributions and in keeping up with the schedule.

Student-led Content:
A student-decided syllabus can be a useful tactic in getting students engaged, but I know I for one had no idea what we were getting into at the beginning of this semester. As I had little knowledge of the content beforehand, it was difficult to predict what I would want to talk about in the weeks to come. As for student-led marking, I wish there had been a clearer set of expectations on what was considered satisfactory or unsatisfactory. If we had been provided with a rubric with which to mark our peers, I think we would have felt more stable as both the markers and the marked.

Contract Grading:
I like the concept of Contract Grading, but I wish the grades had more definition behind them: what makes an A, what makes a C, and so on. For students to be in control they need plenty of structure.

Public Contribution to Knowledge:
I have yet to submit my Public Contribution to Knowledge so I am not sure how I will fare in this part of the course. I understand why this segment is important, but once again, I wish there was a bit more structure to how we will be graded for it. Perhaps it would be helpful, if in future iterations of this course, students were provided with examples of what types of subject matter they can write on and in which platforms.

Course overall:
I now think about the technology in my everyday life a lot differently, and by that I mostly mean I think about it a lot more. I began this course with questions about technology and how it applies to our lives as publishing professionals, and I have left with even more questions. I mean that as a compliment to this class; the course, its content, and our discussions have opened my eyes to many new concepts that I had never even considered before, and I now have a hunger to learn more. I think we all learned very quickly that this class would not answer every question we had, so we instead came to class to discuss subjects we were interested about, to share opinions, and to be exposed to viewpoints that we may not have known existed. The topics we discussed in class are open and neverending ones. Although we may never find answers to some of the technological questions that were raised during this course, I know I am leaving this semester with a better understanding of how to even begin to have these conversations in the first place.

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.