Reflecting the reflection- pub 802

I was looking forward to taking PUB 802 when I was reading about the master’s courses on the SFU website. It definitely helped me not only to develop the opinions I had about technology but also to create new opinions on how to deal with technology on a personal and a professional level.

This course has made me really interested in learning about technology.  For example, before I started the course, I wanted to know more about the “tech industry” and how to get into the tech industry after I graduate. Instead, in week two, I saw a whole new point of view on the tech industry. I realized I have been a part of the industry without even noticing. Readings about how the web changes things, especially how there is no Tech Industry anymore in the world we live in. Readings about how the web changes things made me realize that technology is incorporated with almost every action we do

I enjoyed that we all had a chance to lead the class discussion. Because it is not graded directly, it gave me the opportunity to challenge myself by choosing a topic I did not know a lot about without fear of making mistakes. Week 4 and 5, when we learned about Internet Business Models, were the most interesting weeks for me. They opened a new horizon that allowed me to form informed opinions regarding the ongoing problems the publishing industry is facing. They also helped me understand that there are a lot of unexploited business models that can help the publishing industry get better results, and we should not necessarily follow or focus on the dominant business models.

Another aspect of this course that I enjoyed was using to annotate. Although I was not the kind of user who made a lot of annotations all over the place, I appreciated the fact that I could read others’ annotations. It allowed me to see different perspectives on a single idea. Moreover, it made me aware of how people can look at things in a way that is different than also made me a better reader because I found myself stopping to think and analyze every time I saw an annotation. I am not going to lie here, sometimes I felt overwhelmed by it. However, overall, when comparing the pros and cons, this tool has been very helpful.

In terms of the weekly blog post, I felt those were a bit too much to be doing every week. They were very challenging for me because writing is not my sweet spot. I tried my best to incorporate the comments I received to new blog posts, but due to the delay in receiving feedback, I was not able to do this as much as I would have liked. As I write this reflection essay, I have received feedback on two of my blog posts and there are three after those two I still did not receive any feedback on. While I definitely understand that Prof. Alpreni was very clear that he was making an effort to get them back to us as fast as possible, I just wanted to clarify that this was challenging for me because I would have liked to receive more comments on how to improve. As a person who likes to work on herself, I will be waiting for the feedback and will be updating the published blogs simply because I want to get better at writing, even after the class is over.

Overall, I enjoyed this class. It was a class where we were all able to work collaboratively every week, which allowed us to develop new opinions about the structure of technology as a whole. Moreover, it allowed us to learn how to interact with different technologies while doing our weekly assignments.

Reading is Reading is Reading… or is it?

Is reading a book on your phone different than on your computer, or on an ereader? Are we good at reading digitally? Does digital reading change the way we perceive text? Context, including distractions like internet connectivity, plays a large role in how various digital reading experiences can be distinguished.

Context shapes how we read and how we interpret what we read. The surrounding elements of a book or piece of text such as where a person is reading, the goals they have for the reading experience (whether they want to be informed or entertained etc.), and the interface of the text all will change how the text is perceived. Reading on your computer or phone has an innate connectivity, that many ereaders don’t have. When I’m on my phone I feel like I’m in a state of multi-tasking because the phone itself has the so many other functions outside of just reading. With many tabs and apps open all at once, I can hop from my ebook, to look something up on Google, check in with Instagram, text a friend, then get back into the book. Patricia Greenfield found that multi-tasking slows the reading speed down, although it doesn’t seem to impact understanding of the text. I can definitely relate to that finding about, however I would  argue that my comprehension takes a hit from this experience because I’m not focused and engaging deeply.

Since ereaders are designed primarily for reading (rather than other actions like browsing, texting or emailing), I can imagine that I would be able to focus on reading much more than attempting to read on my phone. When I read, I want to do so in a printed format so that I can limit distractions and really immerse myself, but that is perhaps because I grew up reading printed books and I’ve been really stubborn in transitioning to digital experiences. An ereading device would, in theory, offer me the distraction free reading experience I’m looking for.

I really like Maria Konnikova’s stance on this debate as she doesn’t say which type of reading experience is best, but rather that as we all start to read online more and more, we just need to become better digital readers and learn how to work at limiting distractions in order to have deeper reading experiences online. She stated in her New Yorker article, “We cannot go backwards. As children move more toward an immersion in digital media, we have to figure out ways to read deeply there.”

I think that ebooks have come a long way for reader retention and comprehension, but what I think will really require more work, as Konnikova suggests, is articles or other forms of long format articles found online. For the similar reasons of distraction, I find myself giving less importance to online reading experiences. I often scan through the text since there is so much surrounding the text from ads and links to “related articles” and more. I don’t see the reading experience as in depth or valuable as a printed book because of this. Again, this is likely my own personal bias coming through. With learning and practice I could reverse the effects of years a childhood of reading in print.

Since each digital reading experience is so different, and has not had the benefit of hundreds of years of refinements like the reading of printed books, we still have a long way to go. Consider even hyperlinked interactive books, how do we become good readers of those? Are we able to remove distractions all together because of their ability to immerse readers into the story by allowing their choices to impact how the content plays out? Each of these new digital reading experiences have different contextual elements that distinguish them. We grapple with these elements in order to have an optimal reading experience and we may require new skills and practice to become better digital readings.

While observing the differences in reading experiences one question that also comes to my mind is one about form. Do we read or listen to audiobooks? I keep overhearing discussions and reading articles that make mention of audiobooks as a form of reading a book but I don’t entirely agree. I don’t agree because the definition of reading that I have come to adopt is that reading is done by visually decoding text. But, even as I type that statement, I realize that this overly simplified definition negates using braille as a form of reading, when vision is not required at all.

A screen reader may be reading the text to the user who is listening, but does that then mean that people with visual impairments don’t read? I definitely would disagree with that statement so I think my definition of reading needs updating. I would call upon the wikipedia definition, but even it’s explanation of reading needs to be revised. The page states, “The symbols are typically visual” and acknowledges both printed and tactile texts that can be read, but there is no mention on the entire page about audio.

As Linda Flanagan 

I really like this quote by William Irwin that states, “Audio books began as a boon to the blind and dyslexic and have been mistaken as a refuge for the illiterate and lazy.”  This article by Writer’s Edit outlines a helpful summary of the two sides of this debate and has started to convince me that listening to an audiobook is a form of reading especially when you look at the comprehension rates of reading visually or ‘reading’ by way of listening. I look forward to following how this debate unfolds.

Reflecting on Tech

Before this course began in January, I did not spend much time thinking about the role that the internet has in my life. I did however think that I was thinking about “digital technologies” quite regularly. I complain about the reliance that we have on computers and technology today and feel that progress isn’t always for the better; just because you can do something infinitely faster doesn’t mean you should. Sometimes when things get faster and more automated, it actually creates more work for the people it is supposed to be helping, or leads to the expectation that people can get more work done and operate like machined too. I’ve been there, and the technology burnout is real.

When I think about ‘tech’ I get overwhelmed by the word. Everything is tech now. Making en ebook, making a print book, sending emails, texting friends, social networks, medical devices, voice operated speakers… and of course the list goes on.  What I haven’t really spent any time thinking about specifically is the internet and for that reason I didn’t really know what to expect from this course. I haven’t considered “publishing technologies” to be associated with the internet including new business models, data privacy and copyright, but through our discussions, I learned how the internet plays a central role and connects all of the various publishing technologies together. At a more granular level, here is how I believe I faired at completing the learning objectives for this course:

Consuming Tech

I definitely became fully immersed in critically thinking about tech from the start of this class. On Wednesday’s I would come home to my parter saying,  “You gotta see this! Did you know…..” and I would forward friends some of the readings I thought they would also find interesting. Many of the discussions we had during the semester were about things that I was already aware of, but didn’t take the time to pay attention to or really understand in any meaningful way. Now I seek out more information about the discussions we’ve had.

I tend to think more critically now especially about internet business models. The consequences of big companies having my data are something I consider more deeply now as well, but this course has inspired me to think about the smaller companies too. How do they compete, how can they use the possibilities of tech to make a mark and create a new model that really works? I am more on the lookout now for new initiatives that I would like to support.

Using a Framework for Analysis

I don’t feel like I have specific frameworks to draw upon to analyze  tech and it’s impact now, but I do see things more holistically and that’s the general framework that I draw upon. I was looking at the minute details about tech before without connecting the dots between models and ideas. The class discussions, with many perspectives on the table really helped me see things from many sides. For example, our discussion about copyright and whether or not it should exist really made me think! On one hand I see how it works, but it also really prevents the spread of knowledge that it is there to protect, and if it was gone, there would seemingly be many repercussions! Many of our discussions did not have answers, but they were thought provoking and exciting.

How it Works

I will fondly remember learning about how the web is different than the internet. I thought I had a pretty thorough understanding about how the internet works but I was wrong! Now I can have much more in-depth discussions about the internet and how it’s all connected.

I know that we only scratched the surface of many other technologies such as xml markup and html but I do feel that I can now converse with people who deal with code a little bit better. This is very important since many of us will go on to work at small companies where we will need to understand the languages of our colleagues, even if we’re not in the same roles or departments. This applies to how Mauve has been teaching the cohort to use the elements and principles of design to really talk about design in a meaningful way and get our ideas across effectively.

I would have liked to dive into a further discussion on how AI and machine learning works. It was a mini lesson in the schedule but I don’t think we really got to it. Someone asked a question at tech forum about when a publisher should start using AI. the panel responded with, “Right now, and start feeding your AI data!”  To that I thought, how? Where does one even start? I think a further discussion on this would be a great addition to the syllabus.

Digital Publishing Tools

As someone who really struggles to write, a course where all assignments are written including weekly blog posts was incredibly taxing. I completely understand the use of the blog posts and do think it’s great that we have learned to write in a way that can be read by the public and understood without any prior knowledge of our conversations. This is a great skill so our opinions and ideas can get out in the world in a sharable, cohesive and public way, but it was definitely difficult. Some of the questions felt too big to even begin to answer in the space and time allotted, which made the expectation of a short blog post hard to grapple with. Having four slightly longer and in dept posts throughout the term may be a solution to this so we could dive into the responses more. The requirement of doing one every week alongside annotating 6-10+ readings made it seem like they shouldn’t take more that three to four hours, but I ended up agonizing over it for quite a bit longer.

I can also officially say that I am now typing directly into WordPress rather that using Microsoft Word. I think I have a bit of an inherent distrust of the internet, but this course has warmed me up to a few things which will serve me well as I move through our technology driven world!

The Wikipedia assignment was actually quite interesting and upon posting it, I felt great that I had contributed to public knowledge and now people can go to the article and learn more about hybrid publishing. I now know that if a page doesn’t exist and I think it should, I have the ability to simply create it! The scope of the project however didn’t quite line up with the percentage value attributed to it. I know that it is now an extra credit piece, but for the research, writing and editing involved, it feels like it should be worth a bit more to make students more keen to really put the effort in. I also understand however, that having many smaller things due that are more equally weighted takes a lot of pressure off for some.

In the Hypothesis survey I submitted, I definitely sang the praises of the tool. It helped me gain a deeper understanding of the content and I loved getting more perspectives from my peers, which often would end up changing my opinions about a subject. I however really do prefer off-screen time and prefer reading on paper. This would have allowed me to take readings with me on transit or to sit offline at a cafe or park bench. To me those little breaks of connectivity really help my experience as a student. As per my introduction about tech, you can see how I’m not fully on board with making every part of my education experience online!

Developing my Own Perspective

As I mentioned above, I think this course has made technology seem a bit more friendly. With an inherent distrust and dislike of technology and the way it seems to be taking over, I started to see some of the really great things that it does, as well as some examples where people are trying to combat some of the more unsavoury aspects of the online world. An example of this was our discussion surrounding platform cooperativism – giving power, ownership and autonomy to all those involved within an online business. It is really important to know what’s going on and analyze the trends in technology in order to see what exactly is problematic and in turn, see new areas of opportunity. When I mentioned a holistic analysis above, I think that’s what has helped shape my own perspectives on technology the most, because now I can see what’s happening with a less biased lens. From there, I can then form an educated opinion around what’s happening. Having this ability will make it easier for me going forward to not simply by into whatever a big tech giant tells me to do, but question if there’s another option or if there’s anything I can do about it.

In Conclusion

This class reminded me a lot of Text and Context with John last semester. This style of seminar discussion is my favourite type of class because it really helps open up the floor for an engaging discussion that gets everyone involved rather than an idea coming from one source. I learned a lot from this course and have book marked most of the readings so I can keep going back to them!

I will no longer make the mistake of thinking that the internet is somehow separate from “publishing technologies”, and the word tech it is starting to feel a bit more friendly after we unpacked some of the issues that we face today and discussed them openly.

Reflections on Pub 802, Spring 2019

Upon looking at the lineup of classes this semester, I must admit I was a little apprehensive to be taking what looked like a tech-heavy course load.  Despite being someone whose work is heavily based on digital technologies, I consider myself to be a bit of a Luddite. However, my original fears that Pub 802 was going to be “techy”, dry, and beyond my comprehension were quickly proven wrong. Instead, I found the reading material and subsequent class discussions to be generally exciting as they didn’t focus so much on the digital technologies per se but the social, political, and economic implications these technologies have. Overall, I feel like I have learned a lot from this class as well as met, and in some cases exceeded, the learning objectives set forth in September. Continue reading “Reflections on Pub 802, Spring 2019”

A dream: a world where our information is protected and truly private

While there is data that can predict the next blockbuster hits, as shared from Stephen Phillips’ “Can Big Data Find the Next Blockbuster Hit“, I believe that the most useful information a publisher can obtain is from the author and his/her readership credentials to prove that the author is worthy of being published. It’s sad that the amount of likes or follower count is how we qualify how worthy an author’s work is to be published, but I believe this is what the future of publishing is moving towards. Many publishers look at an author’s previous publishing experiences, or if an author has previous entertainment success to use as a security blanket, as a means to promise success and high profit from a project. For example, it’s been very popular to look at the social media account information from prospective poets, as most “Instapoets” are now published based off of viral posts from their poetry. I think this is how most celebrities become authors too. It’s so risky for publishers to publish works, as most ideas don’t really make money. I understand that not most publishers publish just for monetary value, but for the large-house publishing companies, I don’t see it any other way. It’s as if this data acts as the closest publishers can bet to a promised return on a project. 

While I’m not too familiar with the types of data there are for publishers to use in their favour, I’m particularly interested in Apple’s announcement this week with the launch of Apple News+, a brand new subscription service that offers human-curated news to the user. One of the most impressive perks is that Apple promises to keep the user’s reading habits private, from Apple and advertisers. Apple shared that “publishers will be paid based on how many people read… data will be collected in such a way that it won’t know who read what, just what total time is spent on different stories.” I’m interested in exploring this flip in the question, that what if readership data is restricted from publishers? How would it impact the productivity of the publisher, or alternate the decision-making process of what gets published? This is a huge stab at Google and Facebook, who are notoriously known for selling our data to brands, most often without our permission. I think this is a great step for Apple as a brand, but I wonder if this makes many advertisers pull out from working with Apple, or publishers nervous that they will be weakened from not accessing primitive data. I respect Apple as a company because it continuously sought to differentiate itself from companies like Google and Facebook by emphasizing on privacy standards. I admire that Apple focuses on being consumer-friendly, so I wonder what this could mean for publishers. I think if a publisher can be like this, it would gain even more appreciation and support from readers. It’s a strong way to increase branding value, by making the reader feel like they are respected and don’t have to fear for an invasion of privacy. However, if publishers don’t depend on readership data, then how can they strive for blockbuster hits? Can it be taken as just a game of chance or the gut feeling? How successful can this be? I guess time will tell, but given this powerful initiative from a big-time corporation like Apple, I hope that other companies can follow this as an example. 

PS: There was Oprah at the #AppleEvent so Apple is sooooo winning!



Data Privacy 101: An Introduction to Surveillance Capitalism

The issue of data privacy is of central importance in the modern age, and, given the business models that now depend on metrics gathered via surveillance, it doesn’t seem that it will change in the near future. Furthermore,  much of people’s discomfort around data gathering seems to stem from the lack of transparency and knowledge about what data is gathered and stored, and how that data is used. As a result, and, influenced by education that I received regarding sharing on social media, I do think that education about this issue should be built into curriculums, and that it could be spearheaded by the government.

Often times corporations argue that users have agreed to have their data monitored and collected, however the terms by which users agree to this are invariably written in legalese and buried deep in long contracts that users have gotten used to skimming or ignoring completely because they are so long and often impenetrable. Often, I think, even if users did read the entire document, they wouldn’t fully understand what was being communicated or what they were agreeing to.

If the issue is a lack of understanding and knowledge about data collection and use, then the method of redress should aim to demystify and make transparent the issue of data collection and use. The problem is that, as surveillance capitalism becomes more and more commonplace, and the methods by which data is gathered, and—in fact—the data gathered become more and more extensive, we can’t expect private companies who stand to profit under this system to educate people. It would be great if they did, but they stand to gain too much from people remaining uneducated.

For this reason, I actually think the government could and should assume the responsibility of educating people about data collection and privacy. When I was in high school, we had a number of assemblies and lectures about what sort of information we were sharing on social media. It was framed as a matter of safety, and also from the perspective that nothing that was shared could ever really truly be deleted or taken back.

In a lot of ways, a conversation about data collection is an extension of this issue—essentially, it is still a matter of privacy. The difference is that the lessons I was taught in high school were about information and content I was choosing to share, whereas the conversations we need to be having now are about information that is being collected without our knowledge.

I think that educating people about how their data is collected and used is essential to people being able to make informed decisions about their digital lives. Furthermore, the current structures in place for doing this (Terms and Conditions documents, etc.) are not accomplishing this, (probably because ignorance of this matter is actually in corporations’ best interest.) Therefore, the government should intervene and build education about data privacy into curriculums. It should be something that becomes a basic part of peoples’ consciousness, as digital technology is increasingly becoming intertwined with peoples’ daily lives, and surveillance capitalism may be here to stay.

Dr. Seuss vs. Dr. Juice

Published by Penguin in 1996, the book The Cat NOT in the Hat! A Parody by Dr. Juice told the case of O. J. Simpson using the elements from Dr.Seuss’s The Cat in the Hat. The publisher and the author were sued for copyright infringement later. It was determined by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals as “not a fair use”.

Let us first look at how alike they are.

Here is the original cover:

And here is the cover of “the Cat NOT in the Hat!”:

Obviously, the two covers share a similar design style. Their title occupies the right half and the figure occupies the left half, facing towards the title. Also, the font of the title mimicked the original font. As for the illustration of the figure, both characters wear the red and white striped hat.

Inside the book, Dr. Juice is using the rhymical style of Dr. Seuss to retell the story of O.J. Simpson. For example, “A man this famous/ Never hires/ Lawyers like/ Jacoby Meyers/ When you’re accused of a killing scheme/ You need to build a real Dream Team”.  The court believed that Dr. Juice’s work copied substantially from Dr. Seuss’s work.

But, on the cover of Dr. Juice’s book, it clearly claimed itself as a “parody”. Is it a fair use if the book is a parody? More essentially, is it a parody as it claimed to be?

As we mentioned, Dr Juice’s book told the case of O.J. Simpson using the rhymical style of Dr. Seuss. The story inside the book is not relevant to the original work. According to the court, “The work was not a parody, because it did not hold up Dr. Seuss’s style, but merely mimicked it to attract attention or avoid the difficult work of developing original material”. The book is non-transformative.

Also, the book was published for profit which was clearly commercial. Due to the commercial nature of the book, the court inferred that there would be harm to the market of the original work. Dr. Juice and his publisher failed to provide evidence to go against the inference of the court.

Therefore, the court finally decided it as “not a fair use”.

In conclusion, I agree with the court’s decision. The lesson to learn here is that to be fair use, a parody is supposed to mock the author or the content of the original work. If the content of the parody is nothing related to the original work, then it is more likely to be decided as not a fair use.

Works Cited

Dr. Seuss Enters., LP v. Penguin Books USA, Inc.,109 F.3d 1394 (9th Cir. 1997)

Satire or Parody? Dr.Seuss Enterprises v. Penguin Books USA

Satire or Parody? Dr.Seuss Enterprises v. Penguin Books USA



Rentmeester v. Nike, Inc.: A Tale of Two Photographs

It was the best of poses, it was the… well, it’s a pretty iconic pose. In modern media, you’d be hard pressed to find someone who didn’t recognize Nike’s “Jumpman” logo. Even if you wouldn’t know to call it the Jumpman, you’ve seen it if you’ve ever seen a pair of Air Jordans, or any of the (excessive) merchandising that’s been done connected to the Air Jordan image/brand.

The logo was made using a silhouette produced from an actual photo of Michael Jordan, commissioned by Nike sometime before 1988, when the logo was first used by the company. It’s hard to assign a dollar amount to the value of that image, but certainly, culturally, it’s been accruing cache internationally for the last three decades, and has become synonymous with the Air Jordan brand.

Enter Jacobus Rentmeester. The year is 2015, and the photographer has just filed a copyright claim against Nike, Inc. claiming that the photograph they commissioned, which the Jumpman logo was created from, constituted a plagiarization of his original photo. Did you follow that? According to Rentmeester’s line of thinking, his photo—let’s call it Photo A (of Michael Jordan, originally published in TIME magazine in 1984)—provided the concept and raw material for Nike’s commissioned photo—Photo B—which begat the Jumpman logo.

It’s not an entirely unreasonable claim. Many things between the two photographs are (at least) similar. Both photos are of Michael Jordan; compositionally, both feature a figure to the left of a basketball hoop, jumping towards the hoop, ball in hand. In both photos, the player’s legs are splayed impossibly wide, and the camera is positioned slightly lower than eye level, so that the viewers looks up towards Jordan. This gives Jordan a sense of being larger-than-life, daunting, even superhuman. The lighting in both photos is also similar: in both photos, Jordan is backlit, which creates a high-contrast visual effect, which in turn contributes to a feeling of monumental drama.

There are also some differences between the photos: Nike’s commissioned photo has a closer crop than Rentmeester’s, and the subject (Jordan) is smack in the middle of the photo. Rentmeester’s photo was originally part of a magazine spread, which by good sense dictated that Jordan had to be one side of the photo. Jordan’s physical position is also subtly different. In Rentmeester’s photo, Jordan’s right hand is raised, while in Nike’s photo, his right hand is stretched out behind him. In both photos, Jordan’s right hand is stretched wide open, but this is much easier to see in the Nike photograph.

The two photos also tell a slightly different story: in Rentmeester’s photograph, the focus is squarely on Jordan’s athleticism. The horizon is a grassy hill in the foreground, and  he is wearing plain athletic wear. Altogether, the main thrust feels like a passion for the sport—the only things that exist in the world of this photograph are a basketball player, a basketball, and a hoop. In Nike’s commissioned photo, on the other hand, a silhouetted city skyline is in the background. Jordan occupies the center of the photograph, decked-out in flashy, colour-coordinated sportswear (and, conspicuously, Air Jordans). The story here is a superstar basketball player in an urban setting.

The case concluded in February 2018 with a ruling against Rentmeester’s claim. The court panel and jury analysis is a little hard to parse without a firm grasp of legal jargon, but essentially the salient idea was that the “expression of the pose” did reasonably belong to Rentmeester, but that the photos were ” as a matter of law not substantially similar” (Stanford University Libraries, 2018).


It’s difficult to respond to the ruling without having a firm understanding of the information or decision-making process, but I think this case presents a very interesting question. We’ve accepted that a photograph is the property of the photographer, but what about the contents of that photograph? It reminds me of the basic copyright principle that a person doesn’t own an idea, but the unique expression of that idea. But how does that apply to a photograph? If the idea is the subject, the pose, and the basic composition of the photograph, couldn’t the unique expression be the combination of all of these things? In this case, the law would say no. As for my opinion, the jury is still in deliberation.

Works Consulted

Stanford University Libraries. “Rentmeester v. Nike, Inc.” Copyright and Fair Use. Accessed 1 March 2019.

Esquenet, Margaret A. “United States: Photographer Sues Nike for Copyright Infringement of Iconic Jordan Logo.” Mondaq. Accessed 1 March 2019.

“Jumpman (logo).” Wikipedia. Accessed 1 March 2019.



Set them free, the world is your limit!

This week questions are quite interesting, they took me back to square one: our firsts discussions during Pub800 class where we talked about the differences between texts and documents and how Publishing was the process to make these public, resulting also in counter-publics that detached and created further texts of their own.

As we have have learned, Publishing’s ultimate goal, in its aspect of creating, gathering or finding a public for a text, would be that such public shares, experiences and adapt the texts contained in the documents produced. Thus, once published, the text becomes part of the common knowledge domain and its nearly impossible to prevent audiences from interacting, shaping and even limit them to experience it the best way they can, because, in any case, its unimaginable to expect to provide a single experience out of it.

However, the document where such text (or texts) is contained, is usually protected by Copyright laws in order to ensure the author and publisher get proper compensation for their efforts producing it. And thus, is becoming subject of discussion about its integrity and the right of the audience to change it.

When an author wants to publish something, whether to reach a specific/limited audience or looking for more widespread recognition, he or she must be ready for such appropriation by the public, after all, that is the whole point about publishing. Yet, they have also the right (along with the editor and publisher if present) to shape the way it is told and presented,  so that way  reflects the intention and ideas contained withing it, we know this as the moral rights.

Now, considering these two factors, the document becoming public on one side and the author retaining moral rights on the other, seems pretty simple to draw a line where the audience can use and enjoy the text while authors and publishers can enjoy the right to decide upon the possible outcomes and follow up from there on.

Whether as marginalia or annotations, sharing or discussing in real public forums or digital media, or even expanding a text, the public is using their right to experience it, after all, it is what is expected. But the author, as the creator of an idea, and the publisher as the responsible to shaping it for the public, have the right to decide on the following step (if any) of its publishing history. Still, authors should not limit who can talk about them or how they do that, that is practically impossible, although they can give their opinion on the subject and use their moral authority on them.

So certainly, people can create fan fiction, music themes or other derivative works of The Expanse novel series for example, but that does not mean these will become part of the next novel or the “official universe”. They cannot be used to make profit as detachments but they can be shared and discussed of course. No matter how democratic we wish to be, the moral rights for those works simply belong to the Authors and they are the only ones allowed to decide on the next step of this story. The only exception to this rule that comes to my mind, would be an academic text, which contains some erroneous theories or conclusions that would be observed by the community and peer reviewed.

Furthermore, adding some of the topics also reviewed last week, let me bring the example of Role Playing Games to this picture. RPGs are quite fascinating. In their tabletop version, we suddenly have a whole world at our disposal to play in, and tell stories. Storylines and worlds are offered to the audience to freely play with them (literally) and thus, createtheir own versions of them.

Simply speaking, I can read a story written by some author, adapt it or even change it completely to tell a spin-off with my playing group. In practice, every playing session of a RPG will be different, even if the same group of people plays it a second time. This kind of narrative outcome clearly exemplifies these matters, people appropriating a text, using it, adapting it to their interests and then delivering a group experience. When I ran weekly campaigns for war games at our business in Mexico, the results of one week games shaped the way the following week’s story, and thus, the collective experience we had with one particular story-arc, was unique.

Is it possible we can figure out a similar way to use these annotated, non-linear narratives for the next story we plan to publish? Probably yes, and it would be interesting to see what kind of outcomes we get and how are they shared and evolved. We are not limited to fiction of course, think of a travel guide where people contributes their experiences using it, having a second, annotated edition. Or a cookbook where readers suggest substitute ingredients or cooking times based on their location via an app. Possibilities are unlimited and we just now have learned of the many technologies available to make them happen, be it as part of an application, podcast, blog. Anything is possible!

Declining to publish your opinion is not censoring you

Keeping in mind the readings on marginalia and annotations, and thinking more generally about the life of text online, should audiences be allowed to interact with and shape the text? Does a writer have the right to define who can comment? Should audiences be limited in their online socialization over a text?

In “Marginalia and Its Disruptions,” S. Brent Plate examines what it really means when readers write in the margins. He references an article by Laura Miller in which she writes, “Marginalia is a blow struck against the idea that reading is a one-way process, that readers simply open their minds and the great, unmediated thoughts of the author pour in.” Plate adds that marginalia “turn[s] readers into writers, and upset[s] the hierarchy of the author as authority.”

He also references Tim Parks who argues that “We have too much respect for the printed word, too little awareness of the power words hold over us.  . . . We overlook glaring incongruities. We are suckers for alliteration, assonance, and rhythm. We rejoice over stories, whether fiction or ‘documentary,’ whose outcomes are flagrantly manipulative, self-serving, or both. Usually both. If a piece of writing manifests the stigmata of literature—symbols, metaphors, unreliable narrators, multiple points of view, structural ambiguities—we afford it unlimited credit.” Parks concludes, “What surprised me most when I first began publishing fiction myself was how much at every level a novelist can get away with.”

These are some of the arguments in favour of encouraging and facilitating marginalia on digital works by enabling comments as well as annotation plug-ins like But not everyone agrees. Audrey Watters writes, “I took comments off my websites in 2013 because I was sick of having to wade through threats of sexualized violence in order to host conversations on my ideas.  . . . I’ve made this position fairly well known – if you have something to say in response, go ahead and write your own blog post on your own damn site.”

I find this position pretty unassailable. I don’t think writers have any obligation whatsoever to allow comments on their work. I think all writers deserve the right to decide, but it becomes clear in light of how women writers and other marginalized groups face harassment issues that can leak into offline threats and aggressions.

There is some anxiety that not allowing comments amounts to some kind of censorship. This is due to a misunderstanding of what censorship means. Being denied access to a specific platform to voice your views is nowhere near the same thing as being persecuted for voicing your views. Historica Canada defines censorship as “the exercise of prior governmental control over what can be printed, published, represented or broadcast.”

One might argue that even if it is not the legal definition of censorship, it’s still bad to ignore others’ viewpoints just because you disagree. But there are still plenty of other reasons not to force authors or publishers to allow comments or annotations on their work.

We can think of an analogy in print. How ridiculous would I sound if I insisted that the Vancouver Sun is censoring me by not publishing every letter I write in? The editors and publishers have a write to decide what is included in their publication. Comments and annotations are an act of publication, and it is no different when it is digital. The person who pays for the publication decides what gets in. As Watters writes, you can always write whatever you want about her work on your own damn blog. That’s what makes it not censorship. 

Forcing writers to allow comments directly on their work is not striking a blow in the name of free speech. Especially not in a context where hate speech and threats and trolls are par for the course. Hate speech is not a case of “disagreeing with someone’s opinion.” It’s part of a larger context in which certain groups suffer systematic oppression and violence. That’s why it’s not protected under free speech. Take a look at the comments sections under many news articles involving Indigenous people. You can see why many larger news outlets have disabled comments sections on some or all of their online articles. 

At the same time, you can always write a letter to the editor, publish your own free blog, start a social media account, make posters, write to other newspapers or blogs… This saves the author the work of having to read and mediate what could be a bunch of useless and/or hateful comments when all they ever signed up to do was write.

To sum up: Declining to publish something is not censorship; hate speech is not free speech; and we are not entitled to access to any platform we want for our opinion. I hope that we as future publishers can see that a writer has no obligation to allow comments or annotations on their work and that not allowing them  does not amount to censorship. Public discourse will benefit from leaving the choice up to the writer or publisher on their own platforms and giving writers the chance to opt in or out when they are published on other platforms.

Comments: On

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

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

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

The Dumpster Fire of Online Comments Sections

When thinking about online publications one issue that presents itself that is not as prevalent in print publications is the role of the content creator and their responsibility or freedom to control, moderate, or even block annotations, comments, or marginalia on their work. This raises two very interesting questions; do online content creators have the right to control how people interact with their content and do they have a responsibility to ensure their content is not being used in a way that could be considered malicious. These are two very different questions that online content creators are forced to consider when they publish their work. I don’t believe there is a clear right or wrong in this situation but that there are best practices.

Firstly, let’s start with considering should content creators be allowed to control things like comments on their publications or is this a form of censorship. Audrey Watters explains in her post about blocking that she has felt the need to block comments (including and genius) on her blog to avoid “having to wade through threats of sexualized violence in order to host conversations on [her] ideas.” As someone who is has been creating YouTube videos in some capacity for nearly a decade I can understand the desire to keep your website, blog, or YouTube channel as your safe place. To make a comparison between the online world and meat space, if you thought of your website as your house you have the right to control who is allowed to enter your house and under what circumstances they would no longer be welcome. The concept of freedom of speech is complicated but in the comparison of your website being your house no sensible person would claim censorship if you kicked them out of your house after making violent threats towards you. Now the complicated part of this argument is if you consider a website a private space like a house or if by the very fact that it exists on the world wide web it is therefore a public space, and how is this complicated if you do not own the platform on which you are hosting your online content? I will not pretend that I have the answers to these questions, and any resolution that you come to is likely to upset one group or another. I am inclined to believe that your intellectual property is a private space that you can see to control in any way you see fit, even if you don’t own the platform on which you are posting. YouTube actually has built in capabilities to allow content creators to moderate the comment sections on their videos. This is done by allowing the creators to ban key words that frequently pop up in malicious comments, going through and being able to delete individual comments, or turning off the comment section all together. Controlling who can comment directly alongside your work does not prevent people from making comment about you on other platforms but it does provide content creators to have a sense of agency over their publications and the paratext that appears next to it.

This brings us to the complicated issue of content creators and their responsibility to control the comments, annotations, and marginalia so it is not malicious or filled with hate speech. It is unrealistic to expect an online content creator to manage a comments section consisting of thousands of comments, however if they are made aware of offending content and do not take action to remove it are they accountable. This is a similar logic to how copyright violations are often handled on platforms such as YouTube. It is reasonable to assume that there is content on YouTube that violates copyright, however it is unrealistic to expect YouTube to seek out every piece of violating content so an understanding has been made that once made aware YouTube must act or else they are held accountable for providing the platform for this content to be posted. Even if it is established that the online creator’s website is a public space and therefore not subject to private space regulation, there are limitations on freedom of speech and stipulate hate speech is not protected by the freedom of speech. Therefore expecting an online content creator to remove hate speech within their comments section is not forcing them to engage in censorship. While saying that a content creator removing hate speech from their comment section is not a form censorship it is still negotiable if it is their responsibility to be the moderator or not. An adjacent issue that I wanted to quickly touch on is the similar responsibility of content creators to control how their work is being used and consumed. A popular example is the Pepe the frog meme being adopted by Alt Right groups. This is an extreme example but it is relevant to think of how content can be manipulated by audiences.

These issues are considerations that online content creators must grapple with when publishing their content in online spaces. Again, while it is impossible to reach a right or wrong answer on whether online content creators have the right to control how people interact with their content and do they have a responsibility to ensure their content is not being used in a way that could be considered malicious, these questions are important to consider and to come to individual conclusions that are defendable when deciding to publish online.

Author, Authority, Authoritarian

While thinking about the dichotomies involved when we talk about authorship of a work, it struck me that when I think about the word “authority” I don’t usually associate it with the word “author” — though pretty clearly that was the idea behind the concept whenever some old Latin guy or gal coined it yesteryear.

As Wikipedia lays it out for me:

Middle English: from Old French autorite, from Latin auctoritas, from auctor ‘originator, promoter’ (see author).

[I “see author”]:

Middle English (in the sense ‘a person who invents or causes something’): from Old French autor, from Latin auctor, from augere ‘increase, originate, promote.’ The spelling with th arose in the 15th century, and perhaps became established under the influence of authentic.

So now we’ve conglomerated a family of meanings and associated terms: author, authority, and authentic denoting originality, promotion, and invention. In the most denotative sense of the term, authority stems from the original author or writer’s creation of a thing. They have (?) the innate authority — or power, as we’ve come to view the term — over that work.

In the digital age of global marginalia and annotations, we’re now challenging those ideas of authority, or perhaps redefining them. There is nothing in particular in the etymology of the word authority that gives us an idea of a timeline; we can decide, perhaps, that an author has authority over a piece until it is passed to the next person (Copyright law, anyone?), or we can decide that an author has authority over a piece ad infinitum. At some level, I think the discussion is one of respect, but on another I think that publishing something — making it available to a public — is in the act itself asking for a response from your audience.

Though their complications with audience interaction didn’t manifest in the same way, I believe Audrey Watters‘ views on marginalia echo those of fiction author Anne Rice. Rice, back in the early 2000s was so vehemently against fan’s appropriation of her content for fanwork purposes — art, fanfiction, et cetera — that she sought legal action against her fans. The contention then was that she was alienating her own fanbase. Though many authors who shared Rice’s opinions turned around and came to accept fan culture, those sentiments are still harbored by many today, as we can see. A public is hard to form if the members of that public have no way to communicate with one another, and an effect of that is that the author/authority of that content works against their own interests.

So, should readers be able to interact with or shape the text? Should is hard to say, but will is definite. It’s an inevitability that authors will have to face. And annotations software like don’t affect the original copy of the work; that maintains its shape.

Does a writer have the right to define who can comment? The writer has the right to give that comment context, of course, but to define “who can comment” is inherently discriminatory. In practical terms, most writers aren’t in control of the platforms they publish on anyway, and most websites have some means of moderation. Ever more popular these days is also the Reddit-style peer review system in which readers of a particular piece up and down vote comments according to how valuable they feel that comment to be. Peer reviewed community commenting seems to me a lot more reader-friendly than banning a particular group of people.

Should audiences be limited in their socialization over a text? Not if authors want an audience. But ultimately, it is and should be up to the author.

Who Can Comment?

Occasionally throughout this last year, the definition of publishing has been thrown around the classroom: to make something public. And if something is public, then I believe that others should have a right to interact with it, comment on it, share it, and so forth. If you are producing something for the public to consume, then they should have the right to respond or interact with it in some way. It should not be a one-sided conversation.

If we didn’t allow interaction with text then there would be no criticism, and the counter public would have a much harder time organizing and affecting change. Without discourse, culture would not evolve—it would be the same people in positions of power saying the same things. We need to be able to hold people accountable to their words, and one key way we can do this in a democratic society is by having discussions in public spaces, such as in the comment section online. To stop people from commenting would be to censor people; and would be just another, more obvious way that we decide who has a voice and who doesn’t (the other way being deciding who gets published in the first place).

And while the majority of the time I think audiences should be allowed to socialize and discuss publications, it is also important to recognize that there are times when this can become dangerous. As we know, there is a difference between free speech and hate speech, and the latter has no place in public discourse (or anywhere!).

For example, in 2015, CBC decided to temporarily close comments on stories about Indigenous Peoples due to what they referred to as “uncivil dialogue” taking place in the comment section. Comments are still closed today (although not on the Facebook comment section), and I would argue for good reason. Often, the comments added nothing to the discussion about the story or the issue, but were racist generalizations. In this case, the cost (harm caused to people who read these comments) outweighed the benefit (people being allowed to engage in conversation). People’s well-being should come before everyone else’s two cents.

Similarly, if people abuse their right to comment (such as issuing death threats on Twitter), then I support them losing their ability to contribute to the broader conversation. If we are going to have discussions about texts, then we must do so in a way that does not attack a person or group of people and cause real harm.

Changing our online habits: a start

In considering the Cambridge Analytica breach of Facebook’s data, digital tracking and online privacy has been brought to the top of the public’s concern. I am relieved that this is not news that mainstream news sources is ignoring and is being properly covered across the board. Since the news came out, it has been a very eye-opening revelation that the “Big Brother” dystopian landscape has already happened and is our reality. What can we do before it is too late?

While deleting Facebook may seem like the easiest solution, I do not think there are any simple steps that I could suggest changing our behaviour about digital tracking. Also, not everyone has the luxury of deleting their Facebook profiles and still retain the same amount of follower reach or brand awareness for their businesses. High-profile companies like Tesla, SpaceX, all associated with Elon Musk have made the choice to delete all of their Facebook pages. These companies are popular enough that they do not need to depend on Facebook anymore. There is also the #deletefacebook movement occurring too. However, the solution is not as simple as deleting Facebook but rather making meaningful changes to your online habits and the traces you leave behind.

Everyone has their own relationship with technology and social media, and the levels at which they depend and use it. While one person may jokingly (but with a grain of truth) say they cannot live without their smartphone in their hand, there are some people who still completely embrace the analog and all the levels in-between. Where you fall on that scale depends on the person. That is why it is so crazy to believe how much of an influence of the curation of online advertisements and articles by Cambridge Analytica had a role in the U.S. election.

To understand Cambridge Analytica’s strategy, they used psychographic information. Psychographics is not a term that is unfamiliar to our classes either. Cambridge Analytica optimized their data analysis process to micro-target specific groups of people based on their personalities. Similarly, for publishers this data would be immensely valuable to their marketing strategy too, just applied in a different context. We have already tried to narrow down exactly where our audience lies with resources like Vividata for our media projects.

It is almost like this double-identity/awkward place to be in as both a stakeholder in these data companies optimizing their analytics for publishers, and also treading the lines of being the potential target for other brands and know exactly what is happening to you but “don’t mind.” When Cambridge Analytica spreads fake news, and “alternative facts”, I think here is where it is important to balance which courses are credible or not, doing a careful reading, and to triangulate the information from what the source is telling you. Then, it is also about being a skeptical reader and having the self-control to pause for a moment and think before spreading an article. At the other end, checking the credibility of the source, who the author is, the publisher will help too. For publishers, I believe this is where it is important to build a genuine relationship between readers, the authors, and the publisher itself so that readers know that what they are reading is from not only from a credible source, but wants to inspire a genuine connection with its audience. I think that leveraging social media as a platform for that interaction is a way that can be done. Overall, these are just a few of my suggestions!


I’m Just Thinking We Need a Little Less Ayn Rand Up in Here

Having grown up in America, where capitalism is treated as a moral standard, I can see the appeal of having easy access to the details of everyone’s interests and opinions. At the bottom line, even in an industry so necessarily introspective as publishing, any business’s priority is to remain in business. If data is the key of finding out how to sell your product/idea and who to sell it to, then it would be stupid to ignore its significance. It’s important for us to identify how much this affects the decisions we make as publishers and how relevant our decisions are to the predicament at large.

Arguably, publishers don’t have the same capacity or intent for thwarting democracy that the folks over at Cambridge Analytica do. But at the same time, publishing is a medium for information. The key is to make someone’s ideas — fact or fiction — spread as far as possible. If we’re collecting readers’ data, it’s because we want to know how to sell things to them, which is still at the core level still a tool that can be used to create a more homogenized and/or polarized society.

The relative definition of privacy adds another layer to the problem. When Jellybooks or Facebook quizzes ask for your data and give you something in return, they’re acquiring consent. The problem is that the average human will assume a level of innocuousness in the action. For Jellybooks, there’s perhaps a little more transparency; you are aware that you are receiving a good in return for doing something. The insidiousness of Cambridge Analytica was the purposeful lack of transparency. But at the end of the day, it’s the capacity of the technology rather than its use that’s to be taken under scrutiny. The information that they wanted was for the most part public knowledge. If someone likes the “I hate Israel” page and then likes the “Kit-Kat” page, and their account isn’t privacy locked then I have the ability to see that information. Back in the early days of Facebook, users liked pages specifically because they wanted the public to know. It’s not that users don’t want people to know about their interests – it’s that they don’t understand the full significance of what giving consent means in a particular situation where someone has the ability to ask a ton of people at once.

Since coming to Canada and specifically since learning about how the Canadian book industry is subsidized by government grants I’ve been observing the alternatives to a capitalist approach to publishing. It’s not that I don’t think that Canadian businesses should be exempt from the motivation to make money, but rather that Canadian publishers should be more in tune to the problems that arise from a fully capitalist approach to anything — that placing too much value on monetary gain doesn’t place enough value on human welfare. The socialism that publishing in Canada is in part built upon reinforces the idea that creating literature, art, and research is a public service that creates public goods. Looking at the language used so often to talk about user data, we see words like: harvest, mine, scrape. At an etymological level, the terminology used removes the idea of users as people and instead creates a psychological objectification of the user base. Though we as publishers see ourselves as the medium through which writers reach readers, that distance grows ever wider when we reduce readers to dollar signs and binary code.

I’ve traveled down this unwieldy path of the philosophical dilemmas that data tracking brings up, but at the end of the day what it really comes down to is transparency and consent. Cambridge Analytica was deliberately unethical where I would hope publishers could maintain integrity. There’s nothing inherently wrong with data tracking, as long as the proper measures for consent are set up (and they’re not just used to avoid legal backlash).

I will say that to an extent I think this race for data tracking software in publishing is a little misled. It implies that we aren’t reaching readers now that we otherwise would be reaching if we had more information about their reading behavior once they’ve already purchased a book. I would argue that we would be selling books to the people who are already buying them rather than opening up a new market, and that we already have a lot of data about the people who read books; we know their demographic information, their interests, their location, and how much they’re willing to spend on books. What I’d like to see is real concrete evidence that tracking reader data would make an impact on the book market.