A Rant Against Those Anti-Technology “Removed” Photos That Are Going Viral Right Now

In case you haven’t seen it, there’s a video going viral right now of some photos where the photographer has removed people’s phones and tablets in order to shame them for using technology in social settings. And in case you can’t already tell: it pisses me off. A lot.

I first saw this video this morning while I was laying on my couch scrolling through Facebook, watching muted nail art tutorials on YouTube, and listening to a live bluegrass show that someone had recorded yesterday and posted to Facebook from across the country. So, I was spending some much needed connected alone time and recharging from a couple weeks of intense dissertation writing and a weekend of academic conferencing.

After I watched the video, I FB messaged it to my friend and fellow blogger Merideth and said “This pisses me off. I actually think most of these people look like they’re happy and having fun. That couple on the couch especially. Who cares if you’re using a screen, you’re likely using it to stay connected to people and information that matters and likely going to share it with the people in the picture with you seconds after this photo was taken.” And I stand by that defense. Maybe those dudes standing at the grill are looking up a recipe, or watching a YouTube tutorial on how to get their charcoal grill going. Maybe they’re reading interesting political articles that they’ll talk about together. Maybe they’re checking their fantasy football scores (that’s a thing right?). Maybe they’re scrolling their social media feeds and connecting to a bunch of people who aren’t even in the photo. My point is: using technology can be socializing. It’s maybe a different kind of socializing than face-to-face encounters. But that’s it. It’s just different, not worse or better.

Merideth, who researches high school students’ uses of technology and social media BY THE WAY, responded saying “Also. Sorry to break it to you, folks, but technology neither causes nor resolves your social problems.” We forget this: devices like phones and tablets are tools. We use them to for particular purposes, and in that way, they likely heighten behaviors or habits that were already there. Basically, socialization existed before and will continue to exist long after your technology changes shape or dies away. This is not a new phenomenon. We have been using tools to mediate our social interactions for a long long time. And just because our socialization looks different now doesn’t mean we’re in crisis.

I also clicked on the video and started reading comments. I was happy to find that I was not alone, and that comments in the video were pretty much 50/50 pro-this-video (“I just don’t get people who stare at their phones all day.” “Kids should play outside more instead of playing on their iPads”) and con-this-video (“these pictures and the music they’re set to are manipulative and hypocritical” “what if we took this photographer’s camera [A TECHNOLOGY] away from him, what would he be? a hypocritical voyeur too attached to his device?”) That last one is my favorite criticism: This photographer is shitting where he eats in a big way. He created a viral campaign about how he hates the devices that allow for viral campaigns of his photos. Maybe he shouldn’t be so quick to shame the people who are looking at his photos through their devices and the social media those devices house.

Anyway, I’ll end my rant here: just because socialization looks a little different now doesn’t mean we’re not socializing or that our socialization is broken. I am over the top grateful for the chance to stay connected to family, friends, and colleagues who live near and far and who share valuable knowledge and resources with me through their devices.

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Technology is so bad these days that even dogs are addicted to it 😉

Pedagogy Continued (or Pedagogy Strikes Back)

So, as promised, I am writing to follow up on the experience of incorporating a brief, low stakes, in-class, digital assignment into my first-year composition course today!  Students submitted their final draft of a personal narrative/argumentative essay today that we had been drafting for several weeks, and then we moved into a new unit/major writing assignment, the theme of which is writing processes.  When introducing this unit in the past, I’ve had students draw their process and then we discuss their depictions and experiences of process. So, today in class, I asked that they represent their process visually through some sort of digital media.  I had prepared a visual

My "Model"

My “Model”

representation of my own writing process using Comic Life and provided that for students as an example, and then encouraged them to use ComicLife or whatever program they were familiar with or preferred to visually represent their own processes.  Most of my students used Comic Life, a few of them used Prezi, and one student made a video.

Some successes:

  • Students asked a lot of questions about composing, saving, exporting, and sharing their compositions.  We were all able to answer these questions together without any awful, uncomfortable, scary de-centering classroom authority Apocalypses of any kind. Some students had a more difficult time navigating the program than others and a few students expressed a lot of frustration, but approaching the assignment as low stakes and entirely in-class helped to alleviate any full scale freak-outs.
  • We were able to discuss a broader range of processes than just “writing” processes and we were able to expand our notions of what constitutes a “text”.  We had briefly discussed this expanded notion of a “text” before in class (with the help of the rhetorical situation), and today’s digital/visual in-class activity helped to reinforce and demonstrate that lots of compositions, not just text based compositions, involve processes, authors/speakers/composers/designers, audiences, and contexts.

    We Made Knowledge!!

    We Made Knowledge!!

  • Things got real meta real fast.  We first discussed how students were representing process in their visual compositions: what images they had chosen and why (with the help of some terms from Sorapure’s article), what arguments those images they had chosen were making about processes, if their current representation of process had changed at all from an earlier written description of their process composed weeks before.  Then, we discussed the process of composing the visual artifact and compared that process to the one they had hoped to represent (this is where we introduced the expanded notion of “text”).

Some things I would do differently:

  • Warn my students to bring their laptops instead of assuming they would have them (only one did not, she used mine) or better still reserve a room on campus with access to campus computers with a wider variety of programs for composing visual texts.
  • Devise, ahead of time, a better way for each student to share their composition with the entire class. About halfway through class I realized we would need a way to share and see each others’ visual compositions (a problem I had not anticipated when I was creating my model alone and not needing to share it. Classrooms are social spaces, duh).  So, I had students upload them to shared files on Google Drive that they had used for small group peer review, but this meant that each student could only access three visual compositions instead of everyone seeing everyone’s work. (That too would have been easy to fix in the moment too, but my laptop was being used by a student).
  • Assign some out of class reflection or response to carry the assignment and our discussion of it outside of our one hour and twenty minute class meeting.

As you can tell, the successes were more substantive than the mishaps in this instance, and I will probably repeat (and update) this activity for future composition courses. Yay!!

Pedagogy!! (That’s A Double Exclamation Point By The Way)

I think Madeleine Sorapure’s “Between Modes: Assessing Student New Media Composition” has been one of the most accessible, practically useful, and thought provoking readings we’ve done for our Computers and Writing class this semester.  Because I had such a positive experience and reaction to that text, I thought I’d explore it a bit more here.  As I’ve already expressed, one of my most pressing goals for the semester and for this course  is to ease my anxieties about incorporating computers and writing type assignments into my first-year composition classroom. I think this text was so useful in pushing me towards that goal because it offers actual assignments and student compositions. In that way, the text helped me to come down out of the ether of theory and into the equally important, possibly more urgent issues of pedagogy.  It also still helped me to sort out some more theories too.

Basically, Sorapure’s use of metaphor and metonymy to structure her assignment prompts and to evaluate her students’ compositions helped me to sort out a process by which I might incorporate some more new media/multimodal type assignments into my classroom. Not that I will wholly adopt her terms and methods, but in her process of assigning and evaluating, I found some connections to the ways that I already try to teach print based composition (like being consistent and transparent with students about the goals, requirements, and evaluation of the assignment as Sorapure did with the terms metaphor and metonymy).  Turns out that bringing multimodal and new media assignments into the classroom might not be as scary as I’ve been imagining.  I might already have some useful processes and principles to draw off of (although I also recognize that I will need to remain flexible and open to new possibilities, opportunities, and also unforeseen/unpredictable troubleshooting).

I will say I’m still a bit concerned and will now recapitulate some often expressed reservations about incorporating these kinds of assignments into the comp classroom (not simply to beat a dead horse but instead to hopefully get them out of my system and move beyond them):

I guess I’m still concerned about how truly de-centered my classroom will now be. I already feel less authoritative than desirable in the classroom simply because I am so young and new a teacher, so close in age to my students, and generally run my classroom pretty informally/conversationally already.  Introducing technology and assignments based in using technology into the classroom will reveal and expose me as even more of a novice.  And now, to move beyond this anxiety about further de-centering authority in my classroom: my students have always been respectful of me and also sought me out for my guidance/”expertise” when they’ve felt like they’ve needed it. Continuing on in this honest/transparent way that I’ve begun as a teacher will hopefully encourage that kind of dialogue and “learning together” type environment rather than alienating me or undercutting what authority I do have in the classroom. Or at least that’s what I’m telling myself as I incorporate a brief, low stakes, in-class, digital assignment into my classroom today! Follow up post coming soon…

Caption Fail: “Ickle Me Pickle Me Tickle Me Too”

So, my first mistake here was trying to trick the technology. Apparently, YouTube’s closed caption function is flawed enough on its own that I didn’t need to challenge it with a nonsensical recording.  I chose to read aloud Shel Silverstein’s “Ickle Me, Pickle Me, Tickle Me Too” from Where the Sidewalk Ends because it is a short poem that I have loved since I was a kid. I had memorized the poem in middle school and wanted to read it aloud for this caption fail project because it as a fun, silly, sing-songy rhythm.  There are almost no matching words from the YouTube closed caption to the actual poem, so I’ve posted the actual words to the poem here:

Ickle Me, Pickle Me, Tickle Me too
Went for a ride in a flying shoe.
“Hooray!”
“What fun!”
“It’s time we flew!”
Said Ickle Me, Pickle Me, Tickle Me too.

Ickle was captain, and Pickle was crew
And Tickle served coffee and mulligan stew
As higher
And higher
And higher they flew,
Ickle Me, Pickle Me, Tickle Me too.

Ickle Me, Pickle Me, Tickle Me too,
Over the sun and beyond the blue.
“Hold on!”
“Stay in!”
“I hope we do!”
Cried Ickle Me, Pickle Me, Tickle Me too.

Ickle Me, Pickle Me, Tickle too
Never returned to the world they knew,
And nobody
Knows what’s
Happened to
Dear Ickle Me, Pickle Me, Tickle Me too.

So those are the silly words I was hoping YouTube would capture. I think the captioning is so inaccurate for a few reasons. First, I was recording my reading in a public space with people walking around and talking, which the captioning seems to have picked up a bit of. Second, I read the poem really fast (even this small bit of performing made me nervous!) and with that sing song-y rhythm I had first memorized it with. Finally, the names and the content of the poem in general are nonsensical.  I guess the rhythm and silly content are important to the poem as a work of art and to my interpretation of it though, and YouTube’s captioning has lost that importance.

I’m not sure this video poem constitutes a “Stir Fry Text” as Andrews defines it, though I do think it may be an example of a cut-up.  Andrews says of stir fry texts that their “spastic interactivity” give to the texts a “unified character or personality even in its transformations.” In other words, stir fry texts work through “meaningful association, not just widely combinatorial permutation.”  The idea of a unified character and meaningful  association seems an out of place description for what YouTube has done with this particular video.  Perhaps in another video post where the captioning was a bit more accurate to the audio recording you could consider the captions and the audio a kind of meaningful, unified stir fry text, but not here because there are hardly any points of meaningful associativity between the audio and the captions in this video.

I do think maybe this video post/caption fail could be considered a cut up, a broader category than that of the stir fry text.  Andrews explains that the “literary heritage of the cut up has been richly congruent with the spirit of a lot of contemporary Web art” because of “the mechanical nature of cut ups that suits them well to Web art” and computers in general.”  More specifically, through mechanical processes, “the computer has contributed to knowledge a deeper understanding of process, of processes. Computers are processing machines, they are process machines” and “the random and semi-mindless experimentation in writing or art more generally” can be picked up computers’ mechanical processes and made into cut ups.  Sooooo, in the case of my silly poem video post caption fail, maybe the YouTube captioning feature is picking up on some feature of language and the way I’ve interpreted language that I didn’t intend or couldn’t apprehend beforehand.  Although, this seems to me to be a generous interpretation of the inaccuracies of the captioning here. And, if the mechanical processes of the captioning feature are picking up on some meaningful linguistic process or features that I’m unaware of, then I guess that might give the audio text and the captioning some meaningful associativity to one another. So, maybe it’s both a stir fry and a cut up…

You and I, We’re, We’re Interfacing

As I’ve already expressed here, I see myself more as a digital consumer than a digital anything-else-more-complicated-than-consumer, like, say, a producer or scholar of digitally things.  Being primarily a consumer of digital things and a newbie to any other more complicated relationship with digital things, I feel uncomfortable with terms like “interface.”  It feels like I need some level of expertise to know what it really means and to know how experts in the field use it.  In short “interface” is a very specific nerd word, and unfortunately, I’m the wrong kind of nerd to know how to use this word correctly.  But, I think, with the help of recent readings and class discussion, “interface” means the look and format and structure of a particular digital entity like a webpage or specific program or device.

I also assume that included in this term “interface” is not just the things you see and click on the surface level, but also the goings on behind the digital surface that have made the interface look or function in that way. So, how the data and information has been and is structured in order for a certain digital entity to look and function the way it does.  ((This is gibberish because I have no facility with the necessary jargon or terminology and can’t really even locate what field or fields the use of the term “interface” is most prevalent in)).

Dictionary.com tells me that the term “interface” is much broader than I assume it to be within the context of digital spaces and that the term is used across countless disciplines.  Apparently, an interface is the common boundary or interconnection or place of communication or interaction between any two entities. That broader definition makes sense to me in digital contexts too. The google interface is the boundary and place of interconnection and communication between me and the mass amounts of information google will bring me about whatever I want to know more about.

Although this is not necessarily an inherent aspect of the term “interface,” class readings from Selfe and Selfe, Bolter, and McPherson have a lot to say about how digital interfaces are ideological constructs.  This also makes sense to me. If an interface is a boundary and a way of structuring information, how could it not involve some distribution of power and endorsement or rejection of certain specific ideologies?

PS: the first place (and really only place until very recently) I heard this term, FRIENDS!!

Can you tell from the mass amounts of qualifiers and hedges in this post that I really am unclear as to what the term “interface” really means? Help!

 

I Love The Word “Consumer.” It Feels Like A Dinosaur Metaphor.

This semester I’m taking a course called “Computers and Writing” and using this here blog to do some thinking and writing about those topics.  So, technically I am a “digital native” or so my age and generational identity would seem to suggest. However, I am much more a consumer than a producer of digital media, and that fact makes me feel uncomfortable being labeled as someone who should know how to do things and make things with technology.

The most striking example of my consumery digital habits is that I unapologetically love

My Dog and My Pretty New Purple Computer: Enabling My Consumery, Digital Immigrant Ways

My Dog and My Pretty New Purple Computer: Enabling My Consumery, Digital Immigrant Ways

Facebook, and most anything else I’ve found and liked on the interwebs I encountered first through Facebook.  I have a theory rolling around in my head about Facebook being a largely middle class phenomenon. That’s not to say that only people who identify as middle class use Facebook, rather the uses and conventions that have developed on Facebook fulfill some specifically middle class needs and desires.  But I have lots of theories about different things (digital or not) being middle class phenomena.  And that is one of my biggest concerns as I jump headlong into the topics surrounding computers and writing. How do I study these new things without simply cutting and pasting all the ways I’ve been studying print composing and print literacy practices?

I’m also a bit anxious ((and excited)) for how these computers and writing topics may influence my teaching.  I’ve already been encouraging my students to explore these topics whenever possible or whenever they have seemed to take an interest in them.  Last semester I assigned a “Writing Constructs” paper in my first-year composition class and about half of my students chose digital-y type topics to explore, mostly about how Facebook or Twitter or Texting or E-Readers or Word Processing programs have and are influencing writing.  So many of them were interested in these kinds of topics that I sent around this “Myth of Digital Literacies” video, which I’m becoming a bit obsessed with (plus, it’s always good for the soul to get a good visual of Andrea Lunsford).  Where did I first find this video you ask? Why, Facebook of course! So, it seems, I am encouraging my own digital consumer ways in my students.

I would love to encourage my students to instead PRODUCE some sort of digital assignment or argument, but that scares me a lot because I would be relinquishing my authority in the classroom in a very real way.  They’d ask question and I’d have to answer with a lot of “I don’t know”s.  And not the kind of teacherly “I don’t know, why don’t you go explore that for yourself” rhetorical trick where I really do know but don’t want to simply give them the answers. No, in this case, I genuinely would not know how to answer their questions about using and producing digital media.  Also, I would want a digital project for them that could stand on its own and not just be the performative, cherry on top, add on to some traditionally, print-composed argument they had already written.  So these are my goals for the semester: learn some new research and teaching methods that seem fitting to the topics of computers and writing.