Lauren Klein’s Digital Pedagogy essay on “Code”

Lauren Klein synthesizes a number of streams of thinking about why/how should humanists teach students to code, calling for a pedagogy demonstrating “both theoretical rigor and technical expertise.” She offers a perspective familiar from media studies, noting that computers incorporate “older representational forms” as well as using their affordances to invent new representational forms.

As I ponder questions about what learning to code teaches us, and as I attempt to learn to code myself, I particularly enjoy reading the genre of essays that attempts to supply the (often) missing links between new media, e-lit, code studies, the history of technology, STS, and computer science, among other fields.

A comment by Mark Gudzial on paragraph 5 of Klein’s essay led me to a 2007 Michael Mateas essay that has held up surprisingly well. (The interim almost-10 years seems very long considering the dynamic nature of the internet.) Mateas uses the concept of “procedural literacy” to talk about students learning to understand the socio-technical nature of exchanges that occur in “technically-mediated processes.” I think his idea is a very useful way to think about the benefits of digital pedagogy. Mateas notes that students are apt to see computational methods as merely technical and not worthy of study. Without being conversant in the basics of computational processes, they will miss the opportunity to fully understand the ties between “authorship, code, and audience reception.” Mateas is particularly concerned with gaming and literary studies; but, his idea about procedural literacy is equally applicable to Klein’s discussions of digital pedagogy and the culture, politics, history and economics of computational technology.

Listening to Wikipedia

I shared this with people who attended the lab about Wikipedia a few weeks ago. But if you haven’t gone to the page “Listen to Wikipedia,” you might want to give it a listen. It’s a sonification and visualization of the live edits taking place on Wikipedia. You can see the edits taking place in any of a several dozen languages. (It certainly says a lot about the prevalence of English as a global language.)

Listen to Wikipedia

Beginner’s Guide to Twine

For those interested in creating their own games, here is a guide to making Twine games by a literature professor at SDSU.Twine is a tool to make interactive, non-linear stories. No coding chops are required; although some knowledge of HTML and CSS is helpful. Twine has a large community of women developers, and trans people are well represented too. To get an idea of what Twine can be like, see “Top free games tagged LGBT and Twine.”


Memex as Icon

In my reading in digital humanities over the past few years, I have encountered what seems to be countless references to Vannevar Bush’s article and Memex— his suggested design of an information retrieval system using microfilm—on multiple occasions. Bush and Memex are held up as historical forebears outside the academy as well. A Google search for “Memex” retrieves 2.6 million results, the top-most referring to new software being developed by the military. Perhaps more revealing of the cultural reach of Memex as a meme is that a search of Google Videos retrieves 46,000 results (!). I have become increasingly impatient at the iconic stature that Memex has achieved and the use of Bush’s article as a historic marker in the field of information science as well as, to an extent, in digital humanities.

Although, I should mention that Belinda Barnet wrote an excellent DHQ piece about Memex and Bush, noting that Bush’s machine had never been built and “All we have of Memex are the words that Bush assembled around it in his lifetime, the drawings created by the artists from Life, its erotic simulacrum.

In 1980. Linda C. Smith performed a citation analysis of Bush’s article (which was reprinted several times) to “assess the impact of Bush’s ideas on the subsequent design and development of information retrieval systems.” Her analysis jibes with my impressions of references to Bush’s article. She indicates that while it was highly cited as a historical turning point in computing and information science, the majority of these attempts to historicize information retrieval vis-à-vis Memex, were “perfunctory,” and may indicate a lack of acquaintance with the article and Bush’s ideas. (Smith, Linda C. “‘Memex’ as an Image of Potentiality in Information Retrieval Research and Development.” Proceedings of the 3rd Annual ACM Conference on Research and Development in Information Retrieval. 1980. 351.)

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Flexibility of the “ideology machine”

Lisa Nakamura’s 1995 piece about the ways people chose and perform racial and gender identities in the virtual reality online community LambdaMOO made me think about recent research and discussion about online gender and classification.

Nakamura focuses on the experience of users, characterizing the community as “congregating” within a portion of a “consensual hallucination” (all of cyberspace). The idea of cyberspace itself was relatively novel at the time she wrote this. Cyberspace seemed to be a new “frontier” upon which utopian fantasies could be projected. For example, Wendy Chun writes about a 1997 television commercial that imagines a utopia without messy social categories. This text appears in the MCI commercial “Anthem” Chun refers to: “There is no race. There are no genders. The Internet. Is this a great time, or what?”

In my own thinking about online realities, rather than the subjective experience of users. I am more concerned with the way programs underlying internet platforms place constraints on what can be done and represented online, often without the knowledge of users.

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