January 20th readings…

January 20th readings

             This week’s readings included a fascinating article discussing ‘Web 2.0,’ Tim O’Reilly’s term for the next step in interconnectivity between users and data. O’Reilly argues that the evolving capabilities of programmers and the creativity unleashed by open-source coding and collaboration among users and developers is creating something that is changing the way we look at and use computers (and cell phones and PDAs) and the services that they offer.

            O’Reilly lists seven core concepts that form the basis of his Web 2.0: the Web as a platform, harnessing collective intelligence, specialized databases, constant ‘live’ updating, use of lightweight programming models, software that works across a multitude of platforms, and providing a rich user experience. O’Reilly believes that unless a company/developer embraces these concepts, they really don’t fit the model of a successfully evolving internet entity that provides, well, that provides anything of use.

            Also included in the ‘readings’ was a YouTube video making the point that the distinction between the use of digital mediums and being used by the developers of the digital mediums is blurring, which fits nicely into O’Reilly’s thesis. An underlying message in the video also might be that at some point all of this interaction could lead to the development of an evolved artificial intelligence. Already when you start to type something into Google’s search engine, it tries to narrow the field before you finish typing; Microsoft Word has an annoying assistant that deigns to figure out what it is you are trying to do (the condescension of that little paperclip is subtle- but it’s there; I wish there was a Monty Python-esque foot-crashing-down feature that I could utilize to get rid of the assistant); and for me, the most maddening of all, is the T9 function on cell phones that tries to figure out what you are typing, and makes it difficult to type a word ‘it’ has never seen before. It doesn’t take a great leap of imagination to see the HAL 9000 right around the digital corner.

            Real-time dissection and commentary about an academic’s paper at a conference and the uproar some of the commentary caused was the topic of Parry’s article in which the challenge was about the definition of and the course of digital humanities. Parry basically said that if all ‘digital’ did was present the same material in a different format that it really wasn’t anything new. For digital humanities to truly evolve into something new, it needs to be an ongoing collaboration between presenters and those being presented to, with constant modification and interaction. It is something that needs to tear down the ivory towers of mundane academia and become more vibrant, a ‘living history’ if you will. To paraphrase a familiar saying, “That which does not tear down walls only makes them stronger.”

            Amanda French’s article was a positive piece on Twitter, where she was trying to open the eyes of the oldsters in the profession to the fact that historical scholarly discussion is passing them by; no longer is it about writing for quarterly journals- it’s about being able to write and discuss and defend instantaneously with hundreds or thousands of followers.

            A case in point was another reading about a conference keynote speaker, speaking on a dated subject to a web-savvy crowd, and getting tweckled (tweet heckled) to death by listeners who were floored by the guy’s laziness in presentation. Moral of the story: you’re not as smart as you think you are, and we can tell (thousands of) others the moment we find out.

            Finally, an article on teen narcissism colliding with technology spoke to my own heart about twitter and about the issues of entitlement felt by children whose parents evidently dropped the ball during the discussions on ‘putting others first’ and ‘no, you’re not my equal.’ I highly enjoyed it.


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