Technology

The Nebula of Gephi

I have, unfortunately, been unable to use Gephi. I've uninstalled and reinstalled various versions of the beta - 7 and 8 - and it refuses to work. I hate to blame technology for something I could fix myself if I were more tech-savvy, but I'm pretty sure it keeps messing up because my computer runs on Vista.

That being said, I would like to discuss the idea of Gephi.

Gephi takes the vast world of literary analysis and compacts it into a tiny little nebula of information. Trends are turned into tiny planets and stars in the nebula that Gephi creates from each piece of work it reads. It takes information and data that would otherwise take hours to accrue, and consolidates them into easily-viewed "nodes" on its web graph. Looking at the graph itself is... different.

Personally, I have never studied literature in such a mathematical fashion, and, I'm going to be frank, it's weird to me. However, I do think it's necessary with the endlessly expanding universe of literature and knowledge. Without programs like Gephi, knowledge and information disappear into the abyss. As humbling a realization this is, it is impossible for humans to capture, analyze, and use every bit of knowledge we come across. As The Library of Babel and the literary philosophy of Derrida's Mal d'Archive posit, an archive has a "death drive". Constantly expanding to the point of disappearing into the margins, the vast and expanding oeuvre of mankind does not want to be known.

While I generally roll my eyes at people who think machines will supersede mankind, it is when I see programs like Gephi that I can sympathize a little with that paranoia. Humans just aren't good enough anymore. We create at a faster rate than we can analyze and archive, and efforts to become more efficient are made in vain. Gephi can gather up and read information, then preserve it in cryogenic stasis for man to further explore.

"Reading" Gephi

I think that Gephi actually made it a bit more difficult to “read” the Little Review, but that’s probably because I don’t fully understand everything that the program can do and/or how to do it. It was helpful, though, to see how everything was connected because it wasn’t so obvious at first how they were, just reading it page by page. Something else that was really helpful/interesting was to see how you could isolate one of the nodes and it showed you what else was connected to that one, so you could see how one theme or author was represented throughout the magazine. I think it would be really cool if you could click on a node and see the actual journal page, kind of a mixture of the Modernist Journals Project and Gephi, and then all of the pages of the nodes that are linked to that one; that would allow you to “read” it through the graph, and to actually read it. Plus, it would make the issue’s themes easily searchable. (I tried to add screenshots, but they were not working for me.)

 

Exploring Gephi and Understanding Technology

After a long process of trying and failing to get Gephi to work on my computer, I played around with the program with Brooke and found so many cool things to explore! The visualization of the different genres, themes, and various people in the Little Review and how they related to each other was really helpful! I'm much more of a visual learner, so getting to see the visuals of how they were all connected, getting to move around the nodes and spread things out more was really fun.  I'm really excited to learn more about the program throughout this class!

In my quest to learn more about technology, I enlisted my dad to help me figure out what was going on (one very great side effect of going to school 30 minutes away from home).  He's been my lifeline to technology for the last 20 years of my life, but even The Great and Powerful Computer Wizard Dabney couldn't help me install Gephi on my laptop, so we dug my old laptop up and were able to get it installed on that computer.  I still don't quite understand what Java really does and why it's neccessary, or what it takes to run a program like Gephi, but I'm very slowly learning.  This long and drawn out adventure of installing Gephi on my laptop has been very helpful in that quest to understand technology, maybe someday I'll finally get there. 

The Little Review: not so little, but finally getting littler

I have never used Gephi before this class, yet I already find myself taking a liking to it. Our assignment at the beginning of this week to "read" an entire issue of The Little Review was intimidating. Keep this in mind and imagine the difficulty of reading--of becoming well-read in--an entire field or category of works of literature. We face an incredible problem in our current digital age (and at that, one that particularly bothers me to the point that it's surprising that I am as big a computer and internet enthusiast as I am): the problem of information overload. It is not possible to process all of the information we have access to.

Although this problem is techically the same one we've always had, there is one crucial difference: now we have access to much more information--and instantly--and our ability to read it conventionally has not increased in proportion to our ability to obtain it. So here's where digital humanities--and particularly, a tool like Gephi--comes in. Gephi essentially provides a better way of scanning to me. I like how quickly I can home in on works within an issue that, for example, have to do with irony, and how I can adjust the degree of relatedness to "irony"  I am looking for. It seems poetic to me that if technology gives us greater information overload, technology must also give us a way to mitigate or even eliminate it once and for all.

Archives

I'm without a doubt a dumb blonde when it comes to technology.  I have never really taken the time to understand why computers work, or how a thumb drive can store my documents and pictures.  Werner and Voss's article about archives helped to illustrate technology for me at least a little bit.  When I hear the word "archive" I generally think of really old manuscripts or really long lists of things from an archeological dig.  Archive just sounds like a word to describe old things.  It doesn't sound like a tech-y word at all.  But archive can describe so many things, from libraries full of old books to everything I've ever written or stored on a computer.  Werner and Voss speak of lost archives, "when the leaves of hundreds of illuminated manuscripts, loosed... like butterflies in the courtyard of Oxford", and I can't help but think of the Library of Alexandria.  When the library was burned down, there were so many manuscripts and scrolls that were lost to the world because there were no other copies.  To think that we could be facing that kind of intelligence loss due to internet failure had never occured to me before reading this article. 

The Waste Land is an archive in many forms.  It has been printed as a book, it has been digitized on numerous websites, ebooks, apps, etc., and reading each one is different.  Reading The Waste Land in printed book form gives the poem a physicality that it doesn't have when reading it on a screen, while reading electronic versions of the poem gives it an accessibility and new life that it doesn't have on paper.  Different mediums have different effects on a work, even if the exact same words are used.  The fact that Eliot's poem is archived in numerous different ways, I think, links to the importance of his work.  Should the internet fail, there are still printed copies of his work and similarly, should libraries be burned like Alexandria's, the poem is still archived electronically.  

We live in a world of so many different technological opportunities, and I'm really excited to continue learning more about them this semester.

My journey to the English field and thoughts on technology

I've been somewhat of a wandering soul when it comes to majors. I am a fairly new English major; as a freshman I came in as a psychology major but quickly became aware I wouldn't enjoy all of the research involved. I switched over to elementary education for a semester or two and then finally realized that I'd prefer teaching English at the secondary level where I could, at a deeper level, share with students my love for written expressions of thoughts. Being fairly new to the major, I haven't been involved in very much research so far, though I did enjoy spending an extended amount of time last semester in my modernism and visual culture class researching the implications of Stevie Smith's blending of text with sketch drawings in her poetry. 

In academics, I find myself relying on technology to help me think more than I wish that I did. With the internet and google in particular, gone are the days of sitting down with paper and pencil to scour my brain for original thoughts and ideas. Instead, I'm much more prone to take an assignment or subject topic and let the easily accessible ideas of others on the internet influence and develop my framework for approaching the topic or subject at hand.

English, Education, and Technology

I have absolutely loved my time majoring in English and secondary education here at TU. Before starting college, I’d known that I wanted to teach for several years, and when it came time for me to pick a subject to teach, English was the obvious choice. Throughout my time at TU, I’ve done quite a bit of research. My most extensive research occurred last semester, when I looked into the way that T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land incorporated elements of Norbert Weiner’s philosophies of relativism and cybernetics. For this project, I used a wide variety of online databases, books from TU’s library, and the Inter-Library Loan service. I’ve also done some research/archiving with items in Special Collections, spending the most time on the diary of a World War I soldier.

My relationship with technology has changed over the past few years. Coming into college, I basically hated computers. I found them beyond frustrating, and couldn’t stand when teachers made technology a large part of a class. Today, while I still prefer taking notes in a physical notebook, revising essays by hand, and marking up hard copies of books and essays, I’ve grown to be much more appreciative of technology. This is due, in part, to an education class I took last semester called Education Technology in the Classroom. From this, I figured out that part of my distain for technology probably stemmed from lingering frustration with former teachers who had not been educated on the proper way to incorporate technology into their classes. I’ve had a number of teachers who attempted to use technology in lessons simply for the sake of using technology (with no real pedagogical benefits). After this education class, I have the confidence that I can use technology in my future classroom in ways that will provide real benefits to my students, not just the novelty of using a computer. 

Clouds of Wisdom--Cybernetically Approaching Knowledge

 

A simple way to "use technologies to think," or to research, is by using an online database to find articles.  Since I only find myself able to trust the reliability and concrete materiality of a book, I really only use the internet to locate books.  For this purpose, my  favorite research website  is WorldCat.  It can tell you about nearly every book in existence--internationally--and can be used to locate and Interlibrary Loan these items (though usually only nationally).  In a way, I guess this is what digital humanities is about--in a more material format.  If this is using a technology to think with, I do it with pleasure.  

In an analysis of online search engines as a "thinking technology," certainly library catalogues utilize the programs that many of the digital humanities scholars are--sifting through "keywords" to bring up only certain descriptors in the search engine.  Therefore, I suppose, any search engine must count as "using technology to think with."  

What I found to be the most interesting thing about the Kirschenbaum article, however, was its description of the DH community's desire to share knowledge freely.  Kirschenbaum describes the field as valuing "collaboration, openness, nonhierarchical relations, and agility" so that scholars can reform their fields, and further, disseminate knowledge on a wider scale (Kirschenbaum 59).  This reminds me of a sort of cybernetic approach to learning--everything is related, connected by technology.  Perhaps the field of digital humanities is related to cybernetics.