my five minute brain dump about technology

Below is my five minute stream of consciousness on where I see technology being in grad school years from now, or perhaps not a new distance future?

What Would Graduate School Look like in a Technology-Rich Future?

 People are going to expect more and more from your time, because everything is can be done so much faster. The only problem I have is, I don’t have a good enough imagination to conceive of specific examples of making the writing and reading process quicker. I supposed that some sort of voice-to-text or thought process-text technology could make the writing process even faster than manually typing. For reading, would be too distant to think that we could just download material to our brain. Perhaps I just don’t’ know enough about the conjectures of technology to know whether or not that is actually a possible thing. But since grade school I remember people talking about, “wouldn’t’ be great if we could just learn by osmosis” and they definitely have that scene in the matrix. But then what is learning? What is it to “know” something if everybody can do it. Of course some people have those same thoughts now about the internet. People 20 years ago, if they wanted to learn something about the a random subject, like Buddhist colonies in Tibet, they would have to go to the “stacks” and hope that the library had a book on that subject. That person would then have to read that book, and to really know it he/she would probably have to find even more books, or perhaps even travel to that place. Now knowledge is available to everyone, well anyone that chooses to find it and put it up there, instead of looking at cat videos. And let’s be honest those cat videos are freaking awesome, and entertaining. What are we using technology for? I recently started to playing some dragon game. Who am I? But then I think that individuals understand knowledge, everyone can have it, but what we do with it will even further be reliant on a unique, creative aspect of it.

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should I include Donna Haraway?

My current research project is looking at how feminism is visually construed on Instagram. What kind of images are being posted that reflect how feminism is thought of today? I believe this is a way to look at how 3rd Wave Feminism is thought of today. I am using Instagram because I believe looking within a digital medium is also part of this contemporary engagement. And this medium is also very visually based, which is what I’m interested in. What images are connected to today’s feminism?

However, even though I am interested in a digital medium, I also working within a frame that sees the digital and the nondigital as a fluid state, particularly in today’s age. Because of this I am using critical theory and visual studies that traditionally may look at photographs, although a few look at new media forms.

Many times when the digital and feminism are connected that it is with a cyborgfeminism lens, which is not exactly what I wish to do. In my literature review I want to go through an understand of cyborgfeminism, and what it does bring to 3rd Wave feminism, but also state that this is not how I will be interpreting the Instagram photo posts.

My question is that many cyborgfeminists include Donna Harway’s Cyborg Manifesto, however, for what I am using cyborgfeminism for I don’t believe Donna Haraway says anything specifically for my project. But can I even mention cyborgfeminism without Donna Haraway?

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Research Flow Blues

I was looking at the calendar last night, and realized that there is not that much between now and the end of the semester. It’s my first semester in graduate school, and if I’m going to survive still remains to be seen. I’ve got major research projects in nearly every class, and I’m beginning to lament the fact that I still don’t a process or a system for producing research. Or at least one that I’m aware of. I’ve always researched, I wrote, and then something magical happened and I had a research project or paper. Magic. That’s how research happens.

But the level that I’m in now, I’m realizing that it might be do or die when it comes to developing a work flow that works for my scattered, unorganized way of working. It’s not all of the writing and researching that I have to do looming over my head, that is getting me to think about this, but a really great blog post that we had to read in my digital self class. The post, “Embarrassment of riches: Managing research assets,” was written by Miriam Posner. I’m hoping that through some discussions and class and some of the tips from the article that I might be able to steal some great research flow ideas. The problem is though that everyone’s is going to be different, you kind of just have to figure out what works for you by trial and error. Well, for me I’m hoping to do less of the error side. Which is why you learn what other people did wrong, and just not do it.

One thing that I have seriously implemented into my baby academic life is Zotero. And I would highly recommend, if you aren’t already using a site like Zotero or EndNote to compile sources, do it now. I organize my folders by larger subject matter (Feminist Theory, Digital Studies, etc.) and then into their individual projects. I realize that as my graduate school career goes along that I will be making organizational adjustments as I need to. The other really great thing about these systems is being able to store your notes on a paper or book, along with the citation information.

What I’ve been doing is while I’m reading an article, I take notes in word, and the copy and paste them into Zotero when I’m finished. I only take notes on an article if I know for sure that that an individual article or book is going to be helpful to me. There is no need to waste valuable time, so always do a quick read through of the article first.

Hopefully, as time goes along that I’ll be able to develop even more techniques and strategies. Wish me luck.

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Siri as transsexual, transnational?

I find that it extremely interesting in the phenomenon of gendering technology. The best example I can think of is the iPhone’s Siri. A phone is of course an inanimate object, but I believe many of us think of our phone, especially when utilizing the application of Siri, as female. When someone asks me if I know how to get somewhere or if I need directions, I’ll sometimes say something like, “If I don’t know, Siri will know, she’ll get me there.” Siri also makes our phones not only gendered, but also more like a person. The voice doesn’t belong to a static robot.

But I should clarify that Siri is female in the United States, Australia  and Germany, but is male is the U.K. and France. I find it extremely interesting at the cultural research done in each country and culture in order to determine which voice would be most appropriate for each one. Previously, I had only assumed that all iPhones came with a female Siri. This article from Tuaw gives some possible explanations for why our phones in the United States are female.

Some of what they talk about is that previous research has been shown that people just like more female voices than males. Apparently this is something that starts in our mother’s womb as Sande in the article reports. It can also go back to the fact that many Americans are used to getting telephone assistance from females, because back in the day telephone operators were traditionally women.

Which I can’t help but to question this residual tradition still being perpetuated in our technology as women being the place of assistance. Jobs such as telephone operators and secretaries, although they showed the beginning of women moving from the private sphere to the public sphere, still placed them in aiding and abiding men. So my question then is to ask, how far have we really come in American culture if subconsciously still prefer to here a woman’s voice in the role of assistant?

Perhaps I am reading too much into it. But there is a reason that Apple chose to put a male’s voice in some countries and a female’s voice in others, and I cannot help but to ask why? It seems that eventually, just like GPS voice directions (which are also set to a standard female), we will be able to change Siri’s voice in to suite our own gender and accent biases. Not that I am saying by being able to change a robot’s voice from female to male that it will culturally change anything. What I am saying that we should look at our cultural preferences and biases as a way to read between the lines of our own culture.

my own personal recommendation for a healthy body of literacy

Perhaps it’s the romantic English major, maybe it’s just my own personal nostalgia, but the idea of the extinct paper book scares me. This fear is only heightened by the fact, that I am getting more and more used to digital books, and finding them, in some cases, more helpful. My academic purposes, having things digital, makes it just so much easier to look things up if I can’t remember exactly where I read something. The thing is that wasn’t even something that I knew I had a problem with, until the technology came along. In the history of technologies, it seems that many times we don’t even realize that we need something, or that something could be easier, until something comes along that does it, or makes our lives simpler. But I have to ask to what cost?

As with everything else in life, there are gains in loses that come with technology. Those gains and loses will be different for person to person. For me, as I have stated, my gains are simplicity of research, but also, portability and access. However, I feel the loss of an art. And not just the art of the book itself, the cover art, typography, the putting together of an artifact by a whole processes of craft, but the lose of art that a person can create with it. What makes art, art, is the ability for people to find experience within it. What makes a book come alive for me as a piece of art is not only the content written within it, but the experience of the experience of a book. Or not just what is intangible, but the  tangibleness of a book, what it does to your senses. The smell of a book, the smell of the ink, the smell of old pages, the smell of new pages, the way your body curves around a book reacting to its shape, length, weight, being able to actually touch the pages. All of these things create ownership of a book, it makes it yours, you have given yourself over to it, and it has given itself over to you.

That’s why I support that ebook are fine, sometimes, like fast food they are easier to grab and get what we want quicker. However, but in order to maintain a healthy literacy diet, like the recommendation that half of your grains should be whole, I say that half of your books should be printed. Let’s keep the tradition alive. I don’t know want to live in a world where my grandchildren don’t know what the hell a book is.

And one last point, nothing decorates a house more beautifully than filled bookshelves.

Security Scares

This past weekend I went to visit my mom in North Carolina, so I found myself watching Dateline on NBC. Usually, I don’t have much time to watch any T.V., you know grad school probs. But I was intrigued by a story they were doing on a writer for Wired that got hacked and lost all of his passwords for all of his online accounts, including being locked out of his iPhone. It ended up that they were just trying to get hold his Twitter tag, @mat. Clearly by this simple Twitter name, this guy was one of the early adapters and plus his status of working for Wired, he was most definitely not ignorant about hackers and online security. One of the passwords that they were able to crack was 19 characters long with letters and symbols.

This news story got me to thinking about my own online identity security, and the pitfalls that I have when it comes to passwords and things. I was going to name steps that I was going to take to enhance my online identity, but then I realized that would also be giving step-by-steps about what accounts I have and what weaknesses they may or not have. So I’m just advocating for you to research and conduct your own online security analysis and find out what steps are best for you. As they stated on Dateline, it’s not like we can just quit the internet, but we can make the best out of the situation.

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procrastination, there’s an app for that

Smart phones help us do so many amazing thins, all in one small, convenient, and mobile device. I am usually checking email, updating my files in dropbox, reading books on my Kindle app, etc. However, I am more often using my phone as a venue to procrastinate from work. I have apps to my social media sites, e.g. Twitter and Instagram, which I check constantly. But now I have found a new app to ensure that I am just as unproductive as ever. The little demon app is called iFunny. It is hilarious and addicting. It’s just a collection of funny, strange, and entertaining pictures, and you just scroll through them. And then you scroll, and scroll, and then pretty soon you look up, and you have lost 30 mins of your life that you will never get back. But you can’t delete it, because it wants you to look at more funny pictures. And even the ones that aren’t that funny, you have to look through, so you can get to the funny ones.

Like most other things that I go through on the internet, this will just be phase. I can totally quite whenever I want to….

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the days of week as seen in Instagram

So I’m always curious about how things start on the internet and social networking sites. For example, on Instagram there are specific pictures that you post depending on the day of the week. I’m learning more about these as I get more involved, either that or they are just being created more and more. And depending on your interests and hobbies, there might be different ones. But here are the ones that I have figured out so far:



#throwbackthursday or #tbt

#feministfriday (I think that one is more of the special-interest kind, and not as main stream.)

I’m trying to figure out more, if anyone knows of any, I’m going to try and add on to this list. Maybe I’ll make a challenge to myself to a whole week of these daily hashtag pictures.

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Technology, a supplement to the classroom not a replacement

I know that a lot of people talk about with the rise of digital technology in the classrooms that there isn’t the same need for the traditional classroom, with teacher and students in the same room. Online classes are getting more and more popular, and they cost universities a hell of lot less money. I am here of course to throw in my two cents that the level of education is just not the same. Personal, in-class discussions are what have made my educational experience so rewarding and fulfilling. Perhaps in lower-level classes there may be more of an economic need, as class sizes continue to rise, along with our tuition bills, but in the higher-level classes I would definitely argue that the personal connection is infinitely more valuable. Where are my statistics you say? I don’t have them. I’m not an expert in the “field.” Just an expert student. Take that as enough for now.

However, I do believe that some digital technologies have the potential to be a great supplement to almost any classroom, even the most traditional ones. One example of this is my Composition Theory class. The class is a small graduate class of about 6-7 people, and it is so great because of the intimacy and the discussions that we can have every Tuesdays/ Thursdays at 12:30. But we have had the opportunity to Skype two authors that we have been reading, and another connected to the field. Now it also helps to have a professor that is established and knows all of these great people. However, if it weren’t for the technology we wouldn’t get the chance to bring in these kinds of people into our discussions, and be able to ask questions, when otherwise works are left up to the reader’s interpretations.

Skype isn’t the only technology that teachers are using to enhance the classroom experience, but it is important to note that their is still the classroom experience.

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Post Secret – a virtual community?

PostSecretFor the last year or so, every Sunday I go to to see the secrets that have been posted to the website. The premise for the site is that people all over the world make homemade postcards with their anonymous secrets posted on the back, and mail them to Frank. Frank then posts then to the blog site. Also, connected to the blog site, is the Post Secret Community, which is an online chat room where people can discuss everything from this weeks secrets to upcoming or past Post Secret Events.The secrets have even made it into several collections of books. The program is also an advocate for suicide prevention. Part of the belief system behind the program is that letting out secrets, letting out pain, having a venue for someone to listen to you can help is one way to help prevent self-inflicted harm from happening. Ever Sunday posts also has a link to the International Suicide Prevention Wiki. I have also seen people email Frank, asking for more information on a particular sender, trying to reach out on a more personal basis that just posting encouraging messages to the chat room or Wiki site. Of course, the secrets posted for each week are not all dark, some are simply silly or funny, but perhaps still not content that you would want to post on your Facebook wall. You can also follow Post Secret on other social media, such as Twitter and Instagram.

The blog, the chat room, the wiki, the social media sites all make Post Secret a great virtual community, one that people can become invested in. But there is also this tangible, non-digital part of the Post Secret experience. The postcards are handmade and mailed in,there are the books you can buy, and there are also the Post Secret tours, where Frank goes all around the world talking about the program, sharing secrets, and also inviting the audience members to the same. Here people are no longer hiding behind anonymous postcards, but are speaking to auditoriums full of people. But I have read several accounts posted on the blog that the sense of community is so strong at these talks, that people were able to share things they otherwise would never have. Some people come alone, some people in groups, but the community that they describe is something that started on an online forum. However, Post Secret is one example about how the digital and our “real” lives, are not separate entities and how sometimes digital things can still be emotionally tangible. So does that make it a virtual community, or perhaps, simply just a community?

-image is from the PostSecret blog from March 3, 2013



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Instagram and Self-Validation

Last semester in my Living Through Technology class we had an assignment that required us to pick a technology and a human experience and complete a research project that show how those two things interacted with one another. My technology was Instagram and my human experience was self-validation.

I was interested to look at how a social networking site that is so visually based connects to our own need for self affirmation. The image and the gaze are powerful forces in the human psyche, and it is interesting to think about how those are now being manifested in the digital age. I was also interested in how this differs between genders.

Instead of a traditional research paper, I attempted a blog. But it was my first attempt at one, so it ended up being more of schizo paper. There is still a lot more on the subject that I just did not have time to explore, but this is something that I would like to try and research more in the future.

Here is the link to the blog, where you can see all six posts.

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“desk” is a pretty strong word

For the past year, I think I’ve almost entirely given up on working at a desk. Now I just pile all my books, papers, computer,  cat, whatever, around me like a little nest of education on my bed. This is my work space flow.

I used to never be able to do work in bed, because I would just fall asleep… which sometimes I still do. But I found that when I would try to do work else where, I would be distracted by thinking about my bed. When I have something really important to work on, final, seminar paper, what have you, I do have to pull myself to somewhere else. But for the everyday readings and assignments, this is where all the production (more or less) happens.


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The Setup

Following the examples of these guys, this is how I get stuff done.

Who Am I? (kind of a loaded question….)

My name is Shelby E. Ward. I’m a graduate student in the Department of English at Virginia Tech. I am also the new GTA for the Center for the 21st Century Studies. I love traveling, writing poetry, and drinking caffeinated beverages, most notably in the form of coffee.

Also an Aries.

What hardware do I use? 

I have a computer (PC), iPhone, and for the remainder of the semester I have an iPad on loan from the college for my digital self class. Since getting the iPad, I opt to take it to class instead of my computer. Although, when I need to write up a paper or anything else that requires a lot of typing, I’ll break down and bring my laptop. I’m really going to miss that iPad. I haven’t named it though; trying to not get too attached.

I always have a notebook and pen with me to scribble down ideas, lines, or bits or poetry. (paper and pen are still technologies let’s not forget.)

Oh and headphones, it’s hard for me to write if I’m not plugged into some music.

What software do I use?

Welp, I have Windows 7 on my PC. Along with my internal hard drive on my computer, I also keep my data stored between Dropbox and Google Drive. I have recently been trying to store bibliographic information in Zotero. I don’t use my computer for a whole lot more than typing up papers, poems, and other research material. However, in my writing  for the web class last semester I found Komodo Edit to be a useful text editor for me.

What would be my dream set-up?

Honestly, I just wish I didn’t have to have so many electronics. If a laptop and an iPad could have a baby, and then someone would like to give that to me for free, that would be awesome. Like I said before, I like to travel, I want something that can move with me but I also want something that I can type easily on. I know they are starting to make computer/tablet hybrids, but once again… free? College student. But I believe that my dream set-up would be something that could better facilitate the interaction between paper and screen. I’m not quite sure what I mean by that, but it’s something that I am now thinking about, since you asked.


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quitting Facebook was a lot less like giving up crack than you might think

Hi, my name is Shelby Ward and I’ve been Facebook free for about four months now.

I actually say about, because I’m not actually sure how long ago it has been since I decided to deactivate my account. Now there is a difference between deactivating and deleting. Deleting actually requires calling the company and a whole lot of other things I am just way too lazy to do. They actually make it really hard for you to quit it. Which, I guess in that sense, Facebook is a lot like crack.

Besides I think that part of me likes knowing that if I ever want to I can just reactivate it. If for no other reason there are still some pictures that I am tagged in from my trip abroad this summer to Morocco, Turkey, and Sri Lanka that I don’t have anywhere else.

But honestly, I just got tired of the constant connection that Facebook allows and wants you to have. I didn’t like the feeling that I was connected and followed by everyone in my past and present. I’ve never been a fan of IMing. And I found the Facebook one particularly annoying. If you need to send me something private, and you don’t have my phone number, you probably shouldn’t be sending it.

I was tired of dealing with Facebook’s ever changing private policies and site changes. Like the timeline. I abhorred having Facebook map my life on a timeline like that. It not only sets your life out on one single, limiting trajectory, but it was almost like saying anything else in your life that may have happened didn’t matter, because we’ll it’s not on your FB timeline.

I also hated how I felt like I was a product. Facebook makes money off of advertisements that are centered around the information that you give to Facebook. Now, given that Google does the exact same thing, and I still use it. But I felt that the payoff for Google’s service was a little bit more beneficial towards me than Facebook. If there was another site that could do the same thing as Google, I would probably use it. Sorry BING, you’re not quite there yet.

I just wanted a cleanse. I thought that maybe I would just do it for finals last semester. But I found that I was much happier being off of it. Now that isn’t to say that I’m not on any social media at all. I’m on Twitter and Instagram (@shelbelise). But I liked the control that those sites give me more than FB. Twitter and Instagram are like snapshots of your life, instead of trying to encompass everything. I can control what pictures or posts people see instead of people tagging me in whoknowswhatkindofbarpicture.

I don’t think that I have lost any meaningful connections with anyone. It is just as easy to send a text or a tweet than it is to send a Facebook message. Personally, getting off of Facebook was one way for me to start shaping the online identity that I want.

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Ordered Chaos

One of the graduate classes that I signed up for this semester is called the Digital Self. Now, one of our first reading assignments was to read Vannevar Bush’s “As We May Think,” who basically imagines a system that is comparable to something like today’s internet or Wikipedia. The catch is he does so in 1945 trying to think of other useful things that scientists could be doing since they weren’t building bombs anymore for World War II. He calls it the Memex.  Here’s a nifty little video tutorial of it, for all those visual learners.

Anyway the point is, we were asked to diagram our own information systems, our own personal Memexes (Memexs? Memi?). So we each grabbed a dry-erase marker and section of one of the many white boards that surround the room and got to work. For a couple minutes as I got to diagramming my own personal technological realm, making connections to the flows of information and data storage (both digital and print), I felt like Matt Damon in Good Will Hunting. That is until, I started to take a look around the room at what other people were doing. I saw neat diagrams, thought out processes, meticulous systems for all the information flows that we take in on a daily basis. Mine? My Memex looked like a spider web that been spun right after the spider dropped acid. And then maybe had a beer or two.

I had read Bush before in my Living Through Technology senior seminar in undergrad, the entire class was structured around thinking about technology and the digital age critically. I feel I have proven the ability to analyze and critique our network society, but with that purple marker throwing up arrows on the white board I realized I haven’t found my own way of using technology, perhaps as efficiently as I could be.

Technology is great, it makes my life easier in so many ways. I have my laptop, my iPhone, and until the end of the semester an iPad for the Digital Self class. I have so many venues to access information and store it, but no rhyme or reason to how and in what medium I’ll do it in. Some things might be Dropbox, in the almighty cloud, some things might be in my documents folder, hell, sometimes I might just scribble it down in a notebook for no apparent reason.

The point is, what information or documents I place where is pretty arbitrary. Whatever I feel like at the time is where it goes. My system is a non-system, best described as “ordered chaos.” But as I type this and look around my apartment, it too could be described in the same way. Maybe that’s just me. Maybe that works for me.

However, if I am once again going to be analyzing technology within society, I should take the time and question my own use and relation to it.

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