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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Graduate school of the future.

It’ll be all about the tablets. Portable computing for knowledge transfer and production. Online/distance learning. Massive supercomputers. Lots and lots of clouds, but of course there will be mounds of paper because if there’s one thing graduate students love to do, it’s print mounds of paper. The push to make graduate research accessible to the public will continue. As the professoriate ages downward, faculty will grow more comfortable using always-on methods (instant messaging, video messaging, location services) to stay in contact with students. Email will continue to be a major time suck. The physical library will not be replaced, but more materials will be made available online with 24/7 access for students, faculty, and staff. Collaborative work spaces won’t replace offices entirely, but they will continue to make inroads as on-campus space continues to be at a premium. Parking will always, always blow, so alternative forms of transportation will be encouraged. Increased promotion of wellness and sustainability (work/life balance, healthier and more sustainable food options for on-campus dining, access to fitness centers).

Hopefully there will still be time to plant trees and enjoy the outdoors as well.

How the Internet Taught Me How to Cook

The most complex thing I’d ever cooked before about two years ago was a microwave dinner. My parents never showed an interest in the culinary arts, so I’d always scoffed at the idea of spending hours in the kitchen. However, when I moved out on my own and then got married, I began to see the value of a nice, home-cooked meal. I am no Stepford Wife, but I love that a delicious meal can bring people together and make a house feel more like home. I began to research cooking, but had no idea where to start.

Then I discovered, a site where recipes can be uploaded by users and reviewed by those who try the recipe. There are recipes for virtually any kind of food or preparation, and the reviews are an easy way to evaluate whether a recipe is worth trying. I have found that the user reviews and comments allow me to discover variations that others have tried (including spices to add, substitutions for ingredients that work well, and preparation variations).

As a very amateur cook, this online community has allowed me to 1) find the best recipes quickly and easily, and 2) learn from the wisdom of more advanced cooks who actually know what they are doing. I almost never make a bad meal, and while I’d like to attribute this to some kind of innate cooking talent, my prowess is mostly due to the excellent resource that is this website.

In the past, I think many people learn to cook from their parents or grandparents– recipes and tips are handed down through the generations. I think this is a wonderful practice, and I am keeping a recipe book with all my favorites (and my own spin on the recipes I find online) to give to my children when the time comes. But the internet certainly makes it easier to cook well, to use the wisdom of the crowd to figure out what recipes work best and which ones are duds.

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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I Share Therefore I Am

Screen Shot 2013-04-22 at 6.32.48 AMFor many people my age, the idea of describing my day to day activities can seem like narcissism  taken to extreme. Did I even want the constant up-to-the-minute updates of what my friends were doing? The hoarding friends on Facebook, or followers on Twitter, held little appeal to me. That is, until I started tweeting and posting. It wasn’t long before I found the omnipresent knowledge of my friends (and I use that term loosely) lives intriguing and additive. Equally appealing was writing the perfect post that resulted in “likes” before my fingers left the keyboard. Someone just read this, and liked it. It is not lost on me that I’m behind a screen and the connection at most is transitory and perhaps even superficial, but it’s there. And yes, I know there are a billion users.

My number of friends grew quickly and I had people from my elementary school years that I hadn’t seen in 40 years. Then I realized that more friends equaled more stress in some ways. I had to shift through comments and posts and photos of people that I wouldn’t like in “real” life. Why was I spending my morning coffee time on their political rants and raves? I started “unfriending” in earnestness especially during the campaign. Aside from the occasional “Way to Go Obama!” post, I shy away from politics and religion on Facebook. I don’t need mass numbers of friends. I’d rather connect with those I care about.  And my kids have finally “friended” me.  I’d like to think that Facebook and Twitter have made me “cool” and “hip”, but in reality, my kids have gotten older and have less to hide from me.

Gender online

Those who keep up with theological debates have probably heard about John Piper’s recent claim that reading commentaries written by women is okay because, basically, she isn’t standing in front of you. For those unfamiliar with the context in which he is making this statement, allow me to fill you in a bit . . .

Though there are people all over the continuum on the role of women in the church, they tend to sort into two primary categories: those who think women are permitted to teach in the church, and those who believe it is “unbiblical.” Like I said, there are people all over the continuum on this, so I don’t mean to create a false binary; however, the “culture wars” within Christianity tend to set up those two options as the sides from which to choose.

John Piper – a well known pastor and author – falls into the camp of those who believe women should not teach in the church. In a recent podcast, however, he states that it is permissible to read women’s commentaries on the Bible as long as the man doesn’t “feel” that he is under the authority of the woman who wrote the commentary. The woman “teaching” in this context is okay because she is not directly in front of the reader (“she’s not looking at me…”). This “phenomenon” of writing, he claims, “takes away the dimension of her female personhood.”

This is a rather problematic view.

Several bloggers/writers/commentators have already chimed in on this, so I won’t rehash a lot of those issues. Rachel Pietka – a graduate student I would very much like to get to know – discusses these ideas in light of the history of the woman’s body, referring to Lindal Buchanan’s book Regendering Delivery, which discusses how women’s thoughts were historically more acceptable long before their bodies were. For more discussion about that, I recommend reading her article. In this post, want to talk about the implications of this idea for online writing.

I am actually wondering if the internet is, in some way, a gender equalizer. Though you can often detect someone’s gender by her user name, avatar, or profile picture, the fact remains that her body is not in front of you. A portion or picture of her body, perhaps…but that bodily presence is still removed. Is it possible that some people with gender biases (because, I can admit, it might go the other way as well) might suspend some of those biases if the body is not present?

I have had a few interactions with men where the in-person interaction was quite contentious, but interactions via email were perfectly polite. I hadn’t really thought about those interactions as different in those two realms until I read Pietka’s post. This could be coincidence, of course, but the vast difference between these two types of interactions makes me wonder: is it this “removal of female personhood” that makes the difference?

What do you think? Have you noticed anything along these lines with your own online interactions?

Own your identity

Marco Arment's approach to managing his online identity is a great model to follow: "I’ve always built my personal blog’s content and reputation at its own domain, completely under my control, despite being hosted on many different platforms and serving different roles over the years. It has never been a subdomain of any particular publishing platform or host."

If You Didn’t Blog It, It Didn’t Happen

Anil Dash: "[I]f most tweets are too ephemeral to reach their full potential as ideas, what do we do about it? Well, obviously, one big step would be to simply make sure to blog any idea that's worth preserving. It's perfectly fine to tweet about trivialities — I do it all the time! But if you're tweeting about your work, your passion, or something meaningful to you, you owe it to your ideas to actually preserve them somewhere more persistent."

Meet the Stalkers

Jeff Saginor: "Every day, without even knowing it, you share intimate personal details about your life with people you’ve never met. The medical symptoms you search online follow you: first to the pharmacy where you pick up a prescription, then to a database of specialists looking to add you as a patient, or to an insurance company creating a risk pool. The car you’ve researched on the Web has been broadcast to your local dealerships before you’ve even left the house."

George Saunders talks about his “reluctant engagement with computers”

"I have noticed, over the last few years, the very real (what feels like) neurological effect of the computer and the iPhone and texting and so on — it feels like I've re-programmed myself to become discontent with whatever I'm doing faster. So I'm trying to work against this by checking emails less often, etc etc. It's a little scary, actually, to observe oneself getting more and more skittish, attention-wise."


The other day, a friend of mine here at Virginia Tech (a fellow student, though a fiction writer in the MFA program) asked me what my thesis was about. I began talking in earnest about how cultural productions are continually evolving sites rich with interaction between subjects, objects, and the ideologies and structures of social power that inform and are informed by the relationships between them and how an updated understanding of the critical paradigms which may be used to understand these interactions must be continually refined and updated, which is why I’m hoping to proffer (or at the very least, review) an updated interpretative framework that can function productively for reading the modern texts of cultural life and identifying the themes, symbols, and language that determine how culture disseminates ideologies of class, race, gender, sexuality, politics, and other crucial concerns with respect to the globalized, post-postmodern world and vis a vis modern feminist theory as it pertains to subject-object construction, identity formation, and consciousness/reflexivity as a means of developing agency, identity, and mobility within and as actions of transgression against such cultural ideological systems…

And I think it was about at “continually evolving sites” when here eyes started to glaze over, somewhere around “updated understanding of the critical paradigms” when she whipped out her phone and started texting, and near “globalized, post-postmodern world” when she literally turned away from me and started talking with the person sitting next to her.

And really I don’t blame her. At the time, mid-sentence, I was actually starting to wonder how loaded I really was.

This isn’t to say that I was talking nonsense. I happen to believe that I might be on to something really interesting here. But her lack of interest was proof enough that sometimes (or often, depending on who you are and what you’re doing) the language and even topics that we engage with in the scholarly world are not welcome in places like restaurants and bars where the interaction is casual and the answer to any question is expected to be tweetable. The sting that I felt at her lack of tact notwithstanding, I appreciated her refusal to engage with the topic because it manifested a fear of mine that’s grown larger for me the further I climb towards my PhD: the fear that as my work grows more interesting and relevant to intellectuals and scholars, it grows less so to everyone else.

This is why the idea of a blog/YouTube channel as an offshoot of my academic self seems absolutely critical. Especially if my end goal is to offer people (my students, my peers, my readers, my instructors, my future kids) new ways to understand the world around them, then above all else my ideas not only have to be complex and nuanced, they have to be tweetable; they have to be bar-room ready; they have to be grounded not only in a bedrock of previous research and a coherent network of scholarly discussion, but also in the the real experiences, real language, and real world of real people.

This is why I like to keep my blog somewhat irreverant. Why I write fragmented sentences like this one. Why I let the (sometimes not-so-) occasional obscenity stand proud on the page. Why I rant and joke (hopefully) just as much as I muse and ponder. Why I want a YouTube channel that subscribes to the VlogBrothers and PBSIdeachannel and Feminist Frequency and puts out videos that reference Bronies just as much as Judith Butler.

Not only do I want to be out there in academia, I want to be out there in the world. I want my work to be grounded in the conversations I have sitting on barstools with fiction-writing friends. Grounded in the knowledge that relevance has not been sacrificed for complexity and depth. Grounded in the real life of real people.

My greatest fear is not that my work will be irrelevant to the academic community, but that it will be irrelevant to everyone else.

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Take that, D&D stereotypists!

I was recently shown the PBS Idea Channel website and was instantly hooked. In light of this new discovery, here is am interesting video that talks about Dungeons and Dragons, and how it can be more useful, in terms of life skills, than people may think. Watch Can Dungeons & …
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Who is online, and why?

Attention, Digital Self classmates!

Here is a helpful infographic for who uses social media, and which platforms are more appealing to different demographics, in case any of you could use this data for your projects. This might also be helpful for our conversations surrounding Sherry Turkle’s book this evening.

One thing I do find missing from this graphic, and from Tupfekci’s article sort of refuting Turkle’s claims, is a discussion of how social media is used by people in poverty. This graphic doesn’t include anyone from incomes below $30,000 per year. Tupfekci touched on it briefly when he talked about how reliance on geographic proximity is lessened with the availability of online connections, but only to briefly mention that they might be at a disadvantage when they are not connected. With all of the progress made with technology, is it possible that we are widening the gap between the “haves” and the “have-nots?”




Robots are our friends!

My initial exposure to robots and AI left me feeling nervous, skeptical, and uncomfortable. That was until I came across this adorable Beta Testing DARwIn-OP  video on YouTube. The Beta testing of DARwin, our beloved robot that we see in many of Virginia Tech’s promotional videos, provides some insight on the role robots may play in the lives of future generations.

This video shows Dr. Dennis Hong’s son playing with this cute robot. It is clear that Ethan feels some level of connection to the robot as he interacts with the robot as he would interact with a playmate.

Watching this video makes me wonder whether future generations that grow up playing with robots, that will inevitably be more sophisticated, will be more willing to accept human-like robots that people of our generation may be quick to reject.

Audience & Comments

I have to begin this post with the unabashed statement that I am a blatant narcissist. And to that end, I don’t usually like writing blogs online because I’m convinced that the effort is only so much more noise in a vast sea of cacophonous drivel. The feeling runs parallel to the very idea of a Facebook page or a Twitter account… the idea that anybody really cares about what I’m currently having for dinner, how pissed off I am about Futurama being cancelled, or how awesome I think a hand-carved Stormtrooper coffee mug is.

The confession to narcissism might seem to counteract this. After all, aren’t Facebook and Twitter the ideal answer to every narcissist’s most fervent prayers? The ultimate digital tools to draw attention to the self?

True… so perhaps I’ll modify the term: I’m a realistic/pessimistic narcissist (the “slashed” term giving a nod to those who would argue it only natural for the two words to be conflated). Sure, I want everyone to be interested in my life and what I have to say. But I believe on some deeper level that nobody really much cares, because it doesn’t really much matter.

I wonder sometimes if others fool themselves as I do… thinking that perhaps some random internet surfer will ride a digital wave into my part of town and be snagged by the elegance of my prose, miraculously “discovering” my site. But really, how often have I just surfed around reading the random blog and finding something worth connecting with?

And at the end of the day, if we’re being completely honest with ourselves, how many of us maintain a steady stream of mental production worth supporting a blog? At the end of the day, perhaps the dread centers not around how many people look at my blog postings, but the cold hard fact that I really do have nothing worthwhile to say.

All of this is counteracted by the comment. The glorious, miraculous comment that for a brief moment shatters the conceptualization of the blog as just more ignored noise in a vast sea of ignored noise. Suddenly, a user steps from the shadows, not only declaring their existence but simultaneously confirming that they have read my blog and, dare I believe it, have been stimulated enough to respond to it. Oh happiest of days! Such glorious payoff!

If you dear reader are not quite sure as to how much sarcasm that last paragraph contained, that makes two of us. On the one hand, the presence of comments does give me a kind of leap inside as a confirmation of my own self-affirmation. On the other hand, how much self-worth am I really locating in that faceless, nameless crowd of potential commentators, or worse yet, tick-marks that make up the pitiful number of page-views my plugin counts for me, as if assigning a number to the lack of readers would somehow make the fact easier to bear?

Is blogging a way to escape or nourish my narcissistic impulses? Does it and the so-called (and the actual) readers confirm the validity or necessity of the activity, or are they just the elements of a support system that continually decenters my self-worth and displaces it into the abstract concept of my supposed readers? And if not that, is it an exercise in futility? A tree falling in a forest with nobody around to hear it? If nobody hears me, am I really blogging at all?

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Ricky Gervais on YouTube and Twitter

Ricky Gervais was on The Daily Show last week, and he discussed his YouTube channel, as well as Twitter. He argues that YouTube is the next step, as TV is dead. Also, he has some funny (and slightly insulting) commentary regarding “idiots” on Twitter (starting at 4:30).

Ricky Gervais on The Daily Show

It’s not a very long interview, and I think it’s worth the watch and some pondering…

Taking Steps Closer to Singularity

Benefits of an advanced prosthetic hand

This article on iPhone-controlled prosthetic hands caught my eye after our class conversation on singularity a couple of weeks ago. In 2008, Jason Koger ran into a downed power line and lost both his hands. Five years later, Touch Bionic’s i-limb ultra revolution has provided him with prosthetic hands that finally allow him to reclaim the use of his hands.

When accompanied by a smartphone app, this prosthetic hand can configure itself into 24 preset grip patterns that allow its owner to carry out tasks such as writing with a pen or typing on a keyboard.

Technology like this bionic hand is in sync with its users and allows them to reach beyond their human limits while using technology as a part of themselves. From this perspective, singularity does not seem as outlandish or threatening as it did in other contexts. So then, is there a way to keep technologies like this advanced prosthetic hand separate from other technologies that we are so quick to reject? And if there isn’t a way to keep them separate, is it worth sacrificing one because of the other?

Miniature Painting

The following pictures represent my first forays into the art of painting miniatures. Typically, these kinds of miniatures are used for certain tabletop games like Warhammer, but I started out not to play the game but as a challenge and because I’m looking for a reason to exercise my artistic …

A Durable Mutation

This TEDtalk by Scott McCloud takes a look at how comics have changed and adapted over the years. I also think it is interesting because it’s a look at how advances in technology have shaped the art that uses it. It’s especially interesting to me now because of the new …


Now I don’t want to sound like a curmudgeonly old goat who refuses to embrace any new-fangled fancy-schmansy technologimical whatsits because they’re leading to our inevitable destruction – a digital hand-basket in which we are all enthusiastically riding to hell…

but oh who am I kidding, I quite enjoy sounding like that. Doom-mongering is all sorts of entertaining because if you’re right you get to say “I told you so” and if you’re wrong it doesn’t matter because nobody took you seriously in the first place anyway.

But with that being said, I’ll state for the record here that I’m just not comfortable with the level of dependence that new advancements in digital technology are pushing me into.

Let’s take music for example. It used to be, in the good ol’ days, we had to go to the store to buy music. We got a nice shrink-wrapped package that held a disc with a cool design on it and colorful liner notes with the lyrics printed out and everything. And when you took that CD home is was YOURS because you could hold it in your hand, and you could take it anywhere and play it in anybody’s car or boombox or home stereo you wanted. You could give it to your friends and get pissed as hell when they put new scratches on it. At the end of the day, come hell or high water, you could hold that CD and know, without a doubt, that Limp Bizkit’s Chocolate Starfish and the Hot Dog Flavored Water was yours to treasure as long as you possessed that 30 grams of aluminum, lacquer, and plastic.

Now we buy our music from iTunes and hope to God that whatever new extension and format it comes in isn’t packed with DRM nonsense that only lets us play it on one computer, or not be able to burn to a disc, or is a really shitty sample rate, or will commit suicide and refuse to play after X many days, or, worst of all, requires a connection to the Internet. We stream our music now from YouTube channels, Spotify, and Pandora radio. The music we “own” exists somewhere in zeros and ones and we don’t even own those. We own the right to ASK for the music to play, not the music itself.

The newest SimCity title released by EA Games requires an Internet connection to play the game. This is known as “always online digital rights management” and was incorporated into the game ostensibly to facilitate some number of the game’s unique features, but in reality, it was merely an operation to crack down on piracy. This means that if my Internet connection goes down, or worse, the company servers go down, I can’t play the game. I could own the damn thing, own a computer that could run the program, AND have an Internet connection, but if for any reason the company servers are offline, then the game will refuse to play, even though my operating system is perfectly capable of running the code all on its own, even without an internet connection.

As long as I can find a wall socket and some kind of display (tinkering with the input method notwithstanding) I can play Super Mario Brothers to my heart’s content any damn time I please. Don’t have an internet connection? No problem! Nintento goes completely out of business? No problem! I bought that game with my own money (given to me for doing my chores and mowing my parent’s lawn) and I have the right to play it whenever I like regardless of what state the company or my internet connection is in.

But if EA for whatever reason were to go out of business, then no more servers, no more service. Suddenly, everyone who dropped that 60 bucks on SimCity gets a big middle finger as every copy of the game suddenly becomes forever after unplayable. This is exactly what happened on the day of the game’s launch. Hundreds of people who had paid full price to get the game on launch day couldn’t play the title they had just purchased because EA’s servers were having some sort of conniption.

That’s horseshit.

And I see it everywhere. Kindle asks you to forgo that bulky physical library. Your device can carry thousands of books! Yes, until your device breaks… then your thousand books vanish. Until you want to share one of those books with a friend. Until the power goes out and you didn’t charge your device up. Until (if your books are in some sort of “cloud”) a server error decides to delete your library, or until whoever is ACTUALLY owning and possessing that data is compromised.

If Armageddon comes tomorrow, I’ll be reading my copy of World War Z in the what I’m sure will be abundant firelight.


I pay money to POSSESS, not to BORROW.
Advancements in digital technology are quietly pushing us toward more dependency on the companies and servers and data that we do not in fact control. Data is now clouded, video games are played on external servers, programs are run remotely. Products are becoming inexplicably tied to the means by which they are purchased. What happens to your music library if iTunes or god forbid the great and powerful Apple is compromised? And the further we move into “virtual” ownership, the more power we place into the hands of those that ALLOW us to own. When ownership is empowered by that which is outside of my control, it is not real ownership at all. It is an illusion.


We are iTunes customers before and as a prerequisite to being music owners.

The more we move toward a virtual world, the more that money and time and products and relationships and media become a series of ones and zeros that exists simultaneously everywhere and nowhere, the more we must rely on the system that keeps those ones and zeroes moving. And because of the nature of the digital world, I think it is more volatile, unstable, and open to compromise than most people think.

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Evgeny Morozov Doth Protest Too Much

Micah Sifry takes on Morozov's new book: "Extrapolating from the grandiose statements of people like Google's Eric Schmidt and Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg, Morozov spins up a world that doesn't exist and then proceeds to inveigh against it as if it must be the end-point of where the technosolutionists are taking society."

The New Résumé: It’s 140 Characters

The Wall Street Journal: "Twitter is becoming the new job board. It is also becoming the new résumé. Fed up with traditional recruiting sites and floods of irrelevant résumés, some recruiters are turning to the social network to post jobs, hunt for candidates and research applicants."