Alphabetic Text Analysis

Treaty of Greens: Generate this! (Reflections)

Treaty of Greens (generative poem)

Reflection 1

As a person who isn’t that into traditional poetry, I was less than enthused with an assignment that was labeled as “generative poetry.” In traditional poetry, I typically pick a specific subject or mood and run with that, so I did the same approach with this assignment. At the beginning of this assignment, I was in the process of writing a theorized letter to my CEO (at Walgreens), where I argued the lack of love for cashiers. I was feeling pretty passionate about my job, so that’s how I stumbled upon Walgreens as my subject matter. I planned on creating a poem that showed the virtues and triumphs of cashiers, until I had a terrible day at work. My goal evolved into showing the “dark side” of Walgreens.

The word choice part was pretty easy, at least in comparison to traditional poetry. I decided to have one group of words that portrayed more to my job title, and another category of words that portrayed to the customer. I decided to capitalize words that would show anger or aggression, or other words that could relate to such a subject. For example, I capitalized ASSHOLES because that’s typically something cashiers scream in their head at rude customers. In a different light, I capitalized PATIENCE because it’s something most customers seem to lack. I think by capitalizing certain words this emphasizes certain points in the poem, which seems to add a nice touch. Furthermore, this creates contrast. The verbs were a little bit more difficult to come up with, for some reason I cannot explain. I think part of it is because I was trying too hard to think of unique verbs. I felt that most of the verbs I managed to scrounge up were rather boring and didn’t paint a picture, but I wanted the verbs to relate to Walgreens. I did manage to get a few odd verbs in there as “engulf”, “defecates”, and “delegate”. These are still loosely tied to the job of a cashier, especially at my store, and I think it really puts a twist on the generative poem.

As mentioned previously, I wasn’t crazy about traditional poetry before this, so I wasn’t too excited for this assignment. While I didn’t love this assignment, I did enjoy that I could essentially have a computer create a poem for me, only each time it would magnificently different than the previous time. This poem definitely challenged me to rethink how poetry is composed in general. By creating poetry in this way, through code, it really changed what poetry can be. It helped me see that poetry, whether through code or traditional, follows some type of pattern with words. However, the generative poetry really expands poetry. Instead of having a traditional sentence, that most people would write, generative poetry can create these crazy, enlightening sentences that one would never think of creating. It’s this aspect that has challenged me to really rethink poetry; maybe I didn’t like traditional poetry because of all of the constraints and limitations. This generative poem has helped me see that anything can be poetry; I don’t need to conform to certain poetry idealism’s in order to create a great poem. Furthermore, this assignment has helped me to start to consider that code itself is poetry; it follows a certain pattern, adheres to certain rules, and creates meaning in something.

Reflection 2:

There are many people in society today who don’t believe that this very assignment on generative poetry is not a true form of literature; we could even argue that there is one of those nonbelievers among our graduate course (cough Jason cough). It’s understandable for most readers to first assume that generative poetry is unlike traditional poetry and literature in general, but after studying it and learning the essence behind codes, it can be argued that there really is no difference at all.

In Perspectives on Ergodic Literature Espen Aarseth (1997) argues that cyber text focuses on the “mechanical organization of the text, by posting the intricacies of the medium as an integral part of the literary exchange,” (p. 1). In simpler terms, the computer is not just the medium, it’s part of the text too.  Aarseth further argues that cyber text is no different from other texts because all literature is different for every reader, the reader has to make choices in order to make sense of the text, and a text can only be read in one sequence at a time (p. 2) All three of these standards apply to both the generative poem assignment, as well as traditional poetry or literature in general.

Generative poetry and electronic literature challenges traditional text, but that doesn’t mean that the newly invented literatures don’t qualify as literature. Aarseth writes that “text is something more than just marks upon a surface,” (p. 12), meaning that text is something that creates meaning and allows for the flow and exchange of ideas. In The Semantic Web Revisited, Nigel Shadbolt, Wendy Hall, and Tim Berners-Lee (2006) claim that the Web consists of “documents for humans to read to one that included data and information for computers to manipulate,” (p. 96).  Even if computers are manipulating the text, much like in the generative poem, meaning is still being made by the reader, or even, humans. And then, the same argument occurs: there is a difference between paper and computer texts. But what is the difference? Aarseth argues that “the real difference between paper texts and computer texts is not very clear,” (p. 10) and it is true; other than the medium, what is the difference?  There are obvious subtle differences, like computers run on electric and the words are coded to appear on a screen, but the argument is that this code is literature too. How? Code uses a certain language and follows a pattern in order to create something meaningful to the reader. Codes can change the color of a text or background, among millions of other things. In comparison, the human hand and mind can write poetry with a certain rhythm that displays different emotions. The medium is still literature.

Since we can consider generative poetry as a type of literature with the evidence presented, we must consider what this means for the composition and structure. Aarseth writes that cyber text “centers attention on the consumer, or the user, of the text,” (p. 1), which changes the way that we compose. Instead of composing a poem for a traditional reader, we must begin to consider other options. For example, readers can be users or even co-authors. We must write in such a way that can account for that; the text must be more interactive to allow for the co-authorship. However, this poses a bit of a threat for the “reader”. Aarseth argues that the cyber text reader “is not safe” which means we can argue that “they are not a reader,” (p. 3). Most books are predictable and allow for full control, but with these newly developed ways of writing, more risks are available for the reader. The reader can fail at understanding how to navigate through the text which leads to a lack of understanding.

Understanding then, is linked to interpretation. But not interpretation as we know it. In “What does it mean to ‘interpret’ code,” a blogger writes that interpretation is no longer what it used to be; it’s not that “search for what the author secretly meant,” but rather it is the exploration of “semiotic objects in order to explore culture and systems of meaning.” This definition changes how we view literature; it’s not about that problem or climax, it’s about the meaning behind the text, and the interaction the text has with the medium to create that meaning. Just as words work together on a page to create a narrative, or within a Haiku to show imagery and emotion, words work behind the screens of a screen with code and the computer to create meaning.

Resources:

Aarseth, E. (1997). Introduction: Ergodic literature. In Cybertext: Perspectives on Ergodic            Literature. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press. Retrieved from            http://cv.uoc.edu/~04_999_01_u07/aarseth1.html.

Berners-Lee, T., Hall, W., Shadbolt, N., (2006). The semantic web revisited.

What does it mean to ‘interpret’ code? (n.d.) Critical Cod Studies.

Categories: Alphabetic Text Analysis, class activities, elit, ergodic literature, evidence, generative poem, images, information architecture, mapping, semantic web, technology | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

#iamondays How to Write E-Lit

On Twitter, Devon posted this:

blogpost4a

Which is a link that leads us to this:blogpost4

The “Fun da mentals” of e-lit. A very old image to teach us how to do something new. When I first saw this picture, I was immediately reminded of Robinson and his book The Story of Writing, and for some reason, the fossils reminded me of the section about “rebuses”. And with good reason, I think. These fossils are rebuses, and they relate to e-lit because most often, e-lit uses pictorial images. It’s crazy to think that we are still using techniques from the middle ages. But then again, everything we know has developed from something in the past. For example, the computer, and it’s many components (such as the internet, hypertext, and cyber text).

Hypertext is e-lit. But first, let’s look at the actual structure of this page that Devon posted. In my own opinion, it’s quite simplistic and bare. In fact, it even seems to resemble a piece of paper, which still shows that we’re relating how we write today to how we once used to write. However, the website seems to do a nice job of incorporating grids, as we learned about from Lupton. If we just browse at the first page, there is a cornucopia of blue. Blue, of course, is hypertext.  As Nelson wrote, hypertext means “forms of writing which branch or perform on request,”; in other words, any of the blue links that we see daily.

But how do these links happen? How can you possible think of making all of the connections? There are ways, tutorials, and even webpages that will do it for you, so it’s really not a question of how. It’s actually, more of a why. But the why is in the purpose of this blog post: electronic literature.

Now then, first we must learn to understand electronic literature. It’s unlike traditional literature, it’s not bound by specific outcomes and there’s no specific beginning or ending. So how can we learn about it with the idea of traditional reading and writing lodged in our noggins? With practice and coherence, it can be done.

Fun da mentals actually offers some interactive ways to learn and become familiar with electronic literature, which is something that Nelson writes is a good thing. There is a “hornbook” which helps students begin to understand how to read electronic literature. The hornbook teaches about nodes and paths, but also provides exercises that allow the students to get involved. By clicking on the “reader” section we can learn how electronic literature let’s us explore it. This section is headlined by “This sentence is false” and then teaches how different nodes (clickable parts of a sentence) can develop different stories or ideas, much like in The Jews Daughter.

The most interesting part of Fun da Mentals is the “Coloring book” link. As the only way to learn how to color is by practicing, at some point you learn that you’re doing it right when you color inside the lines. Students learn about creating electronic literature by doing similar exercises to that of a coloring book. It involves navigation by clicking.

Speaking of navigation by clicking, the Fun da Mentals is almost an example of  e-literature. Yes, it’s obvious that the page is full of hypertext, but what makes e-lit is that the reader is in control. He or she can click around and expand the story on their own. For instance, once I begin reading the description of “the coloring book” I see that the word “anatomy” is a link, in which I click it. It takes me to the anatomy interactive portal, which is not directly related to what I was just focusing on. In this same description, there is a clickable word that says “electronic tool”. I am compelled to find out what an electronic tool is, so I click on it. I read about electronic tools. However, here is where there’s an issue: Each page that I’ve clicked on, they’ve offered other links, but none of them seem to take me back to the original story line. Therefore, we could argue that this is not electronic literature.

Electronic literature can be complex, especially when we’ve grown up and only been exposed to one type of literature (traditional). It takes time and practice to learn a new trade. As Fun da Mentals is attempted to do, it’s important to constantly practice and enrich yourself into what you’re trying to learn in order to better adapt.

Categories: #IAMondays, Alphabetic Text Analysis, class activities, evidence, images, information architecture, mapping, pictorial images, semantic web, technology | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Life Application of Lupton’s Ideas on Typography

For this week’s class we looked at Ellen Lupton’s book Thinking With Type (2010). This book describes design principles involving typography. Until reading Lupton’s book, I never put much thought into the typeface I was using. I didn’t even really know fonts and typographies had a history. I guess I sort of assumed they just somehow appeared on my computer. But there is a rich history behind many of the typefaces we use today. Lupton explains the evolution of type, type weight, and typographical design throughout her book in a compelling way that makes even people with almost zero knowledge, like me, want to keep reading.

 

Admittedly, this book wasn’t my first primer for typography, entirely. In my Publication, Layout, and Design class I had already learned about the appropriate use of certain fonts for specific styles of writing. For example, some fonts are more appropriate for “fun” things, and others for “serious” or “academic” things. I also was told that sans serif fonts are how children in Europe are taught to read, while serif fonts are how children in the US are taught to read. (Fun fact?) But it all seemed basic, and common sense, that typefaces had different purposes. Lupton delves deeper into the design and aesthetic aspects of typography, which I think will be extremely helpful for me in my Publication class and in future endeavors!

 

One of my favorite parts of Lupton’s book was her explanation of the way kerning and tracking can give different typography a different feel (105). Her examples of different logos provide a visual representation of her words and really show what she means. Tufte would be proud! Until reading this part, and seeing her evidence, I didn’t put much thought into how certain logos or type achieved aesthetic appeal and personality. It is still shocking to me that changing letter spacing can have this much effect on how we view words!

 

The more I delve into information architecture, the more I want to put what I have learned to use. From Tufte to Lupton, these new ideas about how to present information to readers has made me totally rethink the way I want to write in the future. From the Lupton reading we are able to see evidence of just how much impact typography can have. Tufte shows us some of the best ways to lay out information and evidence. Now, traditional fiction, with standard gridded pages and uninteresting spacing seems flat. So, how can I apply these techniques and ideas to my hopeful future as a fiction writer?

 

I have been asking myself this a lot throughout the course of this class, and I think it all comes down to the risks I am willing to take. Books are already moving from the print era to the digital era, so why not push things a little further? Lupton talks about how readers from the digital realm have certain expectations for reading. She writes, “The impatience of digital readers arises from culture, not from essential character of display technologies…They expect to be in search mode, not processing mode” (98). So if we can put to use what we know about how people read in this new world, maybe we can work with the shortening attention span of digital readers, rather than trying to figure out how to fix it. I think we should try something new. We should play with type, manipulate design, and challenge traditional books in another new way. Pictures aren’t just for children, and neither is fun typography. In many realms of writing, we ignore the power (or for me, don’t see the power) of typography and graphic-enhanced storytelling. I think it is time we work with these new ideas and see where they can take us. Lupton presents us with a lot of information in her small book, but I find it all to be very useful. We need to understand the power not just behind words, but how we choose to represent them.

Categories: Alphabetic Text Analysis, technology | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

#Iamondays The Lack of Mapped Images?

Christen tweeted about Interaction Design Foundation, which is a webite that shows a lot of free educational materials involve Interaction Design. I clicked this link, after I prepared to be wowed. However, I was rather disappointed. The website seemed to lack the interactive design as well as any existence of mapped images. While the website is easy to navigate, it’s a bit plain and dull. This seems kind of ironic as it’s promoting interactive design. The colors are black, white, and gray. The only color that seems to stand out is the blue buttons at the top right of the screen that highlight the users to join them, log in, or publish something with them. I supposed these colors are used to emphasize the most important elements of the website. This could further indicate that you must join in order to participate in this website. The headlines and subtitles are typically bold. There’s not a lot of confusion happening on this website. There is a toolbar across the top, which displays exactly what the bleak images and subtitles display on the homepage (the main information of the website). Furthermore, if you scroll down on the homepage, each section is displayed again, with an image and a summary of what you might find in each section. I find that this design seems like it may be too much. I’m not sure I’d agree that it needs to display the main ideas three different times on the same area, what do you think?

I decided to click on the section labeled “Free Wiki Bibliography”. Again, this section of the website was well organized and easy to navigate, but it was full of text only. I thought that each section could have been created into a mapped image. For instance, each conference on the Wiki Bibliography could’ve had timelines that were interactive. Instead, the user must select a specific date, click on it, and further read through the information available. As Edward Tufte argues in Beautiful Evidence, data is more credible when contextualized (p. 22). If each event was contextualized in some way, it would become much more credible and easily associated with.

The website requires a lot of clicking around and exploring. I decided to check out the “Free Encyclopedia” section. By clicking on this link from the home page, I’m then directed to a page of 35 titles of self-help articles involved in some type of interactive design or service. Other than the titles, I had almost no knowledge of what was behind the articles. I wanted to click on something that might offer more user interaction, so I decided to look at “Visual Representation”. Each article is available in a tablet or PDF version, and offers links to a forum or a question form for the author. I thought these were neat buttons introduced, but they seemed a bit oddly placed at the top of the article.  This specific article on “Visual Representation” involved a lot of different approaches. It not only offered text, but also video, graphs, and data as well. As Tufte states, users must understand “what the words mean in relation to the image, and what the images mean in relation to the words,” (p. 88).  For instance, in this specific section of the website, you might not understand the importance of “The Grid System” if you failed to read the article or watch the videos on Visual Representation.

There’s also a “free image” library, where one can use as long as they adhere to the “copyright terms of each individual image”. I find this attribute pretty awesome, as most pictures involve Creative Commons, which is something the world should be pushing for. When I clicked on “Join us” in the top right corner of any section, I was surprised by what came on the screen. A nice interactive design showed up, that allowed me to become a member. I could write my name in an actual certificate. There are nine different certificate templates I can chose from and place on any number of websites if I wanted to. I could find my network on an actual map. I could list my skills based on types of technology. I found this small section of the website to be the most inviting and enriching. Each image tied in with the specific section it was explaining.

Another tiny little tool I found to enhance the website: you can click that little tree in the top left corner any time to return to the home page. The tree represented a home. To me, this is a metaphor in itself. Trees grow tall, humans grow tall. I’m a big fan of this tree, especially as I assume it’s the logo image of the company. The tree appears as a big, white oak tree. Instead of buds on the ends however, are pieces of paper. I think this logo could be incorporated much more into the design, as it’s a metaphor that speaks for the company itself.

Categories: #IAMondays, Alphabetic Text Analysis, class activities, images, mapping, pictorial images, technology, tufte | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Constructing Text: Textbooks can be interesting?

StudentTextbook

No matter who you are, the word “textbook” brings to mind images of lengthy passages, torturous studying, and droll information. So why haven’t publishers tried to give textbooks a better rep? The truth is, not all textbooks are the same, just like not all books are the same. In our culture, time is of the essence. There have been studies done on our shortening attention spans, so it would seem that publishers and authors need to consider new ways to keep students and casual readers reading.

Recently our class looked at The Story of Writing by Andrew Robinson, which discusses in great detail how writing has evolved over time, and how different cultures and languages use writing in different ways. The material is heavy. At times, it can drag on. But what makes this textbook readable are the design details Robinson and his publishers use to create mental breaks.

First, there are over 200 pictures. The pictures are placed alongside text largely as an aid in explaining the detail of writing as it evolved over time. The pictures are a necessity because many of the forms of writing Robinson mentions are unknown to common readers, so the pictures help illustrate his points and foster a better understanding. But the pictures do more than just that. The pictures create a break from the heavy text. They allow readers to engage in more than one way, and give audiences’ brains a chance to catch up with what is being said. This is a wonderful tactic to help enrich a textbook and improve understanding. Unlike other textbooks, this is accessible to more people because it employs different modes of communication. While the alphabetic text is still the most dominant, the pictures also pull their weight.

Page breaks, sub-headers, chapters, and sections also provide readers with a chance to recollect thoughts and make meaning. The text is broken into smaller and smaller chunks to allow for a seamless collection of ideas to flow. There are a lot of sub-headers, which help focus readers on different time periods and writings as Robinson moves through history. Each new topic begins on its own page and tends to stick to around 1-2 pages in length. This stops readers from being bogged down with too much information. Likewise, the chapters help organize ideas into an even broader area, and the sections help move readers through history. The above techniques are all successful ways to organize ideas and information, especially thousands of years of history, into readable chunks.

These design choices are not an accident of the author or the publisher–they were made to allow for better readability. By creating a more functional page layout, they were able to design a textbook that didn’t really read like a traditional textbook. The choices reflect the intent of the author. The design develops a deeper understanding and is intuitive, providing answers and examples just when the text becomes too overwhelming.

After reading through this book, I feel as though I have a better grasp of how design can improve audience interaction with a given text. I think the decisions people make in writing and publishing are often overlooked, so breaking down the different elements are a helpful way to understand how different strategies work to afford more accessibility. I am interested in digging deeper into the choices from an authorial perspective because I hope to become a successful writer one day, and I think having an understanding of the best ways to inform readers will be truly valuable to my writing. The choices made by writers are definitely something to keep in mind as our society progresses further into the technological era. If our attention spans continue to shrink, I am not sure what we writers will do! Hopefully as we continue to learn more about the ways information and writing are structured, we will be able to answer that question!

Categories: Alphabetic Text Analysis | Tags: , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

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