Posts Tagged With: writing

Perspectives On Ergodic Literature Within The Field Of Writing

As I wrote in my prior reflection about the creation of Topaz Galaxies, generative poetry is a completely different form of composition and experience than that of traditional, print-based literature—even nonlinear, print-based literature at that. Ergodic literature is distinctive in both its composition process and the reading, or interaction with it. Espen Aarseth, author of Cybertext: Perspectives on Ergodic Literature defines ‘cybertext’ as, “the wide range of (or perspective) of possible textualities seen as a typology of machines, as various kinds of literary communication systems where the functional differences among the mechanical parts play a defining role in determining the aesthetic process” (p. 13).

This said, when approaching eLit, or cybertext, or ergodic literature, we must first recognize our expectations and biases that are subconsciously carried over from prior experience with print-based literature. For example, one expectation could be that the narrative must “make sense” in terms of its use, placement, or arrangement of channels of language (i.e., words, phrases, numbers, punctuation, etc.) Typically, we  approach a piece of writing thinking we are supposed to ‘get something out of it’, and the ‘thing’ we are supposed to get out of it  has been (mostly) pre-determined and pre-designed for us. (Just think of novels, newspaper articles and poetry. Most, on some level, operate within the framework of information transmission; and in line with this structural dynamic, the human act of  ‘reading’ is simply the exchange we make to get the message that the text contains.

Now, the metaphor for ergodic literature is more like what occurs in a dream-state: we are constructing meaning as we interact within the dream and simultaneously we are also constructing the dream itself. Using generative poetry for example, the meaning is created by the complex process of interacting with the text on multiple levels. Aarseth writes, “There is a short circuit between the signifier and the signified, a suspension of difference that projects an objective level beyond the text, a primary metaphysical structure that generates both textual sign and our understanding of it, rather than the other way around” (p. 3).  Looking closer at the transmission/translation process, which occurs inside the mind of the user and stems from the combination of physical, sensory experience and the technical nature of the medium: “During the cybertextual process, the user will have effectuated a semiotic sequence, and this selective movement is a work of physical construction that the various concepts of “reading” do not account for. This phenomenon I call ergodic using a term appropriated from physics that derives from the Greek words ergon and hodos, meaning “work” and “path” (p. 2-3). And, it is from this perspective that Aarseth introduces the concept of “nontrivial effort” (p. 2) on the part of the reader, which is decidedly different than what a person engages in when they read a book or a magazine—and, I would argue, even literature that is consumed in a digital space but constructed in a structure lent from a static, print-based ideas.

Now, examining the production and consumption of texts, and thus of literature, within the context of digital spaces, we must ask the question: can ergodic compositions and other forms of cybertext truly be considered literature?

If we examine the outworkings of culture, we see the creation and evolution of phenomena like the genre, for example.  Just as art imitates life, genres are birthed as offspring of a particular era, and they reflect the experience and values of the people. My point being: we can’t simply dismiss forms of expression because they don’t neatly fit within the construct of canonized works. When we relegate forms of composition to a place illegitimacy, it is often because we have approached them with misplaced expectations that (usually unintentionally) carry over from previous interactions, whose mental paradigms are rooted in constructs that are alien to the work at hand. But alas, culture evolves. And so do ways of communicating and interacting.

Franco Moretti, in his book Graphs, Maps, Trees, (2005) discusses abstract models for literary history; he argues, (quoting Mentre), “The aesthetic sphere [and thus, I would argue, the arts] is perhaps the most appropriate to reflect overall changes of mental climate” (p. 21). Further, regarding cultural evolution, Moretti argues that a ”generation style” depends entirely on “the trigger action of the social and cultural process” (p. 21).  Nelson, in Computer lib/Dream machines argues that the computer is a “projective system” and writes, “The things people try to do with movies, TV, and the more glamorous uses of the computer, whereby it makes pictures on the screens—are strange foldovers of the rest of the mind and heart. That’s the peculiar origami of the self” (p. 305).  In our emergent culture, we can conclude that technology, and thus electronic literature (eLit), are manifestations of society. Therefore, when we examine digital works, it should be with the intent of discovering changes in our social topographic landscape. As Aarseth argues, “If these texts redefine literature by expanding our notion of it . . . then they must also redefine what is literary, and therefore they cannot be measured by an old, unmodified aesthetics” (p. 13).

In sum, these new kinds of literature are already literature simply because they are external manifestations of a present cultural current; and that current is active and alive, evolving and growing—whether we want to acknowledge it as being legitimate or not in the canonized sense. If we can appreciate electronic literature by placing ourselves within its ecology, we can then perhaps begin to awaken our faculties to expressions that were already present within us, but were never given voice to because the external apparatus (conduit) wasn’t yet realized.  But now, we have a whole new playing field.

Sources

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. [pdf]

Moretti, F. (2007). Graphs, Maps, Trees. London, New York: Verso.

Nelson (1974, 1981). Computer lib / Dream machines. In N. Wardrip-Fruin (Ed), The new media reader (pp. 303 – 338). Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press. [pdf]

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Categories: elit, ergodic literature, information architecture | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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

Jason’s Generative Poem

1. My generative poem was about the themes and emotions of my work-in-progress novel, “Manifestation.” The novel is very emotional and involves a lot of tragedy, pain, and death. My goal was to see how those themes translated into this new format.

 

I chose names of some of the novel’s characters, cities, and other important places. I also chose descriptive words that I hoped would reflect the novel’s themes, including some words I found were among the most commonly used when I did a word search of the novel. By choosing from among the most commonly used words and phrases, I hope that the poem accurately reflects which themes and emotions are the most commonly seen throughout the story.

 

Some of the randomly generated lines reflect the dark nature of the theme:

 

Energy screams

believe in the broken

run from the bleeding

Belief whispers

mourn the bleeding

A dream kills.

Belief searches for help.

 

Others, however, tended to come out a bit more mundane. I think part of the issue there was the lack of control over the order the words went in. If I had a greater understanding of the code (beyond making the minor tweaks I added in), I’d likely change the generator to give me a wider variety of sentence structures. For example, the poem only seems to generate three types of lines:

 

“Subject verbs noun,” “Subject verbs,” and “verb the adjective adjective noun.”

 

By contrast, the opening of another poem I wrote in the past had a more varied structure:

 

“I saw my own shadow today
We sat under a tree
She didn’t have that much to say
Yet still she sat by me”

 

I (Subject ) saw (verbed) my own shadow (my own noun) today (at certain time)
We (Subject) sat under (verbed) a tree (a noun)
She (Subject) didn’t have(didn’t verb)  that much (adverb) to say (verb)
Yet (Adverb) still (adjective) she (subject) sat (verbed)  by me (by noun)

 

While some of these structures could be done in the current generative poem with a little tweaking, the code wouldn’t work so well for some of them. For example, the line “She didn’t have that much to say” wouldn’t fit well in the current code structure. If I added “She” in the “above” subject field, “didn’t have” in one of the verb fields, and “that much to say” in the “below” field, I could get the sentence shown above. But when considering my other words in the poem, I could also end up with sentences like “Gabby runs that much to say,” or “Tock didn’t have the school.” Those don’t make much sense to me and I don’t feel they would fit well. Similarly, I don’t think a phrase like “Yet still” would fit well in the code structure.

 

Without the skill needed to alter the coding itself, I ended up feeling stuck with only the ability to choose words and phrases, not the order they came in.

 

2. I don’t exactly feel like the generative poem can qualify as “literature,” even based on the ideas of “cybertext” and “ergodic literature” discussed by Espen Aarseth in Cybertext: Perspectives on Ergodic Literature. In the beginning chapter, “Introduction: Ergodic literature,” Aarseth defines “cybertext” as a concept which “focuses on the mechanical organization of the text” (p. 1). A generative poem clearly qualifies, since the code that runs the poem is directly responsible for the way the text is organized on the screen. The coding itself is at least as important as, if not more important than, the choice of words used in such a poem. Without the code, the poem would have no structure, and would simply be a meaningless jumble of random words piled together. The form the code creates, even though it is randomized, is what ensures that the poem can be read and understood.

 

However, I don’t feel that “understandable” randomly generated lines are necessarily literary in nature. Instead, I view them as more artistic. Dictionary.com defines “art” as “the quality, production, expression, or realm, according to aesthetic principles, of what is beautiful, appealing, or of more than ordinary significance. “ A poem, even when randomly generated, can definitely have aesthetic appeal. When reading my randomly generated poem, I definitely see lines that generate emotions and reaction, and the unique combinations are definitely of “more than ordinary significance.” There is also a certain amount of skill involved in the aesthetic process of choosing words and phrases that will blend well together. A poorly chosen word bank will generate a poem without any appeal and which doesn’t provoke any emotions in the reader. Choosing words skillfully, on the other hand, can result in combinations that touch the reader and spark their curiosity and imagination.

 

Artistic and aesthetic appeal, however, aren’t necessarily literary in nature. It all depends on how the resulting work is interpreted. In the article “What does it mean to ‘interpret’ code?”, the author defines “interpretation” as “the systematic exploration of semiotic objects in order to explore culture and systems of meaning.” The article discusses examples such as the Coca Cola logo, based on signification. According to the article, a cultural studies scholar “does not ask what the Coca Cola Corporation intended by choosing red for the color of its cans and logo or what meaning it hi[d] in the signature-style of the words on the can. Instead, she performs a semiotic analysis on the possible meanings conveyed by those details (the color red, the cursive script) of the can in the contexts of the many surrounding sign systems and discusses what the can and, by extension the company, have come to signify” (p. 7). An example like this shows that an alphabetic text (such as a company logo) can be analyzed not merely by the importance of the words themselves, but instead based on stylistic details and metaphor.

 

Based on such an idea, I would examine a generative poem based on semiotic analysis of the code structure (such as what types of sentences it can generate), the on-screen display (font type and color, background, etc), and on the words in the word banks as individual objects. This is different from the way I would analyze a line in a traditional poem, where I would consider the meaning the author was trying to convey with the structure, word choice, rhythm and meter, and so on.

 

To show the difference in the way I would analyze a generative poem versus a traditional poem, I can examine a line from each type of poem that I have written (from the perspective of an outside reader). For example, when I wrote, “I saw my own shadow today,” I might analyze what the shadow signifies, such as whether it represents some dark secret of the writer’s past, and what “seeing” the shadow might mean with regards to the emotions evoked when being faced with those dark secrets.

 

When analyzing one of my lines from the generative poem, I would focus on different things. When looking at the line “believe in the broken,” I would read the line by understanding that the author separately chose the phrase “believe in” and the word “broken” without necessarily intending they would appear side by side. Therefore, I wouldn’t analyze what it means to believe in “the broken” specifically. I would instead consider the emotional impact of having words related to belief in a poem alongside negative words, such as “broken” and also “screams,” “bleeding,” and “kills.” This would give me a feeling that the author was trying to convey pain, sadness, and troubles, but perhaps with a feeling of hope remaining within.

 

The key difference here is between specific meaning (facing the emotions provoked by dark secrets of one’s past) and aesthetic emotional response (considering the concepts of pain and hope together). In my opinion, the former tells a story, while the latter does not. Both can generate emotion and provoke a response in the reader, as can any form of “art.” I feel that the lack of a “story” is what separates a literary poem from an artistic one.

 

It’s very possible that a more advanced work of coding could create a generative poem that I would feel told a story. For example, in Joyce’s (1987) “afternoon: a story” the individual pages remain static; it is only the order in which they are read which changes. This allows the author to express specific events, even though the order of events might change on subsequent readings. The difference is in the degree of control the author retains. More control is needed to tell a story of any coherence; less control shifts a work away from literary meaning and towards purely aesthetic, artistic appeal.

Categories: elit | Tags: , , , | 2 Comments

Linear or Non: Which is Better?

One of our readings last week was Afternoon: A Story, by Michael Joyce. While this was in some ways a very unusual and innovative story, I don’t know if I could say it had any advantages over a more traditional storytelling method.

In a traditional story, it’s generally expected that the reader will follow a linear path, page by page, from beginning to end. This might seem limited by modern standards in the digital age, but I think there are many advantages to it. In a traditional linear story, the tale is being told in a coherent, straightforward way. There is a beginning, a sequence of events, and an ending; the same ending every time. This means that the reader, if they ever read the story again, knows what to expect. It also means that two people can both read the story and discuss it, knowing they’ve both read the same story.

“Afternoon,” on the other hand, is different every time you read it. I’ve read sections of it four separate times now, and each time I’ve had a different experience. There doesn’t seem to be anything predictable about it.

Does this nonlinearity make it better, or worse?

I can see some entertainment advantages to a nonlinear story. When I was a kid, I frequently enjoyed Choose Your Own Adventure stories, which allowed you to take the same story down a different path each time you read it. A reader is more likely to re-read such a story, knowing they can enjoy a different experience each time. Other similar nonlinear media includes certain video games, and DVDs where the movie has multiple endings.

These nonlinear stories have just as much disadvantage, however. Sometimes, a reader might WANT to experience the same story again. The more complex the divergent paths in a story become, the less likely it is that the reader can ever experience the same story again.

This would become even more pronounced in a code poem that utilized a randomizer. In that case, odds are the reader will NEVER experience the same story again.

I think one of the big differences here is the difference between storytelling and entertainment. Both qualify as “art,” but one is vastly different from the other. I don’t think “Afternoon” qualifies as a “story” in the way one is traditionally defined. It doesn’t have a clear plot or ending. While it is still entertaining, and still artistic, it doesn’t have the same effect on the reader. Is it even possible to say what it is “about”? I have a hard time, after multiple divergent readings, really understanding what was going on in the story. Many of the individual “pages” seemed so disconnected from each other that it was hard to follow what was happening from one to the next. It seems like this is the price to pay for a more “artistic” piece; it becomes more unusual and unique, but at the same time harder to really understand.

In a way I’d compare that to the ideas of abstract art. A piece of art with no defined form can be interpreted differently by each person who views it. A more defined piece of art, however, simply is what is is (setting aside deeper analysis of symbolism and metaphor within a work).

I don’t know if it’s fair to say either a linear or nonlinear story is “better” or “worse.” However, it definitely has disadvantages that make it more complex and harder to understand.

Categories: information architecture | Tags: , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

#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

An Infographic on the Importantance of Breakfast!

infographicfinalforreal

 

Reflection 1

I originally started out wanting to create an infographic on waffles, but I ran into a dilemma: what is there really to say about waffles? This is when I realized that there is so much to be said about breakfast. In this infographic, I wanted to build awareness that breakfast is essential for a healthy life and I also wanted to try and encourage those who don’t eat breakfast, to eat breakfast.  Furthermore, towards the end, I wanted to stress that it’s not just eating breakfast that is important, but what you eat for breakfast.

I start my infographic out with a timeline, which I feel slowly invites people in, especially when they see the “Eggo shortage” point.  After I get my audience’s attention, I share the statistics of the percentage of people who skip breakfast by age groups. These statistics are then followed by what percentages of those skippers are obese. I believe that these statistics alone will shock and draw attention to the changes that need to be made.  Towards the end, I have “building blocks” about nutrition, followed by lists of ways to create, and help any individual stick to a healthy breakfast.  I think these all flow together to help support my goals in educating the world about a healthy breakfast.

I think if I had to write a paper on this topic instead, it wouldn’t be as inviting or as easy to understand. I wanted to show statistics, but not in a way that was boring or repetitive.  However, this assignment did pose some challenges and issues. First, Piktochart separated everything into blocks which allowed for a lot of issues to occur when attempting to move things around. Second, it offered a limited amount of icons that didn’t really apply to my topic. For instance, after we spent a whole class deciding that a coffee cup would suffice for my chart, I had come home and I did not have the coffee cup available any more on my screen (for reasons unknown).  In my other chart, I had different color circles represent the amount of favorite breakfast foods, yet Piktochart made the key displayed as boxes. While I was able to cover these boxes with my own circles, this was a lot of unnecessary work that could’ve been avoided if Piktochart created a better presentation.

In the end, I think this might’ve been easier if I was a designer with some experience on how to put things together in a way that creates a good flow. However, as an experienced writer, I think I was able to create a good piece of writing. A piece of writing is about good content and the presentation of it, not just one or the other.

Reflection 2

Before I even started putting things on my infographic, I realized that Piktochart was already separated into blocks, which made it easy for me to think about it in terms of grids. As Lupton writes, grids “break space or time into regular units,” (p. 151).   On each block, I tried to figure out how I could create grids. For example, the title and explanation (at the top of my infographic) is broken into two grids, while the one that follows (the timeline) is displayed in one grid. I tried to alternate grids to create a better flow, but it also depended on the type of information I planned on displaying.

The information I used in my infographic varies on how it needed to be displayed. The timeline is a great example; it needed to be displayed in a whole block to show the distance of time from year to year. Furthermore, it was shown across the page, because according to Tufte “reading across describes sequence of movements,” showing the movement of time from left to right (p. 33).  I originally had my timeline going downwards, showing movement from an older year to a newer year, but I decided to change it as it didn’t match our metaphor of time. As humans, we often view time as across the horizon, moving towards one year and away from the other.

In the next grid, I display two statistics, which were crafted around both Tufte and Lupton’s theories on information design. Lupton writes that “design and text gently collaborate to enhance understanding,” (p. 7).  I put the percentage in a circle and had it displayed larger than the text it collaborated with in hopes that it would draw more attention to itself, and I believe this technique worked. The number and the text are not directly together; instead the text lies parallel to the number, but in a way that is not directly connected. As Tufte argued, most graphics that have nouns are connected by arrows or links, because “the evidence in variation in connections is stronger than evidence for sameness,” (p. 79). From this, I was able to pick out an arrow/link to connect the two together that provided a strong connection without distracting my audience. When I first came to these two statistics, I wasn’t sure how to display them. Originally, I had just thought that by writing it out as “22% are obese”, it would come off as boring and ineffective. I had remembered how I once read statistics in a magazine that was similar to the way I presented it, and then I recalled the theories presented by Lupton and Tufte, which were right on point. Tufte claims that there should be “no distinction among words and images” (p. 49), and I think by using arrows and links, there is no distinction between the two, at least in this case.

Next to this grid, I show more statistics; the percentage of people who skip breakfast, varying from male and female and from age group. This was originally displayed in a bar graph, which was what Tufte defined as chart junk. It was chart junk because it took information and made it into a bunch of junk that really had no effect on my audience. As Tufte argued, mapped pictures should “combine representational images with scales, diagrams, overlays, numbers, words, and images,” (p. 13).  In this grid, I attempted to do just that. I used the icon of a plate and utensils to display a certain percentage of people. This is what Tufte refers to as a sparkline, or a “data intense, design simple, and word sized graphic,” (p. 47). By displaying this information in this way, instead of the original bar graph way, it provides a greater level of understanding.

Understanding is the main goal of any piece of writing, so it’s important to involve metaphors in the way information is presented, as that’s how humans relate to things. In the next section, I used a squiggly boarder to make the grid appear as a chalkboard. Inside of the “chalkboard” I put blocks, and labeled them as “the building blocks of breakfast”.  I thought that this was a dead giveaway to the metaphor of building up your life to a great one. Furthermore, I really wanted to incorporate movement arrows in among these blocks, to show the relationships of the blocks. Tufte argues that “important comparisons among images should be pointed out by arrows, labels, and other methods of directing attention,” (p. 45). I added the circular arrows and other arrows to draw attention to the importance of each, but also to show the relationship among them.

In regards to relationships among the design, the text relationship to the design further enhances understanding. Although I was limited to the types of fonts available, I made sure each font correlated to the words. As Lupton writes, the goal is “to find an appropriate match between style of letters and the specific social situation and body of content that define the project at hand,” (p. 32). In other words, I viewed each portion of text as a human. Lupton claims that “words originated as gestures of the body” (p. 13) and that they give “language a physical body” (p. 13). I selected certain fonts depending on how they appeared, much like how we judge humans on how they appear. Furthermore, Lupton argues that the contrast between big and small type “creates drama and surprise,” (p. 45), so I attempted to use this technique to my advantage at certain points in my infographic. Overall, I think it’s safe to say that without Lupton and Tufte’s information design techniques, I may not have created a beautiful infographic that enhanced understanding on healthy breakfasts.

Resources:

Lupton, E. (2010). Type (2nd Expanded ed.). New York, NY: Princeton Architectural Press.

Tufte, E. (2006). Beautiful evidence (3rd ed.). Cheshire, CT: Author.

Categories: #IAMondays, class activities, diagrams, evidence, images, infographic, information architecture, mapping, pictorial images, technology, tufte | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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

Embodied Connections: Meaning-Making in a Multimodal Discourse

This past week in our graduate course on Information Architecture with Professor Bill Wolff, we’ve explored techniques and design philosophies centered on information display. Our discussion was informed by selected readings from Edward Tufte’s  Beautiful Evidence, as well as interactive and PDF versions of  Fighting to Live as the Towers Died, by the New York Times. A specific area of focus was the concept of  ‘mapping,’ within the context of  multimodal composition. (As a preface, it is important to make the distinction that, for purposes of discussion, our definition of mapping is not limited to ‘maps’ in the conventional sense of cartographic renderings–although, it could certainly include the use of them.)

According to Tufte, mapped pictures are representational images that combine scales, diagrams, overlays, numbers, words, and images (13).

Multimodal-mapping presents the audience with several different kinds of information, via a single, visual plane–through a process of layering. Each ‘layer’ serves to signify a different kind of knowledge. For writers, mapping affords a visual dissemination of  interconnected webs of knowledge and causal relationships. In terms of information architecture and as a form of composition, multimodal-mapping frames and contextualizes specific intersections within a greater body of knowledge.

If we reflect on the discipline of communication, as writers, at the heart of our craft is effective communication with our audience. What this means in terms of execution–is that in our ‘writing,’ the intended message should come across in a way that is consistent with precisely what we mean to say. In other words, it is paramount that our composition–and therefore our message–not transmit in a convoluted or disjointed way.

So, you may ask, how does multimodality come into play, and why is ‘mapping’–or incorporating other elements besides plain text–important?

As our author asserts, at times, it is necessary to include multiple sources and levels of data (78) in order to illustrate connections and relationships, as well as make different kinds of comparisons; the use of additional kinds of information assist to better explain what we mean to say. For example, the strategic arrangement of annotative and  typographic elements–lines and arrows–as well as colors, images, and text, all function together to transmit a message that is dynamic, visually engaging and robust. Important to note, is that these elements also function to provide context and directional navigation to the page–therefore, enabling the reader to clearly ‘decode,’ or ‘read’ the message.

Another facet of multimodal-mapping is that it offers the capability to take extremely complex, high-density information–such as that of cartography, brain research, molecular biology, physics and other high-resolution fields–and re-present it in a way that the linear data becomes embodied into a single, compact, visual representation. Tufte refers to this type of visual information as sparklines or data-words (58). This definition lends itself to that of semiotic metaphor. Another way to imagine sparklines or data-words, is to think of a ‘constellation of information’–or individual, interconnected pieces of knowledge that come together, making up a whole. An example of  a sparkline is the double helix of DNA encoding (13) or Tufte’s representation of all 65 of Galileo’s published observations of Jupiter and its satellites. (Pertaining to Tufte’s re-design of Galileo’s work, we note that when the original, ‘intervening’ text was omitted, a new architecture of information presented itself, resulting in the visual evidence becoming adjacent, sequential, linked, moving (108)–a continuity became present that was not there before.)

To further extrapolate on this concept, imagine an illustration of an adult, human skeleton. Now, in order for the message to be clearly understood, specificity is essential–what is needed is clear direction, scope, and scale. With a nod to the author, presenting ‘everything’ results in contextualizing nothing (31)–it conveys a message that is abstruse. So, we don’t want to focus on the ‘whole skeleton’ per say–instead, what we want to focus on is one area. Say, it’s the left leg–and even more specifically, the tibia. According to Tufte’s definition of beautiful evidence, every image presented must reside within the universal measurement grid (45). So, connecting back to the example I discussed above, what we are concerned with, is the portrayal of relationships within a given body of knowledge–showing things in context with one another provides for a local and precise way of understanding.

Tufte also discusses explanatory mappings and the practice of exploratory image analysis. Explanatory mappings appear in scientific research, newspapers, textbooks, technical manuals, legal proceedings, engineering reports and medical research (45). However, they are not constrained exclusively to these fields of discipline; they also extent into the arts and humanities and many times are interdisciplinary, because they represent complex information.

Below is image is from a journal article in Current Opinion in Neurobiology; an example of an explanatory mapping.

Networks for segregation in the human brain.

Below, this image  is a representative time-space map of the USA belonging to an article titled, The shrivelled USA: representing time–space in the context of metropolitanization and the development of high-speed transport from The Journal of Transport Geography.

During a discussion centered on one of the interactive mappings in Fighting to Live, one of my classmates commented, I don’t know when I’m supposed to stop and when I’m supposed to look at the images.

Regarding the page’s architecture of information, my classmate’s comment was reflective of bad design in terms of the page’s directional signifiers. In sum, just as a freeway has road signs and indicators of when to stop and when to go, when to turn here and exit there, multimodal mappings are beautiful evidence of what they represent only when elements therein properly signify or ‘point to’ what they were intended to, and result in a clear transmission of the message.

Categories: evidence, mapping, tufte | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Mapped Images Provide Understanding

As Edward Tufte argues in Beautiful Evidence, mapped pictures combine “representational images with scales, diagrams, overlays, numbers, words, and images,” (p.13). Mapped pictures are very complex as they have multiple incorporations. It’s for this reason that mapped pictures are much better than just plain pictorial images. For instance, in “Fighting to Live as the Towers Died,” there are both mapped pictures, as well as simple pictorial pictures. On the very first page, there is a picture of the tower, with no added words, numbers, overlays, scales, or diagrams. While this picture does create a nice effect, adding aesthetic emotion, it doesn’t really advance any further than that. However, if you move to page two, there’s a nice outline of the North Tower that provides scales and words (labels) to help the reader associate with the text in the article. Instead of the article just talking about the different departments of the North Tower, there’s a diagram that further enforces the reality of what the article is saying. Furthermore, Tufte argues that an architectural drawing style that has a measurement scale, plain views, and labels shows that the object was “examined carefully” thus adding credibility to the image (p. 22-23). While the mapped images in the New York Times may not need credibility (as it’s the New York Times), the images do meet all of Lufte’s requirements for credibility.

Mapped images help the audience make a further connection with whatever lesson is at hand. As Tufte acclaims, a pile of “loosely related images” add up to a “coherent multiple viewpoint,” (p. 35). This claim is proven true in “Fighting to Live as the Towers Die,”.  There is a timeline of September 11th, with arrows, pictures, words, and labels. Throughout the article there are pictures that display the faces of those that were lost (also with labels). The usage of many different mapped images adds up to show a coherent viewpoint which help aid in seeing and reading the article.

Tufte seems to think that labels should be used differently depending on the genre and context of an image. For instance, on page 42, Tufte claims that the diagram below the historical picture allows for a greater detail then placing the labels on the actual picture. I personally find this type of mapping confusing and I think it requires too much effort. I can barely figure out which shape represents each person, let alone realize that the dog is not labeled. Do you think it would’ve been better to label each person in the picture (using white labels perhaps)? I understand that this type of mapping allows for more details in the labels, but I question this too. For instance, on the next page, the dogs are labeled by name on the picture. Yes, this type of labeling is simplistic, but what if we wanted to put their breeders or some other information? I think we could also put that on the picture, underneath their names, without much hassle. Furthermore, Tufte acclaims that types of measurement should be placed directly on the photograph and that science should use this way of reporting standards (p.43). While I don’t disagree, I wonder if Tufte would agree to put measurements on the historical picture, if it were deemed necessary.

It’s interesting because, before I read Beautiful Evidence, I thought of mapped images just as the words state; an image of a map. During my reading, I thought that mapped images were strictly used in science and nature books, used to show the scales of animals and such. However, now I understand that it can and should be used virtually anywhere as it strengthens the writing it’s placed with.

All of this information helps us understand and evaluate the architecture of writing. Not only is the definition of writing becoming redefined, but the architecture of writing is also being redefined. A clear example of this is when I first started college. I took Composition 1 and 2, where I strived to write great essays and papers. The criterion for this was simple: write with a purpose, audience, and main idea in mind through clear and concise words. As I advanced my degree, it started to become much different. There were still papers and essays, but writing started to involve technology. I created a mashup video, which was basically similar to a persuasive essay. Yet I did this with only clips of videos. It’s still a form of writing, yet the architecture of it was very different from that of an essay. The involvement of mapped images in our writing will also become much more present as the idea of what writing is evolves.

Categories: class activities, diagrams, evidence, images, mapping, pictorial images, technology, tufte | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

#IAMondays: Symbols as Metaphors

So, Devon posted a rather interesting site with some interactive icons.  While the overall design was very simple, the Simbly website has an interesting interface.  The icons shown on the site can be dragged around, which I found to be a lot of fun.  I even went so far as to record a video of bowling with the icons.

Looking back at this site after discussing and reading about metaphors, I got to thinking about the nature of symbols.  They’re essentially metaphors.

We understand icons and symbols only through other things.  The icons themselves are intangibles; you can see them, but not touch them (unless clicking on them counts as touching them, but if it does, THAT is a metaphor).  We don’t think of them in terms of the code that makes them function, but instead we think of them as objects.  If they’re objects, then it’s arguable that a website is a container, which contains the objects of icons.

Yet icons on a web page can be seen as more than just objects.  They’re perceived as having different functions and meanings.  We understand these meanings through the use of metaphor.  Here’s an example from Symbly:

A ‘battery’ icon from http://www.symb.ly/

When we look at that icon, we see a battery.  Beyond that, we see it as a partially-full battery, indicating that it needs to be recharged.  Yet even beyond that, we understand it as a symbol that represents the state of the physical battery (typically one inside a cell phone), and the icon is communicating that state to us.

All together, what we have here is a symbols that communicates to us the state (full/empty) of a physical object (the battery).

We can only understand that by breaking it down into multiple metaphors.  The icon itself is a representation. It isn’t the battery itself, but instead it tells us something about the state of the battery.  If we consider the OBJECT AS CONTAINER metaphor, the battery would be considered a container, and what it contains is electricity.  We know that, through our sensory perception, we can view a physical object and judge it’s state of fullness.  The battery icon draws on this basic concept by showing MORE white-filled area to represent MORE electricity in the container.

Yet the icon depicted on the Symbly site takes this a step further.  That icon is not actually representing the state of a physical battery; it is an ‘object’ that can be used on any website for a variety of purposes.  The actual use would depend upon the design of the site in question, though that use must almost necessarily be limited to our understanding of the meaning of the icon.  Depending on the context it is placed in, it could represent the state of a battery, the battery itself, the concept of electricity, or a number of other things.  Regardless of the actual placement and usage, the icon would be understood through the metaphors that connect it to the physical objects we think of when we see it.

Furthermore, the icon can represent other things that might not be related to an actual physical battery.  On the Symbly website, the icons are for sale at a certain price (a few are free, the rest come in ‘packs’ priced at £1.99).  Thus, if the icon represents an OBJECT and we can conceive of OBJECTS AS MONEY then therefore the ICON IS MONEY.  That is, the icon has a value related to how much we pay for it.  This is despite the fact that the icon itself has no physical existence; it is nothing more than a series of electronic signals that represent 1’s and o’s of binary code which are in turn translated by a CPU and processed by a video card before being displayed on a computer monitor by flashes of light.  Yet we pay money for it.

Does this mean that binary 1’s and 0’s are ALSO money?

 

Categories: #IAMondays | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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