DH – 804 – Perspectives on New Media

This collection of readings grappled with making sense of the changes brought on by emerging digital technologies, tools and approaches. The works included in this grouping, though clearly written for different audiences, with different questions, and highlighting different concerns, provide a look at how ‘the digital turn’ may be shaping the way in which we think, read and access information.

I’m consistently assessing these readings in the context of my dissertation topic – thinking not only about the arguments they pose in relation to one another, but also how these arguments will shape the direction of my own project. Looking across the texts there are several main subjects and themes that are useful to consider. I paid particular attention to hypertext, scale, linearity (and nonlinearity), authorship, and participation.

These areas, consistently linked to digital work, are also useful in forming/building/answering my own questions.

The subject of participation is particularly meaningful for my work. One of the draws of digital work is the presentation of historical work that is both accessible and appropriate for members of the American deaf community. I anticipate that the use of video/visualizations (primarily for the purpose of communicating content in American Sign Language) may be disruptive to the dissertation in a conventional sense. It is in this sense that I read Katherine Hayle’s argument in How We Think, “The Age of Print is passing, and the assumptions, presuppositions, and practices associated with it are becoming visible as media-specific practices rather than the largely invisible status quo.” (pg 2)  Print traditions that draw a distinctive line between the oral traditions used within communities (like the American deaf community) and written text can take new digital forms.

Further, as Hayles indicates, the assumptions about how information can/should be shared are becoming revealed. In addition to defending a dissertation that may or may not be linear, uses a database and draws a large dataset- I anticipate having to discuss the rationality behind using digital media to convey historical information to a bilingual audience. The assumption that academic research should take a written form is not a new one. However, digital technologies offer a new challenge and new solutions. (The creation of a diglossic, blended presentation that utilizes both ASL and written English, for instance.)

There is some indication that choosing digital tools and presentations is participatory in another sense. Gee states “Digital media – themselves tools for meaning making, like writing – do not lend themselves strongly to a purely mental view in the way that reading and writing do… there is something more apparently social and institutional about digital media.” (pg 8). Gee’s work emphasizes the nature of learning in the context of digital media. Here, he argues that while writing also serves to “make meaning”, there’s something different about how digital media produces learning.

In Hyper/Text/Theory, Ess gets at a similar topic. He argues for the democratizing nature of hypertext believing that it “would facilitate discourse among a diversity of grass-roots communities that might agree, by way of the same form of discourse, upon different norms, and thereby preserve individual and cultural differences.” (251) Though the success of hypertext in creating a diversity of discourse is critiqued in more recent scholarship, I’d like to consider both Gee’s and Ess’ arguments. In what ways is digital work more or less “social”? Does that make it any less scholarly? Looking at contemporary practices, Web 2.0 is definitely built on the idea of participation. But I think Gee and Ess are speaking more broadly to the subject of linear/nonlinear narratives.

The audience participates in navigating the information provided. Though authorship is reserved for the creator of the site, users are given freedom to experiment and choose the way in which they move through the data. As we discussed in our meeting (and as is argued by Liu) the idea of a linear tradition is critiqued. Regardless, the form of my dissertation will likely include a participatory element but the shape of this requires a better idea of the scope of my project. I’d like users to access and/or manipulate data, I’d like to make arguments that support data, but I’d also like visitors to draw conclusions as well.

Thinking about the audience further even more questions jump to mind: What is a deaf digital discourse? What form would it take and how might that differ from conventional digital discourse? Given my research – there has been very little work done to answer these questions.

Deaf community members have embraced digital technologies, particularly those of video conferencing, recording and presentation. (Reinforcing Gee’s point that “digital tools have allowed ‘everyday people’ to produce and not just consume media” producing a “participatory culture” (pg 12)) But I’ve no real sense of how these technologies may or may not be included in my digital work.

In general, I’ve a vague sense of what the final project will look like – readings are often raising more questions than they are answering – but that’s the point.

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