In 1990, Neil Postman wrote: “Nothing could be more misleading than the idea that computer technology introduced the age of information. The printing press began that age, and we have not been free of it since. But what started out as a liberating stream has turned into a deluge of chaos.” A “deluge of chaos”—and it hasn’t gotten any better what with millions of tweets, Instagrams, blog posts, Flickr images, Facebook posts, and so on uploaded per day. Check out this infographic of content upload every minute published by Domo in 2014:
How do we make sense of all this stuff and what technologies can help us filter through it all so things that are interesting to us find us (rather than us finding them).
In this course, and for our semester-long project, we’ll be attempting to do just that through the creation of a kind of digital ecology—an ecology that extends from desktop to laptop to mobile device to those oh so quaint technologies, paper, pen, and pencil—that will afford us the opportunity to find, filter, curate, and compose content relating to our topic. Our digital ecologies will be comprised of (at least) the below interrelated, symbiotic spaces (in general order we’ll be learning them, though that can change). Now, there are a lot of names here and most will probably be unfamiliar for most students. That’s a good thing. It means that there is much to learn about writing, reading, and archiving is the age of social media. And, that there is much to learn about what it means to be digitally literate.
We’ll be learning each of these over time, with each introduced during Friday workshops.
- a professional account on Twitter (Twitter assignment; Twitter workshop)
- a web site using WordPress (WordPress assignment; WordPress workshop)
- an interest news service, Zite or Prismatic (Zite assignment; Zite workshop)
- a “read it later” service, Pocket (Pocket assignment; Pocket workshop)
- an RSS reader, Feedly (Feedly assignment; Feedly workshop)
- a curating site, Storify (Storify assignment; Storify workshop)
- a social bookmarking site, Diigo (Diigo assignment; Diigo workshop)
- a filtering site, IFTTT (IFTTT assignment; IFTTT workshop)
ONE. Choose A Topic & Identify a Public
First, you will choose a topic that interests you and about which you would like to read
and write in some depth this semester. Potential topics might range from urban farming
to a AAA baseball team to Game of Thrones to stand-up comics in Philly. While
you are free to choose any topic (with Bill’s approval), you should keep three things in mind:
- The topic should be specific enough to offer focus in the project and to draw interest from an audience. So television might be too broad. Zombie television shows would be a better choice. The universe of The Walking Dead is much more narrow–and, with the right approach, could allow you to reach a specific and interested audience.
- You should be able to identify a specific public for your project (go back and see Rheingold’s distinction between publics and audiences). Amateur runners in Philadelphia. Home theater audio connoisseurs. Budget-minded chefs who live in studio apartments. People who read Margaret Atwood and Oliver Saks. Your audience will extend beyond this interest community, but it is important that you begin with this specific audience in mind.
- You should nerd it up. You will be participating in an “interest-driven community,” as described by Rheingold, so let your interest drive the work. Choose a topic in which you are interested and then use WordPress, Twitter, and the other apps, to find and build community through that interest. The most successful projects are ones where students are passionate about their topic, the least successful are the ones where students are not.
One way to find a topic is to ask yourself: “what would I rather be doing right now?” The answer could very well be your topic. In other words, don’t limit yourself to so-called academic projects. Enough has been written about legalizing marijuana. Everything (within reason) is game for this assignment. Choose that think you love doing and love learning more about and go with it.
TWO. Find the Conversation
Next, you should determine who is talking about your topic and what they are saying. Before writing your first post, you should find at least ten sites that relate to your topic and make a list (early in the class we will discuss content filters and RSS readers which will help you manage this). You should check these several times each week, watching for current news or popular items related to your topic. When you see an interesting item or something about which you want to write, save it. You will, in short time, have a sizable personal archive of material from which to draw.
Throughout the semester we will build on your list of resources, using the software and apps listed above. These resources will require digital management and crap-detection skills, but they will also make your writing tasks much easier. You aren’t writing in isolation; you are contributing to an existing and ongoing discussion.
THREE. Write a Research Proposal
I’d like you to compose a 750 word research proposal in which you address each of the points raised in steps ONE and TWO above. That is, discuss:
- the topic, how it is specific, and why it interests you
- who the public will be for the topic
- who is writing about this topic in ways that are respected by the community; list 5 such writers (or web sites) and summarize what each is doing that is unique for the community
Then, I’d like you to consider how your discussions will be different. That is, what will distinguish your writing from those that are already writing?
Due date: Wednesday, 9/9 by class time. Bring a digital copy with you to class (or email it to yourself). You will be posting it to WordPress in class.