***Disclaimer*** No Return or Exchange of Unfinished Goods!

Posted in Digital Humanities Quarterly with tags , , , , , on February 6, 2010 by pauloshea

“It’s for Sale, so It Must Be Finished: Digital Projects in the Scholarly Publishing World” by David Sewell poses a how-long-is-a-piece-of-string  type question in relation to a digital work’s finality. Having read this article, I think it is apparent there is no simple or easily obtained answer. However, to complicate the matter even further, the answer is dependent upon how we define the criteria for “done-ness” (Sewell unpaginated). How can we say a digital work is complete, if it cannot be confined to the print publication boundaries of a beginning or ending? How can a digital work ever be considered finished if the cut-off point is unknown, unforeseeable and possibly intangible? Or maybe the finished-unfinished dichotomy is not applicable to certain kinds of texts. Because we can categorise printed works and some digital works into either side of this dichotomy, does it necessarily mean that everything should automatically qualify as done or unfinished?

Sewell claims that one consequence of the aforementioned insurmountable quandary is that it postponed “the entrance of digital scholarship into the traditional system of peer-reviewed academic publication” (Sewell unpaginated). I think this is understandable from the juxtaposition Sewell makes between digital and traditional print publication. When a book or journal is regarded as complete the knee-jerk assumption is that it has gone through the scrutinising process of editing, proof-reading, review and revision.

While on the other hand, the assertion that “a digital project or publication is “done” may be met with suspicion” (Sewell unpaginated).  I think this suspicion and xenophobic reaction is justifiable to a certain degree when we consider digital publication, unlike print publication, is in an unstable or inconstant state. A digital publication can be altered by up-dates and add-ons instantaneously with the touch of a button, while print publication could only achieve this with the drawn-out process of releasing a revised edition.

With that in mind, our conventional definition of a text is now under threat. Landow remarks a text is “no longer a finished corpus of writing” (qtd. in Sewell). If it cannot be considered finished in the same way as the front-and-back concept of print publication, then where can we draw the line? Sewell proposes, from a socioeconomic perspective, that a digital work “is “done” when the Press is prepared to offer it for purchase and customers are prepared to buy it” (Sewell unpaginated).  Of course, this is provided that customers are willing to neglect the returns policy on unfinished goods which would certainly raise eyebrows if it caught on with print publication. If Dan Brown wrote an incomplete novel, I doubt it would go down too well with the critics or even make its way to the shelves of Waterstones for that matter. Our distasteful reaction to an incomplete book, unless it is due to uncontrollable circumstances like the death of the author, originates from the expectation of finitude that goes hand in glove with print publication. However, these expectations or presumptions must not cross contaminate from print into the digital realm. Some digital works simply cannot and more than likely will never obtain the status of completion. Instead they will be perpetually in a state of work-in-progress like Wikipedia, and possibly Byrant’s “fluid-text” edition of Herman Melville’s Typee.

Sewell notes that “a fluid-text edition needs to capture a dynamic process” (unpaginated). Prior to the first edition of Typee, a plethora of alterations were made to the text by Melville himself and his publisher. Byrant’s main objective was to apprehend this textual dynamism and permit the reader to witness the invisible evolution of the authorial composition and editorial contribution to the narrative construction of the text.

Byrant states in his introductory essay “Herman Melville’s Typee: ‘Editing a Fluid Text’”  that “[t]he goal of fluid-text editing is to make such invisible texts visible” (Byrant unpaginated) to the reader. As we are all well aware, literary works usually do not come in a single version, but in “multiple versions”. Byrant labels these multi-versioned texts as “fluid-text[s]” (Byrant unpaginated) because every version of the text portrays “a revision process triggered, in some moment of intentionality, by the individual writer, or through a collaboration of writers and editors, or because of pressures by certain reader groups” (Byrant unpaginated). All these contributing factors have occurred unbeknownst to the reader who is only allowed the privilege of consuming the end product of a text. However, once having read (or viewed in the case of a film) an alternative version of a text, our comprehension of it as “fixed and invariant” (Byrant unpaginated) is transformed to a realisation of its fluidity.

I think the reasons for the availability of alternative versions of a text are just as captivating as the multiple texts themselves. An editor of Herman Meville’s Typee faces the difficulty of interpreting the revisions Meville has made to the text. Although one could argue that editors do not have the authority to alter a text, but the reality is editors may be left with no other option. For example, “Melville writes: “the putrefying relics of some blo  recent sacrifice”  in Typee.  Having read this and contemplated the meaning of ‘blo’, it is fair to say that one would not be committing a mortal sin by suggesting that the word Melville intended was possibly “bloody”. However, if we consider the actual context of the sentence then we soon realise our error of judgement. Byrant notes “that Melville momentarily intended to recast the Typeean sacrifices as human (or at least animal) rather than just vegetal but that he changed his mind in mid-revision” (Byrant unpaginated). This example demonstrates an editor’s responsibility for critically judging the possible interpretations of a text.

Needless to say, it is not just editors who donate to the amendment of a text. Publishers and printers have also been caught with their hand in the cookie jar which further muddies the water. The extent of a publisher’s influence on a text, most memorable to me, is apparent from the Anglo-Irish Gothic novel, Melmoth the Wanderer, by Charles Robert Maturin. The structure of the novel resembles a set of Russian dolls because within each section is a story within another story. However, it has been revealed from written communications between Maturin and his publisher, Archibald Constable, that the publisher was largely responsible for the intricate structure of the novel. The significance of this revelation not only undermines our appreciation of the novel, but it also alters our translation of Maturin’s intentions and our reading of the text. If this evidence was not presented to the reader, the entire process of collaboration between author and publisher would remain invisible to the reader.

However, Byrant’s Typee website overcomes this dilemma by highlighting the invisible alterations of the texts by providing side-by-side manuscript and narrative translations. Byrant proposes that “[e]ditors must invite readers to become editors or to think editorially, as they read, and thus become attuned to the pleasures of the fluid text” (Byrant unpaginated).

Missing pieces?

Furthermore, Sewell refers to Wikipedia in his essay, as an example of an incomplete digital publication because it is a continuous work-in-progress. However, the million dollar question is does a work require a finished status in order to be accepted as qualitative? Maybe we need to examine the dilemma of “done-ness” from an alternative perspective in order to formulate a plausible answer. Perhaps as a society we should abandon our apeirophobia and reconsider our obsessive need for finitude. Maybe we need to shift our focus from quantity to quality which Wikipedia has begun to do. Wikipedia is now looking backward instead of forward in order to clean up the trail of rubbish articles that they left behind when rushing forward to the elusive finish line. This mentality begs the question: why should there be a struggle for completion at the expense of quality especially when Wikipedia has no apparent deadline in the first place?

 Let’s hypothetically suggest that Wikipedia will achieve completion in approximately 100 years’ time. Undoubtedly, by that time a lot will have changed. Technology, society, and even language to name but a few things will have altered so much so that the previously completed articles would have to be rewritten. Thus taking another uncertain number of years to complete and do I need to say anymore? I think that with a case like this it is not only unbefitting but also ludicrous to attempt to situate Wikipedia and “done” in the same sentence. I accept that some may argue that there cannot be that many more articles left to write so therefore Wikipedia must be somewhere near completion. However, this myopic attitude doesn’t take into consideration the effort that is being expended on maintaining the articles that already exist which are under a constant threat of vandalism and scrutiny from cyber-vandals and anti-wikipedians. If we couple that with the time it will take to cover the articles that have not yet been written then they have a long road to travel, but unfortunately once they reach their destination they have to turn back and start all over again. Consequently, the Herculean task Wikipedia has undertaken for the long haul appears to be a Sisyphean struggle which only the future will tell if it was worth the hassle. However, if the advancements since its appearance in 2001 are anything to go by, the future of Wikipedia will be very prosperous indeed even if its status will remain as work-in-progress.


Extra Extra! Read all about it: Internet killed the Newspaper star!

Posted in Presentation with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 1, 2009 by pauloshea

My presentation is on journalism and the web. (Follow the link to see Powerpoint Presentation.) I want to focus specifically on the endangered species of the newspaper and its poacher “new media”. 

Press Baron Rupert Murdoch once described his wealthy income from his newspaper business as “rivers of gold” (The Economist unpaginated). However, in 2005 Murdoch said “sometimes rivers dry up” (The Economist). At present, the newspaper industry is experiencing what Eddie Hobbs would call a cyclical trough; the lowest point in an economic cycle. Paid circulation rates of newspapers have declined. As a result, numerous newspaper companies, particularly in the U.S., have filed for bankruptcy. Although it may appear that this crisis is only due to the economic downturn, competition from internet media is a large casual factor.

When newspapers dominated the media landscape, they were seen as living texts capable of documenting history as it occurred. However, since then the newspaper as a medium has changed very little. Despite its apparent visual differences from its predecessors, the newspaper has failed to maintain pace with a rapidly advancing society. Waiting for the newspaper to arrive to get ones daily gossip fix is a thing of the past. In an age where we can now receive instant up-to-minute updates from the internet, the newspaper has fallen so far behind that some readers see it as yesterday’s news.

Funnily enough, there is a sense of irony in the dilemma facing the newspaper industry. This crisis is happening at a time when the demand for news is actually very high, but people are simply not willing to pay for it. I suppose in a way it is comparable to the music industry.

 Consumers of Journalism are turning towards the free news content on the web. Readers’ habits are changing because of the internet’s search functionality. Without the hassle of getting newsprint on your fingers, the internet can provide a few hundred thousand hits in less than a second.

Not only that, the internet also provides RSS Feeds. RSS stands for: Really Simple Syndication or sometimes Rich Site Summary. These are a category of web feed formats used for publishing frequently updated works like news headlines and blog entries. Once you have obtained a Feed reader from such services as iGoogle, My Yahoo or Msn, you can subscribe to your favourite sites that display the RSS Feed logo. As a result, the internet becomes like a constant breaking news ticker that will provide you with instant updates, instead of having to search for them yourself. With technology like this it is understandable why internet killed the newspaper star. (Follow the link for a video explanation of RSS Feeds).

 However, the newspaper industry isn’t going down without a fight. Having remained loyal to Gutenberg for years, they finally followed their consumer market to cyberspace with the distribution of online newspapers. Some examples of the most popular web-based newspaper sites are The Washington Post and The New York Times. The advantage of an online version is its ability to reach more readers in less time and thus generating more debate and discussion on a global scale. Unfortunately, HTML does not spell salvation. There is a problem and that is how do you get readers to pay for news they can get elsewhere for free? (Follow the links for on-line newspaper sites: New York Times ; Washington Post ; Irish Times.)

The New York Times introduced a subscription-based service know as TimesSelect which lasted two years before being scrapped for a subscription free, public domain site. As can be seen, walled gardens are not very popular. If consumers of journalism are not getting their news from print or digital newspapers, where are they getting it online?

The answer is news aggregation websites. A news aggregation website is a website that contains collected headlines. Such websites include Yahoo! News, Google News, Drudge Report, The Huffington Post and  breitbart.com. For example, Google Fast Flip which is an online news aggregator attempts to incorporate print publication into the digital realm. Its goal is to mimic the experience of flicking through a newspaper and it is also available on iPhone. However, critics condemn it for being anachronistic because it maintains the failure of print media by lacking multimedia features such as links to other sites. (Follow link to Google Fast Flip).

Also, we live in a time of, what Journalist David Shenk calls, “Data Smog” (Shenk 1). Data smog is information overload which you’re probably experiencing a bit from this presentation. But, it is one of the biggest flaws of news aggregation websites. The sheer volume of news articles available can be extremely overwhelming and difficult to navigate through. Critics argue that 80% of the content from these sites are sourced from newspapers which means that the newspaper industry is being ripped off big time.

With that in mind, we also have serious issues with authority and reliability. The battle is between the internet and newspapers, but who can we trust? Can blogs and twitter compete with pure journalism? Or, will the death of the news paper mark the death of daily reliable news? Accountability is being substituted by a cornucopia of unreliable bloggers with zero credentials. Anyone with a half decent keyboard and an internet connection can become a citizen journalist in a matter of minutes.

However, citizen journalism may not be all that bad. Yahoo! Buzz and Digg are community based news article websites which permit users to publish their personal news stories under editorial control and free of charge. I think citizens working in conjunction with journalists would better the future of journalism and so it is a smart move on their behalf. (Links to Yahoo! Buzz and Digg).

So what does the future have in store for the newspaper industry? Meyers predicts “the last daily reader will disappear in September 2043” (Crosbie unpaginated), but other analysts believe the end is much closer. It is obvious that URLs are here to stay. So in order for the newspaper to survive, it must embrace new media.  Nick Bilton, a technologist for the Times, said “Paper is dying but it’s just a device. Replacing it with pixels is a better experience.” (Singel unpaginated).

However, the newspaper of the future may not necessarily have to discard its print roots. It may assume a hybrid form consisting of part-print and part-internet. This can be already seen from AnnArbor which is an online newspaper with limited printed editions. Not only does it provide news, it acts also as a point of social interaction where users can chat, share videos and photos.

Alternatively, the newspaper’s future could be seen, not as a death, but as a rebirth. Their relocation online cannot be done by a simple copy-and-paste manoeuvre, especially when the most popular choice of access is mobile devices. Therefore, the newspaper will have to adapt to a new form that will have the interactive multimedia functionality of the web, but also the attractive layout of print. Consequently, the high-tech, futuristic e-newspaper of the 2054 world of Minority Report may not be that far away after all. (Follow the link to see futuristic newspaper.)

Other sources of interest

For a glimpse at one seriously cool, futuristic e-newspaper.

Some more info. about the death of the newspaper on newspaper deathwatch.

The future of journalism

Professor of Journalism, Stanford University

Works Cited

Crosbie, Vin. “What Newspapers and Their Web Sites Must Do to Survive” OJR: The Online Journalism Review.

Single, Ryan.“Times Techie Envisions the Future of News”. Wired.

Shenk, David. Data Smog: Surviving the information Glut. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 1997.

The Economist. “Who killed the newspaper?”

Womack, David.“Reading the newspaper with Khoi Vinh” . Adobe.

“The Child is father of the Man.”

Posted in A Companion to Digital Literary Studies with tags , , , , , , on October 26, 2009 by pauloshea

expand-cfb“Multimedia and Multitasking: A Survey of Digital Resources for Nineteenth-Century Literary Studies” by John A. Walsh is a meet-the-parents moment for the digital scholar. Walsh acquaints his reader with the “parents of the digital age” (Walsh unpaginated); the nineteenth century and the industrial Revolution. He believes the nineteenth century “holds a special attraction for digital literary scholarship” (unpaginated) because of the parallels and similarities shared between the two eras’ proximate chronology. Like the digital revolution, the industrial revolution effectuated “rapid technological and social change” (unpaginated), resulting in a boom of information, and technologies to communicate that information.

After a brief historical overview of nineteenth century’s rich literary achievements, Walsh parallels the literature and culture of nineteenth century to the digital age. He links multimedia, the combined use of several media in computer applications, to forerunners like Blake, Ruskin and Rossetti’s work. Therefore, digital media is particularly conducive to the presentation of “multimedia primary works and related scholarship” (unpaginated).

However, there is an additional justification for Walsh’s infatuation with the nineteenth century. He claims the nineteenth century is “the final age of literature…freely accessible and unencumbered by copyright restrictions” (unpaginated). Copyright laws have prohibited the entry of works developed since 1923 to public domains until 2019, with the possibility of a further extension by wealthy copyright holders. This reopens the can of worms relating to open source distribution which I discussed earlier, and it appears that this proverbial can of worms will remain open for the foreseeable future.

Finally, Walsh includes at the end of his essay a number of digital projects targeting nineteenth-century literature that sum up his discussion of multimedia remarkably well. His examples illustrate the physical and financial restrictions of printed texts but, also, how the availability of digitized texts “is a great boon to literary scholarship” (Walsh unpaginated”).

WIKIPEDIA IS ACCURATE. (citation needed)

Posted in A Companion to Digital Literary Studies with tags , , , , on October 25, 2009 by pauloshea

wikipedia_iraq“ePhilology: When the Books Talk to Their Readers”, by Crane, Bamman, and Jones, explores the evolutionary direction ePhilology may take in the digital humanities. For those, like me, who fall under the category of neophyte, Philology can be loosely defined as the study of literary texts and of written records.

In their essay, Crane et al. focus on the use of digital technology in the study of classics but, unfortunately, this is where the trouble starts. Without a background in classics, one will find the examples and references they use almost futile. Bear in mind that effort is required in understanding their argument, but a little effort goes a long way.

Crane et al. lay the foundation of their essay with a print-digital dichotomy, with apparent favouritism falling on the side of digital culture. They argue the weaknesses of print culture as being static, inadaptable “to the needs of their varying users” (Crane et al. unpaginated) and restricted.

Subsequently, Crane et al. propose six features that “distinguish emerging digital resources” (unpaginated). These can be summarised as accessibility, link-ability, use-ability, learn-ability and adapt-ablility, and these are expanded upon throughout the essay with examples such as: TLG and Ibycus.

However, Crane et al. muddy the water when they demonstrate how the transition from print to digital culture is not as clear-cut as initially perceived. Subscription barriers and advertising-based revenue restrict scholarly activity and these “limitations support the practice of print culture” (unpaginated). The solutions to this being: Project Gutenberg, Google Library and OCA (open content alliance), which have contributed vastly to open source distribution.

All in all, two phrases sums up Crane et al.’s argument and they are: “print publication freezes documents” (unpaginated) while “digital publication only begins its functional life after publication” (unpaginated). The ability of a document to evolve and be dynamic over time is exemplified in the example of Wikipedia which has sparked much heated debated about its reliability.

However, this community-driven open domain requires a “new kind of editor” (Crane et al. unpaginated) which shifts the demand from human methods to automated methods. This places greater restrictions on the altering of texts, in an inappropriate manner by illegitimate users, thus increasing the reliability of material content.

Consequently, the development from print to digital is not a simple copy-and-paste task but, instead, it is “creating a wholly new, qualitatively distinct infrastructure.”

“I’m not harrassing people, Officer…I’m just blogging out loud.”

Posted in A Companion to Digital Literary Studies with tags , , , , on October 22, 2009 by pauloshea

No Fear Shakespeare

“Blogs and Blogging: Text and Practice” by Aimée Morrison is a stroll in the park in comparison to the challenge of comprehension that Alan Liu punishes his reader with. From the offset, Morrison establishes her literary tool of choice is going to be clarity. Her introduction clearly defines blogs and blogging to her reader but, not only that, she offers also a list of resources for those brave enough to take a plunge into the blogosphere.

Morrison analyses a blog comparatively with a webpage and says that it is “not static…but not private like an email” (Morrison unpaginated). Along with constructing an understanding of a blog in layman’s terms, Morrison immerses her reader in the history of blogging. She declares that with the launch of “simple-to-use blogging software” (unpaginated) in 1999 detonated the explosion of “the push button publishing tool for the people” (unpaginated). As a result, today we have a plethora of weblog software to choose from, with blog tracking websites such as Technorati to help us along the way.

However, Morrison refuses to lull her reader into a false sense of security about blogging because all is not rosy in the blogosphere. She discusses how “the first wave of these new bloggers…were distressed to find themselves being fired for their online activities” (unpaginated). With further inquiry, I discovered that a flight attendant, of a renowned American airline, was fired as a result of posting pictures on her blog, of herself in uniform on an airline, which were titled “Queen of Sky: Diary of a Flight Attendant” (Squidwho unpaginated). Surprisingly, the Airline deemed the content of her blog as inappropriate which demonstrates the power of the blog and its ability to “dooce” (Morrison unpaginated) somebody; the verb defining someone who loses their job as a result of blogging.

Furthermore, there is an additional concern which follows blogger everywhere like their shadow and that is the question of reliability. Accompanying anonymity, a symptom of the internet’s accessibility and global reach, is the issue of credibility. Because of the apparent lack of editorial control or regulation of content on blogging sites, everyone or anyone is free to publish whenever and whatever they like. Therefore, one has to adopt a critical role as a consumer of blog content, in order to fish out legitimate sources from the baloney or what could be called the information super highway debris.

As a final word, I would applaud Morrison’s essay for its clarity, comprehension and readability.

Morrison, Aimee E. “Blogs and Blogging: Text and Practice”. A Companion to Digital Literary Studies.

“Who is Ellen Simonetti- Diary of a Dysfunctional Flight Attendant”. Squidwho.

Ellen Simonetti on Wikipedia


Posted in A Companion to Digital Literary Studies with tags , , , on October 21, 2009 by pauloshea

As I read Alan Liu’s essay “Imagining the New Media Encounter” in A Companion to Digital Literary Studies , I could not resist feeling like Homer Simpson attempting to appreciate modern technology. Every one of my failed attempts, at comprehending Liu’s essay, was followed by loud outbursts of “D’oh!” and “¡Ay, Caramba!”. The simple reason for this being that Liu’s article is so dense it is almost innavigable. I found myself wandering off on tangents, exploring areas that I never expected to explore and, at the same time, becoming lost in the process.

Not only is Liu’s essay compact, it is also extremely inter-textually polluted with techno babble. The text becomes one big cloud of “data smog” (Shenk 1) which, as an introduction to the field of digital humanities, can be disconcerting for a pre-Luian reader. With that in mind, one of the biggest handicaps of Liu’s essay is its maintenance of the failures of print media. Liu’s omission of multimedia features such as links to explanatory or exemplary sites, other than the links to his notes, leaves the neophytic reader stranded and relying on resources like Wikipedia to shine some light on the area.

However, having purged Liu’s essay of the above negativity, it becomes clear that he does manage to explain the new media encounter with relative clarity in some areas. Liu traces the new media encounter back to Plato’s Phaedrus to convey the point that, at first, new media is seen as strange and alien before it begins to be accepted and integrated into society. This is exemplified with the example of the transition from oral to written, from written to print and print to digital culture.

Once this encounter is established, “media changes us. We [become] changelings of media” (Liu unpaginated). Whether that is a good thing or a bad thing is questionable, but despite being aware of it or not, it is still occurring. Take the new E-book reading-device, for example. In contrast to the gizmorgasmic reaction of the technophile, a vast majority of the old school, semi-technophobic, print-culture lovers would cringe from the thought of reading a new novel from a digital media equivalent of a conventional printed book.

However, E-books are benefical in the green-friendly sense because they save the destruction of trees. The use of paper in recent years has multiplied drastically thus putting a demand on our environment to maintain pace with the needs of a largely paper dependent society. On the other hand, by replacing paper with a LCD screen most of the reading experience is lost. The simplicity of completely substituting ink with pixels seems inconceivable at first but, like all new media, with time this medium will establish itself in society. If the E-book will replace the printed book entirely is yet to be seen, but it’s presence in our society is creating changes already by challenging our notions of how we view texts.

Greetings Fellow Bloggers!

Posted in A Companion to Digital Literary Studies with tags , , , on October 20, 2009 by pauloshea


 This is my first new blog. I will be using my blog throughout the year to comment on and review literature that I will be reading as part of the Te[/ch]xtualities seminar I am doing.