A New Digital Writer

The person I have chosen to write about is my sister, Elaina Strong, who is fairly new to the idea of “digital writer” as she has recently started a new public Instagram account under the name “minimalistwithkids” where she posts pictures of her minimalistic lifestyle with 3 children as well as a score of DIY crafts, chemical free products, eco friendly habits and gardening and nature hobbies. I thought she would be interesting to interview considering how she created this account about 3 weeks ago and has already seen an influx of followers from people who share her interests. It’s unique to see the difference between her usage of her private Instagram account and her new public one and how it has influenced her as a new digital writer.

I start by asking her what inspired her to create this new, minimalist account:

Elaina: “Honestly, I’m a stay at home mom. Everything I do is for my kids and I’m also a minimalist, I needed something for myself. I do a lot of DIY and crafts, I know a lot about de-cluttering and simplifying your life and I wanted to broadcast, not necessarily my ways, but show people how I live and how simplifying helps you live a happier life.”

So this simplistic lifestyle, this is the story and the message that you want this account to emphasize to your followers?

Elaina: “Yes, I actually, I have a lot of nature on my account. I take the kids on a lot of nature walks, I try to teach people that being outside is good for your health and your body and to also be very eco-friendly.”

Would you say that, compared to your private account, you take more time to plan these pictures or to choose what to post or what to say?

Elaina: “Absolutely, I do take more time to plan out what I’m going to post to write about it, some of the posts take a lot of thought and time, sometimes they, you know, are DIY, they’re crafting. I teach people how to make things like deodorant, and I’m actually coming up with a post on how to make a lice spray. I have children in preschool and elementary school and sometimes we get letters that lice has gone around, so I’ve made a lice repellant with essential oils.”

So, how do you think your use of hash tags has changed since you started this account and what kind of response have you experienced because of it?

Elaina: “I’ve become more detailed with my hash tags. I have to think of everything so that I get more views, I usually go a little crazy with the hash tags and if I use more hash tags I actually get a lot more people looking at my Instagram page.”

I took this time to notice that she has received comments on several of her pictures by Instagram users with similar public accounts, some of whom have thousands of followers. I asked Elaina how this kind of reaction effected her

Elaina: “A lot of them are moms, and I feel a huge support network. We’re all moms or we’re all minimalists or, you know, zero waste or eco friendly users so I feel a huge support.  I feel like I’ve got so many people backing me up and I’m backing up a lot of people and we all have bad days, you know, we try to build each other up. Bad days with the kids or bad days just in general or someone just forgot their coffee, we’re cheering people on so they can make it through the rest of their day.”

My last question for her was then: What would you do differently to relate this story through other mediums if you had chosen something other than Instagram, like an online blog or twitter of Facebook?

Elaina: “Yeah, I think I would have a blog, but I think a blog is a lot of work so that’s why I felt an Instagram was a little easier for me. I feel like, with a blog I would be sitting in front of the computer a lot and would be typing a lot and I wouldn’t have a lot of time. Instagram is a lot easier for me. I snap a picture and I type it up real quick and I use the hash tags and people see it a lot easier. Also moms are super busy, I personally don’t have a lot of time to read blogs, but I do have time to read a quick little Instagram paragraph.”

Here are some examples from her Instagram

Writing: Remediating

In ordinary usage, remediation is a word with mostly negative connotations—pointing to something that needs to be fixed, or to a person who somehow needs to be caught up. But for theorists of digital culture, it is a term with positive uses, referring to the work of translating a text composed in one medium into another: writing into graphics, audio into script, images into video, and so on. Re-mediating. Even reading a piece aloud or creating a set of slides to support a talk are forms of remediation. And anyone who has ever sat through a dull lecture or slideshow understands how much care and imagination it takes to move effectively from one mode of expression to another.

For this assignment, I’d like you find to a text you’ve created that you’d like to play with some more, and to compose a new, remediated version of it. You don’t need to translate the entire document into another medium or platform, but you should try to recast a significant part of it, or to add to it in some substantial way. The challenge, if you decide to move from writing to images or audio or video, will be to do something more than merely illustrate what you’ve already said. Similarly, if you move from audio or video or images to writing, you’ll want to do something more than simply transcribe your previous work. Your goal should be to somehow add to or inflect what you said as you shift the mode in which you say it, to revise as well as remediate.

Please post your remediated piece to this site by 10:00 am on Thurs, 5/04. You and I will also have time to talk one-on-one about your work on Fri, 4/28, or Mon, 5/01.

Kate Harris: Profile of a Digital Writer

Levana_112Kate Harris taught American History and World Religions for ten years at Jordan High School in Durham, North Carolina. When she moved two years ago to Pittsburgh, PA , she became a consultant for the Smithsonian Institute, helping other teachers use the vast digital archives of the Smithsonian in their own classes. This job has her making short posts to the internet all the time, showcasing both the work of classroom teachers and items in the Smithsonian collection. But she’s also written longer pieces on teaching social controversies—Colin Kaepernick, Standing Rock, Charlie Hebdo—for the New York Times online. So I thought she’d be a good person to talk to about how to create a presence as a digital writer.

I began our conversation by asking Kate how she thought differently about writing for the screen than writing for the page. 

Kate: Teachers looking for curriculum ideas online do a lot of scanning—as do many online readers in general. So while I don’t necessarily think posts need to be short, I do think they need to establish their relevance pretty quickly and be organized so that readers can find what they are looking for easily. This means that I use a lot of chunking and subtitles in a way that I might not do for other sorts of written work, and I make sure my introductions are as clear and as compelling as possible.

Do your editors have particular things they’re looking for?

Kate: When I write for the Smithsonian learning blog, the editor wants things very short (300-400 words) and very strategy driven. Her take, which is somewhat driven by web analytics data, is that their readers do not take the time to explore longer reads and want “take-aways” that they can easily find. (Here’s a typical Smithsonian post.) I actually prefer writing for the Times because they are less concerned about length and in fact encourage offering a range of possibilities for readers to explore.

Does writing for the web let you do things you couldn’t do in print?

Kate: There’s the pleasure of being able to easily illustrate and link in online writing. The Times blog wants to promote the paper’s own writing, and they actually have an editor go through and link to Times articles, where applicable, throughout. But I enjoy curating resources that I think would be helpful and relevant and inserting them. It’s also a way of dealing with the length issue. I can link to something that you might bookmark and explore further later, without taking the time to write out the full concept in my own article.

What about shorter pieces? You post a lot to Twitter.

Kate: Twitter is very popular among teachers and ed-tech folks, and that’s the primary reason I’ve begun posting there more often. What is nice about twitter is the ability to interact with a lot of people who you may not know personally, but informally network with. I think my more effective posts link up with others (those are certainly the ones that get the most reach—when you @ people with whom you work or whom you admire) or that quote other’s tweets. I think my tweets are more effective when I am “adding value” by quoting another’s tweet, but sometimes I’m lazy and just retweet!

Do you feel you reach people on Twitter you wouldn’t connect with otherwise?

Kate: Yes. Twitter works well when people connect over topics. For example, GLSEN posted about the need for a more inclusive history curriculum, and I was able to reply and share some curriculum about the gay rights movement that I had developed. That got my work out to a larger audience and contributed to a conversation they had started.

What are some strategies you developed for using Twitter effectively?

Kate: Familiarize yourself with Twitter shorthand—there are definitely ways to shorten spellings and phrases and it’s still all acceptable and professional. Twitter is also a useful way to rid yourself of bad habits in writing, like using vague adjectives (great! interesting! nice!) or being redundant. At the same time, don’t worry so much about your tweets. They will disappear quickly.

You use social media not only for your work, but also as a community member, mom, and friend. Do you feel you change your voice as a writer for these more personal posts?

Kate: Yes and no! I think it’s about where I am posting—for me, Twitter is more professional and somewhat political, although I tend to stick to politics that fits within the framework of my profession (pro-education funding or pro-NEH). Facebook is more about family and friends, and my writing is probably a little more sentimental there. But I also feel free to be more politically charged at times on Facebook, again because it is less associated with my professional life. Instagram is the social media I have the most fun with, and I hardly write at all in my captions. It feels the most personal. What I put there is less about sharing and more about capturing impressions.

Seb Museum

Profile of a Digital Writer

You write online to accomplish certain kinds of work—to present information, to make arguments, to reply to what others have said, and son on. But in doing so, you also present a version of yourself—what people sometimes call an online “presence”.

In the last few weeks of this course, I’d like you to think about the sort of presence you want to have online. To some degree, this is a question of what platforms you choose to post on (or not), and how often. But it’s also a matter of voice and tone, of how you present yourself both to readers you know and to those who might stumble upon you for various reasons (or through pure happenstance).

As a way to start thinking about this, I’d like you to write a brief profile of a digital writer you admire. This does not have to be a well-known author (although it could be); you might choose a friend or classmate whose posts or tweets you enjoy and regularly follow. The only requirements are that you choose someone (a) whose work you know, that you can quote with admiration, and (b) who you can talk to.

Once you’ve identified someone you’d like to write about, contact them and set up a time to talk. (If this needs to be done through Skype or email, that’s okay, but face to face is usually best.) Prepare a brief set of questions (the guidelines Fenton and Lee offer on pp. 16–17are excellent), and have a phone or other device on  hand to record your conversation (or be ready to take notes).

You’ll then have two sets of data to draw on in writing your profile: your subject’s actual writing, and your conversation with him or her. Write a brief post in which you present the writer to us and explain why you find them interesting.

(Incidentally, if there is a need to keep the identity of your subject confidential, that’s fine.)

Deadlines: Identify and contact your subject by Monday, 4/24; write your profile by Thursday, 4/27.

The Internet is a Dangerous Place

I found it interesting that there was a similar stance of technology as dangerous in all three books that we have read so far this semester. Each book has made a stance on the pulpit of technology and the pros and cons of these advances as they continue to develop and intertwine with our evolving society. But especially when it came to Ronson and Boyd since there was a hint of these authors leaning more towards pro technology only to outline some key dangers of it. Boyd implies it is a means of communication that we never had access to before. Ronson points out how it can give a voice to justice and gives power to people who would otherwise have no means of making themselves heard. In each case, however, there is an underlying concern of technology as a dangerous thing when mismanaged and misused.

Ronson and Boyd both seemed to have strong feelings of technology as a way of communication and interaction with people. In Boyd’s case, she emphasized this idea that younger generations have more restrictions when it comes to interacting with people out in society than what the older generations once had, there’s less available space for these kids to be themselves with other young people. Thus the incorporation of social media opens up a gateway for youth to interact with like-minded people, creating a new space for them to open up. However, this also opens the door to things such as cyber bullying, hackers and access to inappropriate content that would otherwise be unavailable to them and so on. Ronson too starts his book with the same ideals of technology as a beacon for something  good, like justice. He begins with an example of how his identity over twitter was stolen and used as an “infomorph” by a team of academics who only took it down after a barrage of internet shaming. Ronson illustrates how even if something is askew in the internet world, if someone misuses the channels of technology in a heinous way, it could be righted by the mass voice of the people. Here too, we see as the book progresses, there is an underside to this method of justice he once admired. Innocent lives were ruined forever by this mass voice, but whether the sentence was truly deserved or not, one thing was clear, there was no forgiveness or redemption for these people who were publicly shamed.

It can be said that any new advancement or step forward, no matter how well intended, can be misused and thus become a hazard. I think throughout these books, we see that despite how well intentioned the use of technology can be, there is always going to be someone to misuse it, creating a sense of danger in the online world entirely unique from ones in reality. Even if Ronson and Boyd want to point out and emphasize just how much good can come from technology, they cannot avoid the fact that there is so much bad tied along with it, and I think that, despite how positive the tone of these books may seem at first, it elicits a deep cynicism towards technology and how helpful it actually is.

Writing: Writing as Social Action

By next Thursday (4/20), I’d like you to contribute to (or intervene in) a public exchange about an issue that matters to you. Your intervention does not have to be large. It might be a brief comment or response, a photo you took on your cell phone, or a snippet of audio or video. You might contribute to a public Facebook feed, a Twitter hashtag, or the comments section of an online publication. Your intervention does not have to happen online—it could be a flyer, a letter to a newspaper, or an event (like UDance, or the many Greek solicitations for good causes). You just need to be able to document it online somehow—through video or audio or text.

Because that is the second part of your assignment. I’d like you to track the early responses to your intervention. Who liked or commented on or shared it? Who responded in some other way? How did you respond to their responses? (All of this suggests that it would be a  good idea to post/do your actual intervention well before the deadline.)

Your post to this website should consist of (1) a link to your intervention, and (2) some thoughts on what you were trying to do, what you actually managed to do, and what insights you gained.

And, as always, if you would like to collaborate with others in this class on this assignment, go for it.

I realize this is a somewhat weird and inchoate assignment. I look forward to seeing what you do with it!

Deadline: Thurs, 4/20, 10:00 am: Post a link to and reflection on your “intervention” to this site.

Screens or Pages

I have always cringed any time a teacher has asked for a video project in school. Taking videos of the things around me is entirely different from having to edit a video into a legitimate concept to present to an audience and it’s something that has always confused and terrified me. That being said, there are definitely some aspects about creating a film that made the goal of relaying my concept much easier than if I had been asked to simply write about it as video offers certain affordances that writing simply does not.

As anyone might guess, the ability to use visual and audio stimuli in videos can greatly enhance the quality of presenting a concept as well as the reception from the audience. When writing out a paper the only images you can use are through the descriptive language you put on the page, requiring the reader to imagine the concept being presented in front of them. This leaves room for all different kinds of interpretation, while when it comes to video, you can very clearly showcase and explain in your own words what you want to get across to the audience. This can be seen in several of the “How To” video’s such as with Alexandra’s “How to build a Cootie Catcher” or Jake and Sara’s “How to tip your waitress”. The simple style of going step by step through the process of the specific “How To” with a voice over explanation in the background really aids in the audience learning how to do what it is they are showing us to do.

There’s also a kind of connection between the creator of the film and the audience in these videos that is less prominent when reading their words on a page. In the videos by Ellie and Ashley, we never actually see the author but we can still hear their voice overlapping the images in front of us, and even though we cannot see them, there is still a part of them present in the film speaking directly to us. As a reader, we can only see the words the writer has left for us and try to decipher their own voice or intonations based off of what we read.

However, for video, there is this sense that it is not universally preferred as a medium for showcasing concepts and many people find it difficult to actually present their ideas this way. I noticed for this project that, despite how it takes less time to absorb the material out of watching a video than taking the time and energy to read a long article on the same material, it took me much longer to create the presentation for it. Certainly all of the Concept in 60 videos were well done and showcased their ideas nicely, I couldn’t help but hear how many people, myself included, had difficulty with the editing process, noticing how much simpler it would have been to just write it out instead of working with the online tools. Despite the fluidity that comes with a film presentation, there is twice the amount of effort behind even a 60 second video as there is with a written piece which can be daunting for future potential media users.

I also believe that when it comes to video, it is much easier to get distracted by other things. From a generation who tend to multitask and give only small bits of attention to any given piece, it’s easy to feel that because the text of the material is being verbally presented to us that there is no need to spend our whole attention on it. For example, when it comes to reading a book, most people will immerse themselves entirely to the contents, to be able to absorb all of the material it can require all of your attention. When it comes to watching videos online, some people may have several tabs open at once, merely listening to the audio of a video while scrolling through various other online mediums, thus missing any visual aids that accompany the concept and losing some of the meaning in it.

Overall, I think both methods of conveying ideas are entirely effective in their own ways, sometimes it may be more efficient to rely on visual and audio aids to get a point across, while other times it may be better to invite different interpretations to an idea.