Monthly Archives: April 2018

Stephenson, Through End

After 500 pages, the chaotic events of The Diamond Age by Neal Stephenson have finally come to an end.

Once again, the idea that society always connects to the essence of humanity, even in a technological age, was a prominent focus of the final 100 pages. Fiona told her father:

“‘So I think you’re more than an engineer. It’s just that you need a magic book to bring it out.'” (409)

The reason that the primer had an effect on Fiona was because she believed she could connect with her father through it. Fiona also would have probably grown up in a healthier way had her father stayed at home and simply read a book to her every night. She suffered greatly because of her father’s absence, and she needed that deep, human connection with her parent to be happy. In the end, Fiona did find her calling in a way because of her father, but Hackworth’s family would have probably been much happier had he stayed with Fiona.

Nell’s story in the primer also emphasized the importance of humanity:

“…a Turing machine, no matter how complex, was not human. It had no soul. It could not do what a human did.” (442)

In the end, we wouldn’t have technology if we didn’t have humans who created them, and more importantly, considered the implications of technology. Machines also cannot truly replace humans. As Nell’s primer said, machines don’t have souls, and that is the fundamental difference.

It was also neat to see Nell and Hackworth finally interacting through Nell’s primer, and Hackworth even encourages Nell to find Miranda. Hackworth is an interesting character for sure; he’s extremely skilled with technology, yet he also understands the importance of a meaningful human relationship. Finding the balance between those two thought processes is truly the challenge as technology continues to advance in society.

Dr. X summed up this novel pretty well in one sentence:

“‘But the only proper way to raise a child is within a family.'” (455)

Nell’s primer undoubtedly changed her life, but her narrator is what enabled her to become successful. Miranda dedicated herself to helping Nell, and without her mother-like presence, Nell wouldn’t have had the same experience with the primer. Stories are more meaningful when you have someone to share them with.

In essence, this story is about the importance of human relationships and how stories bring people closer together. Even when there are rebellions going on with violence and destruction, with society at the brink of collapse, Nell’s relationship with Miranda is what ultimately saves the world. The two were brought together because of a book, and the interaction that took place from storytelling and reading together created an essential bond between them.

Human beings naturally crave creating connections with others, and those bonds will always overpower the dominance of technology.

Source: Stephenson (Finish)

Stephenson, Through Page 400

In this section of The Diamond Age by Neal Stephenson, one of the biggest storylines is how Nell’s primer affects her life as she grows up.

Right away, something that stuck out to me was how the girls in Nell’s school said they’d prefer life in pre-Victorian England than 1990s Washington D.C. in the inner-city. Although this could have a lot to do with cultural differences, it also makes me consider the idea that people prefer simpler times (especially ones before technology). Sometimes having all the technology in the world doesn’t necessarily equate to happiness.

One example of this idea is Fiona:

“But seeing the depth of Fiona’s unhappiness, she had to consider the possibility that Fiona was in a worse situation now.” (320)

Fiona lives in an extremely technological age, yet she still isn’t happy. The main reason for this is the absence of her father, which shows that humans crave companionship with other humans. Without the opportunity to interact face-to-face with her father, Fiona isn’t truly happy.

Despite all the imperfections in Nell’s school, the head of the school, Miss Matheson, was very wise:

“‘It is upon moral qualities that a society is ultimately founded. All the prosperity and technological sophistication in the world is of no use without that foundation.'” (322)

Echoing an idea that I’ve been discussing throughout my posts with this book, technology alone is not enough to satisfy the natural tendencies of human beings. Miss Matheson takes this idea a step further and says that the foundation of humanity is morals. If we want our society to remain strong, determining morals and sticking by them is very important as technology continues to advance. Throwing out morality means throwing out what makes us human.

Another idea that came up in this section was how the person doing the racting truly matters and makes a difference. Nell was the only one of the three girls who had a consistent narrator for her primer, and she’s the one who turned out the most promising. It wasn’t just the book that made Nell smarter; it was also the fact that she had someone who learned her story and grew to care about her, doing everything she could to help Nell succeed. Without Miranda, without that person, Nell likely wouldn’t have had the same success in her life.

Finally, one other quote that stuck out was something that Madame Ping said to Nell:

“‘There are many people and many tribes, but only so many stories.'” (374)

This quote makes me think about the aspects of life we share with everyone, and how we aren’t so different from one another. In a way, we all share the same story, just with different characters and details. The general themes of life seem to be pretty universal, which is why stories are so powerful.

It’s crazy to see how Nell has grown so quickly in this section, and it’ll be interesting to see if her life eventually intersects with Hackworth’s and Miranda’s.

Source: Stephenson (through ~p400)

Stephenson, Through Page 300

As I continue to read The Diamond Age by Neal Stephenson, I noticed how many themes were present that connect reading, technology, and culture in this section.

For example, before Hackworth left his family, he gave a primer to Fiona, saying it was the best way for him to express his love for her. Even in their age of advanced technology, Hackworth still believed Fiona would gain the most valuable knowledge from a book. Although the primer incorporated technology, people seem to associate valuable learning from reading and interacting with physical books.

Another large theme that emerged in this section was the idea that Miranda was acting as a parental figure for Nell:

“‘What it comes down to,’ she said, ‘is that I’m raising someone’s kid for them.'” (219)

As I mentioned in my last blog post, the primer only functioned with a human being telling the story, showing the importance of humanity with storytelling. But through this constant storytelling, Miranda is essentially acting as a mother figure for Nell, especially because Nell’s real life is reflected in the primer. Although this could be considered a burden for Miranda, her raising Nell through the primer is giving Nell the connection to a parental figure that she was missing. That mix between a physical book and technology is giving Nell exactly what she desperately needs in her life, which enables her to be successful.

The introduction of Dovetail was also interesting, as the townspeople still make everything by hand. I found it kind of charming that the old way of doing things was still present in this digital age, and Stephenson seems to imply that we will never completely get rid of the “old way.” Rita also says that everything they make in Dovetail is “unique,” which shows that some people find more meaning in things that are made by hand and not machines.

Similarly, I found it interesting that Carl taught himself how to do everything involved in his job and developed his own technology. This makes sense, because his line of work stems from live theater. Carl seems to understand that ractives still need to emulate the human connection of live theater and wants to make sure his technology can do that. Technology might take over the world, but everything stems from human nature.

Carl’s quote was similar to something Mr. Beck said as well:

“‘I am intersted in one thing…and that is use of tech to convey meaning.'” (303)

This reminded me a lot of what I learn in my communication courses, which is that we use our mediums (often times technology) to convey meaning, and we must alter our message and delivery depending on our medium. However, our meaning always comes from human nature and wanting to create a connection among humanity.

There were also a few quotes toward the end of this section that stood out to me, including this one from the Constable:

“‘The difference between stupid and intelligent people – and this is true whether or not they are well-educated – is that intelligent people can handle subtlety. They are not baffled by ambiguous or even contradictory situations – in fact, they expect them and are apt to become suspicious when things seem overly straightforward.'” (283)

It was interesting to hear the Constable’s definition of intelligence, and how to him, intelligence is essentially being able to think through complex situations and not be fearful to tackle them. The primer does help Nell do this by allowing her to create different scenarios for her character and learn from her mistakes, but she only truly gains intelligence by being able to apply her knowledge to real life scenarios.

This was definitely my favorite section of the book so far, which is pretty evident by the length of this blog post. It really got me thinking about the implications of technology on culture, and I’m excited to see where Nell ends up as she relies on her primer during her youth.

Source: Stephenson (through ~p300)

Stephenson, Through Page 200

In my last blog post about The Diamond Age by Neal Stephenson, I wondered how Nell’s book would play a role in her life. The latest section I read definitely answered my question.

Hackworth wanted to create the primer to give his daughter a better education, and that’s exactly what the book is doing for Nell. In the absence of supportive parents, the primer is serving as almost a strong, parental figure that helps guide Nell. The primer also gives her practical knowledge through storytelling that ends up helping her in real life. Books serve all different purposes, but in essence, they’re supposed to make you think and learn. Even in a world with seemingly abundant resources, Nell is still learning the most from a book that uses a bit of technology to personalize the experience for her.

A quote from Judge Fang stuck out to me as I read this section as well:

“‘But a book is different – it is not just a material possession but the pathway to an enlightened mind, and thence to a well-ordered society, as the Master stated many times.'” (163)

Books are powerful, and Fang seems to understand this. Their world is obviously imperfect, as hundreds of thousands of infants are without proper parental support. In our class, we’ve talked about how we tend to focus more when we’re holding a physical book in our hands and eliminate distractions. As I mentioned in my last post, combining a physical book with technology seems like an efficient way to find that balance between the old and the new.

I was also glad to find out where Miranda played a role in this story, since that wasn’t answered in the first section. I wondered how the technology behind the primer worked, and it was interesting to learn that even in this technological age, a human being is the one telling Nell’s story.

Similarly, there were also a lot of deeper, more philosophical ideas in this section of the book, such as Nell’s story teaching her virtues like humility. Both Miranda narrating the story and the lessons in the story are human characteristics that add to the authenticity of books.

Technology can do a lot of things, but having a genuine, human connection cannot truly be replaced.

Source: Stephenson (through ~p200)

Stephenson, Through Page 104

Our final text in our Media and Culture course is The Diamond Age by Neal Stephenson, which focuses a lot on futuristic technology and how it affects culture.

Right away, Stephenson introduces us to new technology like mediaglyphics and things that are normal like having a gun inserted in your head. Even crazier, Hackworth is able to engineer an entire island for the princess’ birthday party. All of these things are considered normal in this society, and even though it might seem farfetched to us right now, people a few decades ago would have never imagined we’d all have a personal computer in our pockets.

Despite all these technological advances, it was interesting to see how Hackworth and a few others still knew poetry, and how Hackworth’s life aside from his engineering was pretty similar to our lives today. There are also questions that seem to transcend time, such as this one that Finkle-McGraw asks:

“‘This implies, does it not, that in order to raise a generation of children who can reach their full potential, we must find a way to make their lives interesting…Do you think that our schools accomplish that?'” (24)

Despite all the benefits that technology brings, we’re constantly debating the best way to teach students and how to incorporate technology into the classroom. Stephenson implies that this question will never go away, although more people will likely conform to technology rather than question it. This makes it more important than ever to find that balance between old and new that we’ve discussed in our class.

Because of my love for journalism, I found it really interesting to read how newspapers still exist. Although most newspapers are digital, which I expected, I was surprised that print newspapers still exist and that they’re reserved for the elite. This resembles how society used to be before newspapers were cheap enough for everyone. Although we think technology makes information more accessible for everyone, it’s interesting to think about how this could revert.

Also, how cool is it that everyone basically gets a 3D printer? It’s kind of remarkable how kids like Harv know how to use that technology, but they don’t know what books are. For example, Harv had to explain to Nell what letters were:

“‘Kinda like mediaglyphics except they’re all black, and they’re tiny, they don’t move, they’re old and boring and really hard to read.'” (46)

In this society, it seems like words in general are taken for granted. Even though the society is dependent on technology, I was still surprised that books seem to be completely looked down upon. A lot of people think that print books are on their way out in today’s society, but if we actually find a way to make them interactive like Hackworth did, these new books will definitely stick around. Having a book that talks to you and helps you learn based on your needs seems like a great way to combine the old (print books) with the new (technology).

As a sidenote, it’s also good to know that I’ll still be able to get some KFC for lunch in the future:

“‘The hour of noon has passed…Let us go and get some Kentucky Fried Chicken.'” (102)

In all seriousness, Stephenson’s book has heavily shown how technology affects culture, and I’m interested to see how Nell’s experience with Hackworth’s book will play a role.

Source: Stephenson (through ~p104)

Research Article

For my term paper, the topic I am considering is the relationship between modern day blogging and handwritten manuscripts from the past. I found an article that discusses how blogging has changed the way events are documented and archived.

Throughout history, humans have relied on memory “to communicate the ideas and images of the past” (Ibrahim 65). The popularization of writing over time has contributed to humanity’s ability to document ideas and events, especially in societies that are “more dependent on writing for the transmission of ideas” (65). While manuscripts were the first form of writing that enabled the documentation of ideas, blogging is a modern form of writing that allows ideas to be recorded in the digital age. Web users can easily create “aesthetically pleasing blogs in minutes” (67), which resembles how copyists would decorate their manuscripts to make them more appealing. However, while becoming a scribe was reserved for the literate in medieval times, blogging is a global phenomenon with millions of writers (68). Blogging has also created new ways in the “act of remembering” because millions of people are able to write about “world events through personal narratives” (69). Donald Kochan argues that blogging is “a technological transformation of traditional pamphleteering” (70), allowing bloggers to circulate their ideas digitally rather than in print. While print archives are categorized, Ibrahim points out that web searching “provides no continuum or distinction between past and present” (71). Despite its similarities to traditional print mediums, blogging is different because it is “a showcase of human activity” rather than a “passage of time” (71).

Ibrahim, Yasmin. “Blogs as the People’s Archive: The Phantom Public and Virtual Presence.” Journal of New Communications Research, vol. 3, no. 1, Oct. 2008, pp. 65-73. Communication & Mass Media Complete, setonhill.idm.oclc.org/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspxdirect=true&db=ufh&AN=43818150&site=ehost-live.

Source: Article TBA

Kirschenbaum, Ch 5 & 6

Chapters 5 and 6 of Track Changes by Matthew Kirschenbaum were a bit different than the previous four, as these chapters focused predominantly on the people who used word processors.

I was not surprised to learn that sci-fi writers were the ones who flocked to use word processors first. They essentially write about technology, so it makes sense that anytime there’s a chance to use the technology of the future that they write about, they would take it. Also, as Kirschenbaum has discussed in his previous chapters, technology is just as important to writers as their writing itself. Even if they don’t use it right away, it’s important for writers at least to know about the options available to use as their medium.

Kirschenbaum brought up another interesting point when he said:

“Ultimately what gets published is a function of what the marketplace will bear, as much as or more than it’s a function of what writers do with their fingertips at their keyboards, whether typewriter or word processor.” (118)

Although word processors sped up the process of typing, it’s evident today that regardless of how people write or type their stories, so many other factors are at play in determining whether a story will be successful or not. It’s important to keep in mind that while we may be able to write faster, that doesn’t automatically guarantee success for writers. Additionally, because so many people have access to word processors today, that heightens the competition. While it can be a benefit that more people’s voices can be heard, that also makes it easier to be lost in that choir of stories and words.

Chapter 6 introduced a lot of people who pioneered the use and advancement of word processors. It was interesting to see how these people saw what was available and then thought of ideas like hypertext and the search function that would eventually be incorporated into word processors. We take so many of these features for granted today, which would have been like finding gold for the earliest users.

We’ve come a long way since the sci-fi writers first started using word processors. I definitely have respect for those who took the time and effort to learn how to use word processors and innovate themselves.

Source: Kirschenbaum, Ch 5 & 6

Kirschenbaum, Ch 3 & 4

Chapters 3 and 4 of Track Changes by Matthew Kirschenbaum continued to expand on the cultural effects of word processing.

It was interesting to hear how choosing your word processor was a huge investment decades ago because there were so many options. That’s something I’m not used to, because I’ve grown up always using Microsoft Word to type documents. Word processors aren’t really something we think about because they’re so readily available, which has completely changed since the 1980s.

One of the benefits of word processors was that they made it easier for writers to proofread their own work and correct errors. This likely played a role in people’s expectations of perfection from writers that Kirschenbaum discussed in Chapters 1 and 2. Now that the technology allowed writers to do more, people expected more from them.

Word processors also opened up the possibility for more collaboration between writers. I had no idea that communication through computers existed on word processors before it did through email, which shows how powerful word processors truly were at the time. Although it could be argued that computers take away from human interaction, they do still provide the ability to collaborate with others who are far away. As Kirschenbaum said, the steps of the writing process still exist with computers; they’re just altered because of technology:

“Word processing took its place in and among existing work habits and networks – and it reconfigured them to varying degrees – but it never simply replaced them.” (62-63) 

Chapter 4 was also interesting because of its focus on authors like Stephen King, who wrote a book based off word processors. Kirschenbaum brought up a good point about the permanency of decisions made using a word processor:

“But words on the screen vanished instantly, utterly, if indeed they had ever really been there at all.” (81)

While being able to instantly erase anything from a document is a benefit of word processors, it also adds to the idea of diminished authenticity of a text that Kirschenbaum brought up in his first two chapters. I also thought of Merilyn Simonds’ Book section from Gutenberg’s Fingerprint, where she talked about the beauty of imperfection in a handmade book. Having the ability to instantly delete anything can be both a benefit and a drawback.

Word processors give us a lot of power to do what we want, and we simply decide the extent of how we are going to use that power.

Source: Kirschenbaum, Ch 3 & 4 

Kirschenbaum, Ch 1 & 2

The first two chapters of Track Changes by Matthew Kirschenbaum provided a lot of new information about word processors, but it was also interesting to learn about the attitude changes people have had toward them.

In the first chapter, Kirschenbaum discussed how word processors have changed the way we document our written texts, especially because so many texts aren’t “written,” per say; they’re typed. He brought up the idea that in the future, our artifacts related to writing will be digital documents that we’ll have to make sure are compatible throughout time, which Merilyn Simonds also discussed in Gutenberg’s Fingerprint. Maintaining our writing through digital means has ushered in a new wave of coding, and this digitized writing is dependent on people besides the writer to keep his or her writing safely documented.

One quote from Kirschenbaum in the first chapter especially stuck out to me:

“Regardless of each of their individual attitudes toward word processing and its place in their workflows, there is no easy sorting of any of these writers into analog or digital binaries, into those who have either embraced ‘it’ and refused it.” (27)

Writers are constantly using a combination of technologies, old and new. I think this applies to a large amount of people too, not just writers. Despite hating word processors, people will still use them because they are more efficient than past technologies. As Kirschenbaum said quoting Durham Peters, writing “is always about power – a ‘power technology'” (30). Writing throughout time has always been dependent on the medium available at that present moment.

In Chapter 2, Kirschenbaum discussed the idea of perfection in texts, and how word processors have given us the ability to make our writing look “perfect.” However, Kirschenbaum brings up a good point:

“…a perfect document is one that bears no trace of its prior history; indeed, it is as though the document did not have a history, but rather emerged, fully formed in its first and final iteration, from the mind of the author.” (36)

Because word processors leave no errors, they might make writing seem like it’s less authentic because there is no trace of the writer’s journey. Kirschenbaum also discussed how anyone can use a word processor to make their writing look and sound professional, even if they are not as knowledgeable as they portray themselves to be, saying “…the pretense of perfection was just as often grounds for suspicion and anxiety” (36). I definitely think the idea of perfection in texts has created a lot of new anxieties for writers because they are expected to be flawless, which can be a dangerous expectation for imperfect beings.

Although word processors have their negative aspects, it’s impossible to deny they have made writing more efficient in many ways. Kirschenbaum described how word processors have given writing a sense of “instantaneousness” (47), and in general, they’ve given us the freedom to do so much more with our writing.

Source: Kirschenbaum, Ch 1 & 2

Sax, “Our Love Affair with Digital is Over”

Reading David Sax’s article “Our Love Affair with Digital is Over” reminded me of a lot of topics we have discussed in our Media and Culture course.

Right away, I connected Sax’s article to Gutenberg’s Fingerprint by Merilyn Simonds, especially her Lasting Impression chapter. Simonds said that people often have a deeper, more personal connection with print books, which directly relates to Sax’s ideas:

“People are buying books because a book engages nearly all of their senses, from the smell of the paper and glue to the sight of the cover design and weight of the pages read, the sound of those sheets turning, and even the subtle taste of the ink on your fingertips.”

While so much of our society is digitized today, many people still have a longing for physical books and analog technologies. Part of the reason for this could be because humans don’t function like computers; we naturally have emotions and create emotional connections to things we care about.

A lot of people like Sax are aware that technology has its limitations, but it is nearly impossible to not depend on the technology we have available at the current moment. I think we always use a combination of technologies that have spanned across time. As a basic example, teachers in classrooms give speeches while using technological aids like PowerPoints, combining the old (speech) with the new (computers). Students often still read from print textbooks and novels, and they often use a combination of paper exams and typing essays digitally.

Going along with my example of technology and teaching, another line in Sax’s article stuck out to me:

“Digital may be extremely efficient in transferring pure information, but learning happens best when we build upon the relationships between students, teachers and their peers.”

As I mentioned, humans are emotional beings, and connecting with other people allows for more conversation and learning to occur. I have to agree with Sax on this one; the Internet is great for obtaining information, but the best overall learning experience stems from pure human interaction. One of the reasons I have avoided taking online classes in college is because there is not as much opportunity to engage in dialogue with your professor or classmates. Online classes definitely have their benefits, like choosing the time you complete work, but it’s a much more individualized learning experience. I think people learn more when they not only hear the ideas of other people, but also have the opportunity to engage in dialogue with those people.

The main issue that Sax seems to be concerned about is that we’re letting the digital overpower the analog, but that could be prevented if more people found that balance between the two that Sax mentioned. It may seem like technology is overpowering our society, but that balance between the old and the new exists more than we think. Now, it’s up to us to continue cultivating that technological balance.

Source: Sax, “Our Love Affair with Digital is Over”