Writing Machines is the course website for English 170L at Pomona College in Claremont, California.
What you see here is a static archive of a site that once ran in Drupal. Accordingly, many functions have been disabled and some links may no longer work.
"Writing Machines" proposes to explore the relationship between contemporary literature and computer technologies, focusing on the ways that new technologies of writing have affected the development and dissemination of narrative.
I'm finding it hard to come up with a way to round things out this semester, to come to any kind of closure with this class. I'm not sure if I managed to convey this, but I'm enormously proud of all of you, of what you accomplished this semester, and of the bravery with which you took it on. I know this was uncharted territory for the majority of you, and I know you must all have had moments (perhaps still today!) of wondering what the heck you'd gotten yourselves into. And I know that there were a lot of times (perhaps still today!) when you'd have liked more input from me, more of a reassuring sense that we had a clear destination, that I knew how to get there, and that you were all well on track.
Well, I'm hopping on the bandwagon of farewell posts and summations. While I didn't always appreciate the requirement to post x number of times on the blog, I must admit that it added a great deal to the class. In a conventional classroom setting, you may occasionally see people reach beyond the scope of the assigned material, but it's generally in a generalized way, like "Well, this really reminds me of another book I've read, which I will now briefly summarize for you." Unless you happen to be familiar with the reference, you are left to just nod and trust the speaker to inerpret the text for you. With a blog and, more importantly, the ability to link, we are free to actually look at the source and make our own interpretation, thereby getting both the cross-pollination as one professor put it once, and an expansion of the class's discourse that goes beyond a dead-end reference.
While I've never played an MMORPG, I have heard my fair share about how they work, and one of the common threads is a general hostility to "newbies," (or Noobs, or newbs, or N00bs, or whatever). Many more experienced players will prey on, mock, or otherwise act in a generally unwelcoming manner toward new players. This is not to say that there aren't just as many experienced players who are happy to lend a hand to someone just starting out, but the phenomenon of hostility is prevalent enough to be consistently mentioned in a generous proportion of anything you might read about these games.
So in order to do anything but my work in the past few days, I've been playing a bit of Yahoo Go. Now Go is a great old board game that I am pretty bad at, and it seems to me that much of the fun of Go, or really any other old game that has been made into a computer app, depends on being able to see your opponent, and you know being able to interact with them. This doesn't happen with the online version. Sure there's a chat option, but nobody uses it as far as I can tell. It seems like people prefer their opponents disembodied.
In native computer games, there has been a move for years to increase interaction. In the old days of online gaming, things were pretty much impersonal in a "see opponent, shoot opponent" way, but that gave way to team-based games, in more recent years voice-capability, and intensely social "world" games such as WOW. In other words, there's been an attempt to bring the people behind the avatars into the game.
The problem with multiple authors is that you're inevitably going to see some push and pull. Some people want to see the story go one way, and the others think that's crazy talk. I think there's been a bit of that on the wiki this semester. However, I think the thing about electronic literature is that some inconsistency and feral growth is not a bad thing. So maybe every single dot on the wiki doesn't connect perfectly. So what. Fragmentation is inevitable, and we are essentially left with just as many potentialities as consistent eventualities.
What I'm trying to get at here is that the wiki doesn't need to make perfect sense. It is endlessly expandable, so what does it matter if we get two versions of the same story on there, or multiple endings, or unresolved questions, or what have you. Its scope is just as large as people care to expand it, and it can encompass just as much as people care to put in.
If you've read my comments on anonymity on the internet, you might know why I've had such problems posting on this blog. If you've put up with me talking about it, I appreciate it greatly. So here are my thoughts on why I've had such trouble (or stop reading. also a feasible response)--
Everything on the internet is tracked and permanent. Although I appreciate KF's gesture to our digital responsibility by giving us all pseudonyms, I have no illusions that there are any number of ways people can figure out who's who on this blog. From extremely technical methods to the very basic social engineering, it's fairly simple to circumvent the pseudonym system. So people can figure out who I am -- big deal, right?
Through the miracle of Facebook fliers (yes, I clicked on one -- it looked pertinent and interesting! I promise I'm not a sucker), I stumbled across one write thing. Although I could have gobs to say about the web design of the site (indeed, it's the first thing that jumped down my throat), I'd like to talk about the idea behind the site. What is the idea behind the site? Well my dear reader, I'm glad you asked (what was that you were saying about coercive writing?).
The idea behind One Write Thing seems to be that if the writer can get people interested in the site, whether it be through his journalistic abilities or the prizes he plans to give away, he can get people to donate to a cause they care about. It's an interesting theory, and I want to consider it with respect to attention theory.
For those of you who haven't read Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke, you've missed a mid-brow piece of addictive literature about two English magicians during the industrial revolution in Britain. With lots of references to Arthurian canon and a bit of artistic license with history, Clarke has created an immersive world. The world does not end with the last page of the book, however.
Clarke continues to continue the lives of her characters online. In an interesting piece of metafiction, she describes her characters' responses to the publication of the book the details their stories.