Writing Machines is the course website for English 170L at Pomona College in Claremont, California.
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.
As if we needed even more technology to mediate the world for us, someone has come up with the ambient walkman. Basically, the product is a pair of headphones which sample ambient noise and turn it into some form of music. Its creator prefers to style it "The Ambient Addition," which frankly I find insufferable. The idea that we need even more mediation seems ridiculous to me. I suppose that the technology represents a somewhat cool achievement, but I'm at a loss to understand why anyone would want to listen to an approximation of music created by the birds, the bees, and those jackhammers down the street (although I suppose that combination would be pretty wild).
I was looking around in the wiki yet again, and I only just really noticed that it presents something of an amusing contradiction. The basic narrative is something torn out of one of those daytime soaps watched by shut-ins and people in hospitals, or maybe out of this Desperate Housewives show I hear so much about. From what I understand, that one's even got a plumber. However, being a class full of English majors, we really can't resist attempting to make it literary. I know I couldn't resist thinking back to Paradise Lost a whole lot and throwing an appropriate, but probably unnecessary Candide reference into a tale of suburban marital angst, although the former probably has something to do with the thesis i'm writing about Satan.
I found a link to this site while wandering around online a little while ago. To summarize, it's a site offering software that supposedly allows anyone to "publish" their own books. While self-publishing is nothing new, the creators of this software claim that they have made it so easy as to render it trivial (alright, that second part is my claim).
The frontpage is dominated by a rotating set of testimonials from various users. The one that's up currently proclaims, "Meet Jim, a banker. He's written three cookbooks. This month." One might be inclined to scoff and say, "Well they weren't real books, were they?" but some poking around on the page reveals that the creators of this software offer a method to convert "books" made in that format into physical "bookstore quality" product. And they will tell you how to do this for the low low price of 14.95.
Reading genre fiction can be an embarrassing vice for an English major. At times it seems like reading science fiction, fantasy, and mystery novels or what have you is perceived as a waste of time. If you admit that you enjoy fantasy novels, you should not be surprised when people look at you in a bemused, vaguely judgmental way and ask why you're wasting your time on that. The writers of such fiction are not accorded the same respect that "literary" authors are (this was mentioned in passing in the Jenkins article, I think). Never mind that several genres can easily be identified in canonical literature. If courses on genre fiction pop up in the catalog, you can bet that they're novelty courses or electives.
As Lulu mentioned in an earlier blog post, I've found the projects page to be an excellent procrastination tool, and whenever I want to do something other than what I ought to do, I've found myself poking around in various people's projects.
I was just having a look through crashingintowalls' project page, and I have to say that I'm intrigued by the physical element of the project. The appendix mentions a desire for a more "grounded" approach (paraphrasing very loosely), and I think that this has been achieved. I find the very openness of the project interesting. Not only is the "text" completely open to input from the community at large (including a kid who mentions that he or she "is not in college" but drops in to say "this is cool"), but it is also open in a very physical way being exposed to the elements as it is. Not only can any passerby modify the frame on Walker Beach, for example, but who's to say that a strong gust of wind couldn't have made some kind of authorial contribution as well?
I ran into this article from the New York Times a few days ago, which seems pretty relevant to the overall discussion of the fragmentation of self expression online.
It deals with the ways in which the democratization of self-expression on the internet interact with the "professionalism" and business of artistic production. What I found most interesting was the notion that while the internet creates a sense of cultural fragmentation (ie. there is no one song that everybody is listening to, and there are a million songs that small groups are listening to), "Even if they take pride in ignoring the mass-market Top 10, users still want a little company, and perhaps they hope that the collective choices add up to some guidance." In other words, fragmentation online does not reach the level of the individual. Rather than resolutely avoiding a group cultural dynamic, users seek out a smaller niche.