Thursday, January 10, 2008

Digital Humanities in the Googlosphere

In an excellent post on the Digital Humanities blog, writer lms4w writes about some pretty important topics for folks teaching literature, composition, rhetoric, or tech writing in the Googleosphere (cute word, eh?).

Whilst you should read that post first, let me highlight some of the things that were most captivating.

First, there is a whole discussion about Google Books. Now, I am a huge fan of open access, but the problem with Google Books is that they are scanning so fast that they aren't paying attention to the accuracy of the scans and there is some problem with the resulting metadata. Isn't it better to just get good (well scanned) texts from other places (Gutenberg)? I know that Google wants to be first and all, and (believe me), I am a huge fan of Google, but what good is a reputation if it is based on sloppy and shoddy work? Furthermore, there are some texts that people SHOULD buy. As a huge Gloria Naylor and Margaret Atwood fan, I must buy those books (and my students must buy them, also) or Gloria and Margaret won't be able to eat (and we certainly wouldn't want an Edible Woman, eh?). So, writers need to make a living, and they do this by writing books that we buy. Any research written ABOUT their work could fly free, since no one profits from it (well, the journals do, I guess), but the authors receive no more than an atta-boy/girl and a feather for their tenure cap.

So, Google, if you are listening...CLEAN UP THE GOOGLE BOOK PROBLEM!!!

The second topic in the DH post is about the decline of reading for joy. This makes me sad, but it is not surprising. While Eloise and I still read for fun, and my nieces all read for fun, and my mother reads for fun, and, wait a second...everyone I know reads for fun? We are a steelworker family? Um, hmmmmm....where is this data coming from? Did anyone see the lines for Harry Potter? I am not a Potter fan, but I watched the lines in Wildwood when the last book came out. Perhaps they weren't included in the data? Oh, and maybe all the little kids that belong to the local library book club weren't counted. Those kids LOVE reading. OK, so their parents are all nerdy types like me, but, hmmm.....maybe it would be worthwhile to ask?

See, herein lies the problem...a lot of great "pass time" writers are older now or aren't writing. Think about it...Stephen King is doing movies now, and Danielle Steel and VC Andrews are up there, and no one reads those Choose Your Own Adventure books anymore (does anyone write them?). There are Junie B. Jones and Potter books, but most tween stuff is like "Hannah Montana's Secret Wish List" and that sort of crap. Maybe if book companies scanned the world and found some fresh new writers for all categories, we would have some better reading to offer. The problem is, it is just toooooo hard to get published these days, and it is WAY easier to just publish on your own using LuLu. Whatever the issue is, I still see a new Barnes and Noble being built every other day, so people must like books (somewhere) because they can't ALL be going for the Godiva Hot Chocolate and Lemon Squares.

The third point is about digital journals. Why can't the Humanities follow the path of Nature and the science peeps? Those people do EARTH SHATTERING research, and they publish all over the net. Innovate is an excellent example of good peer reviewing in a non-science journal (there is no one more fussy than Jim Morrison, and I say that with reverence, fondness, respect, and humility). He is an excellent Editor-in-Chief, and his standards are high. The problem centers around the two yucky words of academia: TENURE and PROMOTION. But, didn't the MLA say something about that in 2006? Didn't they go ahead and validate digitizing the humanities? We follow their formatting guides...perhaps we can listen to them on this, as well?

The final section deals with Web 2.0 stuff; mainly, it is about the changing nature of authority in places like Wikipedia. While I am a fan of Wikipedia, I have to say that I DO caution students when using it. I may be a bit old fashioned on this, but college students are not allowed to use ANY encyclopedias in research they do for me. Jean-Claude Bradley stresses the importance of redundancy on the web, and if students verify their research, they should be able to use more than one reference so, no? I have to be truthful here, though; we have not yet found errors in the Wikipedia entries we have examined. I am sure there are tons of errors in there, but, as far as lies Shakespeare, it is pretty accurate.

The problem with technology is that the old school doesn't accept it and us young guns don't care. I don't mean to be flip about it, but I am sure the monks were none-too-happy when the printing press came along. Progress happens only as a result of change. Quality doesn't HAVE to be sacrificed along the way, but it is up to the USER to search out the stink bugs. We are moving in this USER CREATOR world, and as all creators know...with creativity comes great responsibility (thank you, Uncle Ben).

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The blog most was really good, and you ought to go read it if you have not yet done so.

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