Digital literacy… seriously… what’s the real “tug” on the brain?

I have to laugh a little when I see someone mention “digital literacy”, and I’ll admit… initially, it’s unfairly judgmental of me, probably because I’ve seen a lot of references to “digital literacy” which don’t really reveal anything mind-blowing. There’s a lot of talk about how writing and reading for the Web is so different than writing and reading for print, but I think there’s a good deal absent from the theorizing that goes on over the Web part… the in-depth, skull-cracking, mind-blowing/warping talk about digital literacy. The stuff that makes people’s heads hurt.

It just seems to me that there have been more examinations about how people read text in the digital space than how authors construct text in the digital space. Perhaps even more importantly, I argue that there’s a “method to the madness” in an author of digital text. Because the text is (perhaps) more “living” in the digital space (vs. text for print), do authors feel more empowered (whether that is genuine or delusional) in the words they lay out? Additionally, are they aware of their efforts… I mean really conscious of what they do and why they do it?

For those who have written for the Web long enough, are there human adaptations being made (in minds taught, initially, to architect text for print)? Is the digital space (which includes the space, the author within that space, the readers, and perhaps the machine) rewiring us, or are we simply adapting? If we’re adapting, are we aware of how we are structuring our arguments online? Should we care, and if so… why? If we, as architects of text for the Web, begin to consciously be aware of the rhetorical theories, cognitive learning theories, etc. used in our architecture, and we adjust to influence readers more efficiently, I’m also curious as to the reader reaction. What percentage of readers, for example, adapt at the same speed, and recognize the digital author and his/her efforts to manipulate the mind of the reader?

There just seems to be a lot more to digital literacy than what meets the eye, and as we become more and more assimilated (are we on the verge of something like “human 3.0”?) into the digital space, I wonder about the long-range impact on humans and the manner in which they communicate as both authors and readers. I may expand on this in another post, later…

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Listening to the literature for the writer’s process

This past week, I happened upon a quote from the Introductory Epistle of The Fortunes of Nigel [1822] (written, if you don’t already know, as part of the much larger series known as Waverley Novels), by Sir Walter Scott. Reading it, I wondered if Scott wasn’t providing his own thoughts in the imaginary author being interviewed. Certainly, it’s no great surprise as authors, from time to time, do project themselves and their opinions in the characters they develop. Yet, it’s particularly interesting in that Scott projects philosophies that are relevant to his personal writing process, as well as the aftermath of publication (fame and/or famine). In fact, I felt this was an autobiographical snippet on himself as an author. Looking further into various resources, I found, in Autobiography of Sir Walter Scott (1831), Scott confirmed my suspicions:

I was never, I confess, one of those who are willing to suppose the brains of an author to be a kind of milk, which will not stand above a single creaming, and who are eternally harping to young authors, to husband their efforts and to be chary of their reputation, lest it grow hackneyed in the eyes of men. Perhaps I was, and have always been, the more indifferent to the degree of estimation in which I might be held as an author, because I did not put so high a value, as many others, upon what is termed literary reputation in the abstract, or at least upon the species of popularity which had fallen to my share; for though it were worse than affection to deny that my vanity was gratified at my success in the department in which chance had in some measure enlisted me, I was, nevertheless, far from thinking that the novelist or romance writer stands high in the ranks of literature. But I spare the reader farther egotism on the subject, as I have expressed my opinion very fully in the Introductory Epistle of the Fortunes of Nigel; and although it be composed in an imaginary character, it is as sincere and candid as if it had been written “without my gown and band.

In a word, as soon as I found myself successful, I was tempted to try whether I could not restore, even at the risk of totally losing, my so called reputation, by a new hazard. I looked round my library, and could not but observe, that, from the time of Chaucer to that of Byron, the most popular authors had been the most prolific. Even the Aristarch Johnson allowed that the quality of readiness and profusion had a merit in itself, independent of the intrinsic value of the composition. Talking of Churchill, I believe, who had little merit in his prejudiced eyes, he allowed him that of fertility, with some such qualification as this: “A crab-apple can bear but crabs after all; but there is as great difference in favor of that which bears so large quantity of fruit, however indifferent, and that which produces only a few.”

There’s a great deal more, and, for the reader who writes and is curious about Scott’s perspective on process and motivation, I encourage further study of Scott’s autobiography.

So, keeping in mind that you are “listening” for Scott’s process and thinking on writing, consider a few paragraphs from The Fortunes of Nigel:

… that I should write with sense of spirit a few scenes, unlaboured and loosely put together, but which had sufficient interest in them to amaze in one corner the pain of body; in another, to relieve anxiety of mind; in a third place, to unwrinkled a brow bent with the furrows of daily toil; in another, to fill the place of bad thoughts, or to suggest better; in yet another, to induce an idler to study the history of his country; in all, save where the perusal interrupted the discharge of serious duties, to furnish harmless amusement, – might not the author of such a work, however inartificially executed, plead for his errors and negligence the excuse of the slave, who was about to be punished for having spread the false report of a victory, – “Am I to blame, O Athenians, who have given you one happy day?”

“My fame? – I will answer you as a very ingenious, able, and experienced friend, when counsel for the notorious Jem Mac-Coul, replied to the opposite side of the bar, when they laid weight on his client’s refusing to answer certain queries, which they said any man who had regard for his reputation would not hesitate to reply to. ‘My client’ said he – by the way, Jem was standing behind him at the time, and a rich scene it was – “is so unfortunate as to have no regard for his reputation; and I should deal very uncandidly with the court, should I say he had any that was worth his attention.’ – I am, though from very different reasons, in Jem’s happy state of indifference. Let fame follow those who have a substantial shape. A shadow – and an impersonal author is nothing better – can cast no shade.”

“For the critics, they have their business, and I mine.”

“I am their humble jackal, too busy in providing food for them, to have time for considering whether they swallow or reject it. – To the public, I stand pretty nearly in the relation of the postman who leaves a packet at the door of an individual. If it contains pleasing intelligence, a billet from a mistress, a letter from an absent son, a remittance from a correspondent supposed to be bankrupt, – the letter is acceptably welcome, and read and re-read, folded up, filed, and safely deposited in the bureau. If the contents are disagreeable, if it comes from a dun or from a bore, the correspondent is cursed, the letter is thrown into the fire, and the expense of postage is heartily regretted; while all the while the bearer of the dispatches is, in either case, as little thought on as the snow of last Christmas. The utmost extent of kindness between the author and the public which can really exist, is, that the world are disposed to be somewhat indulgent to the succeeding works of an original favourite, were it but on account of the habit which the public mind has acquired; while the author very naturally thinks well of their taste, who have so liberally applauded his productions. But I deny there is any call for gratitude, properly so called, either one side or the other.”

Captain: “Respect to yourself, then, ought to teach caution.”

Author. Ay, if caution could augment the chance of my success. But, to confess to you the truth, the works and passages in which I have succeeded, have uniformly been written with the greatest rapidity; and when I have seen some of these placed in opposition with others, and commended as more highly finished, I could appeal to pen and Standish, that the parts in which I have come feebly off, were by much the more labored. Besides, I doubt the beneficial effect of too much delay, both on account of the author and the public. A man should strike while the iron is hot, and hoist sail while the wind fair. If a successful author keep not the stage, another instantly takes his ground. If a writer lie by for ten years ere he produces a second work, he is superceded by others; or, if the age is so poor of genius that this does not happen, his own reputation becomes his greatest obstacle. The public will expect the new work to be ten times better than its predecessor; the author will expect it should be ten times more popular, and ‘tis a hundred to ten that both are disappointed.”

Captain: This may justify a certain degree of rapidity in publication, but not that which is proverbially said to be no speed. You should take time as least to arrange your story.

Author: That is a sore point with me, my son. Believe me, I have not been fool enough to neglect ordinary precautions. I have repeatedly laid down my future works to scale, divided it into volumes and chapters, and endeavored to construct a story which I meant should evolve itself gradually and strikingly, maintain suspense, and stimulate curiosity; and which, finally, should terminate in a striking catastrophe. But I think there is a demon who seats himself on the feather of my pen when I begin to write, and leads it astray from the purpose. Characters expand under my hand; incidents are multiplied; the story lingers, while the materials increase; my regular mansion turns out a Gothic anomaly, and the work is closed long before I have attained the point I proposed.

Captain: Resolution and determined forbearance might remedy that evil.

Author: Alas! my dear sir, you do not know the force of paternal affection. When I light on such a character as Bailie Jarvie, or Dalgetty, my imagination brightness, and my conception becomes clearer at every step which I take in his company, although it leads me many a weary mile away from the regular road, and forces me to leap hedge and ditch to get back into the route again. If I resist the temptation, as you advise me, my thoughts become prosy, flat, and dull; I write painfully to myself, and under a consciousness of flagging which makes me flag still more; the sunshine with which fancy had invested the incidents, departs from them, and leaves every thing dull and gloomy. I am no more the same author I was in my better mood, than the dog in a wheel, condemned to go round and round for hours, is like the same dog merrily chasing his own tail, and gamboling in all the frolic of unrestrained freedom. In short, sir, on such occasions, I think I am bewitched.

For more philosophy on writing, from Scott (cloaked in his fictional author in Introductory Epistle of The Fortunes of Nigel), see this link.

My final Augmented Reality (AR) project: less AR, and a lot more digital “webbing”

After batting around a few ideas as to what to do for my final project in my Augmented Reality (AR) class, I concluded to take one of my published print works (Avenue of Armies: Civil War Sites and Stories of Luray and Page County, Virginia, 2002) and expand it digitally, with AR playing a major role. After all, I’ve accumulated a considerable amount of content/narrative since publishing the book, and weaving a good part of that into a digital supplement, seemed like an innovative way to create a “digital second edition” (or as I’d like to think, “augmenting the reality of the book”). The problem that I faced was the short time frame in which to weave some magic. So, in consideration of the timeline, I targeted only two chapters. Therefore, the malleable content at the center of it all exists in the key words in these two chapters, which would serve as “rabbit holes” to take readers to additional content built into the digital supplement.

Avenue

Basic Building Blocks of the Project (AR and digital)

As I began thinking about how this expansion would move along, I continued to obsess over the Blippar AR experience. The idea of pointing the camera of a smart phone at a monument (or other historic sites), while key words fly at the reader as to the various meanings behind said monument intrigues me.

BlipparCat

In this example of how Blippar works, the screen of a smart phone is pointed at a cat, and related identifying words can be seen”flying” at the reader.

The problem is, however, Blippar is a “closed-loop” system in which the words that “fly” at the reader have been limited by the Blippar folks. The optical identification system they’ve built not only has a limited vocabulary (and limited ability to read various meanings into an object), this limitation also stymies any hope of originality that a Blip-builder might want for his/her particular project.

Therefore, in that Blippar wasn’t an option, I thought I could still take from the “Blippar experience” and build something similar via hyperlinks, but still using AR when possible. I could, for example, insert key words into the digital feed that I think might be meaningful in expanding a tourists/readers understanding at historic sites, or in images within the book, from their armchairs. Yet, unlike Blippar’s “word-build, following the “flying word” experience, I’d develop a different way in which readers could further engage the key words I present.

BlipparSushi

In this image, Blippar, having recognized sushi as… sushi (see the image at the center of the phone), provides various options for the user to expand her online/digital interaction with sushi. The “word-building” experience I mentioned actually precedes this level of interaction with Blippar. For more details about the interactive experience with Blippar, see this post at information-please.com.

 

With Blippar not being an option, I decided to go with Aurasma as the AR app for the project. Even so, the use of this app does not come without problems of its own. First, as this is an app that is only functional with the Droid Operating System, anyone interested in experiencing the digital supplement to Avenue of Armies would be limited to Droid users, only. Second, the Aurasma experience isn’t exactly a seamless and clean experience, though this may be attributable to me not quite mastering the app as an AR-builder. Finally, in my opinion, the number of potential experiences seems rather limited in Aurasma and could become rather experience-diminishing when employed on a large scale (even in the creation of our class Augmented Reality Game/ARG, augmented reality experiences were relatively limited). These were considerations which I carried with me, into further developing the project.

Apart from the AR app, the additional content/narrative I wrote/write for the digital supplement has been/will be placed in a blog (Avenue of Armies: A Supplement To the Page County Civil War Tour Book) which I created (and to which I actually contributed very little, over the years) – specifically to supplement the book – in 2008. While I have linked to previous posts within this blog, all new material will be created in pages, not blog posts.

 

Weaving Interaction into the Project

Providing additional information for a reader/tourist to read is fine, but it really doesn’t tap into the potential of an experience being fed by the digital world. In the print form of Avenue of Armies, readers have the opportunity to read content I’ve written, and interact with historic sites (when they experience the “in-the-field tour”). Yet, with the digital aspect of the project, I should be able to increase the potential for interaction with the respective sites, additional content provided in the digital writing space, and with other readers who experience the sites and/or digital content. Specifically, by setting-up the digital supplement via the Avenue of Armies blog (mentioned, above), each “post”/mini-narrative also includes a comments section, whereby readers/users are able to express their thoughts and opinions regarding the physical historic sites and/or supplemental information I’ve provided.

Furthermore, in that the “considerable amount of content” I’ve built-up over the years, for the most part, exists in four other blogs (and has been available to the public for the last eight years), I thought, instead of copying and pasting old material to a new blog setting, it would be best – in the interest of interacting with others who have already commented – to link to the pre-existing posts and blog pages found in the following blogs:

AvenueHeader

CenantuasBlogHeader

TooLongForgottenHeader

SouthernUnionistsChroniclesHeader

HeritageOnlineHeader

 

Apart from the Avenue of Armies blog, the only blog in which content will be added is the Heritage and Heraldry blog, where content already completed (in previous newspaper articles that appeared from 1997-2010) will be added to pages which will be hot-linked to the Chronological List of Articles page.

Creating “Rabbit Holes“, “Easter Eggs“, and Immersion (hopefully)

Using indexed words from descriptive sections within the book, I created “rabbit holes” (reader “funnels”/entry points) leading into content within the digital supplement. By limiting to simple words or small groupings of words, and not embedding the hyperlinks in the mini-narratives, but in beneath, I believe (meaning I have yet to find the theory that supports said belief) I’m creating a clean, minimalist opportunity for interaction with the reader/user. A reader can decide for him/herself which path to take, and can judge whether or not the “Easter eggs” they find in subsequent tiers are pleasant surprises/additions to their desire to know more. Likewise, interpretation is limited to that particular subject; the reader is not overwhelmed with content (too much interpretation). Furthermore, my decision not to embed the links in the text goes hand-in-hand (I think) with a less intrusive/overwhelming approach to the tourist/reader. I also believe (though, again, looking for supporting theory) the less invasive approach to the tourist/reader better facilitates an immersive experience, both at the historic sites and in other settings, via the print version of the book.

In Tour (Chapter) 13 of Avenue of Armies, for example, one of the five historic sites (1. The 1918 Confederate Veterans’ Monument, 2. Luray Train Depot, 3. Inn Lawn Park, 4. Barbee Monument, 5. Green Hill Cemetery) listed is “Inn Lawn Park”.

InnLawnBook

The block of text for Inn Lawn Park has fifteen key words from which I can expand the user experience.

InnLawnExample

As shown in the screen image, above, one of the links I’ve created (so far) is for the Rosser-Gibbons Camp, Confederate Veterans. When this link (and others like it) is opened, another page is revealed (“tier 1”) where there will be narrative specifically relevant to the key word found within the narrative, and then additional links leading to content which did not appear in the printed book. The following reveals the page seen after clicking the hyperlink for the Rosser-Gibbons Camp:

RGCampExample

Though I’ve only created one link for this page so far, the link “Page County Confederate Veteran reunion travels outside Page County” is relevant to the mini-narrative as the sentence “Over the years following the camp’s organization, camp members attended a number of reunions, both in and outside Page County.” sets an opportunity to create that link. Additionally, as I pointed out in the previous paragraph, the first set of pages reached after using key word hyperlinks created from the print version of Avenue is “tier 1”, but that next level is “tier 2”. Each successive level is numbered accordingly. I did this to eventually see how many levels would be necessary to include all of the content I’ve written over the years that is relevant to Page County and the Civil War. No matter how many tiers it may take, the objective is to find connection points via the key words that appear over each tier.

Still, I did find it necessary to create new links (see New Features), as seen in the bottom portion of the page for Inn Lawn Park:

InnLawnNewFeatures

The reason for these new links is that, in looking back, at no point in time in my original print version of the book did I mention sites relevant to slaves, Southern Unionists, or Union veterans who relocated to Page County after the war. Furthermore, my decision to place all three of these within the Inn Lawn Park page centered on veterans, veteran reunions, and also provides an opportunity to enter a discussion of Southern Unionists (Southerners who remained loyal to the Union). The last link on this page is probably familiar as it is the same link added to the Rosser-Gibbons page, but has relevance on this page also as it is the key site in the county where Confederate veterans held reunions until the late 1920s.

All said, however, I’m particularly pleased with the the entry point for the Luray “Slave Auction Block”, as it is located at Inn Lawn Park, can be used as an AR feature, and allows an entry point for inclusion of a massive amount of content I’ve written about since 2002.

LuraySlaveBlock1

LuraySlaveBlock2

LuraySlaveBlock3

While I’m very pleased to be able to offer a counter-argument to what is provided on the interpretive marker, in both AR and digital text, this set of five entry points to the tier 1 interpretation provides over three dozen (and growing) articles I’ve linked so far, and a number of newspaper clippings that feature stories relevant to slavery, back to the 1830s.

I don’t anticipate users will go to a great deal of depth when physically visiting the historic sites, but I do believe, curiosity being piqued in the tour, some will continue their “tour” via the armchair, by going through the additional links and AR features which will be built into the digital experience.

 

On the Ground Floor and Expanding this Project

While it was my intent to create supplemental, digital extensions of two chapters of my book, I realized the additional content I can feed into the project is so extensive that it would be best to narrow my objective to tackling only one chapter. Even then I realized linking content and adding new pages would require substantially more time than I had left. In turn, I stepped away from the ballooning content and moved to this reflective essay in order to have an explanation for what was completed so far.

Despite the end of the semester, I plan to continue to work on this project and expand it to cover the entire book. By doing so, not only do I breathe new life into a fourteen year-old book, but I can also add context to many of my blog posts which, despite categories and tags, in their current environment, do not provide the learning (reader understanding of the expanse of content and the author’s position on various topics) environment that I had hoped to create through blogging. The inter-connectivity in this AR/digital webbing project may offer a better solution for the assembly of works.

When the digital supplement has been completed for the entire book, I will need to print bookmarks (used as inserts within the books sold from that point forward) to make readers aware there is a digital supplement to the print version/first edition of the book.

 

That’s all fine, but where are the AR experiences?

As I stated in the beginning, in the end, the project was much “less AR, and a lot more digital”. Nonetheless, there are sixteen “auras” created with the Aurasma app. Seven are accessible from the actual historic sites, “in the field” (including two auras at the site of the Luray “Slave Auction Block); nine are accessible from nine of the ten photos within the book (the Luray Inn aura will be created after I create the link to which it will lead), in Tour 13; and one is accessible from within the Barbee Monument page in the digital tour. There will be more AR features in this project, but at this point in development, AR apps are a feature of this digital supplement as opposes to “THE FEATURE”. While they provide interesting opportunities for small-scale interactions, those interactions are not seamless and, I believe, would become monotonously repetitive if overused. This would not only impact whatever immersive experience one would hope to create, but would place more labor on the user, distracting from the overall interactive experience, with the historic sites and with others, via the comments sections in the mini-narratives.

As a colleague has suggested, the companies that have provided us with AR apps are holding back. At this point, in what we can experience through the apps, we’re only getting “breadcrumbs” – a mere fraction of what is the real potential of AR.

 

Supporting Theory

As ever, “this and that” may look “cool”, and I might think or believe building features in certain ways will reach readers/users more effectively, but there’s always that question in the back of my head, “Yes, but what theories support your beliefs?” The academic field might be wide open on this, but I’m anticipating those in an audience who would like to know why I think something would work, and not just that I thought it would. No projections without supporting theory and/or usability testing, I suppose.

All said, however, I think I’ve fallen back heavily on chunking/Miller’s 7+/-2 rule. Essentially, less content, especially in a digital environment, goes a long way. Yet, somewhere in the middle of all of this is a little of what I’ve read from Ian Blogost… procedural rhetoric and theory behind persuasive games. Though I’m not creating a game in what I’m doing, I think I can take relevant theory from both. In short, I need to read more Blogost to figure out… how. I’ve got a lot of ground to cover.

Also, this is where I reveal my tremendous intrigue with short-term and long-term memory, cognitive learning, and best practices in immersion, all to create the optimal interactive environment, with history as the content. Using digital feed and, yes, even AR, I’m looking for the best way to reach a person and make them consider the complexities in historic content; projecting objectivity to an audience to encourage them to look at history objectively, for all its angles.

 

Though, as I’ve said earlier, I’m not completely finished with the digital supplement to Tour/Chapter 13 of Avenue of Armies (adding more links, better photographs, fine-tuning links, etc.), for those who want to give what I’ve got, so far, a whirl, enter here

“… and Internet for all.”: Is the tool without the literacy a good thing?

I saw an article (Internet Access For All: We’re One Step Closer) this morning regarding the current state of Internet access in American homes, and I had to pause. Is Internet access for all really a good thing? I know, I know… how could I even ask that question?

Let me explain.

I see a great deal of good in Internet access, but I also see a great deal of bad… and some aspects that are very questionable. While we might be one step closer to “Internet access for all”, does that come with a price that we aren’t calculating? What I mean is… Internet responsibility. So, what I’m seeing is a plan/hope to give out the tool, without an education on how to properly use it (and I don’t mean simply how to navigate, but to be responsible “Netizens”).

I mean, look at the human interface with the Internet, now (most especially the social media). While, on one hand, it seems great that so many people have found their “voices”, or platforms for their voices (whether real or imagined by various people), I often wonder about the negative kick-back that has… the false sense of relevance that it can build, the lack of fact-checking as shown in the spreading of lies in silly memes simply because a person agrees with what they say, the ability to become less than human behind a computer screen, etc., etc. If there is really a hope to have the Internet available to every American household, when will there be expectations for an education as to how to act, and how not to act? Additionally, I think folks growing up with the Internet should be taught the writer/reader side of digital literacy, and the differences it has with what we understand as traditional literacy. In short, I’d say there’s a lot of work to be done.

Seriously.

At the very least, I would say that there should be (for starters) some classes in elementary, middle and high schools, and yet… knowing the education system as it is, there will be the question… “Great, but what classes do we have to ditch in order to make room for these new classes?” I get that, but… this Internet access for all thing comes with potentially serious costs [and I wonder how much what is said in this article=> (Suicide rate in U.S. on the rise, with spike for girls age 10-14) might pertain to social media abuses.]

As we hurl faster and faster into the digital abyss, I just think we need to make more time to pause and explore negative and positive impacts, and how to do the Internet better before we start dishing it out like candy on Halloween. Doing anything less, I argue, comes with severe consequences.

 

Writing, reading, and aging

Though the age of this blog doesn’t show it (refer to my primary blog for a clear timeline), it’s been just over eight years since I started blogging. In that time, I’ve also aged (obviously), from 42-50 (with 51 creeping up really soon). Before that, I wrote many newspaper articles (had a weekly column in a small town newspaper for 13 years), some magazine articles, and a dozen non-fiction, history-themed books… all for print. That span of time ranged from 1987 – 2010 (during which time I aged 23 years… from 22-45). So, as of this year, in all, I’ve been writing, in one format or another, for public consumption, for just under thirty years.

In “my era of writing for print”, it seems I focused more on the delivery of information (without awareness of the “writing self”). Sure, there was a process involved (the research, assembly/”architecting” of material, writing, proofing, writing more, more “architecting”, proofing more, etc., etc.), but I don’t think I gave the overall “writer within the process” serious thought until more recently, and after I started blogging.

Now, I realize, in this very post, I’m writing to a varied audience. Some may have never blogged, and some may have never written for public consumption. Others have written for audience in one format or the other… or for both. In fact, to some who have blogged, I’m sure there are those who haven’t had this writer’s “epiphany” (if it can be called that), but I’m left wondering if others who have gone through both writing for print and writing for the Web have had some sort of “realization” of the “writing self”, similar to that which I have experienced. I suspect the greater part of the “realization” came about in the writer-reader interactions in blogging, which were not as available (and frequent) in writing for print. I also know that, never have I been more aware of the audience than in blogging/writing for the Web.

Though I haven’t looked up the studies on it… yet… I’m intrigued about aging and how it may have had an impact on the way I’ve changed my outlook on writing. I’m also curious if anyone else has experienced a similar path, and become more aware of the “writer in the writing process”. Is it tied to age, years of writing, that transition from writing for print to writing for a blog, or… a combination of any of these?

An early 19th century minister offers opinions on reading (and writing)

Just yesterday, while reaching into my barrister for an antique book from my collection, I selected The Mountaineer. Published initially in 1818, it’s simply an assembly of articles (usually morality-based), previously written by Presbyterian Rev. Conrad Speece, for a newspaper in Augusta County, Virginia. With a random flip of the pages, I came across the word “Reading”, which quickly made me pause and pay attention. Reading the first few lines (incidentally, this particular article was extracted from February, 1814), I found it interesting to see Speece’s thoughts (especially as they are of a time over 200 years ago) on the importance of reading. I was particularly drawn-in over how some of what he said then applies even to today (quite literally when considering this being an election year).

Instead, then, of reading nothing, or confining ourselves to the newspaper effusions of angry political disputants, it becomes us to acquire, by extensive investigation, a proper acquaintance with our own nature, and the modes in which our passions operate.

As I moved further into the piece, I also realized he was addressing the importance of writing… especially writing good material… and the need for people to be discerning when it comes to writings they read.

You find some scrap called history; but presently ascertain it to be a mere chronicle of facts, as dry and empty as the shells of birds’ eggs strung upon a thread, but without any of their prettiness.

Furthermore, it dawned on me how Speece, in the very article he wrote, was attempting, himself, to engage readers in his own writing (and, I think, seemed to be doing it well).

As I’m always curious as to what goes on (#writingasprocess) in the heads of writers (especially my quirky fascination with the process of American writers in the 19th century), I found this an excellent piece and thought it worthwhile to share. You may find the language a bit antiquated but give the reading a try, and see if what you read triggers you to think of how what he said over two hundred years ago can apply to us (as readers and writers), today.

On a Taste for Reading

To a man who loves books as he loves his daily bread, it must be painful to observe how low the taste for reading stands in our country. It is said, I hope truly, that we read more than our forefathers did an age or two ago; but we certainly still fall short in our propensities this way, far show of what is practicable and much to be desired.

I am not going to make a laboured essay on the advantages of reading; but I cannot let the subject pass without a few remarks. As rational beings, we ought to read for the cultivation and enlargement of our minds. Is not the mind our noblest and most important part? Is it not then a shameful thing to neglect it, and lay out all our care in feeding and decorating the body? As Christians, we are bound to read, that we may improve ourselves in the best kind of knowledge. The bible is so admirably constructed as to make the weakest sincere inquirer wise to salvation, and at the same time to afford interesting and edifying instruction to the ablest one through the whole course of life. As American citizens, we ought doubtless to be a reading, thinking people. We choose our own rulers; and they must in various ways be influenced by our sentiments, and even by our passions. Instead, then, of reading nothing, or confining ourselves to the newspaper effusions of angry political disputants, it becomes us to acquire, by extensive investigation, a proper acquaintance with our own nature, and the modes in which our passions operate. Of all people, I think republicans ought to be the most diligent students of history; that they may discern those perilous rocks and shoals on which the bark of liberty has been so often wrecked. In addition to all this, I observe that a strong taste for reading in a source of enjoyment with which few others can bear to be compared. Its pleasures, provided we select our matter rightly, are pure, elevated, and durable; and can only be exceeded in value by those of devotion and the interchange of kind affections.

But many will agree with me in the general importance of a habit of reading, who nevertheless read little or nothing. My chief object in this paper is to canvass their pretexts and excuses.

It is pleaded by some, with too much cause, that they have no relish for reading; and that a book, instead of interesting them powerfully, rather disposes them to drowsiness. When these things are said by persons who have arrived at the middle of life, or advanced beyond it, the disease of their minds, (for so I must call it,) is scarcely curable. The taste must be acquired by practice; and the practice ought to be begun in the days of youth. Afterwards it is commonly too late. I entreat parents, even these who have no delight in reading, to take pains in training their children to delight in it. And here I cannot help saying I do not at all wonder that so many young people grow up without considerable inclination to reading, when I find so little care employed to furnish them engaging books. How could any other effect be looked for? You go to the corner of the house, – I always give my earliest inquisition to it, – which purports to contain the library. In the room of works adapted by their vigour of thought and beauty of style to excite and to gratify curiosity, and embracing such a variety of subjects as to allure the flagging attention, you see only a few old, tattered volumes, handed down through two or three generations, as dull in their matter as they are disgusting in their manner. You lay your hand upon some starched, antiquated book on religion; and after a little inspection, you wonder how such a book could possibly be read, even three ages ago. Your eye meets pages which wear a seeming as if they were intended for poetry, but which have not one lineament of genuine poetry about them. You find some scrap called history; but presently ascertain it to be a mere chronicle of facts, as dry and empty as the shells of birds’ eggs strung upon a thread, but without any of their prettiness. You exhort the owner of this scanty, hereditary lumber to dedicate some of his abounding dollars to the purchase of new and well chosen books. He hears you with entire coolness,-and then answers, with an air of compassion on you for your simplicity, that he has books enough, more indeed than he reads. As to his children, he wishes them to make a good use of the books they have, before they tease him for fresh ones. Thus things go on in many a family. The less the old, ragged books are read, the longer they will last, and serve to shut mental improvement and polish out of doors.

Some plead that they have little or no time for reading. Well, I know that mankind are placed in various situations, and I do not mean to urge impossibilities. What I wish to see is a careful redemption of time for reading, as well as for other useful and laudable purposes. Would to God that we all seriously considered how much time we waste in unnecessary and even pernicious relaxation. Fifteen minutes spent on the pages of a good book may produce some sensible pleasure and profit, nay, even a high degree of both. Yes among those who do not give fifteen minutes once in a week to reading, and assign the want of time as their excuse, you may observe many who squander hours in needless sleep, idle visits, frivolous or mischievous conversation, and dissipating amusements. What would you think on hearing a farmer say that he lacked time for repairing his prostrate fences, and destroying the weeds and briers which were devouring his fields, while you saw him busily engaged in hunting butterflies? The same must we think of one who throws away precious time in folly and trifling, and yet pretends to have no leisure for the improvement of the mind.

People sometimes say they would willingly purchase valuable books, did they but know to distinguish them from the mass of trash with which they are mingled in the literary market. I know that this want of skill is a frequent and a serious evil; and I know also that, besides the expense of money and time, it is worse to read a bad or a foolish book than to read none. But the remedy for the evil is not difficult to be found. Go to some friend in whose correctness of principle and maturity of knowledge you can place confidence, and get the assistance which you need in selecting books of sterling merit.

The last plea which I shall notice is the high price of books, reinforced with the scarcity of money. Now money is always said to be scarce by those who are not willing to part from it. I do not remember a time when this same complaint was not repeated by many. Books have, indeed, risen greatly in price within a few years; yet I believe they are as easy to be procured now as they formerly were. However, I admit that there are many worthy people who have but little money to spare for this sort of property. In this view, a social or neighborhood library is of great importance. Obvious as the thing is, perhaps some of my readers have never thought of it, that twenty families, for an expenditure of ten dollars worth of literature. But as such a scheme frequently cannot be accomplished, I observe farther that, costly as books are, it requires no enormous sum of money to obtain an excellent library. Only let the heart be set upon the object; and let care be taken to buy none but books of the highest value for their matter and composition. As to the gaudy external decorations of a book, which go far to swell the price, I suppose a judicious mind must think as little of them as of fanciful extravagance in dress or furniture. I take the liberty of recommending to every young couple, when they set up housekeeping, whether they be rich or poor, to consider a good collection of books as one of the necessities of life. It is, indeed, not only a necessary, but also a luxury, in the best sense of the word. Let it be made a principle that books are wanted, even as other things are wanted, in order to comfortable and pleasant living. And let efforts be made that something may still be added successively, in the progress of time, to the stock of nourishment for the mind.

Could I prevail with my fellow citizens to adopt the sentiments which I have offered on this subject, I feel confident that they would very generally find it practicable to get good books to read, and time for reading them; and that the following of my advice would produce much advantage to their morals, and greatly increase the happiness of their lives.

Reflection on the technical aspects of creating AR experiences with Aurasma

The following was written as a reflection piece on my experience, so far, with Augmented Reality (AR) apps. This is being submitted to satisfy some of the requirements for a course in AR, at George Mason University. 

As part of the “Palimpsest” Augmented Reality (AR) Project (=> see my in “in a nutshell” post on AR), my responsibilities in this project were largely focused on the technology involved in the development of AR experiences. After viewing several AR apps in Google Play, I began considering which might work best. Reviewing the ratings for each of these, I realized the frustration users experienced when attempting to use the apps. This discouraged me from trying some of the apps available, and narrowed the list of most viable apps to Augment 3DLayarZappar, and Aurasma.

Narrowing the app options further

Though I already reduced the list to four possible apps, I continued to weed-out apps that demand higher technical skills, the point being to learn about the basics of AR creation without complicating that with other external tasks. As such, Augment 3D was ruled out as an option rather quickly, as it requires more advanced graphics-creations effort (Photoshop use, for example). Additionally, I soon realized that both Layar and Zappar require either a QR code or the creation of a “layar code” or “zapcode”, respectively. While QR codes were an option for use in the project, there appeared to be other “green” (no requirement for placing a QR-type sticker on a physical feature) AR-prompting apps available (=> see Aurasma, below). Zappar was also of limited use because of its 30 day trial before requiring payment.

Aurasma – its basic components, and the steps of the Aurasma AR experience

Of all of the apps sampled, Aurasma offers what seems to be the most user-friendly “plug and play” opportunity. Specifically, there are only two elements necessary to create a basic “aura” (“auras” being the AR experience received by a user when using the app) – a “trigger image” and “overlay features”. A “trigger image” is simply a photograph of an object (the physical object, itself, being the thing upon which you wish to project the AR experience), and the “overlay feature” (the actual AR experience which is projected onto the physical trigger, by the use of the “trigger image”/prompting element uploaded into the app).

The way in which the AR is experienced is simple.

  1. Install the app on a compatible smart phone or tablet
  2. Subscribe to the “aura” page of the designer who created the auras you wish to see
  3. Be at the site where the “physical trigger” (remember, the photo/”trigger image” of this physical trigger was uploaded into the app by the developer)
  4. Enable the app on your device
  5. Point the device’s optical recognition feature (camera) at the physical trigger, and give it time to recognize the physical image via the designer-installed trigger image
  6. Wait for the app to recognize (usually under a minute) the physical trigger as a match to the trigger image/photograph used by the designer
  7. Begin the AR experience (overlays) created by the designer.

 

auras

Though the images seen here are actually the “trigger images” for the auras, this is a snapshot of my aura page in Aurasma (project-related and non-project-related). If interested, subscribe to my auras on Aurasma – keyword : “cenantua”

While the design of a basic overlay is simply the matter of a trigger image prompting the appearance of another image over top of the trigger image, adding more dynamic AR experiences (such as audio and video overlays) proved more challenging. In fact, I wanted to create AR experiences featuring both, but as separate experiences. Though I created an audio sound byte to test in an upload, regretfully, I quickly learned that, while videos can be uploaded, sound bytes cannot be uploaded to Aurasma as a layer. With no video immediately available for my needs, I was determined to create my own. Yet, this being a test effort, it didn’t need to be a complex video, perhaps something less than a minute in length.

With the thought that I would use a picture of the documents in the hands of George Mason (the statue at GMU) as my trigger image, I wanted to add a brief video clip focused on a brief definition of the Virginia Declaration of Rights (at this time, I also began to think more about the user experience, and the need for brevity in the interaction between the AR and the user => see Interaction and Theory, below). While I found a video, in YouTube, featuring the original document, I found it necessary to find a text to speech application on the Web to create my personalized audio effort. Though I successfully created a sound clip, the program sampler I used only permitted a limited number of characters for conversion to audio.

Playing the YouTube video with the volume turned down, and, at the same time, activating the audio sample I created on another page, I began filming the brief video via my smart phone. This was subsequently uploaded to the “aura” I created for the Virginia Bill of Rights trigger image I created.

AuraDevelopment

Aurasma’s Overlay Development Page – Building the Aura for the Virginia Bill of Rights held in the hand of the statue of George Mason, at GMU. Note the overlay (the Virginia Declaration of Rights) appears, literally, over the trigger image (George Mason statue). Yet, when the AR is experienced, the overlay is not transparent as seen here.

Developing multi-tiered overlays in Aurasma

After becoming familiar with the basics of aura creation, I looked at further developing auras with multiple layers/tiers of overlays. I was successful in creating a two-tier experience whereby a trigger image would prompt a single image overlay, and either single-tapping or double-tapping the screen of the smart phone would take the user, next, to a video (either loaded directly to an overlay in the aura, or via a URL taking the user to a YouTube video). However, I was bothered by what seemed to be the lack of intuitiveness behind the tapping of the screen. How, for example, does a user know that he/she is to tap the screen at all (let alone twice) to experience the next layer of the AR?

After developing the two-tier overlays, I looked at development of multi-tiered (three or more) overlays, but was unsuccessful. Any efforts I made to create the multi-tiered overlays usually resulted in a total failure of the AR experience (nothing worked correctly when the trigger image was read by the smart phone) or a single layer would work, and others would not.

Interaction, Theory, and Beyond

It was during the video upload that I began to think more about limitations of the the user experience. More specifically, I began to consider what would be effective and what would not. I have yet to tie the theory together with it, but feel certain that the AR presentation must be much like that which is presented on the Web, brevity (specifically, “chunking” came to mind) being a key element in capturing the user for the short amount of time he/she is available in a mobile setting (=>see AR and “on the fly immersion”). In a project such as the one we’ve created on our team, after all, the user is actually moving to more than one location.

Furthermore, the creation of an interactive experience via AR made me consider how AR apps might be developed for some sort of mobile social media experience. In such a situation, I see the ability to “follow” another person’s auras, and have the ability to see other sites through their perspectives. As the apps now exist, however, I don’t see this is a seamless experience quite yet. As one of my colleagues (also a team member) suggested, it seems the companies that have released these AR apps are providing us with “crumbs” of what an experience could be like, reserving the best for themselves at a later time (paid subscription services).

Additionally, while near the end of this project, I had a chance to consider Blippar and its value as an AR app. While, in its present form, it provides an open interaction experience, I can see more possibilities for it as a multi-tiered (don’t think of multi-tier in the way I used it earlier in the Aurasma app) interaction opportunity. I see this as another topic worthy of a post/paper unto itself.

GeorgeandBillofRights

The George Mason statue at George Mason University. Mason holds out the Virginia Declaration of Rights.

Lastly, using the George Mason statue on campus as George Mason as the focus of my project auras, I’ve also thought about how AR interpretation at historic sites could open an unusual opportunity to counter or supplement interpretation (especially static interpretation). Specifically, anybody and everybody who has the ability to use the AR app (at least one which proves capable, reliable, and offers that seamless experience that I mentioned above) effectively, has an opportunity to project their voice/interpretation/perspective on those sites. Through this, I see the administrative entities which, traditionally, controlled static interpretive platforms stand to be challenged. As with the mention of Blippar, above, this subject also warrants a post/paper of its own.

I look forward to the next two projects in which I can experiment further with the apps and plug in relevant theory.

*To see how my auras work, subscribe to my page (cenantua) at Aurasma.