Archive for October, 2009

USNOW and Looking for Whitman Today

While I was surfing the web on a rainy night, I stumbled a documentary called USNOW.  The reason I felt this documentary was relevant to the Looking for Whitman Project was because it embodies one of the main themes of the project, community participation. USNOW is a documentary that discusses how user participation and group collaboration tools allows individual people to come together to accomplish incredible things. Three online communities are highlighted:

1.       Couch Surfers – share hospitality with one another

2.       Zopa – a marketplace where people lend and borrow money to and from each other, sidestepping the banks

3.       Ebbsfleet– a user and community owned soccer club

More information is available in their respective websites.

While not directly related to Whitman literature, the first thirty minutes of this short documentary discusses the implications of new media and web2.0 technologies. These technologies have allowed for the creation of a digital community that is being actively used for this digital experiment (Looking For Whitman). This project is creating a community of knowledge regarding a very influential writer in American history.

Each class is taking a different look at Whitman’s word depending on their geographical location and time period in his life. At the end of the semester, the project will have hundreds of pages analyzing the poet. Any casual student of Whitman’s work can browse through these pages to learn about Whitman from several angles. Each college can present a different perspective due to our locations and we tie everything together through the website.

As stated in the documentary, the web drops collaboration costs so low now that consumers can create and produce meaningful bodies of work. When the internet was first coming alive, it was intended for research academics to share information but it has become a commercial vehicle for companies around the world. The Looking for Whitman project is taking the original purpose of the Internet back to its roots.

The existence of this project on the web creates transparency. New pieces of work are released often. Everyone is able to use and scrutinize this piece of work. I can leave comments on my classmate’s pages with questions, which lead to more investigation. People help each other through the comments and allow us to expand our knowledge. Everything is done in plain sight so everyone else can benefit.

The online environment is decentralized with little moderation. If this kind of project scales to the thousands, a small community of moderators would rise to  ensure the quality of the posts. How can we trust the integrity of the work, some will way. I cannot claim with certainty that everything in this project is 100% accurate but that goes for any content online.

No longer do people have to work in ivory towers to publish meaningful works. The costs of producing and distribution content such as pod casts, writing, and movies are essentially zero. The only major investment these days is time and having access to the internet.

We are in the infancy of group collaboration tools.  New technologies such as Google Wave will help shape the group collaboration landscape. Technology is changing the way we do things everyday. One such example is telecommuting which allows works to work from home remotely. As long as I have access to the internet, I can get work done anywhere, regardless of the location.I recommend that anyone give this short documentary a look if they wish to have a different perspective on how new media collaboration can and is shaping our future.

You can download the film using a torrent client from their website.

On another note, something peculiar happened in class recently. Three students let the professor know they were going to be late but used different channels of communication. One student tweeted, another used facebook and the last sent a traditional email. These are definitely a sign of the times. There are so many channels of communication available these days that if you need to reach someone and give them some information, you will probably be able to. The next challenge is communicating with someone but selecting the appropriate channel.

Different view of New York

Views of New York: two different authors

Walt Whitman lived in New York for a part of his life. In Whitman’s readings, you notice he is the immense love he has for the scenery and the American people.

His view of Manhattan is the following:

A million people—manners free and superb—open voices—hospitality—the most courageous and friendly young men; The free city! no slaves! no owners of slaves! The beautiful city, the city of hurried and sparkling waters! the city of spires and masts! Whitman

Charles Dickens visit to they United States and especially New York was heavily anticipated. After his journal entry of describing the tombs and five point slums, Americans had mixed feelings and felt betrayed by the prolific author. He starts off by comparing New York to Boston but only notes the negative things:

The Beautiful Metropolis of America is by no means so clean a city as Boston, but many of its streets have the same characteristics; except that the houses are not quite so fresh colored, the sign-boards are not quite so gaudy, the gilded letters not quite so golden, the bricks not quite so red, the stone not quite so white, the blinds and area railings not quite so green, the knobs and plates upon the street doors not quite so green, and the plates upon the streets doors not quite so bright and twinkling.

It’s as if New York at a first glance looks unpolished and seems to be fading away in comparison to Boston and other Cities in America. Looking at the jail that is affectionately known as the tombs, Dickens portrays the dark side of America.  New York doesn’t seem like the City of the free. Even if someone has committed a crime, they are still entitled to their basic rights. A child is treated no differently and is subjected to these terrible conditions in this prison, a pit of misery where many have committed suicide, hence the name “The Tombs”.

Into this narrow, grave-like place men are brought to die. The wretched creature stands beneath the gibbet on the ground, the rope about his neck’; and when the sign is given a weight at its other end comes running down, and swings him up into the air – a corpse.

This grim depiction of an inmate’s death must have surprised readers. Many readers would be looking for a positive look of things in New York. Charles Dickens audience would be people in England. All we see are all the flaws, which we know exist but are described so feverishly.

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