E-books: A Curse or a Blessing?

•April 22, 2010 • Leave a Comment

Back in October of 2009, I chose the topic of e-Books, partly because this technology was new to me and I had little understanding of it, but mostly because I was prepared to fight against it. As a passionate ‘physical’ book lover, I was determined to find fault with this form of text, but to my surprise, the more I researched the topic and engaged with the new format, the more I learned to respect and even like it, and most of this has to do with the way in which we engaged with digital literary studies within the seminar.

Storytime

Imagine the following scene: I am sitting on my sofa, curled up and enjoying a book. One of those rare hard-back editions: a beautifully woven, dark blue cover, gold stamped letters on the binding, the edges slightly dented, as though tiny teeth had nibbled on them, and the pages yellowed. The script is uneven, as though an object had obstructed the ancient keyboard this had been written on, or the press had been on its last gasp. Yet it is one of my favourites; a children’s book from the 1910s. An heirloom from my grandfather. Whenever I read it, it reminds me of him. Some pages have ink splotches, and I ask myself what he was doing when reading this. Whenever I open this book, it brings me that bit closer to him.

Now imagine the same scene with an ereader. Somehow the thought palls, in my mind. What connection do I have with this electronic device? When I read the same lines on a screen, do I have the same memories? No, I don’t. It feels clinical, almost sterile.

Don’t get me wrong. I embrace the new technology. I was so interested in a book last year, but couldn’t afford the hardback copy, so I purchased it online, as an e-book. In a nice little pdf file format. Every evening, I snuggled up in bed with my laptop, and dove into the novel until the early hours of the morning. It didn’t feel different to me. It wasn’t a revelation. There was no: wow! I am reading this on-screen. Perhaps, because I read so much on-screen anyway. Articles for college, news, essays to be reviewed, blogs, emails, social networking sites, the list is endless. I belong to the generation that spends more time in front of a computer screen than anywhere else (sometimes a very scary thought). Yet I still have this passion for the conventional stack-of-pages-between-two-pieces-of-cardboard format. Because that is all a book is. It is a physical object. Granted, filled to the brim with knowledge. Sometimes worthwhile, sometimes purely enjoyable, and, let’s face it, a whole lot of rubbish in between. Why are we, as a society, so hung up on this object? It cannot only be because we have had the printed book around for about 750 years.

Books in History

Once we had evolved from being an essentially oral culture to a text culture, the book became a valuable object. It was a symbol of wealth and status. Because of its rareness it became a commodity. This changed little with Gutenberg’s invention. It was, essentially, only with the rise of the novel in the 18th Century and the rise of leisure time, that books became less valuable and more widely spread. Authors, including women, became stars, much like Hollywood celebrities are nowadays.

But, moreover, books became the medium of storage. From the first Bible to Galileo’s first revelations to Darwin’s shocking theories; everything was written down. Shakespeare might have disappeared into obscurity without the dedicated followers who collected his plays and minutely wrote them down. Culturally, therefore, the book became invaluable. Every generation was able to understand and past generations by reading the relevant books. Historians would never have been able to reach any sort of conclusion without being able to interrogate the relevant passages of novels, manuals, periodicals, poems, etc. None of this would have been possible without the medium of the book.

So the book is more than an object. It is the defining variable of our civilization. We are where we are and who we are because of the medium of the book. We have learned and communicated with this medium for so long that it is only natural for us not to want to let go.

Future Considerations

But do we really have to let go? I don’t think we do. The book will never entirely disappear. Its possibilities have just been extended. Its contents have been changed into a format that is accessible throughout the globe. It has become a source of sharing and contribution, a medium where each and every person is able to access and modify it. I don’t mean change its original text, but sharing the experience one has with it. It is like a global scrap book. Or a giant classroom, where an endless debate of literature is possible. If every scholar can contribute to, say, a Shakespeare play, not only will the academic standard of scholarship rise, but it will also open the gates to a global interaction between scholars.

No longer are we limited to the library that we have immediate access to, but now we are able to browse infinite volumes, albeit with side effects. Does more and easier access mean that we will read superficially? In a recent article, to be found hereDr. Wolf, a professor at Tufts University, argues that future generations will read differently. “My concern is that we will develop within the next generation a shorter, less-enriched [brain] circuitry for reading” (Shaer unpaginated) Have the days disappeared where we read a book cover to cover for research purposes? Will we have less of an attention span? I don’t think this is likely, but it is a question of adjusting reading habits to a new technology. Sandra Aamodt argues herethat “Reading speed is 20-30% slower on screen than on paper.“ (Aamodt unpaginated) On the other hand, John Siracusa convincinvgly argues here that our society is already reading more on-screen than off-screen. So it seems to be a learning process.If we are already willing to read on-screen, how much longer will it take to educate society into reading e-Books rather than ‘physical’ books?


The market already offers a wide range of small, portable e-readers dedicated to e-books.

Will books ever disappear? I highly doubt that. We have had too long a loving relationship with this object. Not many people will be willing to get rid of their entire library at home and store the accumulated knowledge onto one reading device. Libraries will not sudenly become empty, gaping halls with a few e-readers on display. Nevertheless, the popularity of e-Books is rising, and publishers as well as retailers are feeling this shift in reading behaviour. In a recent article, to be found here, on Christmas day, e-book sales even surpassed ‘physical’ book sales on Amazon.com.

So it might actually just mean that our society will make space for this new technology. After all, emails have not entirely made letters obsolete. We still send official documents, birthday cards and personalized letters that are important to us by hand. The post office is still in a frenzy come Christmas time. Our generation may remain skeptical of e-Books, but eventually, we will embrace the advantages, such as instant access, global interaction, communication, the possibility of the rise of the individual (such as everyone having the potential to be an author) and preservation and integrate them as part of our lives, just as we have accepted emails, texting, touch screens and so forth. We are creatures of habit, and we will adjust – true to the saying ‘If you can’t fight them, join them.’ There is no way that this technology is going to stop evolving. What we need to understand is that e-Books do not change our relationship with the ’physical’ object. We will keep cherishing the special editions we grew up with, and future generations will still know what a ’book’ is. In this process of development, our society still sees the e-Book in absolute terms: either as a curse or a blessing, yet I believe that the lines between these two extremes will eventually blur, and we will learn to embrace the technology for what it is: a medium with a bright future.

Articles and Websites that might be of further interest

Forrester’s predictions for markets 2010 (USA) here

The Association of American Publishers, a website with interesting statistics here

eBook Market Research, a website dedicated to news and information on e-Books here

an article in the New York Times about the far-reaching consequences of e-Books here

an article about the problems of e-Book piracy here

a refreshingly honest article decoding the myths of the e-Book here

Alan Liu and others on the e-Book in the New York Times’ “Room for Debate” here

the website of Cushing’s Academy, a school in the USA that has completely digitized its library here

the website of the City Archives in Cologne, who with ongoing digitization have managed to preserve documents that are still being retrieved after a tragic accident where the building collapsed in April of 2009 here

Technology, Murder and Music

•April 7, 2010 • Leave a Comment

After recently investigating the influences of technology on the music industry, I came up with a few substantial conclusions: firstly technology has allowed music of all genres to be shared by a global audience and on a larger scale than ever before. Secondly, technology has led to an unprecedented amount of music piracy. Therefore technology has had both a negative and positive impact on the world and future of music. This piece will be concerned with questioning whether or not technology is really killing the music industry? It will also investigate what exactly are the ethical repercussions of this outcome?

Is Technology Killing Music?

Before the advent of the internet music was distributed via vinyl and then cassette tape. The draw back of these two mediums was that it was next to impossible for an artist to ensure proper distribution of their work. In order to gain fame an artist would be forced to sign to a major label, which would take care of the business side of things and ensure proper promotion. For a new band, getting their music to the masses was next to impossible. The arrival of the internet and the compact disc completely transformed the face of music. Furthermore the development of the MP3 file allowed music to be shared instantly, it eliminated the distribution problem and allowed musicians to promote their music on a global scale. 

Just as the material form evolved so did the consumer and soon the world of music became a mainly digitalised one. A person could now sit at their computer and at the touch of a button call up any genre of music they so desired. This proved much more effective for many consumers particularly consumers that would in general have trouble finding their desired type of music in their local music store. However with the positive came a rather problematic negative. With the invention of file-sharing came the problem of illegal file-sharing which in turn entailed that artists were no longer receiving payment for all of the music that was being distributed. Record companies condemn the illegal downloading of music files from sites such as Limewire, Bittorrent or Piratebay claiming that it is completely destroying the music industry and placing countless livelihoods in jeopardy. The R.I.A.A.or The Record Industry Association of America estimates that global music piracy causes $12.5billion of economic losses every year.The major question raised by the illegal downloading of music files is an ethical one. Is downloading music without paying for it ethical? Here is some more information on copyright and piracy in the form of an interesting documentary created in Denmark in 2007 that examines the current state of copyright and culture. 

The Current State of Copyright and Culture

Is Downloading Music Without Paying for it Ethical?

Those in Favour

Firstly we will examine the side in favour of sharing music files: Many people never even consider the legal implications of downloading music for free. It is as normal to many people as checking their emails or blogging. However illegally downloading music is a legally punishable offence. 

Many argue however that downloading music is not an offence as it does not fall into the legal category of theft. Legally theft is the stealing of another’s property but downloading music is not depriving another person of something. The website marco claims that “despite the RIAA’s rhetoric, the copyright infringement involved in downloading an MP3 is substantially different than traditional theft. If I steal a CD from you, two things happen. First, I now have a copy of the CD. Secondly, you no longer have that CD. The MP3, on the other hand, is a case of unauthorized copying. If I copy your music, we both have a copy of the music and you are not made any worse off. In other words, I benefit and you remain the same. You are only harmed if, rather than doing my unlicensed copying, I would have paid you for authorization to make a legitimate copy. Thus, at the worst I have deprived you of potential profit. At best, I have increased the value of your copy by increasing the cultural penetration of your song. Unlike physical property, intellectual property has no natural scarcity.” 

 

Furthermore the music industry is under the impression that if we did not illegally download music we would purchase the hard copy the CD, however this is most likely not the case. All that is being lost is a potential sale. Often people download a song in order to see if they will like or dislike it. Instead of spending €20 or upwards on an album a consumer can download it for free, decide if they like it or not then make a decision on whether or not to purchase it. Accordingly with the music industry currently so saturated by new bands it would be unfeasible to expect the average person to purchase everything they wish to listen to in order to see if they enjoy it or not. With a culture of “one hit wonder bands” currently sustaining, quite often buying a full album can be a futile experience as there may be only one or two songs on the album worth listening to. If sites such as iTunes were to offer consumers better options in terms of sampling music before buying it is quite likely that they would see an immediate rise in sales. Curiosity is another key factor in downloading music. Hearing people talking about bands, or hearing a clip on the radio drives people to download again in order to see if they have a genuine interest in what they might ultimately be spending their money on. 

If we look to other types of creative mediums such a art or writing and compare them to music piracy some interesting differences occur. When a writer releases his book to a library or for sale he immediately loses control over what people are going to do with his work, particularly in schools and colleges. Writers tend to openly accept this as something that naturally occurs when they release their work to the public. As mentioned in the documentary above by the musician GirlTalk, “if people were passing out paints on the streets for free everyday I’m sure there would be a lot more painters out there now”. 

Many argue that illegal downloading only serves to benefit musicians as they can now become instantly famous rather than having to gradually build a fan base over a long period of time. Illegal downloading means a new musician or band can be rapidly and easily accessed worldwide and sampled for free which a consumer is much more likely to engage in, as opposed to not buying there CD in a store and therefore rendering the artist as unknown. Downloading is also much more convenient as CDs can be quite costly but also they can be hard to find, particularly if the consumer is not situated in an area with a music store. Transferability is a further argument in favour of downloading. If I buy a CD and want to transfer it to my MP3 player I have to go to the trouble of burning it to my computer and entering the information relating to the music, which can be time consuming. However downloading is a much more efficient process. If a consumer already owns the CD and desires the MP3 file, why should they not be allowed to download the file for free? They have already paid for it. Furthermore what if a consumer pays for an MP3 file on iTunes and then their computer breaks? They risk losing everything they paid for. However if they downloaded it for free it won’t matter or if they own the CD but if they pay for it they are likely to be disheartened by the extortionate price of music today. 

Can We Compare Piracy to Other Copyright Violations?If we compare the downloading of illegal music files to other similar illegal activities the situation does seem to somewhat dilute itself. Downloading a music file for free is violating copyright acts. If we look at other violations of this law it can put the problem in some sort of context. Other violations include: renting a film and watching it with a group of friends, showing a film to a class in a school, reading fan fiction, saving any files from the internet to your computer or printing a t-shirt with someone else’s work on it or image. While downloading music files does violate the copyright law so does numerous other activities that we carry out regularly. 

All Those Opposed 

Undesirably however music piracy also has its negative effects. Up and coming musicians receive little or no money for anything they produce and they generally resort to giving their music away for free until they gain enough recognition to benefit in any manner from selling it. As previously mentioned the R.I.A.A. estimates that global music piracy causes $12.5billion of economic losses every year. This is a mix of job losses, tax losses and income losses. These figures highlight the threat that music piracy has over the livelihoods of artists, writers and record label employees but also over the thousands of people that work within the music industry from music store owners to warehouse workers to sound technicians. Music file sharing sites like limewire have greatly devalued the music industry and damaged the value that previously was placed on music itself. Ultimately the decision should lie with the artist whether or not they want their songs to be available for free download as it is their creation. Without copyright laws there would be little motivation for anyone to pursue a career in music. 

While sampling is not readily available people can use sites like MySpace or Facebook to listen to artist’s music and learn more about a performer or band. Misinformation is also a major problem, many people do not realise they are breaking the law. Education is a key tool in changing people’s attitudes, if people knew what they were doing was wrong it may act as a deterrent. Distance from the consequences is a further factor. The repercussions of illegal downloading are generally never witnessed by the vast majority of downloaders. If cases of conviction were more widely publicised it may act as a discouraging factor. 

Is the Music Industry Fighting a Futile Battle? 

It does seem that the music industry is fighting a losing battle and perhaps they should begin to look into taking an alternate approach to resolve the problem. Furthermore the question of whether or not downloading music files for free is a positive or a negative issue is also very problematic. It seems that the decision in most cases rests with the individual. The Nigerian film industry produces more films than either the American or Indian film industries each year. As mentioned in the documentary in The Current State of Copyright and Culture, the Nigerian government has taken a different approach to curtailing piracy than the American government. Pirated files in Nigeria sell for roundabout the same price as the original copies. Furthermore the Nigerian government does not believe in punishing individual offenders for piracy by imposing heavy fines or sending them to prison. The reason for this is that they believe many offenders would be unable to pay a high fine so prosecution is futile and secondly by placing them in prison they become an unnecessary expense and burden on the state. Instead Nigerian people who violate copyright laws are expected to pay for the samples or ideas that they have used in their work. While this is obviously a more viable option in Nigeria than in America because of the costs involves, it appears to be a far more effective method than what is currently being practiced in the Western world. 

One Final WordWhile it appears that the negative is presently outweighing the positive in the battle between technology and music, it seems viable to conclude that technology will never kill the music industry! The solution? There is no definite answer to this question but a method of trial and error will most likely reign for decades to come. 

Beware: Judgment needed!

•March 31, 2010 • Leave a Comment

 “On the internet, nobody knows you’re a dog”

This quote is from a cartoon by Peter Steiner which was published in July of 1993 in The New Yorker. The cartoon was a notable moment in internet history; ordinary people were now talking about the internet, not just the business community. People questioned it and became aware of its existence, its uses and potential. Rick Adams commented on Steiner’s cartoon saying “the fact that the New Yorker could use the word internet as a punch line in a cartoon was to me the defining popularization of the internet” (The New York Times). Steiner’s quote also has some resonance for the question on Authority and judgement. One aspect of the internet is anonymity- the fact you can be a dog like in Steiner’s case or a child or an adult online and not reveal your identity, which is a key to socialization, a fundamental part of interaction.
The fact that your identity is hidden as had repercussions for a range of end users. Social networking sites have been reprimanded, and calls have been made for legislation to be passed to protect vulnerable participants in web culture. This is currently in train in a number of jurisdictions. This is clearly an extreme and rare case, but it points to a range of issues that are being continually addressed by legislators and service providers.
When one publishes online, that information is open to anyone who wants to read it which is the promise of the internet. The idea of a free world wide web of knowledge and free engagement without barriers is the result of the founder of the internet’ dream, (Tim Berners-Lee BBC Virtual revolution programme)
In 1993 when Steiner published his cartoon this potential for anonymity was present and it is still true today. No regulator existed in 1993 and today the internet is an even bigger space to regulate. Google’s recent travails in China and Facebook’s recent litigation attest to this.
Using the internet as a source of information can be useful, but in many cases it can hinder the search process when the information is false or incorrect. This is especially detrimental when the internet is used solely by itself and without any judgment on the reader’s part of how reliable the internet source really is. Personally myself, I read book reviews before I purchase. Sometimes this gives you a good view of what to expect, from an independent observer and if a professional review an independent assessment, by an independent voice. The point is not that I read a review of the book before I buy the book, but more so that I know who the author is, I know when it was published and importantly I know where and sometimes why the book was wrote. On the internet, people tend to forget to ask these questions.
People read, read, and read on the internet and forget that many webpage’s are not true to their word or forget that many times it is the opinion of someone rather than a fact; this is a serious problem for scholars and literary works. The essence of the internet is that anybody can set up a webpage and write anything that they feel like writing, even if it is true or false. this is not the problem, the problem lies with educating people how to use the internet and teaching them good sites from harmful sites. It is because of this that information literacy programmes are part of the teaching programme at second and third level – education – assessment and judgment need to be exercised in a web environment as they are exercised by the scholar in the more traditional library setting. Education will result the internet being used to its full potential.
Cyberspace has a range of stakeholders including scholars and not just the obvious finding information but many webpage’s are hindering this potential. Users not familiar with search technologies and search engine optimization, or the advanced search functions of the search engines are using the first page that pops up on the search engine and not looking beyond it, and so the internet does not get the best reputation when the information is shoddy and sloppy and in many cases incorrect. The internet is then dismissed as almost an amateurish source and the potential for scholarly endeavour may be lost and unused. What is the future of the internet? Will we soon be swapping human touch and interaction with wires and gigabytes, megabytes and terabytes? But this leads me to my next point- Skype.

Skype
Skype shows how wonderful the internet can be, how it can be used to connect experts, teachers and families. The advantages of this tool are magnificent, not only for communication but for collaboration.
Skype was founded in 2003 and since then its popularity has soared. It is now one of the leading global internet communication company. Skype is also responsible for at least 8% of international calls. The best thing about Skype is not that you can make phone calls but that you can also make video calls. This makes collaboration all the more interesting. Businesses can connect with each other without the huge cost and time it would have traditionally cost to travel. The fact that business colleagues can connect with one another allows them to stay ahead of the competition. Skype have recently added another feature which takes collaboration to the next step. This feature involves sharing desktops and the remote worker sees exactly what the other person is doing. Within seconds you can have your partner’s desktop on your screen. The co-workers can even see the others persons curser to see exactly what he or she is doing. This is amazing for not only the business world but also students in college and in schools and for everyone. This brings collaboration to the next step and almost makes you feel that you are in the same room. So if the future does hold a world where human interaction is replaced by wires and megabytes then this is not a bad substitution. It saves money and time and it is a great resource provided by the World Wide Web.
One of the many advantages that the internet has to offer is collaboration.
Collaboration
Collaboration is the best advantage of the internet, with the invention of emailing and Skype, collaboration has been made easy for many . This is a fantastic step towards using the internet for the humanities.
Scholars are now communicating with one another from different countries. You can contact individuals who may have a lot to offer your studies or research, in minutes. This is an invaluable service for many reasons. If someone from Ireland were to collaborate with someone from Africa it would not only cost money to travel to Africa but it would also take up a lot of time that could well be spent on working on the particular project. The likes of social networking, emailing and Skype have made collaborating much easier, they are less time consuming and more cost efficient. Students can benefit from the internet through collaboration with their class-mates, with emailing, blogging and even social networking. Skype-ing has many advantages for schools, it can connect you with an expert in particular fields, it can connect you with another teacher or classroom either in the school or another school where you can establish debates. It can also assist with students who may not be able to attend class or even with parents.
A given project can be completed by five students, each sitting at their own computer at home. But the question raised here is, is the use of the internet ‘dehumanizing’ the studies of humanities?

So how do we judge whether a site is reliable:
While I was researching for this paper, I read the good, the bad, and the ugly. I came across this site in particular  /http://www.ithaca.edu/library/training/think.html
Which attempts to teach people on how to read web-pages with more depth. It is called the “guide to critical thinking about what you see on the web”. This site questions the reliability of the internet and wonders if it really is a good source of information and good research tool. Is it fine for just ‘fun and games and pretty pictures’ .The answer to this question is a qualified yes BUT only if you are careful.
An hour on the web may not be as efficient as reading a well established book but many internet users believe that the web is the best source of information for everything. Many people think that the internet is the fastest method of getting what you want, but finding it may take longer than a click on a search engine. This does not mean that the internet is not a useful source, far from this, but sometimes the internet makes the journey longer and may led you on a completely wrong path or answer or even diagnosis, if it is not used to its full potential.
So, is it possible to bring up the standards of the internet? The answer is a definite yes, and it has been done already in all fields including the humanities. The problem is many sites are not as well known within the Google generation. Before I entered college, I did not know anything about Jstor or The Blake Archive but I knew about sites such as Spark notes, Gradesaver, and the infamous Wikipedia, which are good for brief summaries- some of the time- but after that they lack in substance. The many sites open to students at any level on the internet is monumental but finding them is the problem for most students when researching. They do not know about the many scholarly pages that can benefit their research more so then the likes of Wikipedia and Sparknotes. Education can only help this and make internet users more ‘web savvy’.
Some websites on the internet set you back and led you in the wrong direction but I think that it is part of the process. When I walk into the library to research for an assignment, I have to delve into all the sources that are available to me on that particular subject. There is no easy way in knowing what books are relevant or not. I gather all the books that seem helpful and slowly eliminate them. I think the same can be said for the internet. The reader must become ‘web savvy’ and develop a new discernment with regard to available material.. As I am a student, clearly the internet has been a valuable tool for many of my essays, I scoured an endless amount of pages, gathering bits of information that were helpful, but it took time and a lot of reading. Another site that I came across which was very helpful was http://www.lib.berkeley.edu/TeachingLib/Guides/Internet/Evaluate.html.

This site has a great tutorial on ‘finding information on the internet’. It is amazing how often people use the internet but do not think about looking for the author or even the date the site was created. As a history student myself, this is unimaginable, taking a source and not investigating it first, what makes the internet so different?
The internet does hold a danger to society in terms of internet addiction, incorrect information and dehumanization. The answer is not to hide from it but rather embrace the many advantages that it has to offer. The internet now provides an access to libraries and museums on the click of a button…..this has to be a good thing for scholars and students.

So what are the solutions to this…
Ignoring the internet as a source is not the answer as this would involve missing out on the great scholarship pages that do exist such as the ‘Blake Archive’ and JSTOR to mention but two.
One solution used by many is only trusting the .EDU sites but this leads to the assumption that people who went to university are brighter then people who didn’t, which is not always the case. Public intellectuals are also scrutinized a lot as well but, only the person reading the site can judge, with the help and information available, whether the site is reliable or not. Also using the Advanced search functions and good search engines also helps.
Another solution is simply teach people to judge for themselves whether a webpage is reliable or not before allowing all trust with the page and in turn avoiding shoddy work and harmful medical sites. Educating internet users on the hazards of internet usage and help them evaluate claims of authority within the .EDU domain and the World Wide Web. The dangers of social networking are dealt with daily in the news, more and more people seem to be trusting strangers on the internet and putting themselves in danger. Phishing scams have also made headlines over the years which would scare any internet user, but education may not eliminate the dangers but it can inform users.
Who knows what the next generation will produce in terms of the work of the humanities on the internet, but let’s hope it is all positive. Overall the process has been a positive one so far, I am certain that Shakespeare never envisioned his work on the internet for everyone to enjoy but it is the next step forward. The only solution in making websites more reliable is to educate the readers about dangerous and harmful sites, and not to ignore their existence. Producing more websites that are to a recognised standard can also help combat the risky information the internet has to offer while still embracing freedom of creativity and imagination.

                                                                                              

Websites of Interest:
http://www.vts.intute.ac.uk/tutorial/media
http://www.informationliteracy.ie/
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XPC-bNX9O_E

Open Access and Web 2.0

•March 26, 2010 • Leave a Comment

The Open Access Initiative, Its story so far and the contribution of Web 2.0.

Introduction:

The Open Access Initiative, or open sourcing as it is often referred to, has helped to change internet life substantially. By working hand in hand with the newest developments in Web 2.0 in terms of technology, applications and software programmes, the internet now allows us to freely spread information and ideas while allowing us to be creative with the whole world just a few clicks of a mouse away.

Beginnings:

It could be argued that open access began in the earliest days of literacy and movable print, pamphlets, books, etc. Open access allows people to access other people’s material through a certain medium. Books, Newspapers and other early forms of spreading information were in a way, very primitive versions of the Open Access I am attempting to describe. The Open Access with which I am concerned is that of the Open Access Initiative begun in December 2001 by a small group of academics in Budapest.

Foundations:

The Budapest Open Access initiative was set up in December 2001 by a group of people who were all members of the Open Society Institute, These people were trying to find a means by which they could allow the research, academic works, studies, surveys and many other sources of information to be easily and freely accessible to the average and everyday internet user along with other academics, students and researchers. In a sense, these people in Budapest wanted to put free information about almost every subject of interest at people’s fingertips with the click of a button. They decided to try and make this vision a reality, and the sixteen members signed the document. You can read more about the agreement http://www.soros.org/openaccess/index.shtml

Use in education:

The Open Access Initiative has had many varied and significant effects upon the world of education, research and all scholarly work. Many researchers, colleges and universities have made their materials available at a click of a button for no fee to any internet user anyplace in the world. E-Journals are the most effective and practical method of distributing this research and material freely over the web. http://aera-cr.asu.edu/ejournals/ is just one link that gives a small example of the e-journals and journals that have made their information freely accessible following the Budapest agreement on Open Access.
Sites such as http://www.doaj.org/ are a directory to many more journals, infact, there are 4840 open access journals listed on this one directory site alone. The journals on the internet that are freely accessible range from subject areas of History to English, from Medicine to Physics and almost every other academic, scholarly and practical subject one could think of.

Social and interactive use:

Facebook, MySpace and Youtube are all directly related to the Open Access Initiative, not necessarily in terms of scholarly works however. These sites typify and simplify the objectives of allowing people to freely obtain and distribute information about themselves, their friends, their family and their interests. Although these sort of sites may not be what was intended from the Open Access Initiative to arise, however, they play a major role in the lives of internet users, and Youtube for example was awarded a George Foster Peabody Award in America for its effectiveness in being a “speaker’s corner that both embodies and promotes democracy”, highlighting its ability to allow information and ideas be spread rapidly to many people in many places.

The Role of Web 2.0:

The use of World Wide Web technology and web design that aims to facilitate creativity, information sharing, and, most notably, collaboration”.
Web 2.0 has played a massive role in the development of Open Access as it has transformed the internet into a more user friendly and more accessible place through the development of new software, blogs, sites and means of distributing information freely and easily throughout the web. Tim O’Reilly, the man who was examined Web 2.0 the closest has pointed out, in concurrence with Tim Berners-Lee, the webs creator, that Web 2.0 is just a development of the original ideas behind the internet. O’Reilly produced this table to highlight the changes and developments.

DoubleClick –> Google AdSense
Ofoto –> Flickr
Akamai –> BitTorrent
mp3.com –> Napster
Britannica Online –> Wikipedia
personal websites –> blogging
evite –> upcoming.org and EVDB
domain name speculation –> search engine optimization
page views –> cost per click
screen scraping –> web services
publishing –> participation
content management systems –> wikis
Directories (taxonomy) –> tagging (“folksonomy”)
stickiness –> syndication

This table, showing terms from Web 1.0 on the left and Web 2.0 on the right demonstrates changes taking place within the internet and not the original concept.
The following video is one released by IBM in their attempt to promote their web 2.0 ideas and uses. The video clearly explains the advantages of web 2.0 to develop business in a more efficient and economical manner; < Web 2.0 is also important in more relaxed forms of spreading information across the globe than in business.
Social networking and blogs or wikis also take advantage of advances in software and techniques surrounding Web 2.0 to share ideas, pictures, events and information of a lighter nature. RSS feeds are used by many sites to distribute information to the homepage or current working domain that the internet user has on his or her screen. It is simply another example of Web 2.0 working on the basis of freeing up information for the regular internet user.

Conclusion:

The development of Web 2.0 and Open Access has made the internet a more accessible, user friendly and even useful place. One can now be confident of finding material they need for business or scholarly pursuits, the material they desire for personal and social use or any other material they may need for any other use. The internet truly is the ultimate digital media that ranges from the academic to the social, the private to the personal and the local to the worldwide sphere.

Information At The Click Of A Button

•March 25, 2010 • Leave a Comment

Intro

Before I started this module hypertext and techtuality, I knew little or nothing on the endless bounds of literature online and the ongoing development of humanities on the World Wide Web. It was Don Trapscott and Anthony D. William’s book that inspired my original presentation and what really opened eyes to mass collaboration and benefits,  not only to businesses but also anybody with accessibility to the internet. I thought this to be relevant to a studier of the humanities like myself.
This book really opened my eyes to the information readily available at the click of a button. The ideas and new models presented by Trapscott and Williams are relevant not only to the business world but to students, academics and even world governments. The idea of opened source technology is integral to our world today. Even since the original presentation, my eyes are still being opened to the benefits of open source technology.
It was the innovative new business strategies, which catapulted this book to becoming a bestseller. The four main ideas that emerge from the book are openness, peering, sharing and acting globally. All these ideas in the book are aimed towards businesses but all these methods are now integral to the spreading of knowledge not just in the corporate world.

Wikionomics

Wikinomics firstly published in 2006 when it became a bestseller. Tapscott and Williams book was such a success due to the identification of  the technological changes and the impact they had on the world. The technological changes at this time like for example, the change from html, which Tapscott quotes as “a platform for the presentation of information”, to xml which he calls “a computational platform” or as he simply puts it that we are now programming rather then presenting information.
The interest in this book he believes was due to, as he puts it “a technology revolution combined with a demographic revolution” which created “a social revolution”. The best anecdote within the book, which describes all four of his main strategies, is the story of Goldcorp Inc. Goldcorp Inc. is a Gold mining company, which was struggling to locate new gold. The geological data and information of a gold mining company is, as you can imagine, normally highly confidential but what the CEO of the company decided to do was to make his geological data public after hearing about the Linux operating system. As he posted the geological data on the web, he decided to hold a contest called the “Gold Corp. Challenge” with a prize of $500,000 to the top three submissions. He received 77 submissions from all over the world with techniques he had never heard of before from not only geologist but also chemists, computer scientists and mathematicians. The result was that, in exchange for the prize money, he found 3.4 billion dollars worth of gold. This story demonstrates exactly Tapscotts four principles:
1) Peering: expanding to peers outside the boundary of the one company e.g. it was not just geologists who were capable of finding the gold found.
2) Openness: Opening the boundaries of his company.
3) Sharing: Sharing intellectual property that is used like a mutual fund. E.g. the sharing of Goldcorp Inc.’s I.P.
4) Acting Globally: The idea of treating the world as one country in which there are no physical or regional boundaries giving realms of possibility.

Tapscott does not resign his ideas to just the corporate world but also governments and education. Tapscott believes that these principles should be introduced to both these sectors. He believes that we should move to a new age of democracy and move towards network models of government with digital brainstorming. Barrack Obama vowed to take an open source approach to his presidency in 2008 working from the bottom up which was evidently used in his recent plan to lower health care costs for poorer people in America. In addition, just as with government, Tapscott believes the advantages of his four main principles: such as free to use, equalling to mutual benefit, invaluable resources, high reliability and a broader market are applicable to the world of education too. Tapscott believes we should harness the collective genius using the same four principles.

Open Source Initiative

Just one of the examples shown by Tapscott of how this was done is through open sourcing. The open source initiative is aimed at educating people on the benefits of open source software and collaboration techniques and is a public benefit corporation. They want to educate people in the benefits of open source software that is actively involved in the business, education and government. Since the founding of the open source initiative (OSI) in 1998 in California, it has continued to expand and flourish.
 Linux as mentioned in the above anecdote is an example of open source software. Linux makes software readily available to schools that would not be affordable to buy individually. This gives school children of all learning capabilities a chance to learn from different software. Open source software such as Linux is innovative and an integral part to this idea of mass collaboration.

Net Gen Education Challenge

Don Tapscott is now using mass collaboration to improve education in his latest adventure “Net Gen Education” which he describes as a  “Global video challenges on how the the social web nurtures teaching, learning, collaboration and innovation in the 21st century”. The challenge was inspired by the 2007 project “the Flat Classroom Project”. the project linked 1,500 students from 20 countries in four projects with face to face conferences. The project used leading web 2.0 technologies to connect students in powerful learning envoirnments where they learn, connect and improve their cultural understanding. “The Net Gen Education Challenge” is a call for ideas to shape the future of education. It is  the fundamental ideas behind “Wikinomics” that Tapscott is using to improve education.

Wikinomics Blog

This book and the ideas of Don Tapscott have inspired millions of people, including myself and has in turn inspired the blog called Wikinomics. It was created by a team at “nGenera Insight” a company that explores hot topics emerging in the world of technology and the world wide web. The blog is collaborative and covers everything going on in the world wide web from the iPhone to Government related issues.

Final Note

It is evident that the possibilities of the internet are only scratching the service. It is evident that open access is becoming an integral part to our society. Tapscott’s ideas and thoughts on the possibilities available to anyone with access to the world wide web. An exciting time for everyone with the information available to us at the click of a button.

RSS Feeds

•March 25, 2010 • Leave a Comment

Feed Me

I believe that I should start by explaining my choice to focus on RSS Feeds. While seeming to represent a strange subject choice I attempted to analyse the background and development of RSS feeds in the context of free open access web content. RSS feeds continue to play an important role in the sharing of knowledge amongst internet users. While the feeds were initially used in the transfer of podcasts and news bulletins there is now a wide range of content being transferred across the feeds. An example of such a diversification in content can be seen in the addition of RSS feeds to blog subscriptions.
RSS is generally accepted to represent Really Simple Syndication however it can also represent Rich Site Summary. The history of RSS can be traced back to 1997, and the creation of Resource Description Framework. RDF is similar to RSS an was created by Ramanathan V. Guha.
RSS was first invented by Netscape. They wanted to use an XML format to distribute news, stories and information. Netscape refined the version of RSS and then dropped it. Userland Software took control of the specficiation and continued to develop it releasing a newer version. Eventually UserLand released RSS v2. RSS uses an XML format to distribute the information. However there is a complicated background to this chain of events.
In 1999 Netscape created a standard named RSS version 0.90. This was the beginning of RSS as we know it today. Dan Libby, an employee of Netscape improved version 0.90 and released RSS version 0.91. Dave Winer, an employee at Userland also created a new version of RSS. He too named it, RSS version 0.91, creating confusion, the two versions of RSS were named the same but the specifications were slightly different. Netscape’s RSS team abandoned RSS development, because it was dubbed too complicated for what they were trying to accomplish.

Rael Dornfest released RSS version 1.0. The new specification by O’Reily was based on the RDF standard rather than the previous versions of RSS. RSS 1.0 was incompatible with previous RSS versions. The specification caused significant confusion because though RSS 1.0 had the same purpose as the 0.90 series, the spec was very different. In an attempt to minimize further confusion Userland named their next release RSS version 2.0. RSS 2.0 is very similar to the 0.9 series and is generally considered compatible, while RSS Version 1.0 remains very different.
On July 15, 2003, UserLand Software transferred ownership of its RSS 2.0 specification to the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard Law School. The specification, which was previously copyrighted, is now licensed under terms that allow it to be customised and republished, using the Creative Commons Attribution/Share Alike licence.
In order to use an RSS feed one needs a piece of software (aggregator) that checks the feeds and lets you read any new articles that have been added. Firefox and Safari automatically check for feeds when you visit a website, and display an icon when they find one. Some of the most popular aggregators available include FeedDemon 3 and NewzCrawler 1.9.
Music<
RSS has not only revolutionised the collating of news, it has also played a role in the development of podcasting. RSS feeds can also include audio and visual clips, blog entries, news bulletins etc. It can be used as a web syndication device and also in practical terms it could be used to provide a feed of job vacancies. The software makes it easy to stay in touch with the latest developments in a specific area of interest. One can save a lot of time by not having to individually visit each website, all your chosen feeds can be accessed directly from the feed reader. If you run your own website, you can display the latest headlines from other websites on your site using RSS. RSS feeds can be accessed from personal computers, laptops, mobile devices etc.

For anyone interested in creating their own RSS feed www.Feedforall.com is a good website. I have also included some websites that have proven to be excellent resources in my research of RSS feeds and which I could not have understood the software without consulting.
Harvard Law Website
RSS Resources
RSS Specifications

From Stone to Screen: The Changing Nature of the ‘Page’ – Rob Fehily

•March 23, 2010 • Leave a Comment

From Stone to Screen:

The Changing Nature of the ‘Page’

 

[The internet] is astounding technology, and we should just take a moment to celebrate the power and reach that it gives us.
– Stephen Fry, The Virtual Revolution

 

Welcome to my page. The vicissitudes of the past 6 months, from October 2009 to March 2010, really opened my eyes with regard to what I here christen “The Changing Nature of The Page”. I think that the way in which the ‘page’ has changed with the birth of the digital age is, in Stephen Fry’s words, astounding, so I will discuss this at length here. Put crudely, there are two main areas that I want to examine: 1) ACADEMIA and 2) COMMUNITY. As I delve further and further into how these areas of life have become forever mutated by the changing page, I will subdivide them into smaller categories as necessary.

1. ACADEMIA :
So in what way has the page changed in relation to the development of the academic sphere? The advent of the digital age resulted in the ongoing and rapid evolution of how information is stored and shared. There is an article called ‘Multimedia and Multitasking: A Survey of Digital Resources for Nineteenth-Century Literary Studies’ , writted by John A. Walsh, which appears in A Companion to Digital Literary Studies . In it he mentions that “digital media, particularly the World Wide Web, are excellent platforms for presenting multimedia primary works and related scholarship.” The dynamic digital page has made it very easy for scholars to share and collaborate with each other; one of the greatest benefits of this is that it allows for the birth of a sort of ‘literary polygraph’. Walsh juxtaposes this with the ‘lonely pursuit’ of literary scholarship of years past which produced the monograph, a piece of work that would have been available only to an elite few in the academic sphere:

– Traditional literary scholarship is often a lonely pursuit – solitary work devoted to the production of a monograph. Digital literary scholarship, on the other hand, is generally social and collaborative with scholars, students, librarians, and technologists working together to produce a scholarly product with more functionality, further reach, and potentially wider appeal than the traditional monograph.

This entails very exciting prospects for academic publishing; now instead of having to wait for a book to be written and go through the usual channels of distribution before it can be critiqued by other scholars, this process can happen before the actual publication, making the end product a much more informed piece of work; a scholarly polygraph with ‘more functionality, further reach, and potentially wider appeal than the traditional monograph’. A good example of what can be accomplished with the modern digital page is the
William Blake Archive . On one level, the internet could be understood as the successor to the printed book but first I want to discuss the varied and rich history behind the different types of information systems.

1.1 INFORMATION SYSTEMS:
The most primitive way (but hardly the worst or least effective, depending on the situation) in which we can pass on information is through our bodies – the sounds we make, the way we move, and other body language such as facial expressions and hand gestures. Socrates famously wrote nothing and yet laid the fundamental and essential blocks for our modern western philosophical tradition. Writing however first developed in Mesopotamia over five thousand years ago in the form of pictograms written on clay tablets; the first ‘page’. They were used to record basic information about crops and taxes. Egyptian papyrus followed two thousand or so years later. This was a huge evolutionary leap, considering it succeeded the stone tablet, because this new ‘paper’ allowed for much greater portability and ease of use than stone (e.g. it could be rolled up and folded). The steps involved in the production of papyrus are quite sophisticated and included extracting the marrow from the stems of a papyrus plant, humidification, pressing, drying, gluing, and cutting. Papyrus was eventually replaced by parchment in the form of vellum; mammal skin. The Romans used wax coated wooden tablets upon which they wrote using a stylus (‘codex’ is Latin for ‘block of wood’). Paper, one of the ‘Four Great Inventions of Ancient China’, and woodblock printing developed and became popular in China and East Asia generally from around the second and first centuries B.C.

 1.2 BOOKS:
Paper of course became the staple worldwide information system and eventually gave birth to the
‘book’ – the origins of which lie in ancient Rome. Holes were drilled in two wood blocks (mentioned above) which were then tied together, forming a device which could be opened and closed; wax was on the inside on which one could write with a stylus. Eventually however, the wax was replaced by paper.

Society today is awash with books. If we understand the term in a broader sense as “A set or collection of written, printed, illustrated, or blank sheets, made of paper, parchment, or other various material, usually fastened together to hinge at one side”(seewikipedia ), then we would rarely go one day without reading or even buying some sort of book. Novels, magazines and newspapers are probably the most common forms. They are an excellent and, compared to say, a stone tablet, more mobile and cost-effective way of spreading information that their predecessors. However, there are some unavoidable problems that will forever be attached to our reading and producing of books.

1.3 PROBLEMS WITH BOOKS AND SOLUTIONS OFFERED BY THE INTERNET:
The main problem with books is that their pages are static, physically confined and not interactive. That is to say, when we read a book we can never have access to anything not contained on the page itself; one would instead have to read a different book or consult some other source to further explore the idea in question. Readers of Joyce’s Ulysses may wish to find out more about Telemachus (which refers to the son of Odysseus in Homer’s Odyssey) upon learning the title of the first chapter but would be unable to do so. A secondary source is needed; a classics dictionary perhaps. Another pressing problem is that books require a lot of paper on which to display this static information which can, in the event of mass production, have obvious adverse environmental side effects due to a decrease in the number of trees.

These problems are eradicated with astounding power by the internet. There is a world of data and metadata (and metametadata , and so forth ad infinitum) available at the surfer’s fingertips. Let me return to my previous example: Ulysses can be read online here and a very comprehensive and in-depth description of Telemachus can be found here without the need to search numerous different resources (here of course the reader is consulting two different sources but the point is that they are both contained within the internet, which I understand as a single source in itself). The internet is of course also a great alternative to the printed book because web pages are easily published and no paper is needed to create them.

I wish to further elaborate on one more excellent example of how the internet has dynamically changed the page by discussing Rotunda; specifically John Bryant’s ‘Fluid-Text’ edition of Typee by Herman Melville . After downloading a trial username and password that grants access for a 48-hour period, viewers can explore Melville’s own original manuscript in tandem with Bryant’s transcription. I am utterly fascinated at the implications this sort of dual-learning experience could have for the academic sphere. Having the ability to compare different editions/interpretations of a document at (literally) the click of a button can reveal interesting, and undoubtedly significant, heuristic aspects and unfoldings in the text which would otherwise never have been obvious. For example, why (in F 01 r of the manuscript; P 01 of the transcript, line 23) does Melville change ‘shirt’ to ‘frock’? Does this change hold any significance? The digital nature of the edition allows Bryant to include a wealth of commentary, in the form of hyperlinks, about changes made by Melville to the text, adding further scope for how the text could be understood. It is thanks to digital editions such as this and the Quartos.org versions of Hamlet that allow for a much more informed, richer and, arguably, accurate interpretation of the respective texts. The thought of being able to interact in such complex ways with some of my own favourite books is really exciting; I would love to see the original drafts made by George Orwell (a.k.a. Eric Arthur Blair) to 1984 or Animal Farm to see if any significant changes were made in the initial stages of production of the books I have read and love.

Google Earth is another compelling example of the possibilities opened up to us by the new dynamic page. It embodies everything that makes this digital page far superior to the paper one; in Google Earth’s case we could understand its static paper counterpart as an atlas. Aside from being able to pinpoint any location in the world within (usually) a few seconds, there are other features available in the latest edition (edition 5), such as Google Moon, Google Mars and Google Sky, the ability to create virtual tours and pathways, a customisable ‘Place your own marker’ at personal sites of interest; your home or place of work for example, a ‘How to get from point-A to point-B’ feature is also included as well as a wealth of practical information such as addresses and phone numbers for different institutions. Let’s say somebody is planning a holiday to Paris; they could use Google Earth to obtain some indispensible information such as the distance from Charles De Gaulle Airport to the city center (of course this information could be discovered merely in terms of measurement of kilometers, but Google Earth also offers a visual representation of this information which is arguably much more useful than a static number), or the proximity of a certain hostel or hotel to tourist attractions such as the Louvre or Eiffel Tower. Most of the more populous cities such as capitals and primate cities have three-dimensional representations which makes for a particularly stimulating experience, not merely from an aesthetic point of view, but also from an educational one.

Magyar Orszaghaz

Above is the 3D embodiment of the Hungarian Parliament Building (Orszaghaz) which lies on the east bank of the Danube in Budapest. Notice each small blue square; each one of these is a different photograph of the location. One will also usually find embedded Wikipedia hyperlinks containing detailed information on what one sees on the screen. One would never be able to get this kind of interactivity or volume of information in a paper book.

1.4 MUSIC:
Music has also changed profoundly on account of how the page has mutated and I believe that these changes are still only in their infancy. First of all, sheet music is now widely accessible because of the internet. I am a pianist and am indebted to the uploaders of nearly all of the sheet music I now own; without them I would probably not be able to play anything. Aside from sheet music however, there are hundreds, probably thousands, of web pages out there offering varied and very useful information in relation to everything musical. For example, an excellent introduction to music theory can be found here , while a detailed analysis of the piano, from its origins, to tuning, to tips on caring for it, can be found here. Each of these pages are interactive and embedded with many hyperlinks, allowing the viewer access to more information than any physical book could hope to offer.

I predict (and sincerely hope) that sheet music will eventually follow literature in the same way as Rotunda’s Typee. By this I mean that one day we will be able to compare a completed, published piece of sheet music with the composer’s original handwritten manuscript, preferably in the same sort of way as Bryant’s Fluid-Text Typee (i.e. the ability to compare every possible version side by side to check for differences; sort of like a ‘spot the difference’ exercise!). There is an indispensible opportunity here for the contributor to include very helpful side notes and hyperlinks. Examples might include defining what a fugue or etude or overture is, or including a description of the culture and society in which the particular piece of music under examination was composed, or including details of the composer’s life, or linking the viewer to other web pages which contain similar material. The possibilities are endless and each one would be an example of how the page has evolved, becoming less static and much more interactive than the traditional page. In fact, this idea has already been developed in relation to Medieval music and viewers can access the site here. Although there are at the moment only images, I would keep an optimistic eye on this site and hope for it one day to include music of all ages and genres, with each piece accompanied by detailed scholarly interpretation.

The original manuscript of course may very well be loaded with very significant or very subtle heuristic elements; crossed-out notes, last-minute accidentals or altered dynamics are but a few potential possibilities. I would love to see this feature because I think it would be fascinating to search for any changes made by the composer before finishing their piece. For example: what if Beethoven had originally planned to write the first movement of the moonlight sonata in a different key? What would it sound like then? Or what if Pachelbel had initially written a slightly different (or even very different) harmony or melody for Canon in D Major? Did Tchaikovsky ever have different dynamics in mind when writing the 1812 Overture? An example of what I’m talking about might look something like this:
Original and heuristicDoctored and published
As you can see, this sort system allows for comparison side-by-side of the finished product and the original product, complete with all of its mistakes and alterations.

1.4.1 COMPOSING AND EUDAIMONIA : After reading about and researching music theory I’ve begun composing some very simple pieces; I could not have done this without the indispensible help of a dynamic page. I am referring to a program called Finale. This is an excellent composition tool and includes all the necessary features to compose music. The composer can select the instrument(s) for which they are composing, time signature, key signature, as well as the style and appearance of the sheet music itself. Here is an image of a piece composed with Finale (note all the editorial tools listed in the top quarter of the window – you would not get these on a static page):
More interactive and educational than pen and paper!
The very clever aspect of using a tool such as this is that it disallows the making of mistakes. Let’s say for example the composer is creating a piece in a 4/4 (usually referred to as ‘common’ time, and is therefore notated simply by a ‘C’). They will then only be allowed four crotchets per bar before the program intervenes and prevents the addition of a fifth. This would be a pretty difficult mistake to make considering you’re only dealing with four notes, but when you take into account that four crotchets is equal to sixty-four hemidemisemiquavers (what a mouthful!), you would have to have kept track of sixty-four notes in one 4/4 bar! This could be quite a difficult task, but not so much when using a program like Finale because if you try to insert more notes or more rests than are allowed in the bar it will prevent you from doing so. This is a great way of learning because the trial and error involved in this sort of exercise reminds the composer of mistakes they would have made if they were simply writing the notes with a pen and paper.

One further excellent feature of this program is that it allows the composer to change the key signature at any time. This is called transposition and can be done with one measure, or the entire piece; whatever the composer wants. This is especially useful for experimenting with what a piece sounds like when its tonal center (i.e. its key) is shifted. For example, say the composer finishes writing a piece in the key of G minor, listens to it, and then decides that this particular key does not embody what she had originally intended. She may wish to transpose it to C# minor for example. Here is what the transposition tool looks like in Finale:
Transposition through the dynamic digital page

I find this aspect particularly captivating because I strongly believe that a piece of music should be heard in all twelve possible keys. For example, Pachelbel wrote Canon in D major; what about Canon in C major? Or A major? Twelve notes make up the chromatic scale and each one has its own unique key. Therefore, for any piece out there, you are only listening to one out of at least twelve versions! Originally I learned Canon in D major on the piano and it was a very worth while exercise going back over it and learning to play it in some of the other keys. It’s like hearing a description of an event from different perspectives; they each describe the same event, just in different ways. The point here is that a pen and paper could never offer these kinds of features. A dynamic page can.

I am also a philosopher, and from a philosophically charged viewpoint I would strongly claim that the dynamic page, in the form of programs like Finale, easily accessible sheet music, and viral video (which I will mention later) has greatly enhanced my own personal eudaimonia . This is an Aristotelian term which loosely means ‘human flourishing’. Without the internet and the dynamic page I would have had a very limited scope in which to develop any musical interest or skills at all. But because I have had this opportunity, I have and still am, I believe, flourishing a great deal as a human being.

2. COMMUNITY:
There is of course also a very powerful social aspect to the internet and the dynamic page. My focus now is still on the interactive sharing of information, but in a more informal, non-academic setting. Naturally, there exists some overlap between the academic and community spheres; neither is absolute in itself. The community element innate within the web has led to what Dr. Aleks Krotoski of The Virtual Revolution refers to as the ‘great leveling of humanity’; the construction of a more egalitarian plateau on which more knowledge than ever before can be shared. In Chapter 12 – New opportunities in Africa , Krotoski comments on how ‘today, all around the world, being connected is empowering people’; her case study is a farmer called Kudjo Agbevi who now uses the knowledge provided by web to grow crops more efficiently. This is a great example of a practical way (from an academic and communal perspective) in which the dynamic page can improve our lives.

2.1 FORUMS:
An example personal to me of how the digital page is a great collaboratory device is that of forums. In the past, I’ve had MANY hardware and software problems – nine times out of ten I will find a solution to these problems on a forum somewhere on the web. When my speakers start crackling or my mouse stops working, my first port-of-call isn’t the Dell or Apple or Microsoft helpline – it’s a forum. There is a refreshing sort of heuristic element to watching a problem unfold and, hopefully, become solved throughout the posts of a forum. You can usually trace the steps from A to B to C and see exactly how the problem in question was solved, or how it might be solved, based on the experience of others. Unfortunately, a common problem is that sometimes the language used on forums can be overly esoteric – not everybody may know what a codec or a trojan is, but if that’s the case, then most people probably won’t mind looking up the definition if it may help them in solving one of their technical problems.

What’s also very refreshing about forums is the (general) lack of advertising. Whatever about adverts in the margins down the side of the screen telling you how you can become ‘ripped and hunky in only 4 weeks!’, the conversation in the forum (I find) rarely falls victim to bias. Let’s say you’re thinking of buying an iPad. Obviously, you could visit the Apple website where they’ll tell you how this new product is ‘magical and revolutionary, at an unbelievable price’. Or you could visit a forum where you (might) discover that it has poor battery life, or how the chassis is weak, breaking after being dropped from a relatively low height. My point here is that forums aren’t polluted by advertising bias; usually, contributors to forums, when reviewing something, will give you honest opinions. Once again, this an example of how the dynamic digital page, riddled with hyperlinks, images, video and sound, can spread easily accessible information around the globe in an incredibly fast and efficient manner.

2.2 SOCIAL NETWORKING:
In recent times, the changing page has allowed for people to keep in contact with each other, regardless of spatiotemporal barriers. Instant messengers like MSN and Yahoo are some typical examples. Facebook is clearly an evolved instant messenger in that it includes not only an instant messenger ability, but also contains other features which are still available to the general online community even when others are offline. For example, Facebook allows people to upload pictures which are then accessible by their online friends even when they are themselves offline. When we juxtapose this type of page with its predecessor, which we could take to be the static paper letter or the postcard, we can see the obvious advantages it offers. Now, instead of writing a letter which, depending on its destination, may take in excess of a week to arrive in the hands of its intended recipient, emails can be written and received in a fraction of the time. Of course, emails and online messages lack a certain charm and sentimentality in that they have no tangible qualities, unlike a postcard for example. This however is, I would argue, but a minor quibble with the nature of the digital community sphere.

An increase in bandwidth has allowed for the transfer of more bits per second along channels. This in turn has allowed for the mass sharing of video information over the internet. Skype is an excellent example of how the social page has changed dramatically. I keep in regular contact with a friend from Chicago and even though we are separated by many miles over the Atlantic we can still see and talk to each other as if we were both in the same room. The only significant drawback is that you’re interacting with a mere 2D video image but this is a small price to pay for what we are allowed. Perhaps from a more creative and educational aspect (the community and academic sphere overlap here), Youtube is another manifestation of essentially the same thing; sharing information over a dynamic and interactive page.

2.3 YOUTUBE:
Youtube is definitely the global viral video hub. There are millions and millions of hours worth of footage uploaded, and although there is a lot of trash, there is a lot of gold there as well. From a community perspective, people use Youtube to share videos with their friends, families, and usually any other stranger who happens to stumble upon it. An Irish friend of mine recently got married in Brazil; after first having a (digital) face-to-face discussion with him on Skype I was then later able to see the ceremony because it had been recorded and uploaded to Youtube. This of course could never have been done before through the paper page or the telephone. In a lecture entitled An anthropological introduction to Youtube given by Michael Wesch on the 23rd of June 2008, he (Wesch) says that “[the web] is not just about information, but it’s actually about linking people, and it’s about linking people in ways that we’d never been linked before.”

As a learning tool, Youtube for me was and still continues to be indispensible. There have been many times in the past (as I’m sure there will be many times in the future) where I had no clue how to use a particular computer program; take CoffeeCup HTML Editor for example (I’m referring particularly to computer programs to narrow down the examples to a reasonable number here). Learning how to use this program was a necessary component of the same college module for which I am now creating this webpage. There was no shortage of CoffeeCup tutorial videos on youtube (which can be found here), some of which I consulted when beginning this project in order to get a better grasp of how to use the program. I have also used Youtube tutorial videos to learn how to use Sony Vegas and Fruity Loops Studio; two pieces of editing software which, thanks to the Youtube community, I can now use much better and efficiently to produce music and video projects.

Returning to the music aspect, Youtube was one of the main contributors to my developing an interest in music. Initially, I got my inspiration by watching hundreds of videos people had posted of themselves playing piano pieces I knew I wanted to learn myself one day. These videos really helped because after spending much time studying the hand and finger movements of these players I eventually realised that the sound of the music was deceptively complex for the relatively easy way in which it can be played. That is not to say that playing any instrument is ‘easy’ – far from it – but spending enough time looking at other people playing made it, for me, a much less intimidating task to undertake. In the early days, Youtube was my music teacher; it taught me what ‘Middle C’ is, what ‘#’ means, and what a ‘flip’ is. Without this sort of fundamental groundwork I would not be where I am today, musically speaking.

CONCLUDING WORDS:
I hope I have explained on this webpage, from a personal perspective as well as a more general one, just how invaluable the new digital dynamic page is, and how the page in general has evolved from stone to screen. The possibilities opened up to everyone everywhere because of this new page are quite frankly, mind boggling. Tim Berners-Lee’s paper written just over two decades ago, in 1989, proposed then what is now the World Wide Web. His supervisor, Mike Sendall wrote the comment, “Vague, but exciting” on the paper; probably one of the greatest euphemisms of which I know. Aleks Krotoski instead refers to the web as ‘the defining technological revolution of our lifetimes’; this I think is a more accurate description.