9.368 media old and new

Humanist (mccarty@phoenix.Princeton.EDU)
Sat, 9 Dec 1995 01:36:01 -0500 (EST)

Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 9, No. 368.
Center for Electronic Texts in the Humanities (Princeton/Rutgers)

[1] From: "Gary W. Shawver" <gshawver@epas.utoronto.ca> (48)
Subject: Media old and new

[2] From: "Todd J. B. Blayone" <chorus@bud.peinet.pe.ca> (68)
Subject: Re: 9.344 media & messages

Date: Wed, 6 Dec 1995 23:07:31 -0500
From: "Gary W. Shawver" <gshawver@epas.utoronto.ca>
Subject: Media old and new

Recently I had the opportunity to participate in the U. of Calgary's
Electric Scriptorium, a virtual conference in which participants posted
their papers on the WWW. While preparing my paper for the conference, I
discovered: 1. I had to totally rethink my ideas about what constituted
order in an academic paper. 2. The WWW, with its hypertext format and its
essentially 'open' nature was actually a supeior medium for publishing the
kind or work I do. I will attempt to elborate upon the above, but first I
will explain what I do and my discontents with the hallowed medium of
academic discourse--print.

I am presently writing a thesis that, among other things, involves the use
of TACT's CollocateDisplay and COLLGEN on a medium-sized text corpus.
Specifically, I am doing a semantic field analysis certain words in
Chaucer's works (all of them) through the study of their collocates. To
date, my papers on this subject have been about equally split between pages
containing written analysis and those containing tables, charts and. This
means that if I follow the MLA Handbook on the placement of tables, etc.
and put these elements "as close to the parts of the text to which they
relate" (3.7) the analysis text is unbearably fragmented with, at times,
pages of tables, etc. In addition, since tables, etc. may be referred to
numerous times throughout the paper, any attentive, critical reader must
constantly leaf back and forth between text and table. If, on the other
hand, I follow the alternate model suggested by Turabian and put such
elements "in an appendix" (6.1), the relevant analysis text may be
separated from its corresponding table, etc. by many pages, hidden away at
the end of the article, perhaps shrunk to illegibility or hanging on its
side to fit the page. Thus I am faced with two, equally unattractive,
alternatives: either disrupt prose with tables, etc. interspersed
throughout, or bury these important elements at the end of an article,
chapter, etc. Such, by and large, are my discontents.

Preparing a paper for WWW presentation has been a revelation. In such a
hypertext environment, the difficulties posed by the print medium are
greatly reduced, the potential for what a scholarly paper is, expanded.
In such an environment, the apparatus with which scholars deal with
multiple levels of discourse, i.e. footnotes, bibliographies, appendices,
etc. are largely irrelevent. Hypertext links allow almost immediate access
to these various levels of discourse bypassing the problems listed above.
On the Web these links can reach to the world outside the paper--to TACTWeb
for example, where, eventually, readers will be able to replicate and
verify the published results. Well, I've talked enough about a subject
that is probably old hat to most of you. Perhaps the best way to "see"
what I'm talking about is my very imperfect implimentation of this idea at
the Electric Scriptorium
"http://acs.ucalgary.ca/~scriptor/index/abstracts.html" (where you can see
the other very fine papers presented at the conference) or at

Enough said

Gary W. Shawver
University of Toronto\E-Mail: gshawver@epas.utoronto.ca\
WWW: http://www.epas.utoronto.ca:8080/~gshawver/gshawver.html

Date: Fri, 8 Dec 1995 14:42:26 +0000
From: "Todd J. B. Blayone" <chorus@bud.peinet.pe.ca>
Subject: Re: 9.344 media & messages


More belated thoughts.

> >...evaluating what a technology does well and poorly
> >is a good idea. One must resist the temptation, however, to begin
> >with a set of values that are media-specific and to use them as
> >general criteria. This approach misleads. An example from my own
> >field might be the common-place assertion that the papyrus roll did
> >not function well at handling the job of referencing and
> >cross-referencing (and therefore, early Christians adopted the
> >codex form). This type of analysis mistakes cause and effect. The
> >lack of reference systems in the earliest manuscripts indicates
> >that referencing and cross-referencing, as a cherished
> >hermeneutical activity, was a *product* of a technological shift
> >and not the cause of it. (The oral tradition also did a poor job of
> >supporting this activity!)
> I agree that one is mislead by the assumption that frustrated desire
> *necessarily* pushes the invention of a new technology, but I cannot
> see that it is simply impossible that this should on occasion be the
> case. (I want badly to communicate at great distances, nothing
> available will do the job, so I invent a device that will allow me
> to do so. My invention has unforseen consequences, people use it in
> ways I could not have imagined, but at the time I knew what I was
> doing and in fact achieved the desired result.) It also seems
> reasonable to me that a new activity should on occasion be the
> product of an invention but not that this is always so. In other
> words, isn't a cause-and-effect model, just like that, a simplistic
> way of thinking about a much more complex state of affairs?...

Of course, you're quite right. "Frustrated desire" is most often
involved in technological inventions/shifts *at some level.* To
return to the example given above, it is most certainly the case that
frustration with the relative cost of the scroll fed the early
Christian desire to adopt the codex. Therefore, in this case,
"frustrated desire" functioned at an economic level rather than a
hermeneutical one. The hermeneutical implications of this shift
become readily apparent only after the the technological shift was

I suppose one of the points I seem to be making is that the
development/*utilization* of new forms of orality, textuality and
multimedia *by humanist scholars* are never simply the result of a
simple "frustrated desire." Rather, as you suggest, we are dealing
with a more complex state of affairs that involve many *economic and
political factors.* To give a personal example, my own interest in
and utilization of the new technologies in the context of literary
study is directly related to my frustration with the job market and
my desire to find decent employment!

Indeed, you noted that the scholar who was excited by the
possibilites of "digital radio" was obviously wanting to break new
ground in his field. That is, you rightly linked his "frustrated
desire" to respectable academic aspirations. (Of course, I'm sure
that he could provide several compelling reasons why the new
technology holds promise for all concerned.) Moreover, I would
humbly suggest that your conservative response to his enthusiasm
betrays as much about your current context/status as your experience
listening to radio as a young boy. (Of course, you'll correct me if
I'm wrong.)

In the end, (to continue thinking out loud) it appears to me that
discussion about what a new technology does well and does poorly
cannot be readily abstracted from a discussion of the wider/vested
interests that people have in utilizing/promoting particular media.



Todd J. B. Blayone (chorus@peinet.pe.ca; MIME OK!)
Project Coordinator, Chorus / Ph.D. candidate, McGill

Address: 2480 Brock Rd. N., Pickering, ON, Canada, L1V 2P8