Guest Spot on if:book --> Thoughts-Illustrated

The Institute for the Future of the Book was generous enough to let me write a post on their blog, which can be found here:

The post was picked up by RSS feeds all over the world. Thanks!

In addition, Dave Davison, who has a blog called Thoughts-Illustrated, posted a comment comparing this archive to his project of "editorially segmenting and tagging encapsulations of longer serial archives such as recorded speeches, audiovisual/video content, and finally 'Networked Books'". Admittedly, I haven't had time yet to read his blog in depth, but what I've seen so far is a series of very interesting posts on annotating visual media for better reading and reducing Constant Partial Attention, a term he picks up from Linda Stone.

With the explosion of technologies like RSS and Web 2.0, it's very important that educators help students think critically about managing information. That might include using technology to tag longer pieces used in courses -- whatever media might be used -- and evaluating research sources.

essay.jpgI've seen a demonstration of courseware that takes this into account at Columbia's Center for New Media Teaching and Learning (CNMTL). One of CNMTL's applications, VITAL (Video Interactions for Teaching and Learning), is an environment that allows students to play digitized movies and music, select segments, annotate those segments with as much text as they like, and file the segments with annotations for when they write their integrative multimedia essays -- all in the courseware. Granted, this type of activity occurs in controlled learning environments where the media are pre-selected by the professor. I wonder if the courseware allows students to import, segment, and annotate media they've garnered through research -- or even digitize it. Applications like VITAL (but with the ability to act upon any media the reader might import, including text) ought to be readily available to students as stand-alone tools, especially now that much of their research will involve multimedia.

I could see using such a technology to teach novels. It would enable students to archive, tag, and illustrate passages, connect them to articles and other sources they've researched and imported into the environment, and so on. This might spark a radical (and possibly unfortunate) change in the English major. One of the unquantifiable skills that the English major has been touted to impart is the ability to see the Big Picture in a complex, hazy jumble of information and ideas. At the center of that is a highly flexible memory that is both detail-oriented and conceptually driven.

It's important, as technology is increasingly appropriated to our intellectual pursuits, not to become too dependent on it. But if it's used in such a way that it enhances those personal skills, then so much the better.

Obviously, one task accomplished by the Ecclesiastical Proust Archive is to serve as the memory for the vast amount of material I want to study but couldn't physically remember in its entirety. Sure, my unaided memory will recall the most important material: the early descriptions of the Église St-Hilaire at Combray, of Marcel's epiphany with the twin steeples of Martinville, and sundry short passages that made impressions on me while reading the Recherche. And I'll remember where to find them when I need to write about them. The usefulness of this archive, however, is a virtue of its "narrow" focus that keeps the field of information from assimilating and ballooning endlessly, like The Blob. (I say narrow, but really -- this archive comprises 336 passages, 184,181 words, over 700 associations, and roughly 500 images.) The focus on churches keeps the project thematically and conceptually unified.

I'm starting to think, as a result of writing this post, that opening this archive to the inclusion of passages and paratextual information not related to churches is probably not the way to go. (Read this post and this post for more on that topic.) There's enough that could be done under the church rubric -- say, a variorum of different translations and editions -- to make it textually and scholarly interesting. The vast jumbled archive of editions, translations, articles, books, pamphlets, websites, films ... ... is already there. One could simply use a wiki, perhaps with customized search tools, to make sense of all of them, which would be great. But this archive is really a tool for narrative and textual analysis.