Redefining Difficult: A Post-Bac’s Perspective on the Accessibility of Digital Scholarship Practices for Recent Grads

[The following is the text (and some fun gifs) from a presentation I gave last week at the Bucknell University Digital Scholarship Conference. Thank you to Bucknell for hosting such a fun, student-centered conference, the Mellon Foundation for providing me with funding to attend the conference (and my entire job), and Ben Daigle for helping me hone my message and feel confident in my presentation!]

I want to start by telling a story from when I was an undergrad. I was in a Literary Theory class and we were reading Lacan, not secondary explanations of Lacan. Actual Lacan. For those of you who haven’t read it, here’s a couple of stereotypical sentences from one of this works, The Agency of the Letter in the Unconscious.

“And we will fail to pursue the question further as long as we cling to the illusion that the signifier answers to the function of representing the signified, or better, that the signifier has to answer for its existence in the name of any signification whatever.”

“It is not only with the idea of silencing the nominalist debate with a low blow that I use this example, but rather to show how in fact the signifier enters the signified, namely, in a form which, not being immaterial raises the question of its place in reality. For the blinking gaze of a short sighted person might be justified in wondering whether this was indeed the signifier as he peered closely at the little enamel signs that bore it, a signifier whose signified would in this call receive its final honours from the double and solemn procession from the upper nave.”

So my homework was to read 22 pages of that. I realize that I took both of these out of context, but believe me, it’s hard to understand regardless. I showed up to class early and I asked my friends, did you understand this? Did you get what he was saying? None of them had, so I felt a little better. Still, we frantically Googled anything about the chapter that we could find so that it didn’t seem like we hadn’t read it at all. We went into class and had an amazing discussion about the chapter and what it meant and how it was intentionally written to be kind of confusing because that’s the point he’s making. With the help of the professor, I came away with a much deeper understanding of Lacan than I had by simply Googling. Two years later, I was in a children’s literature course and we read Frindle, which is a children’s book about a boy who calls his pen a frindle and essentially changes the language in his school and then in his town. It’s about who has the power to decide which words are counted as real words. Who gets to make them up? How do they become legitimate? What does the power to determine the validity of a word mean and how is it enforced? It was about Lacan and it illustrated the concept of signifier and signified and the literal and figurative power struggle between them in a little chapter book that I read in like 45 minutes.

Alright, let’s all keep that story in mind while I start talking about digital humanities.

I’m going to talk about my position and trying to learn about digital scholarship, and then I’m going to talk a little bit about the issues I see within digital scholarship from an accessibility standpoint.

First of all, what is a post-bac?

A post-bac is basically a post-doc, only it takes place after getting a bachelor’s degree. This specific position was created because the members of the Digital Collaborations Group at the Five Colleges of Ohio found that a lot of the time when a faculty member undertook a research project, there was usually a student researcher who took on a lot of the technical work and helped the faculty member complete what were usually very interdisciplinary projects. The DCG decided it would be helpful to have a person who was fully dedicated to learning about digital scholarship in order to assist faculty members with their research. In short, it’s my job to research different options and opportunities within the practice that I could help students and faculty incorporate into their pedagogy.

I’ve also been given the opportunity to develop my own research project that incorporates some of the digital scholarship techniques that I’ve been teaching myself and that project is currently underway.

So now you’re next question is probably going to be, so why did they hire me?

Well, I graduated from Denison University in 2016 with a degree in creative writing. Prior to taking this position, I had had a lot of jobs.

  1. Taekwondo Instructor
  2. Babysitter/Chauffer
  3. Math Tutor
  4. Traveling Mattress Salesman/Cashier
  5. Diner Waitress
  6. English Department Assistant
  7. Oral History Research Assistant
  8. Off-Campus Study Administrative Assistant
  9. Marketing Consultant

If you’ll notice only one of those is directly related to digital scholarship. So the point I’m making is that I don’t have any background in coding, computer science, web design, math or statistics, or really anything having to do with the digital. I am a millennial, I do remember a time when I had to wait for my mom to get off the phone in order to get on the internet.

But despite my ability to set my grandma’s phone to easy mode or share a youtube video on Facebook, I don’t actually know a whole lot about computers. Surprising, right?

I wouldn’t say this came as a huge surprise to me. I knew I didn’t know what I was doing when it came to coding or anything relating to computers that don’t have a GUI. But the point of this post-bac wasn’t to hire someone who already knew how to do everything related to digital scholarship, it was to hire someone who wanted to continue learning and to leverage the research undertaken by the post-bac to assist with student and faculty projects. Which is awesome. I’m basically being paid to teach myself. And that’s the background that I’m coming with to talk about accessibility in digital humanities.

What came as a surprise was the difficulty that would come from trying to teach myself some of these new skills. To be fair, I did pick up some things fairly quickly. I got these sites up and running in a matter of days.

I taught myself to webscrape in a day and created some graphs about what I found in student newspapers.

And I took a week to teach myself the basics of TEI and then how to automate it, and I created TEI versions of the first three volumes of Marx’s Capital.

This isn’t to say I didn’t run into snags as I completed each of these self-assigned challenges. Of course, there was a lot of Googling for error codes and methods of automation and you can read all about my struggles with these things on my blog: http://www.digitalolivia.org

Where I really struggled was in understanding code. I remember reading blog posts about sentiment analysis and thinking, that’s so awesome… but where do I put it? Like, where do I write this code? And as I began to search for an answer, I only became more confused. Wait, do I write this into the command line or online somewhere? Once I’ve downloaded R, how do I get it to look like the pictures in the tutorial? What is code anyway? Why aren’t there buttons for this?

After a couple of days just searching around on the internet for answers, I found myself watching videos about how circuits work and when I scrolled through the sidebar of related videos, I realized there was no way I was going to be able to teach myself all of this stuff in a year. There’s way too much to cover and there’s so much I don’t know, it’s hard to know where to start.

I gave myself the challenges because I wanted to better understand the digital humanities and after spending the first two weeks of this position reading theory on DH, I thought the best way to learn would be through doing. After all, I had read all about the whole “Hack versus Yack” kerfuffle and felt it was time to do a little hack. I thought I should learn how to digitize collections, host collections online, conduct text analysis, design a research project, code, and create Twitter bots.

As I search around on the internet for a place to start with all of these projects, I always ran into one of two issues. I was either running into this weird sensation of inaccurate hindsight bias, where I thought I knew something after reading a tutorial and that I inherently understood the underlying principles because it all seemed to make so much sense, or I ran into blogs telling me to start earlier and earlier in the process.

And both of these are frustrating. You either feel like you understand everything when in reality you don’t, or you feel like you know nothing and there’s no way to start and you watch videos Bill Gates made for middle schoolers about what a computer is and feel like you can’t possibly catch up to what you need to know.

To be clear, I’m not trying to make the argument that I think that learning computer science is a waste of my time or that it should be made easier for me or that it would be reasonable to learn an entire bachelor’s degree worth of computer science information in just a year. Far from it, but as I’m reading about digital humanities, I’m wondering whether there isn’t a better approach for those of us who don’t have access to computer science classes.

When I first started this job, I was reading a lot of the debates in digital humanities because I’m a naturally combative person, it’s more fun to learn about the state of the “field” from arguments than it is from narrative. So I read a lot of them and the spectre of neoliberalism was just hovering above me the whole time.

Even as I was applying for this position, I was taking the fact that I might be contributing to the neoliberalization of the liberal arts into consideration. Would I just be helping to create more marketable projects and skills for liberal arts faculty and students? Would I be contributing to the devaluing of the humanities as a scholarly pursuit by negating their relevance if they lack a clear way to monetize them?

This dark side argument created a constant debate in the back of my head. I read this news article about coding and how it’s being taught in high schools just so the price of paying someone to code would drop. At the same time, I’m keenly aware there is no ethical consumption under capitalism, that there is no non-bad job. There is nothing you can learn that can’t be exploited to generate wealth for your boss. So does it even matter if there’s no way to win?

By Matt Bors

And then I read Miriam Posner’s chapter, “What’s Next: The Radical, Unrealized Potential of Digital Humanities,” in Debates in Digital Humanities. And I felt like I had my answer. The quote that stuck out to me was:

“I would like us to start understanding markers like gender and race not as givens but as constructions that are actively created from time to time and place to place. In other words, I want us to stop acting as though the data models for identity are containers to be filled in order to produce meaning and recognize instead that these structures themselves constitute data. That is where the work of DH should begin. What I am getting at here is a comment on our ambitions for digital humanities going forward. I want us to be more ambitious, to hold ourselves to much higher standards when we are claiming to develop data-based work that depicts people’s lives.”

One might say, in other words, we need to be careful about which signifiers we choose to represent the signified.

The concept of data is itself an object to be studied. I’m sure Lacan would have a lot of confusing sentences to add to this conversation, but I’m not here to talk about Lacan’s ideas. Not really. To me, what this chapter and more specifically, this quote says is resist the neoliberal and capitalistic tendencies of data-based work to dehumanize people and place them into unrealistic boxes, and instead transform data-based and digital work into something that better reflects our realities. This is about creating a new type of data-based work, one which will not so easily be co-opted by corporations. That is how we resist the neoliberalization of the university, by interrogating the structures and hierarchies of data.

This is a great way to conceptualize the work of digital humanists and I want to expand it to understanding not just data but computers themselves. Computers aren’t magical black boxes of science.

They’re human-made. They’re not inherently objective. They produce the results we’ve programmed them to create. I think it should be the role of digital humanities to demystify computers, to show the biases we have when working with them, to make working with the digital accessible and understandable in the same way that working with identity in digital humanities means making the concept of identity more understandable and at the same time more complex. The more we reinforce the strict boxes of identity with digital work, the more ingrained they become in the public’s conception of identity. The same thing is true of computers. As Safiya Umoja Noble puts it in Algorithms of Oppression “While we often think of terms such as ‘big data’ and ‘algorithms’ as being benign, neutral, or objective, they are anything but.” We need to challenge the idea that computers are somehow outside of the sphere of human bias. Computers are human-made and should be conceptualized that way. Making digital work easier to replicate is one way we can begin to accomplish this goal.

After I took that literary theory class where we read Lacan, I had a lot of professors in other departments (who weren’t specifically critiquing the class I took), tell me they don’t think undergraduates should read theory, primary theory at least, because they wouldn’t understand it and the danger of them misinterpreting or quitting in the middle of the reading was not outweighed by the benefits of having students struggle with the readings.

I know that a lot of this talk is going to sound like I’m complaining that these things in the digital humanities are too hard and I don’t want to spend my time learning them. Nothing could be further from the truth. Struggling with those difficult concepts in Literary Theory was probably the single most influential activity of my undergraduate experience. I wasn’t just learning that the signifier isn’t the same thing as the signified or that we should seize the means of production.

I was learning how to read difficult works and how to break down and interpret complicated theories, which is a skill that continued to serve me throughout the remainder of my undergrad career and now, after I graduated. The struggle is valuable. The struggle shows us the complications of our lives and of humanity and I am not here to argue that we should be making things “easy” or “simple” or “fast” when we talk about the digital. But let me explain where I get stuck and what I think we should do about it.

So many of the articles and blogs I read and videos I watched told me that if I didn’t understand the underlying principles of a project, I shouldn’t attempt it, and I find this both noble and frustrating. Noble because there are real consequences to bad scholarship practices. If I created a racist Twitter bot or an inaccurate representation of an interviewee’s emotions using faulty sentiment analysis, certainly this would have a negative impact on the world.

Even if I just created an inaccurate topic model and no one else read about it, I would be misinformed and that’s not great either. I’m not glossing over the consequences of poor scholarly practices. What’s frustrating is that I don’t know how else to learn about some of these things except by making them. And because we have emphasized the making side of digital humanities so much, the inaccessibility of this type of learning is frustrating.

The majority of students who graduate will not go on to pursue a career in academia. They won’t be as lucky as I am in landing a job dedicated to continuing their education. If the liberal arts is about fostering a lifelong love of learning, and most students will likely use the internet to continue learning, we should make the tools and methods for scholarship as accessible for the computer layman as possible. Learning isn’t just about reading, I think that’s clear from my experiences trying out different digital methods. It’s about making and if the digital humanities defines itself as the “making” side of the humanities (a point which can be debated), we need to make this side accessible to everyone.

How do we do this?

Well, so far, I’ve complained that some tutorials online oversimplify to the point where I don’t know what I don’t know and others are like getting only chutes in chutes and ladders.

These are contradictory points and I realize that. I’m not trying to Goldilocks this situation. My proposed alternative is to treat digital scholarship like a craft.

I know that when I say the word craft, you might immediately think of rick-rack and glitter and ugly quilt patches. Fair enough. But keep in mind that crafts are difficult. If, for example, you don’t know how to knit, getting started can be super difficult. There are whole shows dedicated to Pinterest failures. The word craft doesn’t mean easy, ugly, or useless.

I want a book like Self-Sufficiency for the 21st Century.

After work, I like to read about growing vegetables. On the weekends, I learn how to construct hoop houses with a man who built houses for 20 years and tend pots of seedlings that I keep at my parents’ house and hope that my mom doesn’t kill.

This is a combination of reading, working with others, and doing hands on work. I cannot solely credit the books I read for helping me to sprout a miniature garden in my parents’ backyard, but they did continue to spark my interest and help me frame the types of knowledge I needed in order to get started. They’re books that are meant to help beginners make something for the first time ever.

These books easily could have started with a long explanation of soil acidity levels. They could have started with the definition of photosynthesis. They could have said don’t read this book until you’ve had experience growing tomatoes. But they don’t. They say things like, “tomatoes need a lot of direct sunlight and grow best in dark, crumbly soil with consistent watering.” They give you enough information to get started and general frame of reference and then once you start growing tomatoes and you find hornworms or get blossom end rot, you not only know how to look up these problems, but you have an idea about how to implement the solutions.

Example Page:

Once again, is the crux of my argument literally just “Hey, could you dumb this down for me?” No.

We’ve been led to believe that it’s incredibly difficult to grow our own food, that only big companies with big machines can keep plants alive and ensure they’re safe to eat. And it would be so easy for the digital to go this way too. Only programmers, and computer scientists, and statisticians are able to do text analysis. Only people who can afford those degrees can understand the inner mechanics of the algorithms that impact our lives. Only big companies like Google can create streamlined websites and beautiful visuals.

I’ll admit, there is a little truth to this. It’s true that a lot of the time big companies keep our food e.coli free and create a steady supply. It’s true that Google does have the money and man power to create stunning visuals and simple, amazing websites. And usually bots run by companies don’t turn into scary, racist dystopian machines. It’s true topic modeling is incredibly complicated and you probably do need a degree to understand what the hell a structured topic model does. But it doesn’t mean those of us with little money, time, and knowledge shouldn’t be given the opportunity and the tools to try. Nor does it mean that we cannot succeed. We just need different tools and knowledge.

If we approach digital humanities projects from the standpoint that they are the alternative to research done by big corporations and big machines that are ultimately intended to generate wealth, how might we change the way we teach DH newcomers? When we frame tutorials as hierarchies of skills to master, in a way we’re missing a point about why people become interested in DH in the first place. That is – to challenge the concept of data as Miriam Posner suggested, and to rethink what the digital means. Framing tutorials within a larger narrative of demystifying computers (i.e. breaking down their history and components) while helping the reader create something, would turn this hierarchy on its head.

This isn’t an argument against expertise. We need experts. We need people who know enough to innovate and come up with new ways of knowing. We also need people who know enough to simplify. When you follow the directions in one of those crafting books, you tend to find gaps in their explanations. You find how much you don’t know, but that’s the important part of the learning that happens when you undertake a project you may not fully understand.

We need to reframe the work that computers do. They don’t make things more objective. They don’t spit out universal truths and they don’t comprise a utopia in which everything you’d ever want to learn is free of charge. Computers are human opinion expressed in math (to borrow a phrase from Cathy O’Neil). Working with a computer is itself a craft. The tutorials we create and resources we disseminate for public consumption about digital scholarship should frame our understanding in this way. Let me be clear, this isn’t to say that computers are human and therefore easier to understand. It’s just the opposite.

The humanist’s engagement with the digital should complicate our assumptions about data and algorithms and what we can actually learn from computers. Creating digital crafts means recognizing our entanglement with these assumptions and contradictions. Crafts exist to not just to make something useful, but to help you better understand your chosen medium and yourself.

Digital scholarship as crafting is a political statement. The origins of the arts and craft movement began with William Morris’s socialist ideas about designing one’s own products.

So long as the system of competition in the production and exchange of the means of life goes on, the degradation of the arts will go on; and if that system is to last forever, then art is doomed, and will surely die; that is to say, civilization will die.”

Let’s be real, that’s a little dramatic. But it makes my point. To make things of one’s own using digital tools is in direct opposition to the big companies that monopolize the digital space. It says technology is for the people, not just for your profits. It says just because you may not be affiliated with university doesn’t mean you cannot produce scholarship. Not to mention the fact that intense specialization was first thrust upon factory workers in order to prevent them from ever beginning their own competitive business. This isn’t an argument to begin a business that competes with Google. It’s an argument against the silos into which we are forced when we choose a major or career path. Digital scholarship as craft is the anti-neoliberalization of making and learning.

According to Philip Henderson, Morris’s dying words were, “I want to get mumbo-jumbo out of the world.” You have the opportunity to get the mumbo-jumbo out of the digital. Why did the financial crisis in 2008 happen? A lot of reasons but one of them is that somehow all of these finance guys convinced us that we would never be able to comprehend their incredibly complex system, that it wasn’t for us to understand, that we should trust them. And they created a giant, horrific mess. Let’s not make the same mistake with computers. Don’t let Google or Amazon tell you that we shouldn’t look behind the curtain. Look behind the curtain and tell others what you found. Nothing is radical unless it’s accessible to the poor.

Let me return to my Frindle and Lacan analogy.

It would be easy to liken my argument about computer science to biology or physics. How could you possibly simplify incredibly complex biology papers into something someone without a degree in biology would understand? Does every paper have to start with an explanation of what DNA is? And I would say fair enough. You’re right. I don’t want to argue for computer scientists and people working on incredibly complex digital humanities projects to re-explain everything from scratch every time they publish anything.

However, I see my argument as actually taking on a slightly different allegorical flavor. My argument is that there is no Frindle for the digital humanities. No, I don’t count the Bill Gates videos. The imaginary crafting book I have proposed is my answer to this call. There are some great blog posts out there that do work like this.

I’m thinking here of the LDA Buffet Post by Matthew Jockers, which takes a complicated subject – in this case topic models – and explains it in language that anyone without computer science training can understand. The difficulty with this type of post is that it’s like a single bread crumb that must be strung together with others in order to understand the larger picture and the problem with that is usually, I don’t even know what to Google. When I propose a book for digital humanists like Self-Sufficiency in the 21st Century, I’m asking not for more crumbs but a whole cake.

I’m about to mildly contradict everything that I just said, but bare with me.

At the same time we have to wonder, if we’re trying to make things more accessible to the poor, are online tutorials and do-it-yourself books the only way to go? Does accessible necessarily mean teach yourself?

There are some online tutorials that are really, really good, but by going this route does it mean we see them as on par with the learning that takes place at the university? Does it mean the classes for which I went into debt could be made or already are obsolete?

In one of the most frustrating scenes in modern cinema, Matt Damon says, “You wasted $150,000 on an education you coulda got for $1.50 in late fees at the public library.”

I’ve always found this scene disagreeable, not just because I want to justify why I went into tens of thousands of dollars in debt to learn how to write poems, but also because I simply don’t think it’s true, as I’m sure many of you would agree. I can read all the blog pages and books I want about topic modeling, hell, I could read the imagined book I described above, but there will be so much I don’t know I don’t know until I talk with someone else. I need the help of other people, we all do. I said before, I’m relying on my friend who built houses and my mom to learn how to grow food. I only understood Lacan’s basic argument because I had a professor’s support and knowledge to guide me through the labyrinth that is this quote:

“It is not only with the idea of silencing the nominalist debate with a low blow that I use this example, but rather to show how in fact the signifier enters the signified, namely, in a form which, not being immaterial raises the question of its place in reality. For the blinking gaze of a short sighted person might be justified in wondering whether this was indeed the signifier as he peered closely at the little enamel signs that bore it, a signifier whose signified would in this call receive its final honours from the double and solemn procession from the upper nave.”

Learning doesn’t happen in isolation, which means that when it comes to trying to learn about digital scholarship, we have a problem if we only provide online tutorials and books to our audience, who aren’t just students and people in academia. It means we’re relegating the poor to second-class learning. This isn’t an earth-shattering revelation. I know that, and I haven’t brought it up because I think I’m the genius who solved this problem.

I have ideas. Maybe the solution could involve Skype in some way or additional scholarships for students doing digital work. Adding digital scholarship classes to our curriculum or making summer institutes and conferences more financially accessible might help.

But the problem is that there’s only so much we can do in terms of accessibility. We only have so many resources and so many avenues through which we can make change. It seems like there isn’t one solution.

The point of bringing up this issue isn’t to generate a solution, but instead to help us reframe the goals of our accessibility initiatives. So, I want to highlight one other question that impacts the way we think about how people teach themselves. The question is how do we define difficult?

When we think about concepts and skills that are difficult to learn, we might be thinking about how much background knowledge is necessary in order to understand something. We might think about whether you expect to need help in order to be able to learn something. We might think about whether there are tests for confirming whether or not you’ve succeeded in learning the skill or concept. Maybe it means the skill or concept takes a long time to learn it and/or requires a lot of trial and error.

How do we draw the line between what we are able to teach to the masses through internet tutorials or a magical book that hasn’t yet been written, and what requires a different type of education?

In other words, we have to ask, “is this thing hard to learn or is it hard to teach given accessibility constraints?” Which aspects of digital humanities are too difficult for someone to understand without special instruction? When we draw that line, what choices are we making about who is excluded from the full range of digital humanities practices? What happens when we decide that something is too difficult to teach to the masses?

When I entered into Denison as a freshman, I heard the phrase “Lifelong love of learning” so many times, it started to mean nothing.

But now that I’ve graduated and had time to reflect on that statement, I can say that the liberal arts has succeeded in its mission with me. I love learning. I always have, but especially now that I’m out of school and it isn’t my only focus anymore. If we truly hope to instill this love in future students, we shouldn’t restrict some knowledge to the academy, regardless of whether that restriction is intentional or not. I mean, what if you graduate and realize you’re missing the skills you need to continue learning? Most of us are going to turn to the internet to continue learning on our own but we need tools and frameworks to form a critical lens around the information we get from the internet. Digital humanities is poised to answer this call. But we’re not yet there.

A lot of the debates I’ve read about digital humanities and neoliberalism end with a call to change some aspect of the way we conceptualize digital humanities and I’m guilty of that in this talk as well. We’ve approached our problems as if they’re isolated from those in other areas of academia or society as a whole and in the long run, I don’t see this as being very helpful.

Maybe change happens one small step at a time. Maybe this is our small step. Maybe making scholarship accessible online is part of the solution. But the way I see it nothing is really going to change as long as we are tweaking our efforts within the parameters of capitalism.

I know that you all came to hear me talk about my post-bac position, not a treatise on why I want to grow corn or the digital version of the Communist Manifesto, and I don’t want to end on such a downer.

So getting back to my experience as a post-bac, I want to reiterate that this is a one-year position. When it ends in December, I’m not sure what I’m going to be doing. I don’t know if I will be able to stay within the professional digital humanities world. It’s the fact that my time in this world is so temporary that forces me to frame my engagement with these accessibility issues in such broad terms. I’m coming at this with an outsider perspective and the knowledge that soon I will not be able to attend DHSI or get paid to spend hours teaching myself R. The same thing will be true of the students who undertake digital scholarship projects during their time at the university.

My time to engage with the digital humanities to such an intense degree is fleeting and because of this, I’m describing the problems that I’ve encountered like I would a billboard I passed in a car traveling at 120 mph.

Maybe you already know about all of the problems that I’ve described in this talk. Maybe you’ve already considered every commie point I’ve made. In this case, the only thing I can offer to you is my perspective.

I’ve learned a lot during my time as a post-bac. This position has taught me how to engage with problems at various different levels. I learned so much about my own learning habits, how to tackle skill acquisition when I have no frame of reference for what I need to learn. I learned how to start a research project from scratch and how to find and interpret critical works related to digital scholarship and other fields of study on my own. I also learned about my own limitations and when to abandon projects that hold me back. But the most important thing I learned is that there’s so much I don’t know.

In school, when we learn all of the items on the professor’s list of learning objectives, we feel our knowledge is complete. It’s been framed that way, as boxes to be checked. When you teach yourself, you don’t realize there are no bounds to the boxes and no one ever really has them checked.

Here’s what I know: There are problems within the Digital Humanities in terms of accessibility. These issues can be attributed to the capitalistic organization of the university and knowledge acquisition as a whole. This is my perspective–fleeting as it may be, and it will likely be the perspective of many more people in my generation.

Surprise!

I was here to talk about Lacan the whole time. Who has the power to determine what is too difficult for the layperson to learn and what resources and ways of learning are available to them? You do. Just as we all collectively shape our language by understanding that we may call a pen a frindle or that “Yeet” is now a proper response when handed an empty soda can, we collectively shape our knowledge structures. When we no longer think about the process of language creation, we end up submitting to the current power structures that maintain the status quo in the same way we accept the identity boxes because they are written in code. The same thing is true of computers. Because we all use computers in some way every single day, but don’t all understand them, we end up accepting their limitation and impacts on our lives without deeper consideration. When we collectively decide to change where we draw the line between difficult to learn and simply inconvenient for our current method of dissemination, we can challenge that status quo.

I want to end with a quote from Brian Greenspan, from chapter Are Digital Humanists Utopian? in Debates in Digital Humanities:  

“Digital humanists’ repeated emphasis on failure, community, collaboration, and images of totality are really partial drives expressing a desire for something else: namely, a social order entirely beyond capitalism and its underpinnings in the academic, scholarly publishing, and high-tech industries.”

The problems are bigger than we make them seem when we create calls to action to change one nuanced aspect of our practice. But the fact that the problems are so big means that more people are united in working against them, we just don’t realize it.

In conclusion…

Just kidding.

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