Venturing into Uncharted Cyberspace: My E-Portfolio Journey

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In wanting to be different, push myself, and maybe stand out a little bit, I decided that rather than use a platform like WordPress, Weebly, or Wix, I would make my e-portfolio from scratch. Over the summer, I buffed up my resume by going through the HTML and CSS tutorials on Codecademy.com. The year before, I managed to get 80% through the JavaScript one. So, not being a naturally computer science-oriented person surrounded by roommates who were computer science majors ended up taking its toll on me. I enjoyed it though. It gave me an appreciation for the inner workings of computers, just how little I knew about them, and just how much more there was that I didn’t understand. Nevertheless, with my fifty-something Codecademy badges I felt like I could conquer all of computers. Long story short, I was a bit overconfident.

That being said, I am learning a lot stumbling through HTML and CSS, referencing guides online and playing around with what works and what doesn’t. Thankfully, there resources online which prevent you from having to “recreate the wheel.” This means that there are already design layouts that you can incorporate into your CSS, so the formatting doesn’t all have to be done by hand. The cool thing is that they are completely customizable, and you can change whichever part you see fit. So far I haven’t been using one yet, but I think it’s high time I start.

I think the main reason I chose to build my e-portfolio from scratch was because I wanted a minimalist, super-easy-to-navigate site. Also for some reason I wanted to avoid drop-down menus, I think because I wanted all parts of my portfolio to be seen at once, like in a table of contents format. There is something I find inviting about a really straightforward layout; it seems honest and upfront. And it makes sense, because those qualities are a big part of what I want to communicate through the writing that I will be showcasing.

Getting a bit existential with my re-mediation project

For my re-mediating project, I’m pretty sure I want to do a podcast. I make music a lot, so I am familiar with sound recording and editing and this seemed like a nice shift from the papers I have written so far (My re-purposing project was done in the style of a feature article in the Atlantic). That being said, I’ve never actually made a podcast, and really have no idea what to include. I’m first planning on listening to some NPR stories, because they seem to have the whole podcast thing down pretty well in terms of formatting, editing, content…well basically everything I guess. But I’ll listen to them for formatting and editing ideas, because trying to model mine after some of their’s should be doable. In terms of content however, that’s where I am more unsure.

My re-purposing project was an essay about Facebook’s impact on our social experience, specifically the ways in which Facebook exploits our natural tendency towards social competition, and how users respond to this. I start with personal anecdotes, and then go on to talk about the subject in a broader and more objective way, eventually attempting to circle back to the personal side of things. I think this would be cool to incorporate this structure into a podcast. My questions are (1) how do I approach the personal story without just reciting my paper? (2) would it be interesting to add other students/friends input? (3) how do I gain credibility in the more objective section? In my paper I quote some researchers, so should I try to interview some professors/is that something that they would be open to? (4) Is a podcast even the way to go? As you can see, I am questioning a lot these days, though thankfully most of it is about re-mediation project. I think when I start to work on it I will be able to more clearly see what works and what doesn’t. I’ll probably be questioning even more at that stage, but hopefully I’ll at least have a more concrete plan and vision.

E-Portfolio Thoughts

When I first was thinking about how to design my e-portfolio, I wanted to make something that could double as a personal site, outside of the writing minor. And since I live with computer science majors, am constantly exposed to their work, and have gone through tutorials on JavaScript, HTML, and CSS, I wanted something customizable where I could exercise my (admittedly novice) web design chops. As I got to thinking, however, I realized that there was too much content I would want to include on at personal website that would be out of the scope of the writing minor. It would be a better idea for me to make my e-portfolio using a customizable template, maybe on Google Sites, and then eventually link to it on a personal website.

People may be curious as to why I’m reluctant to use WordPress. In my opinion, WordPress works great for blogging, and thus is good at linking to and organizing a lot of short content. Some people may want their e-portfolios to function like this too, or may just like the WordPress interface. Personally, I envision having a page that functions as a “Table of Contents,” rather than drop-down menus for my work, because I want to emphasize the order and “portfolio-esque” presentation. This design is just my preference, and is still in the very preliminary stages, so we’ll see if I stick with it or pursue other options.

Thoughts on my Re-purposing Project

Since I wrote a blog post last year about our generation’s obsession with quantification in social media (numbers of friends, followers, etc.) and how websites use this obsession to increase our addiction, I’ve been seeing this trend more and more in other forms of web content. Generally , this phenomenon in social media has negative connotations, as is frequently attributed to the dilution and inauthenticity of our social experience. However, the addictive nature of quantification can also have positive effects, such as in educational websites. Khan Academy, a site containing thousands of educational videos has implemented a point system for every video watched. Memrise, an online foreign language vocabularly-building site tracks the number of words learned and ranks its participants. Codecademy, which contains tutorials about programming languages, follows suit and additionally gives awards for milestones reached. All these sites, in essence, “gameify” learning, and I want to explore the roots of this phenomenon, why it exists, and how it can be built upon and utilized in even more effective ways.

“Toward a Composing Model of Reading” Response

Overall, I think the idea of reading mirroring the compositional form of writing, complete with planning, drafting, aligning, and revising stages, is a useful one. Three key ideas from the article I took away were:

1. “The goals that readers or writers set have a symbiotic relationship with the knowledge they mobilize…” The point about how just as writers give meaning to a piece by envisioning the audience for which they are writing, readers also ascribe meaning to the same piece of writing by taking into account both their viewpoints and the author’s. This is important because it means that the ultimate message of writing is influenced by both the reader and author.

2. “…schema theoretic studies involving an analysis of the influence of a reader’s perspective have shown that if readers are given different alignments prior to or after reading a selection, they will vary in what and how much they will recall…” This is interesting in terms of cognitive schemas: the context in which we perceive the world, or in this case, a piece of writing. Readers assuming an intended audience member can draw more/different ideas from readers that assume a generic position.

3. “We have found that readers of the first text usually assume a sympathetic collaboration with the writer and identify with the characters.” Viewing reading and writing as an act of indirect collaboration reinforces the idea of approaching each in a similar compositional model. It is interesting how readers critical of an author often do not identify with the author’s content, or cannot align their own viewpoint with the author’s.

Many ideas mentioned in the article resonated with me, but I did have a few qualms with the authors’ stance. First, I do not think reading and writing can be viewed as completely mirrored processes. This is because with writing, although the author’s work is shaped by his/her intended audience, the compositional process is far less dependent on the reader than the act of reading is on a concrete piece of writing. Secondly, I do not think that a compositional process of reading is entirely practical for every scenario. Rather, I think the reader can engage in simultaneous planning, drafting, and aligning, and that their comprehension will still be improved.

Response to Sullivan & Brandt

One of the reason why I’ve always thought blogging has become a dominant form of writing is because of the increased connection and decreased distance between writers and their readers. It’s plain to see that the home of the blog, the internet, is the major factor in this coalescence. Brandt expounded upon the phenomena of writers overtaking readers in terms of prevalence, and it’s the blog that’s to thank (or blame) for this fact. Her assertion begs the question, “What will happen when everybody starts to write their own words before they’ve read those of others?” Blogging makes writing so easy and appealing that anyone online can do it, but will writers actually improve or just become more plentiful?

Sullivan points out that a major reason why he blogs is because of the constant connection between bloggers and their readers and their lightning insight, comments, and critique. I think this gives way to a healthy process of discourse, but, as made clear by every comment section ever, it quickly can get messy. So is heavy moderation the key, or are should commenters just duke it out? I think ultimately it comes down to a case-by-case basis, but it should be the people’s say. Sites like Reddit that use a system of upvotes and downvotes have adapted well to this issue, and I think blogs can do it too. This can also be a solution to filter out fluff, and keep writers informed when they go to post their work. By embracing the blog as a form of collaborative writing, authors and readers can abide by the majority, and ultimately continue a practice that is both educational and progressive.

Blogs and Bloggers I Like

As I brainstormed my go-to blog to share with everyone, I was a bit disappointed to realize that I don’t really follow any one blog religiously. I guess I glean most of my news-y information from prominent sources like the New York Times and NPR, and most other info – entertainment, opinion pieces, etc. from various articles I see linked to or that people send me. This being the case, I decided to mention two writers that come to mind, each with blogs I always enjoy reading.

The first is Ta-Nehisi Coates, a senior editor for the Atlantic. Coates mainly writes about social, cultural, and political issues, and a lot of his work has to do with racial issues facing African-Americans. The first article I read by him was “Keeping it Unreal: $elling the Myth of Bla¢k Male Violen¢e, Long Past Its Expiration Date”, actually first published in the Village Voice, which discusses the effects of Gangsta Rap on black youth and his own personal experiences with the genre growing up in impoverished Baltimore in the 1980s. His article was so compelling that I eventually started reading more articles by him, a lot of which were found on his blog at the Atlantic website. I love his concise style, exact diction, and the fact that he writes on such a diverse range of topics.

The second is Paul Graham, a well-known computer programmer, venture capitalist, and essayist. Had it not been for a few close friends in computer science, I probably never would have looked into Graham’s work, as much of his essays concern technical programming concepts and startup advice. However, after they showed me his blog, I found that many articles geared towards programmers also contained information applying to all disciplines, and many just had valuable life advice for anyone. One essay that stuck with me is called “Good and Bad Procrastination”. I’m a notoriously bad procrastinator who additionally likes to believe I’m always being productive, so the idea of “good procrastination” was attractive to me. By “good procrastination,” Graham essentially means putting off one task for another that, in the long run, is really more important and will further bigger goals. Other essays by Graham have similar out-of-the-box, non-comformist advice, and have been enlightening when I’ve been bogged down creatively or lacked motivation.

Analyzing My Writing Style

I analyzed an essay I wrote in English 125 that dealt with the motif of water in the book “Zeitoun” by Dave Eggers. The first thing that I noticed was my tendency to begin sentences with a qualifying, dependent clause. Examples include “The youngest in a lineage of sailors,…” and “In his telling of Katrina’s action and aftermath,…”. Though often effective for establishing comparisons/opposing ideas, reading the essay again there were times when this habit got tiresome. Nevertheless, I do try to mix compound, complex, and compound-complex sentences and mix those that start with dependent clauses and those that do not. I often find myself keeping a sense of “rhythm” in my head as I write, and this helps mix up my sentence length and construction. One variety of sentence that was rare in this piece was the shorter, simple sentence, and this could be employed to curb especially wordy passages.

Apparently I am also fond of using periodic construction i.e. “Then in 1964, while driving on the highway in Egypt, Mohammed was killed in a car crash.” I think this stylistic habit goes hand-in-hand with the dependent clause at the beginning of sentences and contributes to a building suspense. Also adding to the momentum of the essay was my use of the active voice, a stylistic move that I have tried to incorporate more in the past couple years. Overall, I found the tone of my writing to be very formal. This is not necessarily a bad thing, as I think it comes across as clear and concise, but experimenting with different tones, maybe similar to how I speak, is something I want to try in future writing.

“Why I Write” – A Response to Orwell and Didion

What first strikes me about both pieces is how Orwell and Didion write so unabashedly about the egoism that has fueled their lives’ work. I admire these statements, mainly because I have yet to sum up the courage to admit the same to myself. It’s that need to permanently record your viewpoints, unsatisfied with merely thinking about them and with the hopes that they will be projected onto others, that keeps them writing. Furthermore, neither Orwell nor Didion liken that “need” to something inspiring or uplifting, but rather refer to it, respectively, as a “demon” and “secret bully.” These phrases suggest that the internal urge to write may, deep down, stem from somewhere intrinsically dark, and often we may not know it. I’ve always thought that I like to write because I thrive on creative expression and enjoy sharing my thoughts with the world. But perhaps, like Orwell and Didion allude to, this outward, surface-level “need” is just a disguised form of ultimately uncontrollable egoism. I don’t think I fully agree, but I think whatever propels my writing, it involves an honest search for what makes me put my thoughts to paper.

The purely aesthetic aspect of writing that both authors mention really resonates with me as well. When Didion speaks about being captivated by the physical world: sights she saw, “shimmering” images that stuck with her, it’s the pure imagery that shapes her writing, the desire to write something down because it evokes beauty, or even just because it sounds good. Reading this, I thought of some of the best moments I’ve had writing, and how often they arise from a vivid memory to which I can return, see, smell, and touch. I relate to Orwell’s recollection of his teenage writing, overflowing with flowering language and lush descriptions, and how, although that style became tiresome, it was a necessary phase of experimentation to become acquainted with the beauty of language.

Finally, I appreciated the last motive for writing that Orwell mentions, that of political purpose. He is careful to clarify that his use of the word “political” is in the broadest sense, essentially meaning to somehow alter the way people think. I think this point is a key not only to understanding the reasons why we write, but also to figuring out the ways in which we can write better. Orwell remarks, “I will only say that of late years I have tried to write less picturesquely and more exactly.” I firmly believe that identifying some shred of this political purpose, no matter is how obvious or obscured, is the first step in the direction of Orwell’s goal.