Capstone project brainstorm

When considering topics for the project, a lot of thoughts run through my head. Most of those thoughts are not productive, but a few common themes surface. For the most part, these themes surround topics I know a lot about — sports, food, journalism, community action — but the one that comes up subconsciously is freedom. I’ve written about freedom indirectly, but have opined about it far more than anything. Why is freedom sought after? Why is freedom taken away? How does one value freedom, and why do I seem to want it more than most? How is the way we are raised, educated and now treated on college campuses influence our freedom and our view of freedom? How free is too free and how free is not free enough? What do I even mean when I say freedom?

Another component is the scientific development of freedom. We have the most prosperous lives in the history of the world, but happiness is just about consistent with pre-modern society. My theory is that subtle suppression such as working indoors on a beautiful day or having to dress nicely for work chips away at our freedom and goes against the grain of our evolutionary need for freedom.

It’s hard to articulate yet how this could be a project, and I’m still looking for something that gives it an original Zach Shaw spin, but I know the idea of freedom comes up in anything and everything I do. Maybe it’s the way I respond to authority, or the way I indulge myself in life with a deliberate disregard of society’s surrounding judgement, or my push to inspire freedom in some of my writing or community service work. I can’t figure out why I care so darn much about freedom, but I imagine that’s a good place to start.

As far as a deliverable, I like the idea of exploring why I care so much, and then expanding and seeing both the evolutionary and societal causes of a yearning for freedom, then providing some sort of quasi-solution for finding freedom in our lives.

Discipline: Anthropology, Sociology, Writing, Psychology, American Culture

Focal object: Freedom, societal suppression, escaping

Confounding variable: TBD, but probably personal anecdotes and a journalistic spin

Thoughts on home and community

For my final blog post in this class, I’m combining two major thoughts that have been swirling in my head this week. That’s the idea of home, and the value of a community.

These come up because 1) All of my friends are now leaving Ann Arbor, as their native buddy stays behind, and 2) Because my house of about 30 students has undergone dining room renovations. So as I eat breakfast alone, I grow to appreciate the sense of community I’m surrounded with so regularly.

Whether it’s friends, colleagues at the Daily, community service partners, or even classmates in Writing 220, I’m fortunate to usually be within a strong community. But before I get too sappy, what creates a sense of community, and how can we carry that into our writing? Writers constantly seek to engage and welcome in their readers, but can any elements of communities you belong to translate to making your writing something people want to connect to?

Similarly, how can we as writers and communicators create that sense of home? How were you successfully or unsuccessfully able to accomplish this in your portfolios? Can it translate to writing? If so, how?

The Onion is real, and it’s spectacular

Hey guys,

This post is kind of out there, but I recently read an article in The Atlantic about how satirical news website The Onion is slowly having a real impact in the media world. Here’s the article if you want to read it in full:

Whether you read it or not, the story brought up the idea that knowledge and influence can come in a lot of different ways. I find it interesting that The Onion uses humor and fictional overstatements of current patterns to still get real news stories across. I think this ties into the many discussions that we’ve had in class about the many ways to approach the same task, and would love to hear a) your thoughts on The Onion’s presence in the news today and where it’s heading, or b) some of the effective ways you’ve used to gain an effective voice through writing (ex: humor).

Happy Summer!

What will be the lasting effect of this week’s events in Baltimore?

The events that occurred over the past week in Baltimore cannot be appropriately discussed in this type of blog. But I would, if I may, like to focus on an interesting issue to me, and that is the reaction toward the media in the rising tensions.

As opposed to similar events in the past — including some this year — there seemed to be almost as much disdain for the media as anyone else involved. Numerous camera-phone videos showed Baltimore residents attacking visiting members of the media, frustrated at feeling exploited for their troubles and reactions. Not unrelated, many members of the media could be seen antagonizing the residents, trying to rile up a crazy collection of rioters for the camera.

Neither of these situations is new or unique, but with video cameras in just about everyone’s hand today, it’s clear that everyone will be held accountable for wrongdoing. For the comments below, is this setting a precedent for rallies and protests down the road? What is the role of media members in these types of situations, and how should it be different? If protesters achieve their goal of getting rid of the media, does their cause lose some steam without coverage? Would love to hear your thoughts.

Three Lists — The best exercise I did in this class

Yes, I will have a number of late blog posts here, but this one was intentional. I knew right away when I was compiling the initial lists weeks ago that this was an interesting exercise, one that can really dig deep in both the preparation process and reflection of the work I do. I wanted to keep sitting on these lists, and monitor how they changed throughout the process of writing my repurposing and remediation projects.

My big beef with writing is often the question of what the point of it is. If I’m not careful and conscious of it, it’s very easy to fall into the trap of writing essays because they’re assigned, articles because things happen, and really disassociate myself with the content I produce. But by thinking about where my information or knowledge stacks up in my creations, I have a chance to critically think about the goals and purpose of them as well. This was a refreshing exercise, and here are my lists:

Original Article

10% psychology

15% statistics

10% philosophy

20% english/argumentation

10% American studies

20% history

15% just sports


30% psychology

20% American studies

10% sociology

20% history

5% English

10% organizational studies

5% philosophy


40% psychology

15% sociology

10% history

5% english

10% american studies

What I wrote at the time for what I needed to learn to accomplish these lists:

I hope to learn more about the psychological implications and root causes of group mentality, I’ll need to learn about the sociology of sports, and see if the patterns I have seen in the student section align with principles of american studies and organizational studies. Additionally, learning how to do a personal narrative and a past-tense documentary would be quite helpful

Ten Questions

Quite some time ago, we had a discussion for what questions would really get us going intellectually. Here’s my list:

How do you do all that you do?

Why do you do all that you do?

What needs to be fixed in our society?

What bothers you?

What causes happiness both in yourself and in others?

Where do you want to go?

How do you contextualize your place in society?

What’s the difference between success and victory?

What’s the difference between quitting and ending a task?

What are the pros and cons of efficiency, and when does it venture into rushing?

It’s a tough one, because many of the questions that I give the best answers to are spontaneous and previously not-thought-of questions. Generally as I get a question asked about me more and more, I tend to get a bland, rehearsed elevator pitch. A good example of this is the classic “What would you say your biggest strength is?” question. I’ve found I benefit from mixing these questions up or taking on the challenge to dig deeper. That was the goal of many of these questions — it’s not just what I do, but why I do it. If you’re looking for a chance to gain points by commenting, which one of these would open up your brain? Which question would simply annoy you and therefore produce a less-than-stellar answer?

Arguments are great (or not).

Perhaps to a fault, I was raised with the understanding that argumentation is the key to learning. I see an argument as a wrestling match that, when executed properly, can result in both opponents getting stronger and smarter in the long run. Arguments don’t often have winners and losers like wrestling, but like wrestling, focus on testing strengths and strategies to improve over time is the ultimate goal. Whether it was the differing opinions of others providing pressure and uncomfortableness, or the forced reflection on oneself and what changes need to be made, an argument forces the exposure and encourages the sharpening of ideas.

For example, if I believe that paper textbooks are better than online versions, and a friend feels the opposite, our discussion would force both of us to dig deep and analyze not only why each of us feel the way we feel, but why our logic is superior. This brings our working ideas and best moves to center stage, and if both sides properly reflect and tweak ideas based on a “match”, this exercise can be beneficial.

There are, of course, a number of situations where these matches are unproductive. One is when a intellectual wrestler refuses to adjust their strategy, no matter how bad the defeat. This is known as closed-mindedness. The other primary situation that causes unproductive arguments is when the working knowledge and motives don’t line up. For example, if I were to critique an programmer’s choice of software, it’s the intellectual equivalent of  wrestling out of my weight class. Each wrestler may gain appreciation for each other’s work, but neither will get better at their craft without balanced competition. Finally, wrestling to injure (or arguing to be diminish other views), should not be done, and is counterproductive to all sides.

Both productive and unproductive argumentation can occur in a number of scenarios. The first is when only one side is committed to a productive and passionate argument (i.e. one wrestler is not putting full effort or energy). Another situation is when only one side is being challenged, similar to the different weight class analogy above. A good example of this might be a child arguing with an adult; in most situations, only the child is learning from the experience. A third way the two can occur at the same time is when a motive is not clearly defined. There’s no great wrestling analogy here, but maybe if I’m discussing political issues and my friend steers the argument to a discussion of magazine choices. It can be productive, but also a mistake.

All wrestlers face victory and defeat. But the biggest meets occur at the end of the season, because a good wrestler will progress with each match. The same can be said for argumentation. Recognizing one’s strengths, along with ways to improve when testing against others will further the learning process through argumentation.

Missed class but trying anyway…Your dissertation is failing

I missed the discussion of Solnit’s piece on Thursday, but after reading other student’s blog posts and rereading the piece itself, I’ll give it a go. I like everyone’s analogies better than mine, but I tried to reach outside of the emergency box and see how it stacks up. I view the global warming crisis as a failing thesis paper.

This is far from perfect, but some parallels exist. The dissertation and Thesis defense process is integral to postgraduate studies—usually providing validation of the pursued degree and enabling any further academic research or career in the subject. It is also hard, requiring full and persistent attention for up to several years. Failure to do so results in a failing thesis. Unlike houses, however, you cannot simply buy a new thesis, a failing thesis can result in withdrawal from the program and the field altogether.

Additionally, citing current inconvenience as reason for neglect and putting it off for the future months (generations), can result in catastrophic results of either incapability to resolve the issue, or lacking the time, resources, and reversibility to enact truly successful solutions, much like what can be witnessed with climate change. While I won’t speak for postgraduate students, my assumption is that the lack of guidance, regular consequences for poor decisions, or true understanding of progress make the neglect of regular thesis work comparably convenient (but consequential) to the neglect of aggressive climate change.

I think that the ideas of irreplaceability, procrastination, and a global stake in the game make climate change a difficult issue to articulate to those who aren’t fully aware. Similarly, postgraduate programs had fits of failing theses before entrance exams or similar qualifying measures became the norm.

Sadly, there is no entrance exam for carbon emission usage, so we all must do our part to avoid procrastination, convenience, and failing as a society.