Pride & Prejudice & Feminism: A Collaboration of Old & New Medias

The opening page to my project combining “new” and “old” media — Pride & Prejudice & Feminism. Link to the full project here.

A few weeks ago, I did something potentially heretical.

I obtained an eReader.

As an avid book reader basically since birth, I was extremely conflicted. Small, cozy bookshops are my favorite places in the entire world. If I had to tally up the hours of my life I guarantee that reading would be cozying right up next to sleeping on my list of “Most Frequent Activities”. I started reading Harry Potter when I was 3 because I told my mom she was reading it too slow when she read it to me before bed. My college entrance essay was about how Harry Potter instilled in me strong values of friendship and goodness that were continued by my Catholic education and led me to want to continue being educated in that type of environment.

There is honestly no better feeling to me than holding a familiar book in my hand for what seems like the millionth time, and cracking open to my favorite, all too often visited pages to read my favorite quotes … well, maybe the only thing that can come close is getting a new book and getting to begin that process.

Okay so you get it. I love books — always have, always will. So when I suddenly found myself in possession of an eReader, I honestly felt like a traitor.

It didn’t help that I semi-stole the device (a nook, for future purposes of this paper) from my poor, technologically illiterate Grandparents. But before you’re about to seriously think I’m a terrible person, let me defend myself: we got my Grandparents the nook about a year ago. They are both pretty avid readers, so we thought it would be a decent way to ease them into technology.

We were very, very wrong. A year later, the nook was still tucked away in its box. In my Grandpa’s sock drawer.

Being that they also live in Chicago, I was given the unpleasant duty of retrieving the taboo technology. It was kind of a heart breaking process — even though they had absolutely no use for the thing, when I told them that my Mom sent me to get it back, they were so upset. I listened to my Grandpa give me countless justifications for why he hadn’t used it yet — and I believed (most of) them — but he always came back to one thing: “Megan, you know, it’s not that I can’t use it. Because I could!”

He was terrified of being labeled technologically illiterate. Mind you, this is the guy who will call you on his cell phone and then shut down the device, so there’s absolutely no way of contacting him back. If we’re looking at it on paper, he is the textbook definition of technologically illiterate.

And I could see it in his face: it makes him feel stupid.

When I took that nook from his hands in their beautiful, traditional dining room, I was smacked in the face with the digital divide. And it really got me thinking. The way my Grandparents and their generation have been educated is in no way inferior to how I grew up, but for some reason they have been given that impression. They have a rather extreme version to technology; as my Grandma always states about social media, “I don’t need to know everything all the time. If people want to tell me something, they’ll call.”

So how does this all connect?

Well, I think the feelings my grandparents and I had towards the nook are pretty similar.

I felt so guilty when I first started playing around with the nook. And I began to feel guiltier and guiltier as I realized how much I enjoyed it — it’s clean, simple, easy to navigate, and so dang handy to carry around in my purse. But why was I letting feeling this way make me feel so guilty?

I think it’s a cultural thing. I think I was being nostalgic. Similar to my grandparents, I had the mindset that there wasn’t a way to utilize both the digital and print technology in ways that didn’t discredit the other. And the digital mode fundamentally loses in the fight — because it’s new, it’s other, and its doesn’t have that luscious old book smell. Maybe it’s a bit of the “fear of the unknown” — it just made me uncomfortable.

The more I got to thinking about my bizarre guilt for enjoying the use of a nook, the more I realized this is a topic I needed to tackle. I was taken back to an article from earlier in the semester by N. Katherine Hayles called “Hyper and Deep Attention: The Generational Divide in Cognitive Modes”.

Hayles describes deep attention: “the cognitive style traditionally associated with the humanities, is characterized by concentrating on a single object for long periods (say, a novel by Dickens), ignoring outside stimuli while so engaged, preferring a single information stream, and having a high tolerance for long focus times” (Hayles 187). In contrast, hyper attention “is characterized by switching rapidly among different tasks, preferring multiple information streams, seeking a high level of stimulation, and having a low tolerance for boredom” (Hayles 187).

Hayles hypothesizes that we are in the midst of a shift from deep to hyper attention. Rather than my slight panic about my nook, she advocates for us to understand and embrace the change in order to become fully participatory and educatory citizens. She declares, “[t]o prepare, we need to become aware of the shift, understand its causes, and think creatively and innovatively about new educational strategies appropriate to the coming changes” (Hayles 187).

The first time I read this article it very much resonated with me. As a student studying in Loyola University Chicago’s School of Communication, I’m exposed to so much of the digital world and I think it has so much potential. At the same time, I’m an old school romantic who loves classic literature, believes in a liberal arts education, and adores the traditional Western canon (even though it seriously needs to be amended to add more women and minority voices — but that’s an argument for another time).

Upon revisiting it after my nook debacle, I realized how necessary Hayles’ article is. My almost snobbish attitude towards my nook was probably hindering me from acquiring the knowledge that it could bring me.

I therefore set out to try to find a way to incorporate it into a digital artifact for a finals project in my Communication and New Media class. I researched educative methods using digital technologies and the possibilities of pairing it with other, perhaps more traditional modes of education. The sources I discovered were (of course) N. Katherine Hayles’ “Hyper and Deep Attention: The Generational Divide in Cognitive Modes”, Loanna Snavley’s “Visual Images and Information Literacy”, Mary-Jane Shuker and Lisa Terreni’s “Self-authored e-books: Expanding young children’s literacy experiences and skills”, Wesley Fryer’s “In Praise of Open Content”, Jie Hua’s “Construction of Digital Commons and Exploration of Public Domain”, Margaret Weigel and Howard Gardner’s “The Best of Both”, Kretzchmar et al.’s “Subjective Impressions Do Not Mirror Online Reading Effort: Concurrent EEG-Eyetracking Evidence from the Reading of Books and Digital Media”, and Sean P. Connors and Rachael Sullivan’s “‘It’s that Easy’: Designing Assignments That Blend Old and New Literacies”. Links at citations are found at the end of this article.

My research led me down paths of public domain and copyright laws and paths of educative and productive strategies. Everything I looked at seemed to prove Hayles’ hypothesis: there is so much that we can do if we embrace this new, digital media.

I therefore set out to create my own digital-classic collaboration. It was immediately evident to me that playing with interactive storytelling was the way to go. I think storytelling is one of the most powerful tools humans have as communicators, far more powerful than facts (not to discredit facts — empirical evidence often can make or break situations). Storytelling speaks to human experience and allows us to connect with one another. And in my opinion, them more ways we can engage with our senses and absorb these stories, the better. New media allowed me to add new sensory components one of my all time favorite books: Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen (link to the final project here and in the opening photo’s caption).

I’ve always seen Lizzy Bennet as a pretty BA character. Especially for the strict era she was created in, Jane Austen gives her so much freedom and spunk. She has the audacity to turn down someone in marriage (probably who is described as “perfectly amiable” by some but let’s be honest, he’s awful), she throws down with people “more noble” than her (cough cough LADY CATHERINE), and insists she’s not going to marry simply to secure status. Plus, she does all this with a little bit of added sass. Put simply, Elizabeth Bennet is probably one of the cheekiest Feminists in classic literature. And I love her.

Granted, she could have been more radical — she could have stomped down Parliament declaring equal rights and pay, she could have taken a stand and not married anyone at all — but I have no intentions of cutting the romance out of this book. Just like the sometimes precarious balance I struggle with as identifying as both a Feminist and a romantic, I think Elizabeth is stuck in the same boat for a lot of the novel. It’s a tension that is not easy to resolve, but I think Elizabeth does it quite well.

I wanted to showcase this spunky, Feminist part of Elizabeth using ways that millenials connect today. The first thing I thought of: Buzzfeed. This crazy, magical, bizarre, potential source of news, is where I (and so many of my friends) spend most of our time. You can find everything from cat videos (they have a whole section) to “How to Build Your Own Goddamn Writing Desk” (thank you Daniel Dalton) to even legitimate news stories.

The ease and scrolling power of Buzzfeed makes it a clear example of hyper attention. The stories are short for a reason: they tell you what you need to know in a format that millenials understand, and then they leave you alone.

I wanted to mix this kind of “Buzzfeed format” with the traditional, powerful words of Jane Austen. To do this, I decided to pick out Elizabeth’s most feminist lines and pair them with links out to different speeches on Feminist values and issues, gifs showing what was probably her exasperation when people treated her inferiorly, photos, and more. I also included several quotes where other characters displayed Feminist tendencies, or just said something so blatantly ridiculous that they deserved a glaring gif condemning their actions. A sampling of my favorite of her quotes and their pairings:

“Indeed, Sir, I have not the least intention of dancing. — I entreate you not to suppose that I moved this way in order to beg for a partner.” — paired with David Bowie’s “Dancing With Myself”.

“Can I speak plainer? Do not consider me now as an elegant female intending to plague you, but as a rational creature speaking the truth from her heart.” — paired with a TedTalk from Dame Stephanie Shirley called “Why Do Ambitious Women Have Flat Heads”.

“What are men to rocks and mountains?” — paired with (of course) some gorgeous rocks & mountains (photo from the public domain archive).

“And this is all?” cried Elizabeth. “I expected at least that the pigs were got into the garden, and here is nothing but Lady Catherine and her daughter!” — paired with a TedTalk from Ariel Garton basically telling everyone to just calm down.

“In marrying your nephew, I should not consider myself as quitting that sphere. He is a gentleman; I am a gentleman’s daughter, so far we are equal.” — paired with a gif from Game of Thrones.

FEMINISM. BOOM.

She not only references her clear abilities as a human (on par with men of course), but does not feel the need to compare herself to other women. In fact, she celebrates the accomplishments of other women. What a doll.

Because this book is in the public domain, I had quite a bit of freedom. “The term ‘public domain’ refers to a ‘a true commons comprising elements of intellectual property that are ineligible for private ownership’ in the context of intellectual property” (Jie Hua 158). I was able to pick and choose the quotes that I wanted, link other content to it, and more.

This led my research to rely fairly heavily on copyright law and intellectual property. I found myself returning to Lawrence Lessig’s Ted Talk on Laws that Choke Creativity. Lessig is one of the founders of The Creative Commons: “a non-profit organization [that] was founded in 2001 by Professor Lawrence Lessig and a board of cyber law and intellectual property experts with financial support from the Center for the Public Domain” (Jia Hua 151). Lessig is a strong advocate for embracing remix culture, and allowing people to utilize their creativity using new media in new and creative ways.

He also outlines the issues that come along with copyright and intellectual property law — especially in the online sphere. As Jie Hua puts it: “The development of technology greatly enlarges the capability to access and the range of expressive means by ordinary users, and yet ironically expands the scope and duration of copyright protection” (Jie Hua 148). There is an unfortunate correlation between a growing amount of accessible material and a stricter of copyright law.

Loanne Snavely explores another side of this debate in “Visual Images and Information Literacy”. Speaking from the viewpoint of a librarian, she points out all of the opportunities librarians have now to connect to their community members. “The digital age, the information age, the age of the Internet, whatever it is called, has brought images to the forefront, moving from a time when images were very much subsidiary to text, to one in which they are gaining importance and prominence at a rapid rate. The time may come, or possibly it has already arrived, when images overtake the world as the dominant medium for communication” (Snavely 27).

Snavely also points out in other parts of her essay that words were not always the dominant form of communication; oral storytelling and visual representations have had immense power in many societies. The return to a potentially image based system is not altogether surprising.

I think that images are an easy way to connect people, experiences, and more, but words add another dimension. That is why I chose to combine them in my project. And I went even a bit further — I wanted to combine print and digital media in my methodology.

I wanted to utilize both my much loved copy of Pride & Prejudice and my shiny new nook. I had often heard that eReaders are bad for you, that you don’t comprehend as well when you read on a screen, and plenty of other horror stories about the pitfalls of technology.

To test this out, I chose to do all of my research on the nook itself. I found articles from JSTOR and saved them as PDFs, then opened them in Reader. It was incredibly handy as I was able to highlight right on the PDFs, and then look at all of my past highlights in one place using the Notes App.

I first read articles about combining digital and print technology, but I found myself naturally gravitated towards the articles that displayed research about comprehension and cognition on eReaders, tablets, and computers as compared to traditional paper books.

I was not entirely surprised to read that the expectation that we don’t comprehend what we read online is maybe just a cultural phenomenon. Kretzchmar et al. conducted a study to test out whether or not there are differences in ease of readability and comprehension or it is just a personal preference and potentially culturally based. In a study they site done of students and faculty at University College London, it is found that “While the users of e-book … praised their convenience, up-to-dateness and availability, they nevertheless judged ease of reading to be considerably worse than for conventional printed books” (Kretzchmar et al. 2).

They then conducted a study amongst younger adults (mostly university age) and older adults, mostly retired senior citizens. To give a crude summary, the researcher had each participant reach nine separate texts (different subjects and genres, although exact same layout and length) on three different reading devices (a Kindle, an iPad 2, and a paper page — 3 texts per medium) and monitored their eye movements and theta band activity (Kretzchar et al. 2). I’m really not big on science, so honestly this was pretty confusing at first. However, in my oversimplification, I realized that this basically means where the eye is looking, for how long (for example, if it stays focused longer on certain words on certain devices), and how hard it is focusing (or perhaps intensity is a better word).

They tested the subjects on comprehension and also collected data for their eye movements and theta band activity. The comprehension tests proved widely the same among each of the texts and devices, just a tad bit less comprehension shown in adults than younger adults (Kretzchar et al. 5).

Young adults also showed almost no difference in fixation duration or theta band activity among the devices or stories. This means that they were able to read on each text and device with about the same amount of ease, even though they widely stated that they preferred reading on a book page to either electronic format (Kretzchar et al. 6–8).

In contrast, there was quite a bit of difference among the elderly adults when it came to the iPad tablet. As a whole, adults had higher fixation duration and theta band activity than young adults, but they were vastly closer to young adults in speed of reading and relaxation of eye intensity when they were reading on the iPad 2. They were also much less skewed towards preference of the book page when asked which device was the best to read on (Kretzchar et al. 6–8).

Although they cannot know for sure, the authors suggest that the older adults had an easer time reading on the iPad 2 because of the immense amounts of contrast. “In this regard, we propose that older adults may be generally more susceptible to effects of text discriminability. Importantly, reduced contrast-sensitivity with increasing age is well documented…” (Kretzchar et al. 8).

Upon my conclusion of reading this article (on my nook — which does have the added advantage of a backlight), I very much felt myself agreeing with everything they said in correlation with my personal experience. I really, truly enjoyed reading and highlighting on the PDF — it was easy, convenient, and I was remembering everything that I researched.

With this newfound motivation to continue my experiment, I moved on to look at different ways that educators used combinations of new media and traditional educational styles to teach their students. From Sean P. Connors and Rachael Sullivan’s high school and graduate level uses of new media, particularly video software, paired with the classic novel To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee to Mary-Jane Shuker and Lisa Terreni’s “Self-authored e-books: Expanding young children’s literacy experiences and skills” which focuses on using Microsoft PowerPoint to engage elementary age students, the possibilities in education are endless.

Shuker and Terreni’s article outlines the process of having younger children pick topics they enjoy and then executing short stories based on them. The teacher, Alex, helps the children take their own photos and come up with a storyline about things they generally just like to do (Shuker and Terreni 20). In my opinion, it was a great way to have students engage their “home lives” and “school lives”.

They also used a rather specific type of educational pedagogy: “Te Whariki, the New Zealand early childhood curriculum, also emphasizes the need for early childhood professionals to build on children’s strengths and interests, and allow them to make choices that encourage them to take responsibility for their own learning (Ministry of Education, 1996). This is where the development of self-authored e-books can create opportunities for children to work with each other and early childhood professionals to produce exciting literacy objects that build on their interests” (Shuker and Terreni 20).

Going up to the high school level, graduate student Rachael Sullivan took what she learned from professor Sean Connors to develop a curriculum that better spoke to her struggling 9th grade class. She describes her process: “To complete the project successfully, then, students had to blend a range of literacies, old and new. They had to read the trial scene closely, inferring information about the characters and the social milieu in which the story takes place. Additionally, they had to conduct research using a list of resources my mentor teacher and I shared with them, which entailed still more reading as well as writing. Finally, the students had to compose a written script that served as the basis for their digital movies, which also incorporated image and music to interpret a pivotal scene in the novel” (Connors and Sullivan 223). The students had to essentially lift the material from the page to give it more context, and produce more senses for their classmates to experience.

My approach was a mix of these two. Like the child-authored e-books, I took a topic I was extremely passionate about and made it my own. And, like the high school project, I lifted an already beloved work off the page.

Sullivan notes, “[a]s I had hoped would be the case, the assignment also motivated them to think about issues the novel explores” (Connors and Sullivan 224). I noticed this in my own project as well. I have read Pride and Prejudice a million times, and I will probably read it a million more, but new themes jumped out at me as I analyzed the text in a new way. I hadn’t realized before just how many times Elizabeth had to reject Mr. Collins before he got the message, which is fairly relevant to how some females (and males) feel about the persistence of the interests of significant others.

This project allowed me to explore the capabilities of new media in congruence with the “old media” that I already know and love. Instead of feeling like the two are opposing each other, I rather see that they compliment each other. In the future, I hope to continue to utilize the benefits of both to think and act critically and creatively on topics I am passionate about.

Sources:

Connors, Sean P., and Rachael Sullivan. ““It’s That Easy”: Designing Assignments That Blend Old and New Literacies.” The Clearing House 85 (2012): 221–25. JSTOR. Web.

Fryer, Wesley. “In Praise of Open Content.” School Library Journal, Reed Business Information (2006): 26. JSTOR. Web.

Hayles, N. Katherine. “Hyper and Deep Attention: The Generational Divide in Cognitive Modes.” Profession (2007): 187–99. JSTOR. Web. 2 Apr. 2015.

HUA, Jie. “Construction of Digital Commons and Exploration of Public Domain.” Journal of International Commercial Law and Technology 9.3 (2014): 148–64. JSTOR. Web.

Kretzschmar, Franziska, Dominique Pleimling, Jana Hosemann, Stephan Füssel, Ina Bornkessel-Schlesewsky, and Matthias Schlesewsky. “Subjective Impressions Do Not Mirror Online Reading Effort: Concurrent EEG-Eyetracking Evidence from the Reading of Books and Digital Media.” Ed. Thomas Boraud. PLoS ONE 8.2 (2013): 1–11. JSTOR. Web.

Shuker, Mary-Jane, and Lisa Terreni. “Self-authored E-books: Expanding Young Children’s Literacy Experiences and Skills.” Australasian Journal of Early Childhood 38.3 (2013): 17–23. JSTOR. Web.

Snavely, Loanne. “Visual Images and Information Literacy.” Reference & User Services Quarterly 45.1 (2005): 27–32. JSTOR. Web. 10 Apr. 2015.

Weigel, Margaret, and Howard Gardner. “The Best of Both.” Educational Leadership (n.d.): 38–41. JSTOR. Web.