As our Digital History class comes to a close we have been asked to reflect on the course as a whole. I have to admit, had someone told me in August that I would come to see the benefits of Twitter, understand basic HTML code, write in a blog every couple of weeks and talk about tagging and data mining like I knew what I was saying, I would have raised an eyebrow or two. I guess that's why I would say the greatest thing I have learned from this course is to finally come to understand the potential of the web. It's easy to dismiss it; I think why I did, and why most people sneer at these social networking tools and web 2.0 gadgets is because they lack an understanding of what it can do.
Take Twitter, for example. While I am still adjusting to my own presence online, I have discovered its benefits. I actually use Twitter more than I use Facebook, though I have to admit I never really warmed to Facebook. Throughout our class discussions we debated the use of different applications like Twitter or Google Earth or Amazon and how they may be manipulated to generate personalized queries. While we considered its applications for history, I began to think about how it could be applied to business as well. When I visited home during October I started talking to my Dad about how he could use Twitter in his small business that manufactures promotional products. I got a less than responsive reply (admittedly, our family still had a rotary phone system until two years ago), but I think it is where business, and the humanities, and pretty much anyone that can make use of vast amounts of data is going. For me, this course helped me to understand how that data may be first extracted and then manipulated rather than being lost in a sea of endless information and ignorance.
I think there is a lot of fear surrounding the internet. Not as in fear-for-my life type scenarios but the fear that something posted will be used in negative ways, or manipulated to bring down a career or steal one's hard work. Again I count myself among the many who felt this way before Digital History. But really what I've learned is that the internet facilitates complex connections and interactions between people, information, and machines. Take for example our recent assignment which was to do some text mining with the TAPoR project. I decided to go back to my second year English class and do some analysis on Christina Rossetti's Goblin Market and other poems. I first typed in the word 'dark,' thinking that for such a chilling poem the word would appear quite a bit. When I compared these results to the number of hits for 'light,' however, I was surprised that the latter appeared twice as much as the former. Clearly this sort of tool is useful for poetry analysis as well as history. In less than a minute I learned something new that would have taken me hours of tedious work.
Aside from these more theoretical discoveries, I have also been exposed to the many practical applications of the internet. I made my own website, manipulated digital images through a program called the GNU Image Manipulation Program (GIMP) and learned how basic databases work and major search engines like Google.
I won't deny that I have had moments of frustration where I wanted to throw my computer across the room, but I think that's part of any learning process (the frustration, hopefully not the throwing). At times we were thrown an assignment with little instruction on how to do it, but as Prof. Turkel says, that's often the best way to learn. Because when I did finally manage to change the resolution of a photograph after many frustrating attempts, it felt utterly fantastic.
As I said before, more than anything this course has changed the way that I think. About the internet, about information, and even history. I suppose this was just the beginning; who knows what I'll be doing and thinking in another four months?