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The Stability of Information Technology and Digital Records

In the reading this week, I found the idea that stuck out to me the most was the abundance of digital information in today’s day and age while at the same time there is a chance for scarcity of records in the future. I really thought this was an ironic, but startlingly true thought. Today, we depend so much on technology, from storing our important photos and documents on our personal computers, to doing our banking completely online. On a larger scale, many news articles, scholarly journals and other texts are posted purely online. While this is a great way for them to reach a large audience quickly, it’s a sobering thought to consider what would happen to our information if the internet was no longer able to be used.

Another point that caught my attention in this week’s material was the pdf file on the longevity of digital material. I think this solidifies the idea of a potential for scarcity of records in the future mentioned above because it really shows how fragile digital files are. I think that this week’s material really just brings up the question of just how safe it is to depend on technology and digital files. It’s really an interesting thought process that I think historians are going to have to consider in the coming years, as technology and digital file storage continues to advance and change.

Data Mining and Text Mining

The part of the readings this week that I found most interesting was in the Cohen article on data mining. The author discussed H-Bots and the mechanics that make them work. I feel that I’ve brought this up multiple times in my previous blog posts, but it’s amazing how simple technology and the internet have made parts of our lives, especially research. I think that this type of resource would be a great tool to use to answer questions while I continue to work on my final project.

Another resource that stuck out to me from the syllabus this week is Wordle. I’ve used Wordle in the past for fun, but had never really considered it as a tool for analyzing text. However, I think that it’s an easy way to grab the main points from an article or speech, because it emphasizes the words that are repeated most often. Wordle definitely could also be helpful in my research for my final project!

Visual Communication of Information

“The standard PowerPoint presentation elevates format over content, betraying an attitude of commercialism that turns everything into a sales pitch.”

This particular quote from the “PowerPoint Is Evil” article by Edward Tufte really stuck out to me. I feel like it makes a statement not just about PowerPoint, but also about our society today. It is rare that we go anywhere on a given day without being bombarded with ads and other forms of commercialism. Even as I read this article, there were ads not just on both sides but also at the top and bottom, completely surrounding the text.

Mr. Tufte had some interesting ideas about PowerPoint, and I have to say that I agreed with a lot of them. Although PowerPoint can be a useful tool and a great visual aid for some speeches, it can also be a crutch for  speakers. The worst presentations in my opinion are those where the speaker reads directly off the slides. After the first few, the entire speech becomes painfully monotonous. PowerPoint slides also can become more distracting than helpful, especially when they are too busy or have ridiculous graphics, as Mr. Tufte pointed out with comparing the images below:

vs.

 

I also have to admit that I found Peter Norving’s “PowerPoint” of the Gettysburg Address pretty comical. It really made me realize how simple most PowerPoint presentations are, and how they often don’t make too much sense. Overall, this week’s reading made me look at PowerPoint in a different light, and I’m kind of glad I did so!

Databases and Statistics

I have to say I found the Felton reports I looked at to be pretty interesting! The sheer fact that he was able to collect so much data about his everyday life is crazy.

Although there was not one specific part of these reports that really stuck out to me, I did make an interesting connection about them. Despite the fact that they are interesting and relevant today, especially thanks to the format that they’re presented in, they would have been even more interesting in the time before social networks emerged. Ever since social networks became a prominent way for people to communicate, they have grown to be something similar to the Felton report for an everyday person. The statuses, photos, “check-in”s and other posts made to profiles tell an extremely similar story of where and how they spend their time, along with who they do so with.

Maps, Spatial Analysis and History

I have to say the idea that I found most interesting in the reading for this week is how similar the North and South were during the Pre-Civil War and Civil War period, from voting patterns to wealth distribution. Of course there were also the obvious differences of slavery as well as the idea of “one moving forward and the other moving backward” (McPherson). The theme of more similarities than differences throughout this particular reading really peaked my interest because I’ve always been taught in previous history courses that the two sides were completely different from each other, causing the conflict that lead to the Civil War.

This idea also lead me to think about the United States as it has developed since that point. In a weird way, Americans have replaced slaves and other physical labor with various forms of machinery and technology today. Many daily functions are dependent on some type of machine, from making a phone call to driving to work or school. I think it will be interesting to look back as many as 50 years from now, and see how much more will have changed when it comes to technology. I always come back to the slightly far-fetched idea of the movie iRobot, considering we are beginning to reach a point where our technology is becoming smarter than the average person. Even though it might be silly, the idea that something like what happened in the movie could occur makes me afraid of developments such as the iPhone’s Siri!

Tools and Services

Although I was already somewhat familiar with many of the tools listed on the syllabus for this week, I have to admit that technology and the point we’ve reached with the Internet as a society never ceases to amaze me. The fact that anyone in the world can search for an address and find images as well as perhaps background information on people who are involved with the location, whether living or working there is amazing and yet frightening at the same time!

This once again brings me back to the idea I touched on in my post when we studied Internet Security: It’s remarkable how much of our daily life is not only digital, but easily accessible by a large part of the general population. Of course, the hope is that this information, as well as other resources, will only be used for positive reasons.

I also have to add that I think Google Earth is such an interesting resource, especially when looking at changes of a specific location over time! For example, the images below show my high school seemingly appearing out of thin air, because it was built in the time between the satellite images.

 

  Image from December 2003    

 Image from November 2005

 Image from February 2006

 Image from January 2012 (most recent)

 

Securing Information

I have to admit after reading the articles about Mat Honan’s experience with hackers, I was terrified! I thought about how many irreplaceable files are stored on my own MacBook and iPhone, and immediately started changing my own passwords and setting up two-step verifications. It’s how crazy easy it was for the hackers to make all of his files disappear.

This article also brings up an interesting point about our society today however. So much of what is vital to us is digital, and can be wiped away in seconds. Backing up files and accounts is easy to do, but many of us are too lazy to take the time to do so. I think it’s important that both the service providers and we as the customers take extra precautions so we don’t end up in the same situation as Mr. Honan.

Overall, I think the materials for this week bring up how easy it is to keep your digital identity safe, and how very important it is to do so because it is just as easy to lose that identity.

Ethical, Legal and Social Issues in a Digital Age

What I found most interesting in this week’s materials was the controversy over sampling in music. I have to say that I lean to the side of those who call it stealing and find it unoriginal. It’s hard to truly say that I agree however, because I’m sure many of the songs I have on my iPod use sampling. It’s kind of sad that in this day and age it’s difficult to know if materials are completely original, especially when they’re digital.

I also found the power point presentation on copyright to be interesting. One unfortunate thing about the internet and other technologies is how easy it is to access and download information as well as other files, and to break copyright laws by doing so.  Many internet users have probably broken copyright laws at some point and aren’t even aware of it.

Judging Wikipedia: YouTube

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/YouTube

The Wikipedia article linked above gives a great overview of YouTube as both a website and a company, from its history to accepted video formats. Since 2005, the article has grown along with the website itself.

The original definition was simply “YouTube is a website for hosting videos. It is similar to Flickr, except instead of photos, it is for videos.”  Since then, it has expanded to include various topics including copyright, user comments, its social impact, history and more.

The sources used for this article are very diverse, many of them well known secondary sources such as USA Today and Time Magazine. There are also links to specific videos and help pages on the YouTube website itself. Overall I think the sources used are fairly reliable, which makes the article itself a good source for learning information about YouTube.

The Reliability of Digital Sources

The reliability of digital sources is definitely an interesting topic. Although Errol Morris discusses analog photographs in the first article, he brings up a point that is completely relevant to digital sources as well. When information is debatable due to lack of background information, it’s difficult to find an unbiased source, let alone an accurate one. The other issue brought up by this article, whether intentionally or unintentionally, is that regardless of sources, the true answer is practically impossible to know because there aren’t enough facts to determine it.

I think that this subject is interesting because it causes me to question the study of history in general. How do we know that the events recorded in the books we study really happened the way they are described? Are the primary sources really as reliable as we think they are? Or could they be fabricated as so many believe Fenton’s “The Valley of the Shadow of Death” is?

I also found this particular statement from Morris’ article on the Fenton photos to be particularly striking: “War is such a peculiar thing – inaugurated by the whims of few, affecting the fate of many.” I couldn’t agree more with this statement, and I feel that its reality has been echoed in various wars throughout history.

I thought that the video on the Wikipedia page somewhat echoed the idea of being cautious when it comes to digital sources, simply because they can so easily be edited. These sources can often be accurate, but can just as often be incorrect. This issue has especially become more prominent because access to the internet has become cheaper and more readily available over time.

Overall, I think the most important idea in each of these sources is that digital sources should always be questioned. In this day and age, it is extremely easy to post a biased article, or to alter an image with Photoshop. When researching a topic, it’s best to air on the side of caution and look into the source more before basing your own work off of it.