A short talk on Digital Literacy

I gave a very short talk today. I was invited to be part of a panel, that was one of the (many interesting) events in the Applied Geospatial Research in Public Policy (AGRiPP) workshop. Our topic was Digital Literacy / Digital Humanities. Each of my co-panelists and I had 5 minutes, so I said something kind of like this.

I’m Rosie Le Faive, and I’m a librarian, so my exposure to digital literacy is usually in the context of “information literacy” – delivering 50-minute lectures to first-year university students on how to use the library. And most of what I cover is how to use our databases to find peer-reviewed research, but every year when I get these classes, I like to think about how I can take it deeper. What does information literacy mean?

I’m going to go on a sidebar… forgive me, it will spoil a movie from 18 months ago… but it will tie back in. [CW: abuse, murder].

In Avengers: Infinity War, the character Gamora is murdered by her abusive father, and in the film it’s framed as proving his love for her [ick face]. Some scenes later, in the middle of a battle, Gamora’s boyfriend realizes she didn’t return and demands “Where… is… Gamora?”.  Iron Man, (who’d never met them till this movie) counters with “I’ll do you one better… Who’s Gamora?” and Drax, who usually misses emotional tones of things, says “I’ll do you one better… why is Gamora?” The audience laughs, Drax is stupid, the question is silly.

But I really like his question. Why is Gamora? In this movie, her entire story arc exists so that she can die, and spur a man into action (or mis-action). This is a trope in media that’s known as fridging, after a brutal scene in a Green Lantern comic. Women characters biting the dust in order to further a man’s storyline is so popular that feminists have given it a name and are aware of it. Fridging doesn’t happen by accident. There were thousands of people involved in the making of this film. Why did this get through the layers of decision-making? Were there no women in the right rooms?

Why does this information exist? That’s the question that interests me. Why was it made, and what was its path from creation to distribution to wherever I encounter it? What structures and institutions were part of the story of this information, and what does it say about them?

A digital humanities project that I just became aware of, and deeply admire for its work in this, is Lily Cho’s Mass Capture project. It digitizes a collection of certificates – known as C.I. 9‘s, which Canada used to keep track of and control people from China. This was in the days of the Chinese “Head Tax”, and if someone from China living in Canada wanted to return to their home country and be able to return (without re-paying the head tax) they had to fill out a C.I. 9. It contained a lot of personal information – name, birthdate, where they’re from, identifying features, and photographs. This was particularly exciting [edit: that is the wrong word, maybe interesting or fascinating; left for accountability] because it was the first mass photography project implemented by the Canadian State. But Cho’s work explores how this bureaucracy creates and constructs people as “non-citizens,” a special kind of subject (in the Foucauldian sense) as defined by government policies founded in racism and white supremacy.

So I like to think about information literacy as knowing where to look for information (e.g. libraries!), and understanding who created that information – the direct provenance and responsibility, but also why is this information – what systems and structures and institutions brought it to me, and why did they consider it valuable?

Understanding these structures won’t let us be free of them. After all, “We live in a society.” But I find that awareness gives us context, and with the ability to reframe, more agency in how we construct stories.

 

Pomodoro

Like others coping with adult ADHD (see also Leigh’s post and this article) I find it exceptionally hard to manage time. I’ve tried so many systems, and I have piles of lists and bullet journals that I’ve abandoned. But one thing I keep coming back to is “the pomodoro method“.

Super simply, it goes like this: Set a time for 25 minutes. During which, do the thing. When the timer dings, stop.

There’s a super-system where you take 5-minute breaks between repeated sessions and a longer break after four or something, but who has that kind of time?

Screenshot of google calendar for this week; almost entirely meetings.

I think there are a few reasons that this works for me. One – at any given time, I’m usually stressed about 3-7 large-scale items that need deep, creative attention, which could each eat up as much time as I can give them, all must get done but not super urgently, and are most likely to get pushed to the side in favour of answering random emails. I get stuck, because no matter what I choose, I can argue that I’m making the wrong choice. But 20 minutes won’t hurt anyone, so I can take that time and focus on something that I want to give my full attention to, stress-free.

Second – It’s long enough that I can actually focus and do the thing. And it seems to be about the right time where after the 25 minutes, a break actually helps because it lets me step back right before I get stuck down a rabbit hole, see the big picture, and often reframe my goals.

Third – and this is the most important, it does not require constant compliance. So many systems promise to organize your life – but you have to stick with them religiously. Some day I’ll write about my relationship with my bullet journal (and how it became abusive). I could go into how productivity methods echo Foucauldian disciplinary penal structures, with regimes that require you to always be producing! Highly structured! Schedules! But the pomodoro doesn’t care. You can come back to the pomodoro whenever you want, without punishment. It’s a good friend like that. It’s also indifferent to whether you actually “finished the thing” or how many things got finished. Who does the cult of productivity really serve? (Our capitalist masters is who.) And regardless, it gives a reasonably attainable feeling of accomplishment and satisfaction.

Speaking of capitalism (and hah I am in no way sponsored by this but)… I want to voice my appreciation for OXO Good Grips and their accessible design. I have a few of their kitchen gadgets, and they’re easy on the hands. I’m not sure if their “Triple Timer” was intended for physical ease of use, or for the time-blind like me, but having three pre-set countdowns, plus a desk clock is a huge help. Sometimes it’s worth having a dedicated device, because I can never find the beeping tab among my 48 open, and I can’t start a timer on my phone without answering 3 different messages and checking social apps.

 

Things On A Screen

1. A quip from Dominic Pettman on Twitter that almost became a tattoo: “Approximately half of media studies is just reminding people – over and over – that a screen is not a window.” (tweet embedded below).

2. When I was looking for that, came across his tweet of Kate Tempest’s Tunnel Vision. Including the line “staring at the screen so we don’t have to see the planet die.” (0:55)

Watch to the end, she gets to the concept of Kinship.

3. Chelsea Vowel gifted us with this thread. It’s a presentation, formatted for twitter. “Law for the Apocalypse: Kinship out of Fracture.” Long read, worth it.

4. Which all tied into this morning’s meditation from Richard Wagamese’s Embers:

Me: Why am I alive?

Old Woman: Because everything else is.

Me: No. I mean the purpose.

Old Woman: That is the purpose. To learn about your relatives.

Me: My family?

Old Woman: Yes. The moon, stars, rocks, trees, plants, water, insects, birds, mammals. Your whole family. Learn about that relationship. How you’re moving through time and space together. That is why you’re alive.

5.  A recommendation to look at things off the screen. The way the trees rustled today as the rain started to fall.

What do I want this blog to be?

Hey, so, like, I’ve stopped posting here frequently. And when I do, I’m suuuuuuper cautious/self-critical. Maybe I should reconsider what this has become, vs. what I meant for it to be, vs. what I now want it to be.

What I had wanted: to think and write about technology, and how digital networks change the way we interact with other humans. I thought there could be interesting patterns to explore… but let’s be real. It was coming from a place of nostalgic yearning for ‘good old days’ when human connection was a chance to really connect, whereas now interactions are like our attention spans: fleeting, ephemeral, and mostly meaningless.

What it is: a place to hash out wokescolding. (If you are the kind of person who sincerely uses that term and would not apply it to me then I am not doing my job right.)

What I want it to be: Writing practice. A place to serialize thoughts that I want to share. Eventually, to take shape as a philosophical “project.” A place to learn how to share my thoughts, and use my power, in a way that can really make a difference. Or, I dunno, a cat blog?

Cat + log.
cat log

 

The Past is a Foreign Country

Every single post on my facebook feed right now is about Trudeau in blackface and brownface. I am appalled, it is disgusting.

I came across this passage, while reading something else, and want to discuss and challenge it:

Understanding people in the past by their own standards means that we need to contextualize the information and try to shift perspectives. 1Thomas Nygren, “Teaching and Learning the Mindset of the Digital Historian and More: Scaffolding Students’ Critical Skills in the Digital Humanities.” 2017. DHN 2017.

and,

There is a challenge to understand the past as a “foreign country,” a place where language and concepts as well as context differ in fundamental ways from our contemporary world.2Nygren, citing Lowenthal.

I’ve heard folks use the phrase “it was 2001.” Meaning, the past is a foreign country. Meaning, you know, what happens in The Past, stays in The Past. Or, c’mon man, we had a different culture, we did some things then that wouldn’t fly now.

You’re only halfway there.

I’ve heard “woke” culture described as: it’s no longer silencing the voices of the less-powerful. It’s listening when people say “no, it’s not okay”. They’ve been saying this all along. These things have never been okay. We’ve just not been listening, and creating spaces where there are no consequences, so that we can continue to not listen.

But what happened in the past has lasting consequences. It can’t just “stay in the past.” If the consequences haven’t been apparent to you, that’s the problem. To say it “was okay at the time” is missing the point. It was not okay then, but you were able to ignore anyone who said it wasn’t.

If you really think “it was okay back then” and “I guess it’s not okay now,” can you see the shape formed by these two facets?

Did you really think it was okay at the time? Why? Whose opinions were you listening to? Whose views didn’t factor in? Why? What have you internalized? Whose admiration were you after? Why was that important to you? How were certain acts enabled by white supremacy? How did you enable white supremacy? What does complicity feel like?

FUN! (no, actually, it’s painful and fucking hurts, and explains to me why so many folks are conservative. It’s less painful to perpetuate a delusion.)

We Live In A Society!

 

Go follow Rachel Cargle‘s work, and do Layla Saad’s Workbook.

What I Learned In The Forest

When Fernie was too hot, we took a walk
through old-growth cedar forests3trail description: https://www.alltrails.com/trail/canada/british-columbia/old-growth-trail to a lake
where thousand-year-old canopies could block
the sun, and underfoot a carpet make.

To soothe my feet and pacify my mind
I took my shoes off, spiting risk of hurt
and marveled that my senses now could find
the vegetation cooler than the dirt.

Of course! Plants take the sun’s incoming heat
and feed the beasts, in turn each others’ food,
but what’s not needed slowly turns to peat
the Earth kept mild4see https://www.zylstra.org/blog/2019/07/novacene-ais-garden-of-eden/ by entropy so skewed5apologies https://books.google.ca/books?id=jBtDSf1VzQkC&pg=PT86&lpg=PT86&dq=distorted+entropy+called+life&source=bl&ots=KFpLeLxHjY&sig=ACfU3U2wEGCZ37WlVqJVV2r5hEglURy2TA&hl=en&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwjN_Pm48YjkAhXnkOAKHXkaC5YQ6AEwC3oECAkQAQ#v=onepage&q=distorted%20entropy%20called%20life&f=false.

But federal funding for the CPR6😬👀 https://fernie.com/about-fernie/history/the-kootenay-railway-wars/
made coal7https://en.wikibooks.org/wiki/Historical_Geology/Peat_and_coal a fuel that we’ve8https://www.google.com/maps/@49.7175147,-114.8403463,3a,25y,109.11h,92.6t/data=!3m6!1e1!3m4!1sJDBHnJJ-xD3espiMBxzLiA!2e0!7i13312!8i6656 burned out9subtle? nope. https://lefaive.ca/2019/08/bleep-bloop-am-i-adhd-or-just-a-piece-of-shit/ thus far10https://ruk.ca/content/reducing-emissions-slow-and-costly.

A lot to unpack

I already put away most of my luggage from that incredibly long vacation at Mom’s (that by the way felt more like a series of weekends – over before I knew it). But I brought all my childhood journals, and am now in the process of “organizing” them, starting with labeling them with their date ranges, and maybe eventually itemized entry dates or topics if I have time. (An archivist I am not; I have no idea what I’m doing.)

But reading what I wrote over some particularly memorable periods of my life I realize I focused on unpacking what was bothering me, and left out a lot of the good that happened. A lot of stuff I’d like to remember better.

So, here are the highlights of What I Did On My Summer Vacation!

  • I drove Mom’s car. I wrote about it on instagram, but this car meant a lot to me (yes it’s the same one she had when I was growing up).
  • I drove out to the mountains with Mom. We went to Canmore (for fun and reconnaissance) and then we went to Canmore again (for mountain biking) and again (for french pastries) and again (for more mountain biking) so I think that’s a record.
  • I hung out with a friend from high school who I’ve gotten to know better on the internet in recent years. We saw John Wick 3 and then had a heart-full conversation for hours over dinner. It was amazing.
  • I read a lot of N. K. Jemisin. When I was done my “plane book” (tip: check the number of pages before buying a plane book from Amazon. Actually don’t buy from Amazon. Look I was leaving soon and the local bookstore didn’t have it), I renewed my Calgary Public Library card and borrowed another.
  • We went shopping at MEC a little (I guess I went to MEC four times this trip, which is also a record).
  • We drove to Sundre to buy a second-hand backpack, and saw beautiful fields of Canola (hi, China!) and got caught in a hailstorm (hi, Global Warming!)
  • Alex arrived and we drove to Mount Robson. Mom’s car struggled to get up the Icefield Parkway but we made it. We saw the peak of Mount Robson with no clouds. Once.
  • Alex and I and J___ and J___ hiked up to Berg Lake! I sat on a bench and looked at a glacier.
  • I laid on a beach and looked at a glacier. I communed with the glacier.

Glaciers are strange beasts. They are fossilized snow. They calve, they break, they melt and retreat but they are renewed as the ice forms and flows downwards. A solid fluid at this massive scale. What is the Reynold’s Number of a glacier? [I can google this now, it’s 10^-11] They exfoliate mountains, but to the mountains they must seem like mayflies. They are so blue. They creak and groan. They look like you could reach out and touch them when they’re kilometers away. They devour people. The  awe I felt, of something so otherworldly, rivaled the best science fiction. Glaciers. They store water at the top of the earth so it can flow slowly into the oceans. But they exist in such a delicate thermal balance – growing in winter, shrinking in summer. And they’ve been shrinking, overall, for decades now. What rivers will be dry when the glaciers vanish? Can we unfuck our planet?

  • Alex and I hiked up to Robson Glacier. It looked like a small walk to the toe. Two hours later, i got my wish, and touched ice. It felt old. I also may have licked it [kids! this is not advisable]. It tasted cold.
  • We saw the Spiral Tunnels and watched a train go through.
  • We drove to Fernie to pick Saskatoon berries, but there were none.
  • We saw the old growth forest at Island Lake Lodge, and we saw the beach at Kikomun Creek Provincial Park. They are wildly different ecosystems, only a half hour drive apart.
  • Mom got sick, and drank a lot of Gatorade (only the Glacier Frost flavour because it had the least food colouring).
  • We saw a Shakespeare at the Bow, and laughed our asses off (heh) at A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
  • I really love mountain biking, and will endeavour to get out more.

But did I accomplish what I wanted to on this vacation? According to a text to a friend, I planned to:

do almost nothing because I’m exhausted of feeling like I’m failing? Try to forget about work? Try to figure out why I am the way I am. And maybe solve capitalism.

Points one and two were a qualified success. Points three and four… well I’ve got a lot more unpacking to do.

 

Bleep Bloop (Am I ADHD or just a piece of shit?)

Contains: mental health topics, including seeking emergency help.

I’m back to work tomorrow, and I’m terrified. I was hoping that a full 4 weeks of vacation would bring me back that vigor, that ambition, that I-can-do-all-the-things-and-be-calm-about-it feeling that I felt two years ago, after hiking the West Coast Trail.

I felt alive. I wanted to wake up in the morning and take on the day. I used my bullet journal extensively, even starting each morning by writing in it on the porch with my coffee. I wanted – expected – to have that feeling back by now. Not that productivity is the goal of vacation, but… it would have felt nice.

Then I read this comic by ADHD Alien (original post)

and hoo-boy that sounds familiar. I’ve been in the “quitting” stage for a good half-year now, in one way or another. Burnout is what brought me to the hospital, about a month before my vacation.

But of course, an inner voice tells me that relating to self-reported ADHD symptoms does not a diagnosis make. Since it’s gotten worse in the last few years (and I don’t remember it being this bad in childhood), it probably isn’t “legitimate” according to the DSM-5 and I am deficient – intellectually, morally – if I don’t pull my own shit together. And even if I do deserve to claim a disability, if i don’t internalize that comic right now and fix my ways, then I’m just being willfully useless.

Out loud, now, Rosie: “That is bullshit.” Another thing I struggle with is calling out the inner narrative when it criticizes me. I’d rather appease “them” by going along with the bullshit, to my own self-detriment, until I can’t anymore and I can point to myself and say “look at what you did to me” than push back. So even writing that down was a small act of injury, which I took in order to practice calling bullshit (and  believing myself when I do). I’m not sure if that was the right thing to do. Some inner voices don’t deserve to see the light of day.

So I really, really hope that that PEI takes action on the 1000-patient psychiatric waiting list that I’m on. But if the 5 years I’ve been on the 4-year-long family doctor waiting list is any indication, it’ll be a little while.

I’ll get back into the swing, but I might have to take it slow. Assistance, as described in the comic above, would be appreciated.