Different Strokes

As we have discussed in class, the monograph is considered the pinnacle of an academic career, and digital projects have a tendency to be taken less seriously. Granted, I know the issues  are exceedingly complex, another possible issue is the lack of a foreseeable end—or rather the unlimited sensation facilitated by a world governed by the database rather than the narrative . Manovich explains that “As a cultural form, database represents the world as a list of items and it refuses to order this list. In contrast, a narrative creates a cause-and-effect trajectory of seemingly unordered items (events). Therefore, database and narrative are natural enemies. Competing for the same territory of human culture, each claims an exclusive right to make meaning out of the world.” The monograph lays out everything neatly and clearly (in a perfect world) the “cause-and-effect trajectory” Manovich describes; whereas the digital project oft allows unbridled freedom. You can create a sense of, but with Simon, Brennan, and Kelly’s Web 2.0 being the frontrunners of the internet, even the Web 1.5 mediation cannot dull the sensation of endlessness. In our narrative ruled world, we are so accustomed to narrative structured to beginning-middle-end.  For the strictest adherer to the monograph rule, they are looking for logic and reason. They are looking for a clear-cut answer and a narrative. To people hungry for the algorithim-like experience of  book, the open-endedness and free form of the database format does not offer the same logic of motivated through sequence; the databases  “always appear arbitrary since the user knows that additional material could have been added without in any way modifying the logic of the database.” With this, they feel more random and less controlled.

A project I was working on in 2014 with some other individuals applied for a grant, and one of the critiques in the initial denial (so I’ve heard at least, since I’m removed by a couple years from it now) was that we did not have a specific endpoint.  It was a digital humanities project, and followed the formula of the database. We had, of course, the homepage which structured the basic argument of our discussion, but from there, guests could launch off into any direction they chose. We picked this format to facilitate both exploration and allow students to pick the examples that most suited them. This project exists in a somewhat-Web 1.5 realm, in that there are no comment sections and contributions are limited to individuals from the university. Input is extremely controlled. However,  with its database design, users can fashion their own experiences. When paired with lesson plans and our data collection processes, the site did follow the algorithmic function akin to a game, because the students and teachers utilizing it are using it to achieve specific outcomes. The individual pages and information supplied within the project are presented a narrative form. However, there is no discernible endpoint for the site; for the contributors, the contribution can be seemingly endless, which does not suit the traditional monographic and narrative for of beginning and end.

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