This video was created in 2012 as an informal piece of scholarly writing, occasioned by conversations that followed the posting of an opinion piece online by the New York Times. The piece, written by Stanley Fish, questioned tenets associated with digital humanities. A robust conversation followed in multiple academic blog postings. Waves fashions a similar response using video.
The piece brings together two screen recordings. One includes a video of a live musical performance and captured browsing through a multimedia documentary about an abandoned town in Canada. This recording plays while a second films movement through a series of blog postings in web browser windows. The blog postings are copied into a text editing file where autocomplete and word counting tools are used to manipulate the text.
00:00 A video hosted by YouTube with the title "Postcard from 1952 (Live)— Explosions in the Sky" appears in the upper left of the screen. In the upper right, a window with a video recording of a cursor typing text appears. The cursor clicks the play button on the YouTube clip, starting a live musical performance of the song "Postcard from 1952." Enthusiastic crowd noise is heard. The cursor clicks play on the video player in the upper right, and a recording of text being typed begins.
00:20 A new web browser window appears showing a Twitter timeline. A spotlight illuminates the cursor, which scans over a tweet that reads "Anyone remember name of multimedia project from last year or so about abandoned/demolished town in alaska (I think)." Band banter and crowd noise is heard. The scrollbar is moved up in the Twitter timeline and a spotlight illuminates the cursor moving over another tweet, which reads "@iamdan Is this it Dan? Welcome to Pine Point (Canada, not Alaska): doclab.org/2010/Welcome-t. . ."
00:33 A new web browser window appears, covering the whole screen. The window contains the results of a search for "welcome to pine point." A band member can be heard saying to the crowd, "It's a privilege to be in front of you. We are called Explosions in the Sky and we come from Texas." The cursor clicks on the link for the first search item and the web site pinepoint.nfb.ca with the title NFB—Welcome to Pine Point is loaded into the web browser, filling the background of the screen. A text editing window appears in the foreground, titled "printcentricity is sneaky." The file is empty. Buzzing bees can be heard. The sound of the live musical performance can be heard as the band begins to play.
00:45 A new web browser window is opened, covering the text editing window and showing an article, titled "The Digital Humanities and the Transcending of Mortality —NYTimes.com." The cursor highlights the first sentence of the article: "This is a blog." The sound of someone speaking in a hoarse voice can be heard: "mouse click, tab, 579, click." A video player window showing blue sky and vapor trails appears on screen. A video player window showing an old man making enormous soap bubbles on a beach appears on screen. The cursor selects the text in the article. A dialog box opens, and Copy is selected. Someone speaking can be heard: "mouse click. Backspace 10." The cursor moves the browser window with the article offscreen.
01:00 The browser window with the Welcome to Pine Point project is brought to the front. A collage of hand-drawn images blended with old photographs fills the window. The text editor window is brought forward and moved to the top right of the screen. The cursor clicks in the text editor window, and then pastes text into the text file. Two videos, one showing a man blowing large bubbles and the other showing jet plane vapor trails in the sky, are brought forward. The cursor manipulates these various windows.
01:18 A web browser window slides onto the screen. At the top is the heading, "Using BBAutoComplete." A spotlight appears, highlighting the cursor, which scans text reading: "type the first few letters of a long word in one of the supported applications . . . BBAutocomplete looks backwards from the current insertion point to the beginning of the document . . . Next it looks forwards." The "Using BBAutocomplete" browser window is minimized and slides off the screen. On screen, images (and sounds) from the Welcome to Pine Point project and other media and browser windows intermingle.
01:32 The text editor window is brought forward. A small text editor dialog box with the title, Scripts, appears. In the dialog box is a highlighted phrase (BBAutocomplete) with a keyboard shortcut next to it (command-/). The cursor is placed at the top of the text editor window and begins typing: "We seek c." The cursor moves down and selects a button in the Scripts dialog box that says Run. In the text editor window, the letter c is autocompleted to read "column." The button is clicked again and the word becomes "clog." The cursor continues to type and play with the autocomplete function.
01:59 The browser window with the Welcome to Pine Point project fills with a white background over which an animated cutout of a bird moves from right to left in the lower portion of the screen. The text editing box and YouTube window with the band playing sporadically appear and disappear in front of the Welcome to Pine Point background. The sound of a bird chirping can be heard, mingled with soft organ sounds and the live musical performance.
02:08 In the text box, the copied opening paragraph of the NYTimes.com article is visible: "This is a blog. There, I've said it. . . ." In the browser window with the Welcome to Pine Point project, the animated bird grasps a piece of yarn in its beak and flies off, dragging new imagery onto the screen, including a scan of a flyer with a line drawing of a figure in a welder's mask. At the top of the scan is a label that reads: "Ads from Pine Point Yearbooks." In the text editor window, the cursor deletes text until the phrase, "We seek tr" remains. The run button for the Autocomplete script is clicked, and "tr" becomes "traditional." The Run button is clicked, and traditional becomes "transform." The cursor begins typing, and transform become "transformation." From the Welcome to Pine Point project, a voice begins to speak: "I don't think I've ever had closure with Pine Point. I always. I always feel sad when I, like you said, when I tell somebody I grew up in Pine Point and they ask me when do I come back. I go, Oh, it's not there anymore. And I do feel a sense of, I don't know what it is. For me it's weird to say that I don't have . . ."
02:33 In the Welcome to Pine Point window, which constitutes the backdrop of the screen, imagery from an abandoned town and scraps of text from interviews appear. One passage reads: "When I look at people's faces in the old Pine Point photos, there's no sense of hesitation, no hint that they knew that one day this might all end." The scrollbar in the text editing window is moved to the bottom of the page. The Scripts dialog box for the text editor is replaced with an Info dialog box. The Info dialog box contains the name of the text file ("printcentricity is sneaky") and entries indicating number counts: "Chars 13,831; Words 2,218; Lines 27; Pages 0." The cursor turns into a spotlight, illuminating the four entries.
02:55 A browser window is brought on screen. The window contains search results for "welcome to pine point" and has nine tabs with additional pages listed at the top. The cursor resizes the window and moves it to the lower right of the screen. The first of the nine tabs is clicked, and a web page is loaded into the browser window. In the body of the page, there is a blog posting. The text of the blog posting is selected, and copied. The cursor moves up and selects the text editor window. New text is pasted into the window. The text editor Info dialog box appears on screen. The cursor becomes a spotlight and illuminates the Info dialog box, which displays new numbers in each of the count fields: "Chars 22,199; Words 3,581; Lines 151; Pages 0." The Welcome to Pine Point backdrop shows a grid of home videos and footage from the Canadian town.
03:17 The cursor selects the second of the nine additional tabs in the browser window, and copies the text of the blog posting. The live musical performance continues to play. The sound of a small, two-stroke motor can be heard. The text editor window is brought forward, and new text is pasted into the window. The Info dialog box is brought on screen. The cursor turns into a spotlight and illuminates the changing word, character, and line counts. The cursor selects the third of the nine additional tabs, copies the text of the blog posting, and then pastes it into the text editor window. The Info dialog box appears and the cursor turns into a spotlight illuminating the changing counts. The sound of a small two-stroke engine continues as the hi-hat cymbal taps rhythmically in the musical performance.
03:46 The fourth of the nine browser tabs is clicked. The sound of the two-stroke engine fades out and a woman's voice is heard: "Good morning, Laurie, how are you?" A second voice is heard: "Good morning, I'm fine, thanks." The first voice begins to talk, "good," but the second voice continues before trailing off: "It's a very busy Thursday, and we'd like to thank all of the people of Pine Point." Their words are muffled by the cheering of the crowd in the video with the musical performance. The text of the blog posting is copied and pasted into the text editor; the changing counts are highlighted.
03:59 The fifth of the nine browser tabs is clicked. The text of the blog posting is copied. The sound of a small child can be heard. The second voice is heard: "I only wish we could stay till the end." New text is pasted into the text editor. The Info dialog box appears, shows new counts, then disappears. The first voice is heard: "Yes. How long have you been here in Pine Point, Laurie?" Second voice: "I came here on Labor Day weekend, 1970." First voice: "For heaven's sakes. That's a long time."
04:13 The sixth of the nine browser tabs is clicked, its text copied, and then pasted into the text editor window. The Info box is highlighted with new counts: "Chars 48,564, Words 8,063, Lines 436, Pages 0." The video of vapor trails is just visible on the left side of the screen. The voices in the Welcome to Pine Point project continue. Second voice: "Almost sixteen years." First voice: "Yeah. I know I've been very pleased with all your products and service. So I personally would want to thank you." Second voice: "Thank you very much, we appreciate that." First voice: "Okay, lots of luck." Second voice: "Okay, thanks." The seventh browser tab is selected, its text copied, and pasted into the text editor. The Info box is brought on screen: "Chars 73,231; Words 12,340; Lines 681; Pages 0."
04:32 The eighth of the nine browser tabs is selected, text is copied, then pasted into the text editor. The Info box is brought on the screen: "Chars 77,317; Words 12,981; Lines 719; Pages 0." Coming from the Pine Point project in the background, the two-stroke engine can be heard as images of people working and living in a snowy town appear. In the live musical performance, enthusiastic crowd sounds can be heard.
04:42 The ninth browser tab is clicked. The text is copied, and then the window is moved off the screen. In the video player window showing typing, the words "Craft. Teaching. A child. Videos. Transfer" appear. The video with enormous bubbles is brought back on screen. The cursor moves to the text editor and pastes text into the file. The Info box is highlighted: "Chars 82,241; Words 13,759; Lines 757; Pages 0."
04:57 The cursor clicks on the scrollbar in the text editor window and moves it to the top. At the top are the words, "We seek transformation." The word transformation is deleted, and "to be s" is typed. The text at top of the page now reads "We seek to be s." The Scripts dialog box of the text editor is brought on screen, and the Run button for the BBAutoComplete function is selected. The autocomplete function inserts the word "seek" at the end of the line. The button is pressed again: "seek" becomes "should." The Run button is selected multiple times: “should” becomes "sake," "sea," "said," "shifts," "scholarly," "scholarship," "so," "several."
05:20 The cursor at the top of the text editor flashes at the end of the phrase, "we seek to be several." The cursor begins typing: "things and we want to make things." The typing continues: "There are more than enough of the old things in place." The music performance gains more energy as the YouTube video shows the band members picking on electric guitars.
05:40 On screen, imagery from the media windows appears: band members playing the live performance; large soap bubbles; sky with jet plane vapor trails; typing in a text editor. The sound of the musical performance can be heard. In the video player showing typing, words continue to appear: "Turning. Gone. Some point. California." In the text editor, the typing continues: "This is the place where we make scholarly w."
06:00 The cursor clicks on the Run button in the Scripts window. In the text editor, "w" becomes "we." The button is clicked multiple times: "we" becomes "where," "want," "what," "with," "went," "who." The cursor deletes the word "who" and types, "where are the waves?"
06:12 In the text editor, the cursor types: "We seek w." The cursor moves down to the Scripts dialog box and clicks Run. In the text editor, "w" is replaced with "waves." Enthusiastic crowd sounds can be heard. Typing continues: "We have found them!!!!"
06:29 On screen, imagery from the media windows appears: an old man making soap bubbles with two long sticks; sky and vapor trails. In the text editor, typing and the use of the autocomplete feature continues until a phrase is produced: "We feel them flowing through the screen." On screen in a video window, vapor trails are colored bright orange against a dark sky, resonating with a fire burning in the snow that is visible in the "Pine Point" project playing in the background. The large soap bubble in the video with the old man on the beach is awash in color.
06:59 The cursor minimizes the text editor window. On screen, multiple videos play. In the upper right of the screen, the "Pine Point" project in the background shows a burning pile of debris. In the lower middle of the screen, a video player shows a plane from below against a blue sky trailing streaks of white vapor. The video in the lower left shows the old man blowing huge bubbles on the beach, then fades out. More words appear in the video with typing in the lower right: "Papers. Making. Ambient. Narratives. Tracks."
07:11 A small video player window slides onto the bottom right of the screen showing a line of text that says, "Credit and Much Appreciation to." At the top is the title: "worried about rigor?.mov." The cursor selects the play button on the video, and a list of sources begins to scroll from right to left.
07:21 The live musical performance can be heard reaching its climax. The crowd can be heard cheering. A browser window in the background is selected and the Welcome to Pine Point project fills the screen. The cursor moves over the Pine Point project and selects a video thumbnail that shows a middle-aged man and woman in an office. The video begins playing and a woman's voice is heard: "Excuse me, doctor. You said you've been here since . . . you started coming here since when?" A cash register sound is heard. A second voice is heard: "1964." The first voice can be heard: "What about, we've got a couple of ladies here, a receptionist and a nurse. How about them. What will they be doing?"
07:46 On screen, imagery from media windows appears: large soap bubbles; the band playing; vapor trials. The sounds of the musical performance concluding can be heard. Enthusiastic crowd sounds can be heard. In the office video, only one smiling woman is visible, on the far left of the screen. The first voice continues: "Are they gonna be here same as you?" The second voice: "Oh, they're gonna be here for a long time." [The voice stretches out the word "long" and lightly chuckles when speaking.] A third voice is heard as the woman speaks: "I guess I'll probably be here till the summer sometime." The first voice is heard: "Till the summer, eh?" The third voice is heard: "Right." The first voice can be heard: "You're gonna, you're gonna be one of the ones that, ah, puts the lights out? [laughter] Me too." The crowd cheers in the musical performance video. The cursor moves media windows off the screen until only the Welcome to Pine Point project is visible.
08:13 The sound of laughter and the first voice can be heard: "I talked to Lynn. She's gonna be here, too, so there'll be three of us." Soft, steady organ notes are heard. The first voice can be heard: "Well, it's been very nice for you to give me the time, and, uh, thank you again." The cursor moves to the top of the web browser window with the "Pine Point" project and selects the back button. The video stops.
Key components of the project are blog postings used to compile the text that is manipulated on screen. A total of ten blog postings are included, and the entire text of each posting is used. Another key piece is the Welcome to Pine Point media project. The project is included in all but thirty-six seconds of Waves, but it only makes up a portion of the whole experience, as the materials on screen at any given moment are layered together with other browser and media windows.
Several videos and compilations are also included. A video with a live performance of the song "Postcard from 1952" is part of the audio track and plays continuously. At points in Waves, a video showing a captured performance of live typing appears. A compilation video that shows large soap bubbles, bees, and flowers appears in segments, as does a video with a variety of images showing jet plane vapor trails.
Bogost, Ian. "This Is a Blog Post about the Digital Humanities: A Response to Stanley Fish, Kathleen Fitzpatrick, and Others." bogost.com, January 11, 2012, http://www.bogost.com/blog/this_is_a_blog_post_about_the.shtml
Burke, Timothy. "The Author Is Human." Easily Distracted, Swarthmore College, January 10, 2012, http://blogs.swarthmore.edu/burke/2012/01/10/the-author-is-human/
Conquergood, Dwight. “Ethnography, Rhetoric, and Performance.” In Readings on Rhetoric and Performance, edited by Stephen Olbrys Gencarella and Phaedra C. Pezzullo, 15–32. State College, PA: Strata, 2010.
Drucker, Joanna. "Humanities Approaches to Interface Theory." Culture Machine 12, no. 1 (2011), https://www.culturemachine.net/index.php/cm/article/download/434/462
Ernst, Wolfgang. Digital Memory and the Archive. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2013.
Explosions in the Sky. "Postcard from 1952 (Live)—Explosions in the Sky." YouTube, uploaded by alice104, April 4, 2011, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n7UrcBN045k
Fish, Stanley. "The Digital Humanities and the Transcending of Mortality." New York Times, January 9, 2012, http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/01/09/the-digital-humanities-and-the-transcending-of-mortality/
Fishman, Jenn, Beth Mcgregor, Andrea Lunsford, and Mark Otuteye. "Performing Writing, Performing Literacy." College Composition and Communication 57, no. 2 (2005): 224–52. Accessed February 2, 2020, www.jstor.org/stable/30037914
Fitzpatrick, Kathleen. "Response to Stanley Fish." kfitz.info, January 10, 2012, http://www.plannedobsolescence.net/blog/response-to-stanley-fish/
French, Amanda. "Typecasting the Digital Humanities." metaLAB, Harvard University, uploaded by Matthew Battles, January 23, 2012, http://metalab.harvard.edu:80/2012/01/typecasting-the-digital-humanities/
Gerard, Glenna. “Creating New Connections.” In Dialogue as a Means of Collective Communication, edited by Bela Banathy and Patrick M. Jenlink, 335–56. New York: Springer US, 2005. doi:10.1007/0-306-48690-3_16.
Kramer, Michael J. "Digital Humanities in the Age of Fluidity." michaeljkramer.net, January 19, 2012, http://www.michaeljkramer.net/issuesindigitalhistory/blog/?p=513
Manning, Erin. Relationscapes: Movement, Art, Philosophy. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2009.
Manovich, Lev. The Language of New Media. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2003.
Milton, Kristen, and Jennifer Ouellette. Comments on "The Digital Humanities and the Transcending of Mortality." Opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com, Jan 15, 2012, https://plus.google.com/u/0/105473622219622697310/posts/UjuqxkZThkE
The reluctant digital humanist. "Stanley Fish Blogging on DH." porsdam, January 11, 2012, http://porsdam.wordpress.com/2012/01/11/stanley-fish-blogging-on-dh/
Rockwell, Geoffrey. "The Digital Humanities and the Revenge of Authority." Theoreti.ca, Jan 18, 2012, http://www.theoreti.ca/?p=4187
Shoebridge, Paul, and Michael Simons. Welcome to Pine Point. National Film Board of Canada, 2011. Accessed Jan 23, 2012. pinepoint.nfb.ca/
tedunderwood [Ted Underwood]. "Fish Wins Round Two." The Stone and the Shell, January 10, 2012, http://tedunderwood.wordpress.com/2012/01/10/fish-wins-round-two/
Stanley Fish is well known for reader-response literary criticism, suggesting that we turn to communities of readers to sort out uncertainties as we interpret texts and discuss ideas. On January 9, 2012, his opinion piece, "The Digital Humanities and the Transcending of Mortality," was published online by the New York Times. Fish self-consciously identified the piece as a blog posting. In many ways, Fish was joining a community engaged with discussions of online research and writing. His piece, however, challenged the transformative potential of emerging methods of digital communication. In the days that followed, numerous reactions appeared on blogs. Waves is a speculative response to Fish and to those subsequent blog postings with a different take on all the heavy prose.
The video brings together performance and digital composing, a link already recognized by writing scholars. Through networks, technologies, and tools, "performance comes to the fore" and creates combinations that "make writing 'go live' in more ways than ever before" (Fishman et al., 246). Waves enacts this composer-technology connection through text manipulation (performative action) that brings the human hand and the computer together. Performance also shares alt-scholarship impulses that resist closure and embrace the improvisational yes-and. Glenna Gerard suggests that "in a land that delineates, separates, and chooses between alternatives, yes-and offers creative possibilities that depend on inclusion and collaboration" (339). The screen provides a rich space for performative combinations. And video scholarship embraces and amplifies those possibilities.
Anthropologist Dwight Conquergood calls for a performance that emphasizes "a decentering agency of movement, intervention, transformation, struggle, and change" (19). The performances in Waves seek these transformations by bringing together humans, networks, and software through activities of representation. An unseen mouse click brings a Twitter timeline on screen. A keyboard shortcut transforms the cursor into a spotlight. These interactions illuminate coemergence as the author and operating system compose. The author aims to create emphasis. Layers of hardware and software respond. We realize that a point is made by compiling all the prose. The cursor spotlight illuminates the word count. There are many more possibilities in this space.
For years, we've known that digital texts differ from their analog equivalents in their fluidity, in the ease with which we move and mix them. Their nature, Lev Manovich suggests, makes new media texts numerical, modular, and ready for automation (27–32). Digital representation, Wolfgang Ernst says, "dissolves any semantically meaningful archival unit into discrete blocks of signals" (60). This digital turn offers an "epistemological revolution" (60) for Ernst and yields database logics for Manovich based on "the ability of the computer to produce endless variations" (236). In Waves, we are simply moving large blocks of academic text. (And recasting those activities through images, sound, and motion.)
Mixing, counting, and searching represent what Manovich considers "low-level" shifts in behaviors after digitization. The autocomplete function simply searches the text document for words that match the initial letters being typed and inserts suggestions. Still, this low-level shift shapes interactions. At 05:00, the cursor is placed at the top of the text editing document for improvisational typing. The live typing continues until a breakdown develops (06:00) as the autocomplete function can't complete the phrase "this is the place where we make scholarly" with the term "waves." Autocomplete fails, and a question is typed (06:09): "where are the waves?" The phrase, "We seek w" is typed, and autocomplete is tried again, this time finding "waves" right away, since it now sits just three words away (06:16). The composition is driven by digital affordances—from copying to counting to matching. At the same time, the cursor and keyboard remain in play to keep the performance going as the composer takes over to add some words.
Waves includes aspects of the media project Welcome to Pine Point. That project opens with a question: "Imagine your hometown never changed . . . would it be so bad?" The imagery, sounds, and words threaded through the reflections on the town of Pine Point (which was planned, occupied for a generation, and then abandoned) blend with a sense of loss linked with print. Worries about words losing their power make sense. Narrative, Ernst says, "is being replaced by literally counting microevents on the media-archaeological level" (155). The new materiality of digital media offers a reading (calculating and capturing) "that only computing can do" (62). The concern is that the human is being replaced with the machine, that aesthetics, memory, perception, representation are becoming calculation. But words are here for good. Waves captures how scholarly responses (even in the blogosphere) are deeply rooted in print behaviors and how slow change happens. These resonances bring together a lost town with nostalgia for print and prose in a moment where words matter more than ever.
When it comes to words, Ernst tells us, "the difference between aesthetic regimes exists only for the human user," as the computer "calculates images, words, and sounds basically indifferently" (118–19). Since these material aspects of digitality operate "at a level that is not directly accessible to human senses" (60), the "physical layer below symbolically expressed culture can be registered only by the media themselves" (61). This shifts us away from textual analysis and toward artifacts and computers. A reading, for Ernst, "concentrates on the nondiscursive elements . . . not on speakers but rather on the agency of the machine" (45).
Beyond the material level of binary code, at the same time, humans and machines recombine, particularly through representation. Though digital operations play out "below the sensual thresholds of sight and sound," it's still possible that "synesthetically, we might see a spectrographic image of a previously recorded sound memory" (60). When we drill down to the layers beneath the beautiful sights and sounds, humans and computers separate briefly, before coming together again. There is a threshold between human and machine. Yes. And still, somehow, they connect through composing.
For screen composing, the convergent levels Ernst describes are an invitation to experiment with combinations of machine- and human-driven artifact-textuality. Video scholarship deploys these materials through screen-based affordances (windows, mouse clicks, media, motion). In practical terms, software and representation are brought together, especially in moments of emergent composing where "sound and images can be shifted, cut, stored, and reloaded" (121). In these fluid, layered spaces, humans perform with machines to make meaning. As Erin Manning explains, "digital technologies must work at the level of perceptual emergence" (72). Emergence brings together "technogenetic" movements that blend the organic and technical. Rather than working "prosthetically, technology must become capable of actively making sense" (72). The sense that is created "interweaves the organic and the technogenetic" (72). The artifacts of screen performance in Waves become technogenetic markers of perceptual emergence as humans and machines compose together.