Tag Archives: technology

Time Zones

A New York Times article about simultaneous UK and US premieres of the new season of “Doctor Who” prompts me to reflect here on the historicity of time zones. The article focuses on how the Internet has changed the BBC/BBC America policy of imposing a delay of several weeks between beginning to air the show in the UK and in the US.

“The BBC’s solution is to compress time and space,” writes Times reporter Brian Stelter. He goes on to comment on how “the Internet overcomes time-zone borders,” noting: “Twitter data in the United States indicates that there are fewer tweets about the West Coast broadcasts of television shows than about East Coast broadcasts.” This effect fascinates me because time zones are to a certain extent a historical construct, and the effect of compressing time differences that Stelter credits to social media marks a historical change in the way we experience distance and its effect on time.

Long ago and far away, when I was taking a US history course as an undergraduate, the professor assigned historian Alan Trachtenberg’s then recent book Incorporating America: Culture and Society in the Gilded Age (1982). I still remember Trachtenberg’s compelling description of the effect of the expansion of railroads across North America after 1869. Towns on railroad lines flourished, while those the rails passed by faded. Railroads connected people who lived in rural areas to the wider world beyond them. Farmers and their families had access to larger markets, both for selling their crops and for consuming manufactured products. And standardized time zones were established to increase the efficiency of the movement of goods and people that the railroads enabled. New Regulator clocks appeared in train depots. Railroads extended industrial time beyond the walls of factories and across the nation. The Eastern, Central, Mountain, and Pacific times that marked the consumption of popular media over first radio and then television in the twentieth century originated in train schedules and the need they created for standardized time.

And if the time zones that marked the availability of objects of mass culture in the twentieth century had their origins in the technologies that dictated train schedules in the nineteenth, the compression of time and space in the twenty-first century also has its origins in technological innovations. There are of course things about the relationship between time and space that the Internet cannot change. Those of us who exist physically in the Western Hemisphere will always encounter some challenges if we seek to watch sporting events as they happen in Asia or Australia or even Europe for that matter. And even the so-called simultaneous release of new episodes of “Doctor Who” will occur not at the exact same time but on the same day, as Stelter notes in his article.

I cannot imagine I am either the first or the only person to notice a relationship between the effects of technology on contemporary changes in our experiences of time and space to those that happened in the past. What would you add to the reference list on the topic that I have started below?



Stelter, Brian. “New Time Warp for Doctor Who,” New York Times, April 22, 2011. http://www.nytimes.com/2011/04/23/arts/television/doctor-who-us-premiere-will-not-be-delayed.html.

Trachtenberg, Alan. Incorporating America: Culture and Society in the Gilded Age. New York: Hill and Wang, 1982.

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Tools for Teaching and Learning

During the NITLE Summit last week, some posters from the twitter stream asked what folks at the morning plenary session thought about a New York Times article on the use of online courses in public schools.  I had read the article with dismay, as it described a trend towards using online courses as a way for schools to offer both Advanced Placement courses when there were too few students to fill a face-to-face course and “make up” courses for students who had failed courses in face-to-face settings.  After the meeting, I appreciated the conversation NITLE Senior Fellow Bryan Alexander initiated on Facebook.  I particularly liked the photograph that accompanied the post Howard Rheingold pointed to among his contributions to DML Central, though I would caution that there are likely to be significant differences in budgets between the schools featured in Rheingold’s photograph and the ones mentioned in the NYT article.

My initial gut reaction to the NYT article hasn’t changed.  I am nauseated but not surprised every time I see an indication that people who think about the bottom line think of “online education” as a way to achieve efficiencies.  My quick Twitter response to the question was easy: Technology is a tool. It can be used well or poorly. It cannot make decisions about its use. That’s our job as educators/edministrators.

Many issues arose during that morning plenary, including the conflicting purposes of colleges and universities, which are magnified in a climate in which increasing access to information undermines the traditional structures of professional scholarship and teaching.  Professors come from graduate schools valuing research and unsure of how to graft teaching responsibilities onto apparently esoteric research interests.  Students and their parents, concerned about the high price of higher education, nevertheless seek the credentials they know are minimal requirements for success in the so-called real world. Administrators must balance budgets, and admissions officers must make classes.  Institutions compete for students even as many of the most interesting research projects require collaborations across institutions.

John Seely Brown, the speaker at our evening plenary, celebrates the opportunities for open learning and intellectual play offered by the abundance of information that is currently available and will only grow in the foreseeable future.  My favorite of the examples he mentioned at a later session is MIT’s Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program (UROP), which allows students to receive course credit, be paid, or work on a voluntary basis, participating as colleagues in the research projects of their professors.  JSB suggests that institutions would do well to cut half their courses from the curriculum and put the saved time to use in closer research collaborations between faculty members and students.

Education is not an efficient process.  High quality education requires meaningful interactions among instructors and students.  Including technology in the mix can contribute to students’ preparation for the learning they will continue to do after they leave the educational “bubble” or “tower” or whatever other protected metaphor we wish to use.  Misusing technology to manufacture “efficiencies” does everyone a disservice.

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New Toy…. I mean, Tool….

Yesterday I finished migrating files from old computers to my fabulous new MacBookPro. Even though Apple makes everything really easy, this task took a lot longer than I had hoped, mostly because the new machine requires a different firewire connector than the ones on the cable I had. So I tried to use other means.

First, migrating over Bluetooth failed when it came to content files. It was particularly problematic with my next newest machine, which has more files on it than any other I have. The program couldn’t even manage to see all of the files over Bluetooth, much less copy them.

I thought the process might work better with the next newest, an iBook from about 2007. It has fewer files on it since its hard drive fried a couple of years ago. The applications actually did migrate, but the documents and downloads didn’t make it. Imagine my distress when I logged onto the new account on the new machine, only to find none of my content where I expected it.

Next I tried using my Ethernet cable, but its connector didn’t fit my desktop machine. Fail.

So off I went to the Apple Store to pick up a new firewire cable with the right connectors. I really appreciated learning that no one there, neither the sales associate in the middle of the store nor the guys in the back–the ones who are supposed to know everything–could give a positive recommendation for the correct cable. The guy I worked with was super helpful, though. We tested the one they all guessed was the right cable on a machine at the store that is just like my new one, and it even worked once I got home.

Turns out I have so many files on my desktop machine that it took over an hour to complete the migration. Now all of my files from all of my recent machines are on the new one, and I’m ready for the next step in getting ready for my summer adventures in digital humanities: partitioning my hard drives and setting up virtual Windows machines so that I can run ArcGIS on them.

I may not be a real geek, but I’m pretty boss for a wannabe.

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<ohtheshame/>: A Tech-Wimp Celebrates Ada Lovelace and the Joy of Knowledge

Oh, the shame.  Not failure, no.  My blog is up, and my second post centers on Ada Lovelace on her day, March 24, as I had planned.  And yet.  I had meant to do this tough, to buy a domain name and download the “real” version of WordPress and manage my blog myself.  In short, to geek out.  I hope Ada’s not ashamed of me for having wimped out instead and taken the low-tech-needed road on WordPress.com.  The shame.

Which raises another, possibly more serious question:  How historically respectable is my knowledge of Ada Lovelace, the patron saint of women in technology?  I did first learn of her, after all, watching a movie about time travel.

In “Conceiving Ada” (1997), Francesca Faridany plays Emily Coer, a diva geek whose computational skills put her in touch with data in which Lovelace, played by Tilda Swinton (swoon), continues to exist.  Coer also engages in such diva practices as eating only food of the same color in any one sitting.  But the film’s dramatic tension lies in the (contradictory) ephemerality of Ada’s (persistent) data; Coer must “save” her.  So the film is a bit over the top.  And yet.  It introduced this woman historian to a woman technologist.  Without it, I would have waited much longer to learn about Ada Byron King, Countess of Lovelace.  Pop culture has it uses.

Trawling around on the internet, I have learned a bit more about rediscoveries of Ada Lovelace.  I am particularly taken by the academic site that came up on Google, an article in a digital version of a pamphlet on women in science that was produced by the San Diego Supercomputer Center in 1997, to commemorate a new wing in which workstations were named for women scientists.  In the introduction to the volume, the editors quoted Naomi Oreskes, a historian of science:  “The question is not why there haven’t been more women in science; the question is rather why we have not heard more about them.”  And so, that volume offers brief biographical articles about the sixteen women for whom the workstations were named, women in the fields of mathematics, physics, and astronomy.

Mention of astronomy led me to wonder why Maria Mitchell, who is often cited as the first woman astronomer in the United States, was not included in the pamphlet.  To remember her name, I googled “first woman astronomer,” and other names came up.  Caroline Herschel, the first woman to discover a comet was one; Hypatia of Alexandria another.  In a different world, one in which there were no papers waiting to be read before spring break ends, I would continue reading, following links, spending my time the way I did as a child reading the dictionary or encyclopedia.  Simply pursuing the joy of knowledge.

But since those papers are calling me, I will merely complete this thought.  The joy of knowledge is not limited to the academic.  Whilst I understand the value of well researched scholarship and the importance of verifying facts, I also find compelling the kind of argument that Henry Jenkins makes in Convergence Culture, an argument for the significance of the ways in which digital technologies and their uses by fan cultures point towards a democratization of knowledge with potential for real political change.  As an educator, I cannot help but think that the accompanying changes in confidence about knowing how to learn, how to find things out, must change my students’ needs within the classroom.  As a historian, I must consider how to leverage my students’ knowledge about how to discover information and challenge them to consider the relationship between their own participation in knowledge communities and the kind of careful scholarship that will train them to succeed no matter what their field.

None of us are likely to find ourselves communing with our subjects in precisely the ways portrayed in “Conceiving Ada.”  Neither should we be satisfied with the interpretation of Ada Lovelace offered in the film.   But seeing the film is not a bad place to start.


http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0118882/, accessed 3/20/10 8:35 AM.

Henry Jenkins. Convergence Culture: Where Old and New Media Collide. New York: New York University Press, 2006.

http://www.lynnhershman.com/ada/, accessed 3/20/10 8:59 AM.

http://www.sdsc.edu/ScienceWomen/lovelace.html, accessed 3/20/10 8:54 AM.

Betty A. Toole. “Lady Lovelace, an Analyst and Metaphysician.” IEEE Annals of the History of Computing (1996) 18: 4-12.

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