Return + The Soft Truth

Howdy folk! Welcome to my blog. I see that I have been getting some traffic here in the past few days, which is a really nice surprise. I hope some of y’all will stick around for my upcoming content for DGST 395: Applied Digital Studies.

It will be a different kind of work – the stuff I wrote and created for Digital Storytelling was erratic and vulnerable. The posts came from a different person at a different time (of course, I’m still the same in many ways, but my content was last posted in Spring 2020). I hope to invest some of the same creativity and heart in these works as well, though it will revolve more around class readings and activities for now.

I will endeavor to structure my blog in such a way that you can browse my Digital Storytelling and Applied Digital Studies content separately. (Should I keep the 80s/They Live theme? I see some of you come from DS106 – does your class have a theme?) But without further ado, lets get into today’s work!

A video that would have made me hoot and holler a couple years ago, but still fun nonetheless (prepare the ears)!

My first task was to read The Soft Truth by Leigh Alexander, “an ‘algowave’ short fiction.” It is a short narrative written so vividly (despite its surreal elements) that it surprises me that it is a work of fiction. To summarize, the story revolves around a woman who keeps seeing an alternate version of herself: one that she seems to inwardly blame some of her delays, longings, and misfortunes on. This journey to connect with her other self happens simultaneously with her search for a video of a certain “satisfying” gelatin sphere video, as well as the aftermath of her firing from her consulting research job. I don’t want to spoil much, but essentially all three elements come to a convergence point that leaves the narrator feeling satisfied in more aspects than one.

A gelatin sphere such as this. I am surprised the cover isn’t clickbait. Click it. I dare you.
Any fellow players think this would be cool with a gelatinous cube?

If you look at the video, you can see how easy it is to destroy what is often considered the quintessential image of perfection.

Farewell, gelatin sphere. Even the idea of a sphere dissolves. A great and susurrating wave of pleasure washes coolly over the surface of my brain like one of those old mouthwash advertisements, and suddenly everything — I mean all of it, everything I know — makes exquisite sense.

Leigh Alexander, The Soft Truth

To further reflect on the ending of this story, I think it is important to determine what ‘algowave fiction’ is. And the answer isn’t on Google (I checked) – rather, it is in the text. Essentially, the narrator creates her own internal algorithm to pinpoint the aforementioned gelatin sphere video. She has an algorithm for deciding when to answer her boss Veronica, which depended on her state of hire and other factors. Her routine pre-firing is basically an algorithm. I think that the very existence of her “other me” symbolizes how one can make different choices and arrive to the same conclusion: the gelatinous sphere.

Therefore, algorithms are inherently flawed and not self-serving of the user.

I’m still in the learning process so I can’t quite agree or disagree yet. Regardless, it was a neat read that I hope you check out as well! As a writer, here is my favorite section. I am still hanging on such simple yet poignant imagery of the shoe:

The day I got fired, while I was waiting for the bus, I looked in my box of things and saw the Footprint Consulting foam sneaker, commissioned by Veronica as a staff gift. I compressed it in my hand as tightly as possible; I dug in my thumbnail and carved neat rows of shallow gills into it. I thought about how unfair it was that I never, no matter how much I searched and clicked around, got to see the red mesh sink slowly and ruthlessly into the firm face of the blue gelatin sphere.

Leigh Alexander, The Soft Truth

Note how organized the ‘gills’ seem to be. How the only way to deal with multiple very unsatisfying things is to make something satisfying. Anyways, the last part of my assignment here is to discuss my coding process of the assignments we have been working on.

Last semester, I took Honors Intro to Computer Science, which completely revolved around programming an Arduino Uno. Many concepts and terminologies are very similar, such as strings, printing, and if-then conditionals. I’ve been referring to my class notes to help me with the CoLab notebooks. I’m trying to take note of the differences and I try to Google alternative solutions as well to jot down in my notebook or at the bottom of the CoLab documents. Here are some of my Arduino notes (spot any Python equivalences?):

These coding exercises relate to the readings and videos/podcasts in the sense that we must “program or be programmed” according to Douglas Rushkoff. By learning these basic building blocks, we can understand more about Cathy O’Neill’s “weapons of math destruction” by observing how large algorithms such as standardized testing control society. After reading this passage by Leigh Alexander, one can see that we create algorithms in our own lives every single day. And now, we can learn the art of designing choices while always keeping ethics and biases in mind.

Kudos to anyone who stuck around for this long. Thank you for reading, and I hope you found my thoughts interesting!