Power to the People (All of Them)

This commentary was originally posted on October 23, 2017, to the Electronic Literature class blog for Digital Studies 220 at Davidson College

This past week, I had the tremendous opportunity to attend the 21st annual PopTech conference. I was one of few undergraduate students who was provided this opportunity. The conference is a space of convergence for up-and-coming ‘innovative’ individuals across all fields of study and practice which brings together professionals and experts in their disciplines to speak, much like a TED conference. At PopTech 2017, I had the opportunity to witness the rap / electric viola combination of Rahzel the Legend and Martha Mooke, to hear from the world’s hottest relationship scientists, to see an artistic collaboration by famous 3D painter Alexa Meade, and perhaps most relatedly to this course, hear from National Geographic experts about their work of expanding the field of ‘citizen science’ and digital mapping programs.


Here are some images/quotes I created about the National Geographic speakers and populated on the official PopTech Twitter account, available originally here.

David Lang, most famous for his work on creating underwater drones to map the world’s oceans, spoke at PopTech about his interest in democratizing exploration. As I was in charge of live tweeting the conference, I got a myriad of interesting quotations from his speech. One that particularly struck me was this idea of citizen science. He explained, “Citizen science is one of the few places where there’s a bridge between the public and scientists. It’s not just scientists publishing, there’s a conversation. We need to have a scientifically literate society. Citizen science offers a glimmer of hope in that regard.”

Aside from the obvious connection between the spatial organization of digital environments that we’ve talked about this entire course, as per Janet Murray’s piece, I also was struck by the relationship between his comments and the work of Twine. Twine provides a platform for everyday internet users to create their own virtual games without the deep knowledge and understanding of complex programming languages usually required to complete such work. Similarly, Kate Compton’s Tracery framework allows for us to create Twitter Bots with ease and little to no programming familiarity.

Projects like all three of the above are working to change who we understand as gamers, who we understand as programmers, who we understand as explorers, and who we understand as scientists. This is important to work that needs to be done to expand these fields of study from merely the ivory tower of academics, to fields that we don’t necessarily need to hold a degree to contribute to and create within.

Works Cited:

Janet Murray, chapter 3 from Hamlet on the Holodeck (1997)
Carolyn Petit, “Power to the People: The Text Adventures of Twine” from GameSpot (2013)

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