"We can and must design the media"

I figure that the more you know about computers… the better your imagination can flow between technicalities, can slide the parts together, can discern the shapes of what you would have these things do. The computer is not a limitless partner, but it is deeply versatile; to work with it we must understand what it can do, the options and the costs.

In 1996, as a college senior and needing 3 more hours of a science class to graduate, I took Computer Science 101. I was definitively a humanities person and all of the science classes I took in college were mostly fluff (i.e. the Worldview of Physics was another that I aced my freshman year), including this one. We didn’t learn any programming that I can remember, which I definitely regret now. All I can remember was learning Microsoft office software and how to navigate around a Windows 95 operating system. The one skill that I took away from the class was the last unit, which was the basics of HTML. I chose to create the web page for my major, Comparative Literature, as my final project in the class. (This was back in the day that they would let students do something like this…)

(An aside: it looks like the Wayback Machine at the Internet Archive doesn’t go quite far back enough to get that first iteration of that page, but if you look at the earliest version from 1998, and imagine it in yellows and reds with some stylin’ graphical buttons for the links, you’ll get the idea I was going for…)


I didn’t do much web page creation again until 2001, when I went overseas and created a Geocities (RIP) page in order to communicate with my family and friends. It didn’t look that much different from the pages I had originally created for my department. My sister knew a little more code, so helped me spiff the pages up a little better. However, this page got quickly cast aside a year or so later, when I discovered blogging and signed up for a blogger/blogspot account. I wanted a quick and easy way to efficiently communicate with my family and friends and blogging was IT! And it even connected me with people who weren’t my family or friends but who were interested in what I was doing overseas.

In this new networked world, however, I really wanted to make my blog look and feel like my own, so I jumped head first into the code editor on blogspot and started poking around. At this point, 6 years after my first experience with HTML, it had changed a ton. It was at this point that I fell into the world of CSS – and then when I eventually switched up my blog from Blogger to Moveable Type to WordPress, I started exploring PHP as well. I threw myself into bigger web design projects because each project led me to new challenges and new learning experiences. And now, part of my job even includes the design of online learning experiences. (i.e. my dream job…)

These days, my web designing efforts look VERY different from my original creations, and for the most part, aside from that original unit on beginning HTML, it has all been self taught. In all of it, I have used the computer: creating, uploading, exploring, troubleshooting, tinkering, and most of all, LEARNING. Learning about what computers can do, and what I can do with computers. I was “motivated” and “let loose in a wonderful place” like Nelson states.

In looking back on my experience with computers, particularly in my experiments in web design, it resonates deeply with Ted Nelson’s manifesto: you can and must understand computers NOW. I had ideas to communicate and people to connect to and I wanted to “design my own media” as Nelson puts it. And computers were the tools that made it possible to dream how to accomplish that.

And they are the tools that even now are helping us design the media and the curriculum for this networked faculty seminar we are currently participating in.

One Comment

Lance G. October 7, 2010 Reply

Ellen, love the wayback stuff! GeoCities forever … As an aside, it’s my own personal badge of honor that I actually got banned from GeoCities for attempting to use an iframe, which was against their terms of use because spammers abuse the heck out of those things. Anyway, my site was cancelled and I got this really nasty email from ’em… it was hilarious.

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