PopTech 2018 Takeaways

In my fall 2017 semester at Davidson, I took Dr. Mark Sample’s Electronic Literature course. This was my first exposure to Lev Manovich’s book, The Language of New Media, and more specifically, the chapter entitled “The Database.” Like all theoretical frameworks that categorize a phenomenon that I had been unsuccessfully grasping to understand for months before encountering, I clung to the vocabulary and thesis in this piece like I could be pop quizzed on it at any moment.

In this piece, Manovich describes two dominant forms of cultural expression: the narrative and the database. A narrative can be understood as the working form of the novel, of cinema, of news stories, and even of music albums. In these works, there are chronological sequences that lead to some sort of conclusion or takeaway. In contrast, a database is typically a collection of data. The key affordance of the database is the freedom the user has to navigate and obtain information without clear direction.  In the era of the world wide web, many sites we access are simply databases: sets of links, images, listicles, etc. Of course, Manovich himself acknowledges that most things are, in fact, somewhere along the spectrum and it would be hard to place any expression squarely in one camp rather than the other.

Nonetheless, I thrilled in the opportunity to break narrative form for my presentation of ideas. In a similar fashion of mixed database and narrative, I want to present a few key takeaways from the 22nd Annual PopTech Conference:

  1. Maurice Mitchell of the Working Families Party on Third Party Politics

    The two party system is politically antiquated and produces candidates that don’t actually speak to the majority of their constituents’ real political goals and needs.

  2. Bob Bordone of Harvard Law School on Conflict Resiliency

    Entering dialogue without framing the meeting as productive- or even expecting a solution at the end of the discussion- often builds stronger relationships between interlocuteurs which aid in more successful negotiation at a later date.

  3. Laurie Santos of Yale Psychology on Gratitude Homework

    What we believe that we want is primarily imposed upon us by our culture. We don’t actually feel better when we “treat ourselves”. In reality, what we want is meaningful relationships and a sense of good character, goals which can be accomplished through investing time and money into making those that we love feel appreciated.

  4. Jacquelyn Birdsall of Toyota Engineering on Environmental Impact Planning

    Much like Jennifer Holt and Patrick Vonderau argue in
    Signal Traffic: Critical Studies of Media Infrastructures (2015), Jacquelyn Birdsall put forth the perspective that we cannot just look at emissions we have to look at the whole life cycle of a product, including manufacturing. In other words: cradle to grave environmental impact planning.

  5. Abby Falik of Global Citizen Year on The Gap Year is Freshman Year

For most undergraduates, their freshman year is the real gap year. We need to rethink how we conceive of “gap years” because involved parents don’t want to send their kids into a gap as it sounds like sending their kids to death in an abyss. However, many students need time to dream and process to be the most successful in their college years, so we should think about how to structure and talk about gap years to allow room for those opportunities.

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