Do not feel bad if you don’t read this. It’s way too long. It might make you feel better though?

After we turned in our pre-writing assignments, I told Jeff that the assignment made me uncomfortable. He asked me to write to him about it. Of course I meant to write right away but…yeah. Now I’m writing it a little ways away so I hope that it will still come out okay. The thoughts certainly aren’t still fresh in my mind.

To preface: I think this was an extremely useful activity and I think everyone should have to do it. It might have felt repetitive for some of my class mates, but I’ve never had to apply cultural theories before, so it was interesting for me. The pre-writing in itself (the gathering quotes, creating a big mindmap, assembling things, making an outline etc) is an activity that I’m familiar with since that’s pretty much the route I take when I have to write a paper of my own (although all of the mindmapping typically comes at the end in a last-ditch effort to think of something). What was strange about this assignment for me, I think, was the actual application of cultural theories.

It was comforting at first when Jeff told us that we didn’t really have to know exactly what we were going to say or what we were going to talk about. I was pretty sure that it would eventually come to me. I knew that I wanted to look at the interaction of posting some code to a forum (specifically Stack Overflow) and the critique that follows from other Stack Overflow users. I had NO IDEA what theories I could apply though. When I went back through my notes, I realized that I had a hard time coming up with a concrete list of theories that we had discussed. Most of what I had in my notes seemed like vague introductions. I felt like I definitely needed to understand some of those theories more before I could apply them. The problem, I think, was that I was trying to find “formulas” and not theories. I blame my computer science and math background and the fact that I’ve never had to apply cultural theories before.

At first I thought it would be interesting to do some kind of comparative artifact analysis, comparing Stack Overflow posts with some Fan Fiction posts. I had an interesting reason for deciding to compare the two, but ultimately I decided that the comparison would end up being just too much work for a pre-writing assignment. Around the same time, I also realized that artifact analysis probably wasn’t that appropriate for what I wanted to say. But what, exactly, did I want to say? That was the big question that I couldn’t answer. Then I would remember that Jeff said that it didn’t REALLY matter right away. So then I would choose another theory that I could possibly apply. And then I would run into the same cycle. I kept questioning what it was I was trying to say before I would give myself enough time to work out the answer to that question. It seemed like most people were just choosing arbitrary theories to apply to the interaction they were inspecting. I was simply not comfortable doing that, even though it was just a pre-writing assignment for a paper I was never even supposed to write anyway. I kept thinking that I had to know exactly WHY I was choosing a particular theory to apply. Why sequence analysis? Why artifact analysis? What was applying those theories going to get me? I had no idea.

And I felt terrible for not knowing. I swear I pay attention in class, I do the readings, I try to engage in the material, but at that point in creating my pre-writing mindmap, I was just convinced that I wasn’t smart enough to get it. Looking back on my notes to try to find something to apply to my chosen interaction just made me feel even worse. Shouldn’t I understand some of this stuff? If I took my interaction and asked myself “What would I get out of doing some kind of sequence analysis on this?” shouldn’t I be able to answer? I should be able to say “Sequence analysis would tell you X” or “Sequence analysis isn’t appropriate for that kind of interaction, don’t be silly.” But I felt completely lost.

I wound up doing a sequence analysis in the end. I analyzed the critique that Stack Overflow users gave to a particular post by trying to look at them in the order they occurred (which is not how they’re displayed). I looked at the way some authors wrote on multiple comment streams, how other authors stayed on their own, and how some authors never even addressed the real topic of the post. I still feel like I have no idea whether or not sequence analysis was the “right” thing to choose for that particular interaction. Maybe there wasn’t supposed to be a “right” theory to choose, but I don’t believe that at this point. I’m still certain that there had to have been one, appropriate theory I could have applied but I failed to notice it.

I’m also still pretty certain that, even if forced, I wouldn’t be able to turn what I turned in into any kind of readable, intelligent paper. It was most certainly an academic failure of some awful flavor. I realized while writing this post that I’ve never read a paper that just totally missed the mark when it comes to trying to apply a theory to something in a completely inappropriate way. Maybe an example of how NOT to use some of these things would be helpful? Maybe some examples of academic failures would also be helpful, but I fear they would probably just feel like a waste of time.

In the end I’m glad we had to do it, and I think it was incredibly useful, but I most certainly did not enjoy working on this the way I thought I would. I’m sure I have more thoughts and feelings about this, but this is long enough.