My Davidson Domains Journey: A Path towards Digital Literacy
Entering college, a constant use of my phone and laptop led to my unquestioning confidence in my digital skills. Soon, as a first-year, I would be introduced to something called “Davidson Domains.” What’s a domain? Subdomain who?? Answer: they’re personalized sites funded through Davidson College hosted by Reclaim Hosting. I quickly learned I was not as digitally-literate or technologically-savvy as I had hoped.
My first year at Davidson, I used Domains to make subdomain portfolios for two courses: Digital Art and a year-long Humanities course. I was familiar with navigating the Humanities program’s subdomain, posting weekly responses to readings, looking at the schedule, etc. The Humanities subdomain differed from Moodle and other CMS (Course Management Systems) because the site left an impression. Its design was representative of the course. It was well thought-out. Everything I needed was at hum.davidson.edu. However, when it came time to build my own organized, visually-pleasing portfolios, the experience was…frustrating. Of course, as an Art major I had a ~vision~ for each portfolio. But translating that vision from mind to screen was not nearly as simple as sketching it, mind to paper. (This is called a wireframe– a great first step to take when designing a website.) In WordPress, I chose a theme, added pages, copied-and-pasted writings into posts, and presented my work digitally. Then, in class. Here are some previews:
Over winter break during my Sophomore year, I began applying for internships. It was a daunting experience, not knowing what kind I wanted or my chances of getting one. I came to two realizations:
I figured gaining these skills could only be productive. With this mindset, I set out to build an art portfolio. Something to showcase my in-flux, growing collection of drawings, paintings, collages, and digital work.
Spring semester began and my next opportunity arose. Because of my three subdomains and a willingness to learn, I left Davidson’s T&I building with a Media Consultant job. As one, I was expected to self-train using Domains, Adobe Programs, and media lab technology to then help other students. All one can do is continually learn.
Paired with my gig Media Consulting was my enrollment in a Critical Web Design class. A match made in heaven… Entering this new world, I applied lessons gained from painting (LOVE a good liberal arts education!), like the value of experimentation, attention to detail, and patience, to my digital literacy journey. Mind you- I have never thought of myself as “a tech person.” By the end of Spring semester, I applied my new knowledge of HTML, CSS, and web designing principles to Domains. However, I still had questions. How should I use my main domain (adellepatten.com)? Why should I put more time and effort into another one? And this is when I began to think critically about my own digital presence. What do I want anyone and everyone to know about me? By this point in my college career, I had all the social media accounts, plus Handshake and LinkedIn. My digital presence felt scattered. It majorly lacked a uniform representation of me.
It finally occurred to me that my main domain could become an all-encompassing, comprehensive introduction to me starting a summer internship with Davidson’s Digital Learning team.
After attending DOMAINS19, a conference hosted by Reclaim Hosting, my suspicions about social media and technology were solidified. Third-party providers often obtain our personal data from social media and use of the Web. Open the flood gates of today’s technology and you’ll be swept away by targeted advertising, the very real existence of surveillance culture, flawed news, skewed politics, polarization all-around. But with these frightening trends, I realized I could use Domains to enhance my digital presence, while being securely hosted.
Twitter humor says we all have our own FBI agents:
They usually make judgements about what we look up, post about, watch on Netflix, etc.
I leave you with this: think about your digital presence in relation to the potential opportunities available through Domains. What do you want your hypothetical FBI agent, potential employers, family, professors, or friends to see about you, outside of the mask that is social media? Maybe nothing, maybe everything. It’s a personal decision. However, as the line between truths and falsities continually blurs, I challenge you to use Domains to your advantage. Make it an ultimate, truthful depiction of you that demonstrates a level of digital literacy by its very existence.
Kreusch, Werner. “A Boy Sitting on the Shoulders of Another Child Peers at Liesen Street in Wedding, West Berlin, over the Wall towards the Eastern Part of the City on Wednesday, Aug. 23, 1961.” www.apimages.com, The Associated Press, 14 June 2011, www.apimages.com/metadata/Index/Germany-Berlin-Wall-50th-Anniversary/651438eb08404e90be6173c053bae249/14/1.
American or German, West Berliner or East Berliner, we are the same. Their pursuit of knowledge is our pursuit of knowledge. A set of shoulders and a camera bridge this divide. Both are sources of visual knowledge possessing the power to satisfy curiosity and desensitize, simultaneously. Young or old, we are all curious children.
Photographer, subject, and viewer share a single human interest: curiosity. Photography has the power to shape, even strengthen, our desire for information. Susan Sontag remarks in On Photography, “The subsequent industrialization of camera technology only carried out a promise inherent in photography from its very beginning: to democratize all experiences by translating them into images” (7). Despite the different roles and experiences photographers, subjects, and viewers possess, photographers like Werner Kreusch, have a vital decision to make when sharing images. They could either choose to merely document reality or aestheticize reality. However, there is a flaw in the pre-conceived notion that images represent reality, similarly to the idea that math equates to fact. Photographs cannot tell an entire story on their own. Captions enable photographers to convey a single, universally-understood reality. While images reflect an event, interpretations vary due to viewers’ individuality. Like journalists and artists, photographers decide what information should be known and how it should be known. In On Photography and Regarding the Pain of Others, Sontag underscoresthe significant role photographers play in society as they determine valuable information from not valuable.In Kreusch’s image of children peering over the Berlin Wall, the subjects convey their interest in knowing the lives of East Berliners, highlighting human curiosity and how access to information manifests. The image informs viewers that the yearning for knowledge during the Cold War era was genuine.
As Sontag explains in Regarding the Pain of Others, war photography informed societies while simultaneously molding public opinion. Anything visual invites multiple interpretations due to differences in viewers’ experiences. Iconography prevalent throughout war photographs triggers memory, introducing emotion. The curiosity embodied in Kreusch’s image involves pathos by its capturing of children’s innocence. Aware or unaware, the children faced the effects of the wall as a physical and psychologically-manipulating barrier. Like these West Berlin children, all viewers are innocent as we continually search for information. Sontag claims that “Social misery has inspired the comfortably-off with the urge to take pictures, the gentlest of predations, in order to document a hidden reality, that is, a reality hidden from them” (55). Kreusch and other photographers capture realities hidden from themselves, West Berliners, East Berliners and those involved or even uninvolved in the Cold War, through documentation. Split-second decisions immediately make what to include or exclude from the frame, when to take the picture and from what angle, the property of the photographer, crafted by their own instincts. In Kreusch’s image, his decision to place the boys on the left side, excluding their facial expressions from view and leaving the right side filled by blank wall, enhances the interest felt by viewers to know more. It is a visual cliffhanger. However, this visual cliffhanger reflects what became West and East Berliners’ realities in the 1960s, 70s and 80s.
Kreusch’s image and the Berlin Wall both made “the unknown” acceptable. Through the visual restriction of the boys view and their faces, and the wall’s physical hindrance felt by locals, uncertainty became embraced as a norm. This parallel between a physical divide and a visual divide is unexpected. A camera enables, but perhaps not enough. A wall clearly separates people effectively, and while images do share information, they also leave viewers wanting more. In this sense, the Berlin Wall and images of the Berlin Wall are alike.
We are all curious children. Even after being exposed to images, knowledge, and perspectives, more questions arise. In a world in which photography is always present and conflict continues, humans will continue to thirst for answers, quenching their thirst with photographs. The virtually universal access to images enables this process. The result has become a society fueled by images.
Sontag, Susan. Susan Sontag on Photography. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1977.
Sontag, Susan. Susan Sontag Regarding the Pain of Others. Picador, 2003.