I wish that I could be like the Cool Kids

In a group of friends, everyone usually plays a certain role. Whether they are the player in the group, the comedian, the lover boy, or the quiet introvert that surprisingly gets really “turnt” on the weekend, they all express themselves with one another with sayings, memories, and factors that resonate within each of them.

And with the rise of coined terms from social media such as TikTok and Twitter, the fun has just begun. Terms like “Bussin” and “Sheesh” or poses, facial expressions all resonate within these groups and make it enjoyable and share great memories.

Sheesh Meme - Tiktok Sound - YouTube

Now while this may not be the case for every friend group out there as some may find this cringe, they all still share experiences that make them the friends they are today.

It all boils down to understanding language, tone, and identity. Being able to share these experiences is usually because we can reflect upon them. At the very least we share something in common.

The same can be said about literacy in a social and cultural setting. Our mannerisms may be a result of something we read or watched. Have you ever watched a show, finished it, and found yourself subconsciously becoming someone within the show?

The same thing can be said about literacy and David E. Kirkland of NYU and writer of “We Real Cool”: Toward a Theory of Black Masculine Literacies had this to say.

“Words like “dog,” for example, were frequently used among the cool kids as terms of endearment. Such terms were also used as affirmations of coolness, reserved for those young black men who, according to the cool kids, were “down,” a word they used to signify allegiance.”

These terms make us feel comfortable and help us understand one another better. These terms of endearment show us our upbringing, unity and friendship

WTF is an NFT?

A few weeks ago, I came across a piece of digital artwork that sold for a record breaking $69 million. “Everydays—The First 5000 Days” by Beeple is a collage of all the images the artist has posted online over the last 13 years. I appreciate the artistic concept, but what astonished me was that someone paid $69 million for a JPEG file in the form of an NFT.

A collage of colorful images that make up the artwork "Everydays - The First 5000 Days"

“Everydays – the First 5000 Days” by Beeple

Since then, the world is witnessing a boom of digital assets in the form of NFTs. But—WTF is an NFT?

NFT stands for “non-fungible token,” and fungibility refers to the essence of currency as something that retains values and can be exchanged for another. In extremely simple terms, a non-fungible token is unique and can’t be exchanged because it is part of blockchain technology. Blockchain creates a linked network of records, making it resistant to change.

Tokens have played a fundamental role in economic transfers and recording systems ever since Uruk scribes used clay tokens to indicate and record transactions in the fourth millennium B.C. Denise Schmandt-Besserat even proposes that tokens may be the earliest precursor to the invention of writing.

Now, society seems to have reinvented the value of tokens in recording transactions. And unlike the clay tokens of the past, NFTs can verifiably trace possession to a specific person through blockchain, making ownership the source of value.

My favorite NFTs are from individuals and organizations who auction off their tweets. For example, Jack Dorsey recently sold his first tweet for $2.9 million and our own Ohio State football program is selling their first tweet. Tweets as NFTs seem to place a new value on digital modes of writing while also complicating the idea of ownership, especially when it comes to the ownership of words.

For me, the NFT craze indicates the inextricable link between economic interests and forms of writing.

2020: A Year of Political Unrest or A Year of Literacy?

One of few things undebated about 2020 was that it was a year full of political unrest. Either side of any debate held that year, whether presidential, COVID-19, wildfires, etc., will attest to that.

Civil Unrest Political Cartoon

Malcom X would argue the reason is the world is more literate than ever before. Literacy is loosely defined as the ability to read and write. https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/literate#h1 So, with the United States reaching a 99% literacy rate as opposed 80% in 1870, it has more to say and hear than ever before. https://nces.ed.gov/naal/lit_history.asp

Simply said, there is a greater number of people whose different ideas are finally being shared. Additionally, by the 2016 election extremely well-read internet ecologies such as Twitter and social media have more or less been accepted as an official news source or valid manner of spreading information.

2016 Presidental Election Twitter Image

But any person can publish themselves on Twitter. So, anyone with an idea worth listening to can muster up the same audience and credibility as news reporters.

Blocks with Social Media Images

In other words, mainstream narratives about elections, political issues, ideals, and how to think etc., no longer are provided by the news outlets alone. The common man now has as much potential political sway as Alexander Hamilton. The only problem is millions of people are attempting to do this at once.

Alexander Hamilton as Depicted on the Ten Dollar Bill

So, the end result is responses to issues now seem cluttered. Movements seem contradictory within themselves. In general, politics has lost its unity without the authority of the news to lead either side.

Malcom X Giving a Speech

Perhaps this is a benefit. Movements like BLM and others that have been massively ignored for decades finally have gained attention basically thanks to social media and increased literacy of those writing and reading about it. Malcom X argued that the inability to write and read is what kept him in chains. https://antilogicalism.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/04/malcom-x.pdf

Regardless of whether this rapid transfer of ideas, politics and movements is positive or negative, the result is civil unrest.

Without the internet and the increase in reading and writing ability in the United States a majority of current political issues would likely have been ignored.

The end result is the ecology of political writing has changed entirely. No longer is political writing reserved for the news companies or the Ben Franklins of the world. But each person has the ability to capture attention like those giants of the past did. This means more ideas, more movements more politics in general.

A Political Activist Tweet

Discussion posts & replies: a plea?

Let’s talk about the digital classroom real quick.

In many ways it’s messy—slapped together in a haphazard panic by people fatigued from, among so many other things, a constant need to develop their own digital literacy. Given the broader context, maybe we’re all doing this distance learning thing better than I give us credit for. 

But still, I can’t help thinking some of our writing activities are… I don’t know, lacking? And nothing is more lacking than discussion boards

Let’s get a couple points out of the way first:

  1. If done right (which, c’mon, how often is this happening?), discussion boards serve several significant purposes. Not least of which is authentic engagement with the class’s material.
  2. Discussion boards will inevitably follow some of us back to our in-person classes when the time comes. 
  3. Writing is ecological (more on that in a bit). So the way we approach discussion boards matters outside of the discussion board genre.

What are we, students and teachers from all education levels, supposed to do with a failing system despite its huge potential?

I’m not going to pretend that I have the answers. Frankly, that pedagogical thread is far too tangled for my liking. But I do have a thought. Hear me out: 

I, for one, love when researchers leverage social media to develop and refine their research questions. Networked participatory scholarship is not without its faults, but it does provide those outside the academic sphere a small opening to an otherwise impenetrable scholars-only club. (For a more nuanced discussion, check out this quick read.)

And that’s where I think Cooper’s ecological model of writing comes into play. She says:

“[A]ll the characteristics of any individual writer or of writing both determine and are determined by the characteristics of all other writers and writings in the system.”


“Writing, thus, is seen to be both constituted by and constitutive of these ever-changing systems, systems through which people relate as complete, social beings, rather than imagining each other as remote images: an author, an audience.”

Learning to communicate on discussion boards as complete, social beings whose ideas affect and are affected by the ideas of others will impact how we form and share knowledge outside of the digital classroom.

What researchers do on Twitter and other sites is in the same spirit as our discussion boards. They’ve been able to use digital spaces to mature their ideas. Why are we so weird with discussion boards then?

Maybe it’s time to shake up the standard conventions of discussion board posts and replies.

Ditch the formalities. Ask questions. Challenge ideas. Make responses shorter, more meaningful, and more conversational. Teachers and professors, compose your own discussion posts and reply to students in the same way you want them to be doing so they have a template to emulate. 

This is just my perspective; what’s yours?

Comical Histories and Influences: From Cave Paintings to Viral Tweets

What do a nerd bitten by a radioactive spider, a redheaded football player in a deathly small town, and a galumphing Great Dane all have in common?

Answer: Comics.

Peter Parker (AKA Spider-Man), Riverdale’s Archie Andrews, and the chaotic canine Marmaduke all obtained their origin stories from comic books that have since been adapted into blockbuster movies or bingeworthy TV shows.

Comic books themselves may seem like a niche market nowadays, but their influence immerses us in ways we may not have previously considered. Countless pop culture items across the world—such as anime, graphic novels, and even Twitter—sample techniques of comics (to see the world’s largest collection of cartoons and comics, visit The Billy Ireland Cartoon Library and Museum at The Ohio State University).

But where did comics come from?

Comics as we know them seem to have originated in 19th Century Europe, but their beginnings could be argued back all the way into ancient times. American cartoonist and comic theorist Scott McCloud gave a fascinating lecture at Harvard University, during which he discussed the various histories and discussions surrounding comics.

McCloud pointed to several early examples as ancient influences of comics. In cave paintings that predate 6,000 BCE, Egyptians described the world around them in drawings of donkeys and people. In addition, researchers have been fascinated by the Codex Borbonicus, a 500-year-old Mesoamerican document that used pictures to describe cycles of the Aztec calendar.

Although lacking the words of contemporary comics, these examples rely heavily on images to drive a narrative. This appreciation for visual storytelling has persisted all the way to present day, where TV and movies dominate mainstream entertainment, and even the text-driven narratives of popular books are often translated into screen adaptations. Throughout history, despite advancement in how we compose visual media, the fondness for it has remained the same.

Speaking on the linear, continuous narrative presented in these ancient comics, McCloud was fascinated by how “the story determined the shape.” Contrarily, for the characteristic squares neatly confining newspaper comics, McCloud argues that “technology [in the 1990s] was determining the shape.” He voiced excitement as to how comics would evolve with advancing technology.

Comic influences can now be seen on Twitter; some of the most viral Tweets capitalize on the affordance of combining images and texts (check out Katherine Everett’s post detailing how Twitter changed the way we write).

Some feature a caption in the text portion of the Tweet, followed by a series of images, like this one. Others feature screen grabs of movies or TV, with the captions included on the image. These Tweets mimic the structure of conventional newspaper comics, and some even appear to be straight out of a comic book, like the one on the right.

Perhaps comics did not evolve the way McCloud hoped, returning to squares of pictures and text instead of flowing, boxless stories. But maybe this is because we have movies and television to satisfy our desire for linear narratives, and thus we are content with keeping comics in the little boxes.


Twitter Paving the Way for More Concise Written Language

Since its emergence, Twitter has forever changed the way we write.

Posts, AKA Tweets, are little bits of information that users share with their followers. Tweets are limited to a 280 character limit, meaning messages must be short and to the point.

But what does the evolution of the first instance of writing tell us about the way Twitter changes the way we write?

Before we address the question, let’s talk about the one of the earliest forms of writing. Researh indicates that early civilizations used clay envelopes (bulla) filled with tokens. These tokens represented different objects, and on the outside of the envelope were engravings denoting what was inside. This envelope system worked, but as time went by, it was easier to just engrave. Denise Schmandt-Besserat explains this significant writing changes:

At first the innovation flourished because of its convenience; anyone could “read” what tokens a bulla contained and how many without destroying the envelope and its seal impressions. What then happened was virtually inevitable, and the substitution of two-dimensional portrayals of the tokens for the tokens themselves would seem to have been the crucial link between the archaic recording system and writing. (read more here)

Over time, we have found ways to simplify writing. With Twitter, the limited space has led to the use of acronyms, abbreviations and emojis to convey the user’s message. The meaning has not changed, just the way it was written has.

Just like early civilizations simplified their writing system, Twitter users continue to simplify their writing. If writing can be condensed, it will be.

Will we ever reach a point where writing can’t be further simplified? I don’t know, but that is a question for another time.