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Posted by on Apr 27, 2011

Shakespeare for IQ and EQ in the world: making decisions in real-time via mobile

The aim of every artist is to arrest motion, which is life, by artificial means and hold it fixed so that a hundred years later, when a stranger looks at it, it moves again since it is life”-William Faulkner

This post was inspired by a love of things literary and my participation in #MobiMOOC. You stand warned.

I am not quite ready to let go of yesterday being Shakespeare’s birthday as I come to you with another installment of why Shakespeare still matters in modern life. I would argue even more so now than ever, but that is another post. To begin with I have always been a fan of Open Source Shakespeare, one of the earlier (relatively) and most popular stabs at the Digital Humanities (even the tagline says an Experiment in Literary Technology). It provides the full-text of all the Shakespeare works as well as some data analysis features like concordance of terms, keyword searches, statistics, etc. All very useful and if there are secondary school teachers not using this when the moans of reading Hamlet echo through the halls of post-pubescent classrooms throughout the world, they are, for lack of a better term, nuts. Endless applications for learners to start seeing the evolution of the artist through the tackling of progressively more challenging (and lengthy) works. All from the son of a Stratford man who was effectively illiterate.

Open Source Shakespeare does this in a very transparent way, which is exactly how they should do it. They have even gone so far as to provide a mobile version, which is fantastic. I immediately see the contextualization of Shakespeare couched in the contextual reality of the learner. Out in the world, on the streets, at decisions points (hopefully with less violent ends), observing beauty, despair, lust, greed. An emotional as well as a logical intelligence is needed to navigate these worlds, this waking life. Shakespeare, along with the philosophical backbone, provides a semblance of an emotional intelligence (granted, augmented for the stage) and coupled with other writers, poets, philsophers, historians, all bound together in mobile form, can provide an interactive reference. When faced with a monumental decision in life, when struggling even to get a quote for a paper, why not poll your mobile device to see what the beacons of your culture had to say about it?

Now, what we need to effectively realize this mobile IQ/EQ tool are perhaps a few things (besides an extraordinarily well-faceted taxonomy and retrieval mechanism-have it for Shakespeare, not so much for everything else), a few tools for a sort of banter with the Bard (and others), almost a back and forth.

  • Age (slider): why not limit advice/quotes/emotional and intellectual content to a particular age? The Shakespeare of King Lear is less pertinent (emotionally) to an 18 year old than Romeo and Juliet or even Midsummer Night’s Dream. But the themes of Lear might resonate with a 65 year old more broadly than the immature Verona duo and their making a mess out of everything with their reckless enthusiasms.
  • Emotion: a good thematic analysis of Shakespeare and others would allow for a nice subsection of passages related to particular emotional contexts (Fear, Anxiety, Love, etc.)
  • Context: even going further, why not an emotion coupled to a context? Love and Distance, Heartbreak and Departure, Joy and Contentedness (not for 18 year olds), Death and Sadness. All could be easily coupled together based on thematic (automated) analysis, topic modeling, and so forth.
  • Audio: to do it all by voice, search, playback, audio notes and annotations on space (see next point). Shakespeare is the vehicle of the voice.
  • Geolocale: why not (and this might exclude the Bard a bit) present a historical context for the mobile learner, one that stresses the evolution of place and our relationship as humans to that place? Imagine standing at the corner of 40th and Lexington in New York City and seeing the images as Holden Caufield saw them with the words of Salinger in your ear? Or trolling the streets of Dublin as Leopold Bloom? Matching words to place, context. Layering over images of the place in different points in time. Nothing groundbreaking here as that is already done in augmented reality applications  and I have talked a bit about my desire to be able to virtually write to this world, but imagine full bore learning that occurs when one matches path to context to senses (audio, imagery) to representation (the ability to write to this place). Immersive learning at its finest.

That picture is Serge Gainsbourg’s gravesite, in case you were wondering.

So a lot of opportunity for Shakespeare et al to receive a fresh treatment (not that it has been forgotten). To extract value (like extracting the marrow from life) by injecting Shakespeare into life itself, outside the book, off the stage, in life. To use our literary and philosphical masters not merely as beacons of syntax and structure, but rather as guides and soothesayers. Teaching us to teach ourselves. Informing our decisions out there, in that world beyond these doors. As a teacher to generate a quote, have it delivered to my students, and have them reflect via text or audio response. Refine, repeat. That is what I want.

On a side note, the quote from the day on the Open Source Shakespeare is worth a look:

“Out-paramoured the Turk”-King Lear, Act III, Scene 4

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