Anthro-tech: Programming Jane Austen is here

By Dennis Clemente

Last Thursday, January 10, the NYU Kimball Hall was packed for the tech meetup called “AnthroTech Meetup: Education and Technology.” The wines on display were more than fitting for such a heady topic and of course, it doesn’t hurt to feel slightly inebriated if we’re talking about how to make Jane Austen relevant to the times. How’s this for a mind-bender—Pride and Prejudice anthropomorphized?!

Austen’s staple characters and mannered comportment were brought back to stick-figure life by erudite Ken Perlin, Director of NYU’s Games for Learning Institute, an NYU Professor of Computer Science, and the winner of a Technical Achievement Award from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences for his work on procedural texture.

He demo’ed how multiple developers can collaborate on programming Austen in Google Docs.  For OCD scribes, his attempt at improving eBook writing using an ingenious “copy- and paste-like” programming method takes the cake.

Next to the Powerpoint floor was the more accessible Ricki Goldman, an NYU Professor of Educational Communication & Technology, a digital ethnographer and leading theorist on learning and media. She discussed “Gen-E,” or “Generation Ethnographers” — the emerging generation of people who use social media to document their world. She also showed some digital video analysis tools designed for use in ethnographies in school settings.

People complained that they didn’t see the event streamed live as promised, but for those who were at NYU, comments streamed about how the speakers gave “thought experiments that are cool within some academy paper-writing circle, but don’t address the wider relevance to the public.” Ouch!

A call for less academic jargon in the next meetup was raised. Justin Petrillo, one of the attendees, has this to say: “It’s a great idea to integrate programming through understanding of stories and actually creating narratives. But, for an entrepreneur, these ideas must be taken a step further.”

Perhaps when most people learn how to code (a seeming inevitability for Perlin), it will be easier for people to understand. Before that happens,  there will always be a stumbling block toward understanding what Perlin and Goldman are trying to say.  Practical minds need to intervene, so this can all be relevant to the critical mass.

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