More Thoughts on an Upcoming Graduate School Assignment

In my last post, I discussed a high-level version of a potential project for a graduate level English class I am taking. To briefly reiterate: The project would be a “Digital Humanities” study of Canadian author and visual artist Douglas Coupland’s social media use in the COVID-19 era. I would specifically look at Coupland’s Slogans genre of Instagram posts, viewing each post in its entirety as a singular artifact. For the purposes of this study, a post would include: The Slogan (image), the date of posting (if applicable), the location of posting (if applicable), the “likes,” and the comments.

The primary source for this project is, first and foremost, Instagram… but there are also some interesting secondary sources to consider, these include: certain novels such as Generation X: Tales for an Accelerated Culture and Girlfriend in a Coma; certain essay collections such as The Age of Earthquakes: A Guide to the Extreme Present and The Extreme Self; Coupland’s periodic column on The Guardian; and Digital Exhibit’s such as Google Arts & Culture’s Slogan’s for the 21st Century. The vast majority of these works can be obtained digitally—often for free—though some of these works would have to be obtained via paid eBooks.

I believe the best format for this project would be a “Digital Exhibit” of some kind, similar to what one might find on Google Arts & Culture. As many of these “texts” double as art pieces—quite colorful in nature—I believe it would be somewhat interesting to provide categorization options for each piece (date, color, topic, source). I believe it would also be interesting to look at each post’s comment section and scan for tones (agreement, commiseration, disagreement, anger, etc). The data gleaned from these comment sections could be organized via graph or cloud, perhaps in a colorful way to mirror the color associated with the actual posts themselves.

A mild downside to this particular project is that I am not too sure at the moment what Social Media Analysis tools are available nor am I sure of what exactly those tools are actually capable of, so it is possible that this project will involve a lot of transcription (which is a pain, but doable since comments tend to not be that long). We have, however, discussed some interesting tools in class, such as OpenRefine that could be used to both “clean” this data—organize and reorganize it—in interesting ways… Additionally, the readings have included helpful links to some helpful tools, such as Flourish, that can be used to colorfully highlight data in a variety of interesting ways (I am partial to Flourish’s “Survey” visualization).

I am still researching for this project concept and looking for projects that have accomplished research similar to what I am trying to undertake… the type of product needed for half of this project is somewhat obvious: A Digital Exhibit… examples of this abound (I even linked to one in a paragraph above). With regards to analyzing Instagram comments, I am looking into “sentiment analysis” which is something more of a marketing tool used to track the sentiment and opinion of posts’ authors, often used to identify customer sentiments towards brands and such. This Medium article by Niharika Pandit provides an excellent overview.

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