Blog Post #3: Human Reading VS Computer Reading

In modern society, technology is constantly evolving. We can even make them read for us now. That’s right, computer reading. You’re probably thinking: wow, that’s crazy, I mean how can a computer read for you?

This week, I read “The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, and then pasted the text into a computer reading system called Voyant. It was pretty interesting to see how a computer can count and compare text. However, not everything should be done by computer; human reading is essential too.

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Human reading is the total opposite from what computer reading can do, so basically what is one’s strength, is the other’s weakness. An ambiguous text such as “The Yellow Wallpaper” can be interpreted in many different ways. Only a human can understand and analyze the context in these ways. A computer can try, but would not be able to succeed. Instead, they can count and compare the text as a whole, which is done rather quickly. A great example is that it would be “easier to have a computer list all the numbers between one and 45678987 than to do it yourself” (Walsh, 2019). Technically, if we really wanted to, we could count all those numbers; of course we would not want to, it’s too tedious. This means that technically, emphasis on technically, a human can almost do everything a computer can, when it comes to reading. Yet, a computer cannot do the same. How? Isn’t a computer supposed to be smarter?

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Well, I think of it this way, one can only be smarter in their area of expertise. Therefore, a human is smarter in close reading, detailed analysis of a short reading; while a computer is smarter in distant reading, which is a method of identifying patterns in large text. For instance, when we look at Voyant with “The Yellow Wallpaper” text, term frequencies, vocabulary densities, unique words are all recorded. Just taking one look at it, it did not seem to help, but I took a deeper look into the frequencies. Words like “John,” “don’t,” and “pattern” are used a lot; her husband feeling like he knows what is best for his wife, the wife being constantly told what not to do by the males in her life, and her acceptance of the pattern throughout the story, indicating the acceptance of her own life. These examples contribute to the theme of female oppression.

Female oppression was evident in the Gilded Age, many women suffered and hid behind the curtain; they did not have such technological advances, which is beneficial to female oppression that may occur today. For example, a project conducted at Northeastern University looked at the difference in gender for student’s reviews on ratemyprofessor.com. The data “ suggests that people tend to think more highly of men than women in professional settings, praise men for the same things they criticize women for, and are more likely to focus on a woman’s appearance or personality and on a man’s skills and intelligence” (Miller, 2015). College students were not realizing they were more likely to search or give a better review to a male professor, resulting in an “unconscious” bias.

Miller, C. (2015, February 07). Is the Professor Bossy or Brilliant? Much Depends on Gender. Retrieved September 11, 2020, from https://www.nytimes.com/2015/02/07/upshot/is-the-professor-bossy-or-brilliant-much-depends-on-gender.html

Tonra, J. (2019, November 14). What is distant reading? Retrieved September 11, 2020, from https://www.rte.ie/brainstorm/2019/1114/1090846-what-is-distant-reading/

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