Interacting with texts: Adobe Acrobat Pro

Posted: August 18th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: research tools, writing | Comments Off on Interacting with texts: Adobe Acrobat Pro

Today I’m plugging one of my favorite applications, one that I’ve found to be indispensible both in my work as a researcher and my day-to-day life as a seasoned grad student:  Adobe Acrobat Pro.

Most everyone is familiar with Adobe Acrobat, the free, gold-standard tool for reading pdfs.  Well, the Pro version is the superstar older sibling of Acrobat.  You can use it not only to read pdfs, but also to:

  1. create pdfs (from Word or Excel documents);
  2. set the security level of the pdfs that you create, such that they cannot be copied or altered;
  3. mark up and annotate pdfs (highlight text, insert comments and graphics)
  4. copy passages from a pdf to insert elsewhere (such as into Endnote, a great tool for creating and managing bibliographic references);
  5. combine multiple pdfs into one;
  6. convert pdfs into Word (or Excel);
  7. compare versions of a pdf document;
  8. create fillable pdf forms.

The main thing that I use Adobe Acrobat Pro for is the third point above – marking up and annotating texts.  In fact, Adobe Acrobat Pro has (for me at least) revolutionized the process of how I interact with texts.  Let me explain.

In the old days I’d build up massive collections of books and articles for my research – enough to fill a small library.  Each one of those books and articles would be covered in my handwritten jottings, highlights, sticky notes, and flags.  To retrieve those notes (and the thoughts that went along with them) I’d have to revisit each one of those texts, flip through it, decipher the jottings, and then do something with them.  Traveling was a hassle because it meant the agony of choosing the most necessary texts and then schlepping them around with me.

Not anymore.

These days I have everything I can get my hands on in electronic format.  I can carry thousands of texts around with me, safely contained in the hard drive of my laptop or in a virtual safe deposit box in the cloud.  Using Adobe Acrobat Pro I can easily mark up those texts electronically with all the virtual highlights, sticky notes, flags, scribbles, and jottings that my heart desires.  All of these are also easy to modify and even delete.  Remember flipping through your old library books and diligently erasing all your pencil marks?  Remember your dissatisfaction in knowing that you could never remove that ugly highlighting?  With electronic texts these little problems simply don’t exist.

The other thing that’s so useful is that all of the typed comments I insert into a pdf can easily be copied and then pasted into other documents and programs.  For example, I sometimes start composing parts of my own writing into the texts that I’m reading.  With a few clicks I can lift my compositions out and paste them into Word.  When I’m jotting things down about the text itself, I lift and deposit those into Endnote, where I store all the bibliographic information for each book and article that I read.  (Note to grad students – this is extremely useful in preparing for your general exams, as well as preparing your literature reviews.)

The only pain point about using Adobe Acrobat Pro is that it’s pricey, but the good news is that students and educators can get a substantial discount.

What programs do you use for marking up text, and what do you like about them?

Social technology

Posted: August 5th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: articles & books, theory | 1 Comment »

What is the relationship between technology and social life?  How do our technologies shape us, and how do we shape them?

These questions have been hotly debated for ages, and it’s a testament to their importance and complexity that they still continue to dog researchers, scholars, and laypeople alike.  In fact, it’s safe to say that studying the relationship between technology and society will never go out of style.

So where do we start, and how do we frame, set up, and execute our studies?

My choice is to utilize a perspective called social technology.  Social technology is a “soft-line” deterministic perspective which holds that “technology has structures in its own right but that social practices moderate their effects on behavior.” (DeSanctis & Poole, 1994, p. 125)  In other words, the social technology perspective assumes a dynamic relationship between technology and society in which each shapes – and is shaped – by the other.

The social technology perspective is a logical middle ground between the extremes of technological determinism on the one hand, and social constructivism on the other.  Technological determinists believe that technologies will result in particular (social, cultural) outcomes.  In other words, technologies exert a force on us, but not vice versa. Social constructivists, on the other hand, study technologies from the perspective that they are entirely shaped by us, but not vice versa.

In contrast, social technologists believe that the ways in which people use technologies are not predetermined, but nor are they random or unshaped.  Rather, there is a constant push and pull between the technological and the social.  Social technologists believe that people create and engage deliberately with technologies and use them to reach goals, fill needs, and generally achieve things in the social world.  At the same time, social technologists are sensitive to the ways in which technologies do exert a force on us by limiting our choices, propelling us to select certain paths, and shaping our perspectives and our reasoning.

What does this mean for social technology researchers?  Three important implications come to mind.

  1. We never look at technologies in isolation, because doing so will never give us a complete understanding of their use and significance, or anything close to it.  Rather, we need to look at the social contexts of which technologies are a part.
  2. We accept that neither social life nor any technology is ever static, but always a work in progress.  Because of this, we have to pay attention to the ways in which both technologies and societies evolve and (more often) co-evolve.  In this way, we must look at the historical/social development of technologies over time.
  3. We recognize that while technology exerts a force on social life, it is only one of the many other influences, including institutional structure, member knowledge, social hierarchies, social rules and traditions, and others.

What social technology studies are you currently conducting?  What social technology studies inspire you?

Works Cited

  • DeSanctis, G., & Poole, M. S. (1994). Capturing the complexity in advanced technology use: Adaptive structuration theory. Organization Science, 5(2), 121-147.

Additional Sources

  • Barley, S. R. (1986). Technology as an occasion for structuring:  Evidence from observations of CT scanners and the social order of radiology departments. Administrative Science Quarterly, 31(1), 78-108.
  • Latour, B. (1991). Technology is society made durable. In J. Law (Ed.), A sociology of monsters:  Essays on power, technology, and domination (pp. 103-131). London: Routledge.
  • Latour, B. (1994). On technical mediation:  Philosophy, sociology, genealogy. Common Knowledge, 3, 39-64.
  • Neff, G., & Stark, D. (2004). Permanently beta:  Responsive organization in the Internet Era. In P. Howard & S. Jones (Eds.), Society online:  The Internet in context (pp. 173-188). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
  • Orlikowski, W. J., & Yates, J. (1994). Genre repertoire: The structuring of communicative practices in organizations. Administrative Science Quarterly, 39(4), 541-574.
  • Star, S. L., & Griesemer, J. (1989). Institutional ecology, “translations” and boundary objects:  Amateurs and professionals in Berkeley’s Museum of Vertebrate Zoology, 1907-39. Social Studies of Science, 19(3), 387-420.
  • Yates, J. (1989). Control through Communication:  The rise of system in American management. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press.