iPad as Laptop: Week 1

I recently switched from my MacBook to an iPad because a.) my laptop is wearing out and b.) I’m going to be reading tons of ebooks and PDFs on the move this year due to the upcoming move to Singapore and I wanted something more portable for the numerous plane rides, bus trips, and subway commutes that are all part of living on the island. Since ebooks especially can be a pain to read on a laptop (especially on a moving vehicle), the iPad seemed like a win-win.

The only problem is an iPad isn’t really supposed to replace a laptop. It was designed as an entertainment device with some pretty wonderful features for personal movie viewing, e-book reading, photo sharing, social media use, and gaming. It does not come with built in word processing apps or a full keyboard or apps for reading PDFs or a spreadsheet program for keeping track of grades. iPad is not built for flash, so even viewing some websites can be a little tricky. So how to get it to do everything I needed and wanted it to do for the sake of my academic sanity in the coming years?

I did a fair bit of research (yes, it is a transferable skill…) before making the purchase and thought I’d share the most useful tips I gleaned along the way as well as some tricks of sorts I’ve picked up through using the iPad as a work device over the past week or so. Which isn’t to say I’m an expert or that everyone should make the switch – only that if you want to do so, this will hopefully give you an idea of what it takes in terms of preparation, hardware, apps, and financial investment.

Prep work:

Maybe people more tech savvy than myself could just sync up their iPad to their computer and go, but I found I needed to do a bit of prep work in order to adjust for a more limited amount of storage space on the iPad as well as for a lack of laptop to sync to at a later date, since I don’t plan on keeping both the iPad and MacBook. To that end, there were three big things I needed to find storage for ahead of time: documents, photos, and music.

1. Documents. Since my MacBook pre-dated the release of the Pages app (more on that below) my documents are still all Word documents, originally stored on my computer and an external hard drive, for backup. But I don’t use all of them all the time, so there was no reason to try to transfer them all to the iPad – web storage would be just fine. I chose Dropbox, though Google Drive or Evernote might have worked as well. It’s free, you can garner extra space for participating in their how-to demos and by recommending it to friends, and their iPad app looked easy to use. I downloaded the MacBook version first, dragged and dropped the files I wanted from my computer and hard drive into the Dropbox folder, and voila! They were all available online. And yes, there’s plenty of space. I have 3.2G total to use and only occupied some 40% of it with nine years worth of Word files and a fair number of PDFs.

2. Photos. These take up a ton more space – especially if they’re high resolution photos, like the 1200 from our wedding. So Dropbox wasn’t an option for all my photos (though the app does offer storage for photos as well). I could have made private albums on Facebook, but I wasn’t sure about available space and sometimes re-downloading photos from the site can be a hassle. After looking through other options (Picasa, for instance) I went with Flickr on this one. The site offers a terabyte of space, which I’ll never occupy, and the uploading process was simple, even from CDs. The web format is attractive and albums can be kept private for as long as I like. It did take a long time to upload the larger files, but I was able to work on other projects in the process, so it wasn’t too much of a nuisance.

3. Music. This was, alas, the file format that did not allow for a free solution. I couldn’t find any sort of free cloud format that provided enough space to store five to six thousand songs and I didn’t think it would be wise to use a full 28G of the 32G available on the iPad just for music. So to iTunes Match I went. It’s not a bad deal, really. For $24.99/year, I can store all of my music (up to 25,000 songs), access all of it via wifi on both the iPad and iPhone, and cache music on either device when I’m on the go. It isn’t the most perfect solution – caching music definitely takes some time, so I have to plan ahead for road trips or running – but it’s feasible and didn’t dig too deep into my pocket.

Hardware:

With prep work completed, I was ready to purchase the iPad along with two pieces of hardware to make the machine work more like a laptop (for me at least).

1. An external keyboard. I went with Apple’s bluetooth keyboard ($69) because I know there will be plenty of times when I just want to use the iPad by itself just for reading or browsing the web. I know others who swear by the keyboards built into cases, like these from Brooks Brothers, and that seems like a sound option if you don’t mind the extra accessory when you’re reading. I also wanted something that mimicked the keyboard on my MacBook fairly closely and thus far I’ve appreciated the similar feel of the keys, the presence of volume control key, and the familiar placement of the command functions. The only thing I’ve found slightly irritating is the necessity of turning off the bluetooth keyboard when I want to switch back to the pop-up keyboard on the iPad. But I think that’s just taking a little getting used to.

2. A lightning to VGA cable. This was a preemptive buy on my part and not necessarily something I’m going to use on a daily basis. Just a piece that’s good to have around for an academic, or anyone who frequently gives presentations, I think. Said cable (which retails for $49) will allow me to present slide shows, YouTube clips, and interactive maps, for instance, through the usual set up in a classroom. I used the equivalent cable for my MacBook at least twice a week when I taught this spring.

3. While I only found two pieces of hardware necessary to this early endeavor, there are a few cables and cords that would probably be useful or at least nice to have in the future. A lightning to AV cable would let me hook the iPad up to a tv for movie viewing via Netflix; an external mousepad might make document editing a little faster (though thus far just tapping and highlighting on the screen or using the keyboard arrows has been simple enough). If I was going to do more music recording via GarageBand or some serious podcasting, an external mic might also be nice.

Apps:

This has been the category with the biggest learning curve, a noticeable financial investment, and by far the most fun to figure out. I knew some of the apps I needed ahead of time, but I’ve been finding others as problems crop up. Here’s what I’ve found to be most useful or essential for productivity and play thus far:

1. Pages and Keynote. There’s a good chance I’m going to write some or all of my dissertation on this machine, so a word processing app was a must. There are other apps with fewer bells and whistles than this one, but after trying to format Publisher documents to no end of frustration over the last few years, Pages with its multiple document formats and easy to use templates was worth the $9.99. Ditto to Keynote (also $9.99), which will stand in for PowerPoint.
2. iAnnotate. I frequently utilize JSTOR, Sage, PubMed, ProQuest and the like for research purposes and I like the option of downloading, saving, and marking up a PDF version of an article. While you can read PDFs whenever you like on the iPad with Adobe’s free app, storing, organizing, and annotating is another story. I went with iAnnotate on this one because the review were better – though Good Reader is a little cheaper. iAnnotate allows for underlining, writing, highlighting, and commenting and there are additional markings for grades, bookmarks, stamps, etc. if you wanted to use it for grading and/or feedback. It syncs with Dropbox (hooray!) and allows for organization via file folders on the iPad. Nifty, right?

The only hitch so far is that some PDFs don’t allow me to use all of the features – for some files from Sage, for instance, I can underline manually with a stylus or my finger, but I can’t use the highlighter function. Files from JSTOR, by contrast, allow for the use of all tools. It’s not a huge deal, but I didn’t expect that particular limitation.

3. Kindle for iPad. iBooks just doesn’t carry everything, so occasionally I need to purchase an ebook from Amazon instead. I’m not a huge fan of this reading app – there’s no continuous scrolling, for instance – but it does allow for highlighting and commenting, which is helpful and it’s free.

4. FlickStackr. When I tried to access and organize some photos on the Flickr free app, it just wouldn’t work. I could view everything, but I couldn’t do anything with it. Enter FlickStackr, the companion app ($3.99). This is where I can organize, edit, share, and upload and it’s super easy to use. I’m a little peeved that I had to pay for it (was forced to, really) but it was an easy enough fix and it’s been worth the few dollars it cost.

5. Puffin Web Browser. Remember how iPad doesn’t run flash sites? Well that’s an issue when you want to chat remotely with someone for your bank, for instance, or you want to access the site of the DJ you used for your wedding so you can recommend him to someone else. Again, this wasn’t something I figured on, but it was a quick fix. Puffin Web Browser, somehow or another, runs flash. It has a free trial (14 days) and is only $2.99 after that. It’s faster than Safari and you don’t have to second guess whether a site will appear. It still has it’s limits – I can’t use Shutterfly or Blurb, alas – but seems to work for most of what I need it to.

6. KeepShot. What to do for photobooks, calendars, and kitschy Christmas mugs then? Enter KeepShot, a free app that works with Flickr and Facebook, has reasonably priced photobooks (50% off for new users, even!), and a fully customizable layout. It’s a great app – when it works. It definitely crashes pretty frequently and I’ve read that some users have difficulty ordering through the site (I haven’t tried that yet…). But if developers can fix the bugs (the app is still pretty new), this will be a wonderful thing. I’m holding out hope.

7. Blogsy. I’m writing to you today from an app, not from WordPress. Because WordPress, Blogspot, etc. haven’t quite gotten the hang of providing for mobile and iPad users yet. But again – a quick fix, and this time a free one. Blogsy syncs with multiple blog sites as well as with my Photos, Facebook, YouTube, Flickr, Instagram, and Picasa. I can type and edit and format and add photos in the app then publish directly to my site. It’s handy and easy to use with most of the bells and whistles you’d hope for – easy insertion of hyperlinks, font options, the ability to save drafts, and easy access to photos and videos. (Though I’m having some trouble locating the spell check, if there is one…) I won’t use this one a lot, because I’m terrible at remembering to blog half of what I think I might, but it will come in handy now and then.

8. And then there are the “just for fun” apps that are great for the occasional (or frequent) distractions. Netflix and Amazon Instant Video have apps. Spotify gives access to its radio stations, though not the entirety of its collection (which is a little disappointing). Heads Up is an easy, social, sometimes riotous game that combines Taboo and Charades and parts of Cranium. Feedly is a replacement for Google Reader and keeps me up to date on the blogs I follow, all in one place. And then there’s the Newsstand with at least partial freebies from the New Yorker, Economist, Atlantic, HuffPost Magazine, Ms., and the London Times, among others. I also added the NYT – a $1 subscription for 3 months digital access? Why thank you, LivingSocial app. Don’t mind if I do.

On Why I Need to Read More Classics

It seems a shame to let the year go without another post, despite my long neglect of this space. I have, to be honest, found myself lacking the inspiration to write creatively in the midst of a grad school year filled by often dense and specialized readings. It’s been difficult not to talk myself out of writing because, really, who is remotely interested in reading about a defunct evangelical publishing house or the politics of British censorship on a light and fluffy blog?

But the holiday break and a run of good films has finally presented some material for a post – material that connects effortlessly to some of the semester’s readings on British popular culture, of all things.

One of the overarching themes of books on British popular culture is the constant anxiety the middle classes suffered on behalf of the British population in the nineteenth and twentieth century. Well-meaning, if overzealous, evangelical men and women especially worried constantly that theatre, books, and music halls would corrupt the youth, the women, single and married men of the lower and middle classes. (The aristocrats, they figured, were already to licentious to bother with.) They started youth organizations, church groups, and working-man’s clubs as alternatives to secular entertainment; they lobbied for censorship laws to stymie offensive plays, imported (read: French) books, and bawdy variety shows.

But the worst of the worst, the entertainment industry that caused the most ulcers and aneurysms, was cinema. Woe to the viewers of Hollywood, or even sub-par British, films for they knew not what smut lay within. At best, critics found the moving pictures mindless. At worst, detractors accused films of undermining God, King, and Empire. (This, of course, despite Hollywood’s penchant for producing films like Gunga Din.)

Recent historians however argue that, far from corrupting the general population, cinema played an important role in renewing interest in classic plays, books and historical themes, all elements of elite culture that critics could hardly object to. Most British films depended on an audience’s pre-established interest in a play or novel (say, Henry V or Great Expectations) for their success. Elaborate period pieces about looming British figures, like Henry VIII, likewise succeeded at the box office in large part because the British public already knew of the person. What’s more, historians increasingly see evidence of film and television prompting viewers to seek out serious books that inspired or were related to what they saw.

Which brings me to my own viewing pleasures over the break and my fledgling hope that this winter’s box office hits might have the same effect. The biggest films of the season – The Hobbit, Anna Karenina, Les Misérablesand Lincoln – are all based on classic novels, musicals, and historical events. The Hobbit and Les Misérables are old favorites for me, but even those have me asking new questions, like who on earth is that Pale Orc? And what are the rest of the verses to “The Misty Mountain“? Some changes to the lyrics in Les Misérables as well as new interpretations of the characters likewise left me curious about the original novel, which I haven’t read. Does Hugo emphasize the class conflict apparent in the original stage show, or does he take shots at the monarchy the way this newer rendition suggests? Is Javert the cool, calm, calculating figure we see from Russell Crowe, or is he the passionate, fanatical law enforcer who usually shows up in the musicals and concerts? (Crowe’s interpretation is, to be honest, a little lifeless for my taste, but I’m willing to wait and see if maybe this is moreso the Javert of the novel.)

Anna Karenina and Lincoln, by contrast, are new territory for me. I’m intrigued by the former in large part because the brilliant Tom Stoppard did the screenplay, but it’s also high time I read a classic Russian novel. Plus some reviews are suggesting that the film doesn’t even begin to do the novel justice, and I dislike being unable to judge the value of a reviewer’s appraisal. Lincoln thoroughly impressed me, and I’m willing to take M.L.’s word on the authenticity of the portrayal of the former president. The film’s characterization of Mary Todd, though, is troubling. She’s petty and hysterical and machinating and I wonder if historians have been more harsh on her than is warranted. There’s the possibility that the portrayal is accurate, of course, but I tend to find that history isn’t always terribly kind to women who might wield power, or who grapple with mental health issues. Still, I’d like to add a biography or two of her to my personal reading list before I offer criticism. (I’m assuming such a thing exists. Recommendations, anyone?)

So from sheer personal experience, I ultimately find myself agreeing with historians’ evaluation of the role of cinema in the lives of the British people. Far from being mindless entertainment, films based on books and stage shows and history can illuminate the richness of their inspirations. A good film, I think, is ultimately defined as one with enough entertainment value to keep us in our seats for two or three hours, but one that still lacks just enough to send us running for the written word after the credit roll is completed.

Practicing Feminism.

It’s taken me awhile to come out and say, in life and on this page: I am a feminist.

Largely because I, like many of my peers, grew up believing that feminism meant one and only one thing: bra-burning. Aside from being an expensive and potentially dangerous habit, as one of my dearest friends pointed out years ago, this seemed like an action of rather limited efficacy. It wasn’t until I caught myself persistently beginning sentences with, “I’m not a feminist, but…” that I began to grasp how many issues of injustice feminism might address and therefore how utterly essential feminism remains in the U.S. and the world as a whole.

And yet, the movement, and the men and women who espouse feminist values, are greeted with increasing hostility in the twenty-first century. I made the mistake of reading the comments posted to various Slate articles related to women’s concerns this morning. The authors who contributed to today’s “Double X” category received complaints that they were only playing the victim; they were told they needed to stop whining, as commenters scolded them for for believing there is still gender inequality. The authors were upbraided for thinking feminism was anything but an academic solution for antiquated problems.

True, some of the original issues are, or are becoming, antiquated, at least in the United States. Women have been able to vote for nearly a century, for example, and that in itself is a massive victory. There are a number of women in positions of influence and affluence at major corporations, including the internet giants Google, Yahoo, and Facebook. Women’s sports are not only accepted, but encouraged and even well-funded at many institutions of higher education.

But there is work to be done, at home and abroad. The number of women in poverty – yes, even in the U.S. – far exceeds the number of men. Women’s health issues – maternal mortality rates, the availability of preventive exams, access to contraception – remain a central concern. Women’s freedom to choose what to wear, or not to wear, might be added to the list with sincerity.

I should be clear: I do not think American feminists need to fix everything. Nor are we capable of doing so. We can offer celebration and support, though, and insightful education for people in our own spheres.

But this has all been a bit of a rant, largely inspired by some thoughtless and unrepresentative commenters on the ever-fickle web. What I would like to communicate, in closing, is at least a framework for how I hope to practice what I preach. I hope to:

  • integrate women’s voices and stories into the histories I teach and write in authentic and nuanced ways
  • actively engage in and financially support those already doing work that broadens possibilities for women of all ages, socioeconomic statuses, and ethnic heritages
  • listen, understand, and attempt to empathize with women’s choices that are different from my own…long before I ask them whether or not they have a political agenda
  • welcome, encourage, and celebrate men who treat women as equals and work to annihilate gender injustice
  • hold on to the anger I feel against injustice, refuse to equivocate or analyze away wrongdoings perpetuated against women (however small these may seem), and direct my passion towards betterment
  • be open to celebrating women’s accomplishments, as individuals and a group, however small or substantial

Okay, so I’m an optimist and a big-picture thinker who likes to give myself lofty, improbable goals. The specifics are still a little fuzzy, so I’m open to suggestions on how to live out my principles as an academic, a friend, an educator, and (soon enough) as a wife and (someday) as a mother.

A Rant: Why Isn’t Anyone Talking About the Women?

I don’t usually follow politics and I definitely don’t have a stake in the Republican primaries, but this morning’s news has me captivated and deeply concerned.

The top headline on BBC News this morning was “Gingrich Surges in South Carolina.” The uptick in his popularity follows the scandal-making statement by his ex-wife, Marianne, that her former husband asked her for an open marriage after he began an affair with his current wife, Callista (née Bisek) Gingrich. Reporters from Fox News to the Daily Show have also called attention to Newt’s request for a divorce very shortly after Marianne received a diagnosis of multiple sclerosis.

Gingrich’s rising popularity, despite scandal, mirrors Herman Cain’s in November. Despite four accusations of sexual harassment or extramarital affairs, Cain’s popularity only fell slightly between the beginning of the accusations in late October and his decision to drop out of the race on December 3. ABC, in fact, reported seventy percent of Republicans believed the women’s accusations against Cain should not affect their vote at all.

Let me be perfectly frank: I find these politicians’ attitudes towards and treatment of women appalling and I am, if possible, still more disconcerted by voter and media reactions to accusations of mistreatment of wives, mistresses, and co-workers. While most media sources have acknowledged Marianne Gingrich’s statement as scandal-producing, few have moved past the shock value of her interview to the more important question of character and candidacy. What does a political candidate’s treatment of women have to say about his (for they are all ‘hims’ once again) treatment of people in general and therefore his fitness to govern?

I was encouraged to see a few denouncements of Gingrich as I searched for criticisms this morning. U.S. News echoed the feminist slogan “the personal is political,” repudiating Gingrich’s affairs and treatment of his ex-wives. The Red State Feminists blog pronounced “Shame, shame on any conservative that supports Newt Gingrich!” And Jon Stewart, of course, made a mockery of Gingrich’s relationships with women in his Thursday segment, “Freaker of the House.”

But there are still “blame the victim” articles that accuse Marianne Gingrich, and that previously accused the women involved with Herman Cain, of attempting to “nobble” these candidates campaigns. (For a particularly infuriating example, see Tim Stanley’s article in the Telegraph. Ugh.) While I agree that anyone – women or men – can have alternative motives for sharing personal stories, and that we should rightly view sensational reports with some skepticism, it is too easy a leap to accuse a woman of engaging in deception for personal gain. That is an old, old trick and it should not be allowed to fly so freely in 2011.

So I say let’s listen to the women. Let’s believe their stories are true, until proven otherwise, and consider the hurt they’ve been through and the impact of failed relationships on their lives. Then let’s consider how it impacts a man’s campaign and how his life should or will change. Above all, let’s try not to reward them for mistreating women or co-workers or fellow candidates.

A Winter Pilgrimage

A dear friend of mine came from the slightly more balmy south and west to visit the snowy northeast country for a bit before the New Year.  Aside from hours of quality conversation, a few games of rummy, and some lovely warmed wine in the evenings, we headed out to Seneca Falls for some winter gallivanting.  We poked around the historical society (which was unfortunately closed), the exhibits in the Women’s Rights Museum, and then Cayuga Lake State Park.  (Six inches of ice meant it was thick enough to wander around to our hearts’ content!)  All photo credit to my snaphappy friend over at Litany for the Journey.


“What is a Boojum?”: A Response to the Writings of Lewis Carroll

Another response for Victorian Mind, this time on Lewis Carroll’s influential children’s tale–which turns out to be not-so-childish after all.  All citations are pulled from the Norton Critical Anthology edited by Donald J. Gray.

In The Origin of Species, Charles Darwin argued that the seemingly “contented face of nature” was mere dissimulation; everything that lived and breathed was in fact at war and struggling for its very existence.  Written within a decade of the publication of Origin, Charles Dodgson’s Alice in Wonderland and The Hunting of the Snark expose an inner world of humanity that is as anarchic as the external world of nature.  Though imagined by a relatively innocent girl, Alice’s Wonderland is a disorienting place full of mad hatters and hares, mercurial monarchs, and indescribably terrifying monsters.  Alice ultimately escapes the dream world, but she can no more understand the nonsense awake than asleep.  By concluding the stories with Alice’s unanswerable query, “Which dreamed it?” Lewis Carroll leaves his readers with the suggestion of permanent confusion in both the inner and outer worlds of existence.

Although Alice objects to the Cat’s suggestion that she shares his madness, there is overwhelming evidence that Alice is not only a participant in, but the originator of the insanity.  As Alice begins to scold herself for crying at the bottom of the rabbit-hole, Carroll explains, “this curious child was very fond of pretending to be two people.”[1] In fact, Alice willingly considers the possibility that she has become Mabel or Ada during her fall down the rabbit-hole.[2] While Alice is initially satisfied with her own explanations of the transformation, she is deeply confused when another identity is imposed on her.  Alice cannot even suggest to the Caterpillar that she has another name, because she “must have been changed several times” since the morning.[3] Here Alice does not claim to have effected the change by eating or drinking various things.  Instead, she says she has been passively transformed by Wonderland against her will and finds “being so many different sizes in a day…very confusing.”[4]

“Oh, you ca’n’t help that,” said the Cat: “we’re all mad here. I’m mad. You’re mad”

When Alice encounters the petrified Pigeon shortly after her conversation with the Caterpillar, she has difficulty answering even what she is, let alone who, and must face the Pigeon’s accusations that she is not a little girl at all, but a serpent.[5] The Unicorn later calls her a “fabulous monster” and Alice gives the inhabitants of Wonderland little reason to believe that she is not a threat to them. [6] She alarms the mouse and birds with her talk of the carnivorous Dinah,[7] summons the crow that scares off the Tweedles by merely thinking of it,[8] and savagely cuts into the animated pudding at the banquet in order to satisfy her own appetite.[9] The reader begins to wonder if Alice perhaps shares the Jabberwock’s “jaws that bite” and “claws that catch.”[10] Might she turn out to be not Alice at all, but one of the mysterious, cunning, unseen Boojums of Carroll’s Hunting of the Snark?

Who can say when a Boojum, like so many other creatures in Wonderland, eludes description?  It seems impossible for Alice to assert that she is a girl, not a Jabberwock or Boojum, in a world untethered from the order established by language and definition.[11] As a result, Alice cannot escape the dream world by finally explaining and identifying herself.  Alice must instead create more anarchy, much like she must walk the opposite direction to arrive at her destination earlier in the story.[12] Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland concludes with the explosion, and subsequent mess, of a deck of cards and her final action in Through the Looking Glass is to overturn the banquet table.  And the anarchy persists in the waking world.  Alice cannot determine “which dreamed it,” herself or the Red King, and Carroll offers no assistance.  He concludes with ambiguity, leaving the reader to puzzle out a more orderly world for him or herself, provided that he or she can so much as answer his enduring question, “Who am I?”


[1] Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, in A Norton Critical Edition, ed. Donald J. Gray (New York: Norton & Company, 1992), 12.

[2] Ibid., 15.

[3] Ibid., 35. Emphasis added.

[4] Ibid., 35.

[5] Ibid., 43.

[6] Carroll, Through the Looking Glass, 175.

[7] Carroll, Alice’s Adventures, 26.

[8] Carroll, Looking Glass, 148.

[9] Ibid., 200.

[10] Ibid., 118; I am drawing on Nina Auerbach’s and Roger Henkle’s suggestions that the “curious child” can be a very cruel and sinister one as well.

[11] Ibid., 163.

[12] Ibid., 124.


Victorian Mind: Charles Darwin

I’m taking a course entitled “Victorian Mind” this semester, which serves as an overview of nineteenth century British Intellectual History.   The brief analyses assigned for the class are short enough for a blog post, so I thought I’d share a recent one on Charles Darwin.   All quotes are from the Norton Anthology, Darwin, edited by Philip Appleman.  I’ve left in the page citations for the sake of academic honesty.  And because I know anyone who reads this will, of course, want to devour Appleman’s anthology immediately…

Charles Darwin and the Personification of Nature

In 1802, the minister William Paley articulated the most prevalent hypothesis of his time in “Natural Theology”: “The marks of design are too strong to be gotten over.  Design must have had a designer.  That designer must have been a person.  That person is God” (38).  Darwin himself found the idea of a “person” driving the progress of species a difficult notion to overcome.  Despite positing an impersonal force to explain the variation of species, Darwin consistently personifies Nature in his early writings.  Darwin writes of “the contented face of nature” (82) as well as “the hand of Nature” (108), and he concludes The Origin of Species: “from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being evolved” (174).  His use of the passive voice directly implies the presence of an actor who is intimately involved in this evolution.  By contrast, anthropomorphic language is completely absent in his later work, The Descent of Man.  Given the drastic linguistic shift in The Descent, Darwin’s ideas in The Origin of Species can be viewed as the watershed of the notion that a personal force is responsible for the existence of specific varieties of life.

Darwin was well aware of his use of anthropomorphic vocabulary in The Origin of Species, and when his imagery drew the attack of early critics, Darwin could only respond, “It is hard to avoid personifying the word Nature” (444).  Indeed, his literary debt to the Romantic poets made it nearly impossible for him to do otherwise (663) and, as James Eli Adams observes, Darwin may very well have been eager to preserve the idea of nature as maternal and nurturing rather than “red in tooth and claw” (449).  In addition, Darwin faced the difficulty of filling the vacuum created by his dismissal of a creator.  By proffering the idea of nature as a still-personal being, albeit a very different one from the Judeo-Christian concept of God, Darwin arguably made his initial articulation of evolution more palatable to a society accustomed to attributing the existence of species to a creator.

By 1871, however, Darwin could happily claim in his introduction to Descent that “at least a large number of naturalists must admit that species are the modified descendants of other species” and that “the greater number accept natural selection” (175).  Such widespread recognition of the validity of his theories allowed him to cast off his previous personifications of nature.  He freely admitted that he had previously “extend[ed] too far the action of natural selection” due to his inability to “annul the influence of [his] former belief…that each species had been purposely created” (210).  Although Darwin is primarily admitting his scientific overstatement of natural selection in this passage, his admonition also suggests a disavowal of the anthropomorphic activity he initially assigned to nature.

The influence of Darwin’s semantic shift continues to surface through the tension between his scholarly heirs’ more subtle personifications of nature and their rigid articulations of the impersonal essence of evolution.  Scientists like Lewis Thomas refer to the “general attitude of nature,” debating whether nature is hostile and vicious as Tennyson so vividly suggested or more cooperative (306).  Daniel Dennett, however, chooses to express nature’s role in terms of mathematics, which cannot be anything but detached.  In “Darwin’s Dangerous Idea,” Dennett posits that evolution is most akin to algorithms, which, as he points out, “don’t have to have points or purposes” (491).  In an attempt to finally silence the objections of those who cannot, or will not, accept the disinterestedness of evolution, he inquires: “Can it really be the outcome of nothing but a cascade of algorithmic processes feeding on chance?  And if so, who designed that cascade?  Nobody.  It is itself the product of a blind, algorithmic process” (493).  That single word, “Nobody,” marks a significant shift from Darwin’s face and hands of nature and serves as a decided rejection of the involvement of a personal force in the variation of life in all its forms.