Slipping inside a red wooden booth containing a computer tablet mounted on a wall, Rutgers-Camden students typed in their names, interests, or whatever word popped into their heads.

The Typomatic returned a list of words, some with no apparent connection and others political, poignant, or just funny:


The pairs match visually when cut in half horizontally, according to a typeface designed by an artist behind the Typomatic machine. For instance, the top curve of an S can become half of a C; the top stems of a capital U and I can become a capital W.

"When you learn to read, you forget to see. You have to train your brain, and your brain has to see only the letters, has to read the letters, and it has to forget that there are some geometric forms inside the letters," said Hélène Caubel, a producer with the French art project behind the Typomatic.

Rutgers-Camden's Typomatic, built by students and faculty in two days last week, is the first in the United States and a partnership with the school's Digital Studies Center, launched last year.

The center was designed as a collaborative space for research and learning, said Jim Brown, an English professor and director of the center.

"We can either use the digital to do the work of the historian, the literary critic, the economist. Or we can take the economist's lens or historian's lens and try to understand digital technology."

The inclusion of multiple disciplines is important, Brown said. The center plans to offer an undergraduate major, which students would have to pair with another major.

"The world and the tools and the impact of the digital impact all disciplines, right?" said Robert A. Emmons Jr., the associate director of the Digital Studies Center.


Digital studies students will take cross-listed classes with a digital bent from other departments such as a childhood studies professor leading a class on toy design or a religion scholar teaching "Seeking and Selling God Online."

"This was a really welcome opportunity for me to expand my areas of both teaching and research interest into a topic that has a lot of contemporary relevance," said James Genone, a philosophy professor who reworked his "Self and Identity" course.

The course, which he has taught for years, often followed canonical approaches, Genone said, including reading many classical authors. Last spring, Genone shifted the focus of the class to include social media and the "quantified self" movement, handing Fitbit devices to students to track activity and sleep.

"A lot of them reported that they learned new things about their motivations and that they were interested in how their self-image or impression of their behavior patterns differed from what the Fitbit was actually telling them," Genone said.



Students often thought they were sleeping well, for example, but the Fitbit told them otherwise.

Genone plans to teach the digital version of the course again.

Kriste Lindenmeyer, Rutgers-Camden's dean of arts and sciences, said the new center "wasn't about breaking off digital studies as something separate. It had to be something that was integrated throughout all of the programs."

The proposed major, which needs final approval from the university board of governors, would require 30 credits. A core of three courses - design thinking, computational thinking, and multimedia thinking - would balance practical and theoretical through a lab and lecture component, Brown and Emmons said.

Students also would have to complete a capstone project that could include creation of digital objects.

Maybe a Typomatic, whose word pairs sometimes elicited laughter from the students testing it last week, especially as they input names:




"It's a kind of game - a very deep game with the construction of reading and the deconstruction of reading - and it's metaphoric because when you learn something in a society, you have to forget things, and the art sometimes helps you to remember or to observe things in a different way," said Caubel, the project's producer. "So it seems to be only funny, but it's really deep."

Andrew Moffett (ANDY: SPRY), a junior majoring in philosophy and hoping to also major in digital studies next year, said his personal approach is to seek meaning in the pairings, which users can select or randomize.

"As someone who likes to write poetry, the challenge for me is to look at those different contexts and see how they pan out," he said.

Even - especially - if, as Caubel said, the pairings can get political.

Among the options when CAMDEN is entered: DANGER and DAMAGE.

INQUIRER matches with WOWSER, but NEWS can become PAWN or PANIC.

And sometimes, people just like to have fun:





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