Monthly Archives: October 2009

Cyborg and Techno Anxiety

I meet a lot of people who are very anxious about and suspicious of technology.  I was going to write a whole post about this, but I recently found a great historical survey of techno anxiety.  Right here.

The funny thing is, just as each technology has led to fear over intellectual property issues, they have also led to fears that our youth will lose the ability to think/write/communicate.  I’m thinking there is a connection.  But I don’t have time to really work it out until after the end of term.  😛

Also forgot MLA… New Media Divergence: The Problem of a Fragmented Disciplinary Discourse

I spoke at MLA last December about what I feel is problem in current academic discourse about new media:

The impact of new media on our society, and on the humanities in particular, has been widely recognized and researched, yet many faculty in the humanities seem to resist considering formal qualities of new media texts and technologies or their impact on our culture. Computer generated imagery, data bases, graphical user interfaces, and software in general constitute current media texts and affect our lives even more profoundly as literature, cinema or Television might have. Such areas as digital art and literature, code poetry, and computational music have been studied by scholars for the last ten years (at least), and study of the computers’ cultural impact has gone on longer.  However, this knowledge has been slow to reach the larger academy in more than a superficial way.  New media texts are rarely discussed outside of meetings, journals, and programs that focus on new media.   This ghetto-ization means that the texts are only studied or accessed by specialists and are unlikely to reach the general population of scholars, which in turn keeps new media texts from reaching more scholars or students in the future. But, new media are just new texts in media culture and therefore inevitably important subjects of research for anybody dealing with texts in general.

The aesthetic components of new media have been thoroughly explored through discussions of post-humanism; historical examinations of algorithmic poetry extending from contemporary work all the way back to the Qaballah; careful charting of the evolution of terms and concepts from film theory into new media; and many other approaches to these texts.  However, most scholars, in the U.S. at least, who do not specialize in new media remain only tangentially aware not only of this work on new media, but of new approaches to “old” media spawned from the novel perspectives generated in the new media studies.  Further, though many theories have been advanced, such as those describing convergence, the wealth of networks, and virtual communities, that have celebrated the power of users to effect change and leverage collective intelligence, in the last few years a more critical, nuanced view has emerged.  Some scholars examining media ecologies explore ways that different technologies are used in specific contexts, leading to specific impacts on the user groups.  Others study how groups existing largely outside our networked society have been affected by their “paranodal” position; many take a more skeptical stance on the connection between participatory media (Web 2.0) and enhanced civic functioning; while some have suggested that Foucault’s notion of the dispositif may be combined with Actor Network Theory to better understand the complex relations between communities, technologies, and cultural meanings; and others have proposed a new category of “produsage” to describe the way users now contribute to new media production.  However, many scholars outside of new media studies remain unaware of these developments, and disciplinary discussion remains bogged down in repetition.

In this presentation then, I outline some of the most recent trends in new media scholarship, the segregation of certain approaches to certain branches of the humanities, and suggest ways that new media in general and its socio-cultural impact in particular might be better and more widely addressed, both in literature and in composition/rhetoric.

  1. First, new media means something totally different in the US than in Europe. Here it means digital or computer media, ala Lev Manovich, but in Europe TV and radio are often included in that, in fact, from a historical perspective, all media is new at some point.  As Communcations Studies departments are now also talking about “new media” and technology in a manner similar to discussions of other mass media, the term new media is not even really serving to make a distinction from mass media any more.
    • In the US, New Media also is often (though not always) far more focused on educational techologies, for example, most collegiate member links in the New Media Consortium point to the schools’ IT offices, not to academic programs.  Or it may be confined to one discipline–literature or visual arts.
    • European programs tend to be far more interdisciplinary, focused on critical theory, on cultural interpretations, and on the philosophy of science.
  2. Second, the terms medium and media are being used incorrectly throughout the field. For example, if we speak of radio, one of the earliest technologies to be discussed as a medium, then technically the medium, the carrier of radio waves, is air. This was then extended metonymically to include the waves themselves, then further expanded to include the devices themselves, the senders, and even the receivers (that is the people sending and receiving). So that the term now encompasses so much, it’s not even very useful.
  3. It seems we are talking about technologies and about cultural/literary/artistic practices.  On the one hand a new term might be useful, on the other hand, talking about culture and technology might be a simpler solution.
  4. Whatever we call it, the actual theories and texts need to be better integrated in coursework, so that students understand the extent to which technical and cultural changes have occurred and need to be considered–this points toward a notion raised several times during conference, that we are not talking just about a new genre, but a qualitative change to the entire discipline.

Slides from CCCC 2009

I just noticed that I never posted the slides from my talk at the 2009 Conference on College Composition and Communication.  So here is a pdf version of the slides.

Here is the abstract:

Since the earliest MUDs, MOOs and networked composition classrooms of the 1990s, composition teachers and scholars have been thinking, speaking, and writing about the impact of computers and later, Internet and Communication Technologies (ICTS) on composition.  By the end of the 90s, there was little question that we must address this issue (Selfe 1999).  By fall 2005, the Kairos CoverWeb identified three waves of technology users; even one of their own editorial team was a member of the third wave of users new to writing in virtual spaces.  More than twenty years after computers first entered both writing classrooms and the disciplinary discourse, we must ask why this third wave represents people who are not just new to a particular technology, but to using computers or ICTs in the composition class in general?

The answer is both complex and simple.  On the one hand, people encounter computers and ICTs in various ways throughout their education and professional life, and some may feel they are at best a necessary evil.  Further, class, gender, age and other factors may have an impact.  This is the complex answer.  On the other hand, a quick survey of doctoral programs in composition and rhetoric around the country reveals that even now very few offer courses addressing computers and ICTs in composition and rhetoric.  Of those few programs with these courses, only a very very few require them in the degree program.

Based on a more thorough survey of graduate programs in composition and rhetoric, I present trends in course topics, readings and structures.  I further compare these trends to actual disciplinary trends to reveal how closely they are linked or not.  I then discuss revisions to graduate curricula to better integrate study of computers and ICTs in composition and rhetoric, and argue that training all of  our future faculty in these matters is crucial to both graduate and undergraduate instruction. Finally, I argue that the future of graduate pedagogy must involve more interdisciplinary awareness, particularly of scholarship about the cultural impact of computers and ICTs, and I draw connections to developments in new and comparative media studies, internet research, and technology studies that would enrich our understanding and our teaching.

Blogging and the Paperless Class.

I recently manned (womanned? personed?) a table at our school’s little tech fair; my subject was this post’s title. I am using blogs exclusively in my classes now–I’ve dropped Moodle, wikis or other platforms.  For me the choice was not between blogs and paper– but that’s the choice for many of my colleagues, hence my title.

For me the choice was mainly between blogs and some educational CMS like Moodle or Blackboard.  I stopped using blackboard a few years ago for three reasons.  First, because it’s so integrated with our registration system that students who were on the waitlist or waiting for financial aid to clear would not be able to access any course material.  That was a disaster every term. Second, It’s proprietary software which is very expensive for our school, and I stay away from that whenever I can on principle. Third, It’s proprietary software and can’t be modified at all.

Fourth, (ok, four reasons) and maybe most importantly, apart from their time here in school, when will anyone need to know Blackboard again?  This is the same reason I ultimately abandoned Moodle.

Even the students who plan to someday teach will by that time need to learn entirely new systems or versions.  Blogs, on the other hand, are being used by wider and wider groups of people, to create personal websites, and often by businesses to create websites as well.  I find this development interesting in itself, as an example of technological affordances being exploited.  No longer just about online journaling, blogs are used to create all kinds of websites because they are so easy to update.

Wikis are cool in many ways, but the open source types all seem to have steep learning curves and after trying to use them for a few semesters and finding that even my grad students had a tough time, I decided it wasn’t worth the time it was taking from class.

So, I decided that if students were to get comfortable with any Web 2.0 platform, blogs would most useful, while having a shallow enough learning curve that they would not take up too much time in a one-semester course that is already interrupted by mandatory furlough days.

Tonight I’ll be giving an actual presentation about using blogs to campus faculty; we’ll see how many people show up!

Arse Elektronika 2009

I gave a talk this year, along with my co-panelist Pepper Mint. It went very well and was I think pretty informative for the audience, though of course some said, oh, we all know this already.  –It was about how technology and the internet have been intertwined with the emergence of a polyamorous community, which represents a very interesting example of tech enabled identity formation and community creation.

Anyway, the talk was good and I had the chance to see a number of friends I see only rarely, including Pep, but also Johannes Grenzfurthner from Monochrom, Aaron Muszalski, and Susan Mernit, to name a few. The conference was spread out over four days and I saw regrettably little.  I had hoped to see more panels on Saturday, but got hung up on the BART in commuter traffic for the Lovefest.  Honestly, it could have been called “Hot Topic Fest” based on the appearance of the attendees I saw…

I’ll post links too our talk and to archival stuff when Monochrom puts it up.