What happens when we build a prototype? One last accumulation

I’m certainly not the early bird, so I figured that I would forego the Wordle this time around. Clearly I did succumb to the impulse to include an image though. And it does seem worth dwelling on a few of the terms and thought-directive-words that have preoccupied me in relation to our work together. Some, entirely predictable (materiality, for instance, or novelty). Some, things that I might not have predicted my own fascination with (accumulation, perhaps, or capacity, or history, or taxonomy, or inheritance, or even code, which I was more peripherally interested in at the beginning of the term than I am now).

In addition, I rarely use the word delivery, and I don’t expect to take it up or put it on my calling card, but I’ve started to think that it is, in fact, elements drawn from the canon of delivery that interest me most in a lot of situations—both in terms of poetics and in terms of objects (or technologies; I like to think of interfaces here). So, thanks, Peter. I also continue to be interested in the conversations about genre/literacy/technology that Justin and Lauren launched, especially their forward-moving question about genres as inscription technologies. Of course, once I’m on this track, I also like to think about relationships between genres and composing situations (or spaces) and different materialities or modes, and I’d like to think more about these relationships in the future.

Probably the biggest thing for me, as someone relatively new to literacy studies, was the early-semester suggestion that literacy and material intelligence are intricately linked. This grounded me as a I started to appreciate all the different ways in which we talk about materiality in relation to different technologies, which allowed me to start really thinking about how/why/when I might utilize some of the ideas from our class in the classes that I will soon be teaching here.


Two mind-size bites that I’ll keep near the front of my brain for awhile:

(1) The idea of the sweet spot mentality. That there’s a stage at which something can be designed/composed so as to really encourage continued compositional-participation from a community, and that this requires the starting piece to be composed well but not too well. (Maybe this shouldn’t have been novel to me, given the way I tell my students not to bring something “perfect” or “finished” to a writing workshop because our time is for working on things you want to change, not things you love and don’t want to change.)

(2) The problem of scale. To be fair, I’ve been obsessed with this problem for a pretty long time. With questions like: what’s the difference between a poem and a book of poems? Or: what’s the difference between the social life of a small city and the social life in a medium-sized city? So maybe it shouldn’t surprise me that, beginning with our discussions of orality, manuscript culture, the printing press, and related circulation issues, that ProfVee’s “more is different” premise would resonate for me.

And, of course, there’s what to do about the relationships between futurity and invention and expressivity? And the problem of the existence of newness vs. the impossibility-of-newness. I guess we could put it like this: I’ve got a lot of questions. I like to think of that as a good thing. Thanks to all for helping me refine a few of them.

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Things I’m thinking about . . .

Burnt out on the ol’ paragraph, I decided to organize some of my final thoughts in chart form.  I’ve spent an inordinate amount of time trying to exercise my own literacies and make this in HTML, but something always seems to go awry, so I’ve just made it a PDF (wah, wah). Here are a handful of snippets from my notes, things that really pushed my thinking, and that, in most cases, I’m still working through.

Thank you all for a really wonderful class. We’ll always have Ted Nelson . . .


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A characteristically-wordy wrap-up post.

Because I like pretty things with words and because I was curious what my own Wordle (I keep accidentally typed “Worlde,” so old-timey) would look like, I made one.  I’m including it here–and while it’s not really the bulk of my reflection, I want to say a few things about it.

I’m not surprised that “literacy” is, by far, the biggest word.

I am somewhat surprised (and yet also not at all surprised) that “technology” is not much bigger than “pedagogy,” and that it’s about the same size as “genres” (I wonder, if “genres” and “genre” were allowed to be one word, how big THAT word would be).

What surprises me the most, actually, is the hugeness of the words “think” and “something.”

I’m not sure what to make of this–if I wanted to be generous, I could say maybe I used the word “something” a lot because a lot of what we discussed in this class was nebulous, hard to pin down, difficult to exactly describe, define, or summarize. But it’s also certainly possible–the less than generous reading–that I’ve just discovered a lazy tendency in my own writing. I’m not sure exactly, but when I look at all of my posts together (in one Word document, all 17.5 single spaced pages (!) of them when together), I think there’s evidence for both interpretations of the largeness of “something” in my Wordle.

What about “think” (as distinct from “thinking,” which also shows up fairly decently-sized in the Wordle)? When I search through my posts again, I notice that it works in a way similar to “something”–I “think” a lot, both in a specific way and in a “well, I think…” kind of way, somewhat unsure, hesitant. I guess what I see here is that I don’t know what I think about everything we read (some things, I do know what I think about them… I think), and I rather like that what seems like it could indicate indecision wasn’t always indecision so much as grappling-with.

I like that “pedagogy” is so big — in my first year of teaching, I’ve thought a lot more about teaching than I ever have before, and it only makes sense that it would show up in my blogs for this class (“teaching” is also present, a fairly significant size).

What I appreciate the most about the readings, as I look back through my blogs about them, is how much I was exposed to things that are new to me but also entirely familiar. I still don’t know how I would define literacy. I suppose that one day I’ll have to, maybe when I write my dissertation or my Project papers or when I do my exams, but I also like that I find it impossible to define (definition is a big-ish word in the Wordle, too–just like Red mentioned in her reflection, I’m big into thinking about definitions). I want to work on a definition that I like a little bit longer

Looking toward the future: I’m still taken with Justin’s question about whether genres are inscription technologies. I don’t know if I want to spend a lot of time exploring it in the future, or how I would do that (or if that’s fair, stealing someone else’s question?!), but I’m still curious. I think the answer (or the answers — there are probably many) depends a lot on definitions.  I’m also moving forward with a real interest in placing myself within literacy studies. When I chose to come to Pitt, I partially came here over somewhere else because I knew if I went there, I would definitely be doing literacy studies. I wasn’t sure yet if that was what I wanted, and I knew there would not really be another option for me there (or there were other options, but I knew they interested me less). I came here knowing I could do that if I wanted to, but I could move in other directions, too, that seemed just as interesting to me. After two full years of coursework (where does the time go?) and this class in particular reminding me of why I find literacy studies so engaging and important in the first place, I think I’d say that IS the direction I want to go in. (I’m glad I gave myself the time to find out, though.) Besides my introduction to issues concerning technology in relation to literacy, which is something that was really important to me in terms of this class, I think that take-away about literacy studies is possibly the biggest thing I learned this semester.

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I Never Could Stand Goodbyes, Baby.

What a course to go out on.

This class was out of my comfort zone. As a medievalist surrounded by compositionists, I felt like the proverbial “fish out of water,” but despite this, I also felt like (to carry the metaphor) my little fishy fins got a nice grip on the dirt. Ooh, that was rough. Whatever, bear with me.

Anyway, I honestly had no idea what composition was really about until I took this class. I kind of thought it was just “teaching students how to write.” Boy, was I wrong. It’s so much more than that, and our discussions in class helped me to see all the big issues in the field– and there are plenty, and there is plenty to talk and think about. I felt so lucky to be surrounded by people who could contribute so much to the class. Renee and Adam with their public school experience; Lauren C. with her genre theories; Trisha’s work with disadvantaged kids (and murder networks!); Peter’s vast knowledge of rhetoric; Kerry’s careful notes and technical insight; UnLauren’s fascination with old technology (who could forget the Pocket Edge?); and Justin’s always-pragmatic fascination with pedagogy.  (Did I forget anyone?  I am quite sure I didn’t, but if I did, you may flog me with a wet noodle.)

At the risk of disappointing everyone/surprising no one, I feel that I am a satisfied observer. Instead of talking about my future in the academy, I’ll say how much I liked the stuff we did in class. Annette’s exercise with the paper clips and iPad and magazines was creative and fun. Kerry’s index card exercise was really awesome and got us all thinking and discussing and noticing connections in a way that maybe we couldn’t or didn’t when we were just talking. Learning about Prezi and Wordle and Extranormal was awesome and exciting, and I loved playing with Trisha and Kerry and Lauren C’s blocks.  And everyone was so creative with their presentations! The audio essays were so fun and I think we all learned a lot– me especially! I’ve never done an assignment like that in graduate school and I really appreciated that branching-out.

So overall, hey, thumbs up, bros and ladybros. Thanks for being awesome and smart and teaching me lots of things and having fun with me.

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Before we go…

I’m sitting in a corner of my living room, trying to get my head both clear and focused, debating whether I am as productive with music playing as without, so that I can put forth a good effort on this final post.  I think about our discussion of multitasking and whether such a thing is really possible.  I am believing more and more that for me, it is not; at least, I cannot give more than one thing significant attention and probably give my focal activity less attention than when there is no secondary activity to even nominally pay attention to.  But, even knowing that, I don’t want to disconnect and retreat to silence in the service of giving my work deep attention.  Whether through podcasts, online t.v. episodes, or iTunes, I feel more attuned to the world at large when I am writing or reading while simultaneously trying not to pay attention to other noise.

Perhaps this makes me more millenial than I care to admit, but the desire for digital connections when face-to-face interaction is not possible (or, let’s be honest, sometimes desirable) motivates many of the uses to which people put online technologies.  Ito’s report for the MacArthur Foundation gave me great language for thinking about this.  Even the concept of “hanging out” online, the least involved state, connotes the kinds of street corner and back porch communities that used to drive neighborhood relationships.  Now, a person’s options for casual or committed community has exploded through the creativity of programmers and designers who develop spaces devoted to interaction styles or affinities.

Perhaps these digitally-mediated spaces are another step down the road away from orality.  Words are no longer printed on tangible paper in a handful of possible styles–book, newspaper, scroll, pamphlet, etc.  Digital spaces could take a wide variety of organizational spaces, but more importantly merge multiple sign systems.  In order to successfully navigate and communicate within Facebook, I have to know which words are just words and which link to to various pages, which pictures function as “avatars” that link to a profile and which link to external sites, which thumb signs and speech bubbles let me talk to someone, and how to set up my own information so that only certain people can see it.  Codes, icons, text–there’s a lot happening.  And let’s not forget that, though it presents as a scroll, it is non-linear.

On the other hand, don’t many of these spaces present in ways more closely related to speech than “literate” spaces?  For one thing, embedded videos in which a person speaks directly into a camera could be considered spaces for modern rhetoricians and story tellers to reach a limitless public.  Norms surrounding tweets and status updates do not dictate the use of Standard Written English.  The idea of writing as one speaks is celebrated rather than edited.  I’m all for expanding definitions of literacy to basic acts of communication through social negotiation of meaning.  Oral societies are not necessarily pre-literate; rather, their communicative acts are taking advantage of the dissemination technologies they have created, just as our society does.  Communication happens either way.

I didn’t really expect my post to go in the direction that it did, but I like considering my definition of literacy at this time.  One thing I have seen in the pre-service teachers with whom I have spoken as part of a project for another class is that they tend to see literacy as reading and writing only while at the same time taking up Brandt’s navigation metaphor.  If they already see “functional” aspects of literacy as important, why not keep going to define all acts of meaning-making as being bound up in literacy whatever the mode or technology employed?

And did I avoid ever making technlogy an agent?  I watched my language so carefully.

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Wrapping Up

Trisha used a Wordle of all her posts, which I was also planning on doing.  So, at the risk of repetition of method but at the hope of adding another layer to the discussion started with Trish’s Wordle, here’s mine (I can’t figure out how to embed it, so you’ll just have to follow the link):

I’m not surprised that literacy, technology, reading, and writing are the main terms, but I am perhaps more struck at the others that are roughly the same size as each other but smaller than the key terms of the course: curious, wondering, think, discussion.  When I put those two groups together, I see the former cluster as the topics of the course and the latter cluster as the means, the methodology, for approaching them.  The one word that stands out to me the most in the Wordle is in the upper left corner: though.  I see that word as a pivot point, a hinge in a sentence that signals a change in direction in thinking, which I think is an apt characterization of my engagement with literacy this semester.  I did a “find all” through my posts for “though,” and here is a small sampling:

* I’d like to teach a big novel, though I find myself worried about the students’ attention span.

* I found myself swept up in Selfe’s call for technological literacy (though by the end I increasingly wanted her to define what exactly “paying attention” looks like).

* I’m wondering, though, if my hesitancy to read on a Kindle is more than just a fear of how it would change my comprehension and note-taking and writing.

Throughout all my posts, I see a pattern of making some sort of claim and then second-guessing it or returning to it, rethinking it in light of some other thought, which now, at the end of the semester, is what I’d like to do with my understanding of literacy itself.  I notice that both Justin and Trish’s wrap up posts wrestle with definitions of literacy, which brings us back to the opening activity of our class, that free write where we tried to define literacy.  And my post––and much of my work in this course––seems to be doing the same, curious[ly] wondering and think[ing] via discussion about literacy, technology, reading, and writing.  In my free write on the first day of the course, I contentedly defined literacy through Charles Schuster, who sees it as “the power to be heard,” and I find myself still attached to that idea of literacy because of the agency it entails and the political/social issues it raises with the notion of “power” and “being heard.”  Though now (and here’s my characteristic “though” sentence), I’m not sure that definition works as well for me, because it doesn’t take into account the inherent dynamic between literacy and technology that we’ve been exploring all semester.  And a second reservation: the premium placed on “being heard” is an able-bodied metaphor, and I wonder about those without a physical voice and how they too might be heard and be accounted for in a definition of literacy.  And a third objection: being heard is about the production of discourse (another key idea of the course) but it doesn’t take into account listening, which I believe to be just as important as being heard.

And so, at the end of this semester, I find myself returning again to try to define what literacy is.  I want a definition that takes into account the relationship between technology and literacy, between being heard and listening that doesn’t rely upon some sort of able-bodied metaphor as Schuster’s does.

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thinking through my own thinking

I did a data visualization cloud of all my blog posts, and barring “this,” “that” and “think,” my most prominent words were image, then human, then words (i’m ignoring “technology” for the moment). As I sit here looking back through the semester trying to think about murder (as public work) and as a sort of literacy, I think those interests—those words—are accurate representations of my thoughts, my thought-conundrums. I have previously thought of murder as something I was making, have called myself a “murder-maker”—troubling as that may be—in a way, that is what I saw my work as: I was making murder differently, letting others decide if it was well or badly composed (I love my Latour). Yet, as I am seeing again murder, I am realizing my own investment as imagistic. I’m not sure why it took me all semester and a silly wordle to figure this out, but I have always been visually and aesthetically invested, would it be such a surprise that my interest in murder is not at the level of the body, but at the level of the image-event? And that the aesthetics I am after have to do with the aestheticization of life itself?

I have lost hours now (in the last week) to murder at the level of the image. What I mean by that is not bodies and corpses, but digital remains of those who have been murdered, traces of them in social networking. This suggests that I am not obsessed with the murders exactly, but the image-events surrounding the death of a person. I want image-event here to mean all those non-linguistic and linguistics practices that make-up or surrounds the event of a murder (in Pittsburgh, as I locate it).

Literacy, something I am still struggling to define, doesn’t do much to take up image-events as I have defined them here. I’m interested in that. I’m interested in what we might be missing by reducing most everything to language. Words are a preoccupation of mine, but so are viruses and non-organic energy, so are images (obviously). I want to make sense of my semester long overuse of image, human, and words in this way: I wonder if what I’m after in my work (besides doing public work) is the image-event as it relates to and is a human in digital spaces?
It is not the bodies I’m after, but the circulation of body, of human, in digital spaces that so troubles me, intrigues’ me, takes-me-over.
I wonder if literacy wants to take into account image-nonlinguistic-events, too? Or even simpler, I wonder if literacy wants to take into account all the material flows other than language or text that produce knowledge, that we do read, and that we do make sense out of.
I sit here, then, unable to define the brand of literacy I want to work on, but I am reminded of Lauren’s post, where she critiques our own endless desire to define (in her example it was pedagogy—she says this: we desperately want a definition for [pedagogy] but are unable to agree upon one, and perhaps the biggest problem that emerges from that situation is that, then, in something like Hayles’s article we get a rather reductive/incompete/unsatisfying discussion of “pedagogy”).
Instead of define, then, I will just do—do literacy—and see if that creates anything in the world.
Did I get too far off the subject?

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Stick a fork in it

For your final blog post (due 4/23), I’d like you to look back at the semester and take stock of the wonderful work you did, as well as the work we did together. Think of your audience for your post as yourself, with the rest of us (and, of course, the entire Web) listening in. That is, you should write the post to be useful to a current and future you, rather than a text that might be useful to someone else (although it might be, incidentally). You might think about: a review of ideas and themes from the course; directions for future research or teaching; comments on texts you found useful for your thinking; etc. Since you all have widely varying interests and writing styles, I’m not placing a word guideline on this final post. I assume we’ll see a wide variety of responses here, from the creative to essayistic to scattered notes, etc. No need for anything fancy. Looking forward to hearing from you, as always!

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56 Words on Hayles (well, 68 if you count this title too)

Hayles quotes Chun’s observation that “desktop metaphors, such as folders, trash cans, and so on create an imaginary relationship of the user to the actual command core of the machine” (630); I’d like to discuss why is this an “imaginary relationship,” what would be a “real” relationship, and what other metaphors frame our relationship to technology.

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Authority Anxiety and Writing/Reading/Computers

Our four readings this week were quite interestingly interconnected.  I’d like to point out a few important threads that I see running through all our readings, in no particular order, but which I think will foster fruitful and possibly political discussion.

1)  Reading, Writing, and the Computer

Fitzpatrick, amusingly, declares she must “perform the ritual” of saying she is not a technological determinist. A technology by itself does not enact change. However, to deny that technology assists change would deny that our outlook on literacy is changing. The rise of digital publishing has forced us to rethink peer review and the form of the book– how long should it be? Should there be chapters? (Laquintano) Brandt points out that the “postures” and technologies we use for reading and writing have merged into one device; computers, smartphones with keypads, tablets with styluses (styli?) that are molded to look like pencils. Even Aarseth’s ergodic, labyrinthine narratives have a place here– Fitzpatrick details how much easier her writing process is with computers. It is, specifically, “nonlinear–” it progresses in fits and starts, ideas are inserted, deleted, abandoned mid-stream. There is an entrance and exit– like a proper labyrinth– but the narrative it is multi-cursal in writing and can take any direction, go back, and take a different one, or upon re-reading, be reminded of the paths that were not taken (Aarseth again).

It is probably not necessary to flesh out how the computer has affected our writing processes– we’ve addressed that in this class before– but what’s interesting to consider is all the moral-panic headlines that grab the covers of Time and Newsweek and the Posts and Times and Presses and Suns of our neighborhoods: Is Google making us stupid? Are computers making us lazy? Is text messaging making your child illiterate? We’ve all seen the headlines and we chuckle to ourselves. “Oh, how determinist! Of course computers aren’t making us lazy, we’re changing the way we think about accessing information based on the tools now available to us!” AH HA. Is that maybe how we should look at authorship and authority? Should we step away from the “well, this is how we’ve always done it” attitude of the academy? Methinks we ought, and we would be better-served for it.

This brings me to my second point:

2)  Authority Anxiety

This is touched on in all four of our readings. Aarseth mentions it outright– the constant “civil war” occurring within the field of literary studies as to what “constitutes its valid objects,” what is worthy of being paid attention to and why. Laquintano’s takes a slightly more roundabout route and examines how authors of e-books attempt to establish their authority (sometimes unsuccessfully) to author a book about their chosen subject (in this case, poker). Brandt’s anxiety arises in her statement that literacy is a “fragile resource” connected to economic class, and mentions that professors in universities have unlimited access to technology, but that for custodians at her university, accessing technology during work hours is grounds for severe disciplinary action. Finally, Fitzpatrick gives the most critical assessment of our anxiety regarding changes in authority: She says it’s all well and good to talk about Foucault and Barthes and the death of the author, but academics especially tend to get very nervous while considering what that means for US as authors.

So what is the underlying cause of this anxiety? Is it a sense that people who are “established authors” feel threatened by the ability of people who don’t have the same “qualifications” as they do to produce and disseminate texts? Is the state of “authorship” and “literary worthiness” determined by an unseen panel of judges, the academy? How do we define “authority,” and how do we determine who has it? How does our idea of “authority” change in the age of digital publishing and (ideally) democratic access?  What do we make of the institution of digital publishing, and how can we deal with it in terms of the academy?  What about collectivist forums?  Can this help us contextualize our initial anxiety about our edits on WikiComp?

There’s a lot of fodder here in terms of the future of our writing and our attitudes towards publishing and the “walled garden” of authorship (especially in the academy), and I’m really curious as to what you– teachers, students, writers, and readers all– think.

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