Paradox of the Interface

The ubiquity of computer technologies and large computer networks requires reflection and criticism.  However, the reflection and criticism rarely takes the form of a critique of the ideologies enmeshed in computing and networks.  Typically, the criticism operates on the ‘two culture’ divide, discussed famously by C.P. Snow .  In this formulation, the ‘one culture’ consists of arts and humanities; the other culture consists of scientists.  We are familiar with this dichotomy.  Snow sought to decrease (hopefully eliminate) the privileging of one of these cultures — but that was 1959 and the dichotomy persists. I think the dichotomy persists because the rhetorical framing is superficial.

As with most dichotomies, the two culture approach glosses a great amount of nuance.  I find in Cynthia Selfe and Richard Selfe  “The Politics of the Interface” an argument to understand computer technologies as an extension, perhaps amplification, of a privileged position, the desk worker of a major corporate firm.  The approach to formulate the argument involves noticing the place of language in the computer, so English and the QWERT-keyboard enjoy strong positions of power as the normative functions for computer use.  The conceit of an office desk and paraphernalia associated with office work thrives even among the mobile computing platforms of our present technological ecology. Selfe and Selfe find this enactment of various privileged positions troubling, quoting Giroux that the technologies “extend rather than erase the possibility for enabling human agency” (496).

Mindful as the advice and critique might be, I think the options that Selfe and Selfe offer to rectify the problems seem to underestimate our current problems.  They are writing in 1994 before much of the consolidation of internet services and certainly before the (basically) mandatory use of computers in the forms of LMS and other services.  So, advice such as “writing program administrators and invidual teachers can, however, take some steps toward this goal [of educating themselves as technology critics] by making sure that their programs are spending at least as much time educating teachers about important technology issues (access to technology, design of technology, ideologies associated with technology) as they are on training them to use technology” (Selfe and Selfe, 497).  On the one hand, this advice is appropriate because the technology issues have a place of prominence.  On the other hand, it is misguided because the technology usage monopolizes most workshops and other professional development efforts because the pace of development renders reflective opportunities nearly impossible to permit in a meaningful and implemented manner.  The more conspiratorial amongst us might recognize this formulation as deliberate, but that is a digression for another time.

Regarding composition, Selfe and Selfe accomplish for technology usage what Greg Meyers accomplished in “Reality, Consensus, and Reform in the Rhetoric of Composition Teaching.”  That is, both articles address issues related to ideological problems with perceived areas of educational reform.  My concern remains the inability of reflection and critic to remain relevant in respect to the enthusiastic, approaching utopic tones, of technology in the classroom.  In many instances, the euphoria has reference points.  I can use this repertoire of softwares and hardwares to obtain and disseminate information with brilliant ease.  Observe.  I can inform you about my readings on Alan Liu’s discussion of Cultural Singularity as captured in a Storify by Adeline Koh. The discussion of the “hack and yack” difference is neat, especially positioning ‘hack’ as assemblage theory and late poststructuralism and the yack as the Frankfurt school and gender and race theories.  If we are tired of consumption and prefer production, I can discuss my uploading to GitHub and investigation of programming packages to perform better analytics on ProQuest stored text files. But, lets not deceive ourselves, for I quit the technology industry for many reasons Selfe and Selfe cite.  There is some nefariousness in the nodes.  Lets go multi-modal to ponder the issue and contemplate this image before posing several questions:

technology is hell

How might we recognize that optimism has become ‘overoptimism’ in regards to technology?

Does attention in the classroom to production-driven uses of technologies mitigate some of the problems Selfe and Selfe identify?

Is coding the new literacy? (making a connection to our other readings on literacy) Not to place a fine point on the question, but what does coding and composition share as points of convergence and divergence?


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