“politics of the interface”

In contrast with Faigley who argues that computer systems provide for the enactment of postmodernism, Selfe and Selfe identify the computer interface as a site for the reification of boundaries. They express this idea through the concept of a cultural map: a representation of a computer system, a kind of cultural information, through a “coherent set of stereotyped information.” The goal of their article is to understand how the cultural information passed along through computer interface “can serve to reproduce, on numerous discursive levels and through a complex set of conservative forces, the asymmetrical power relations that, in part, have shaped the educational systems we labor within and that students are exposed to.” The crux of their argument is that computer interface do not represent the cultural information of “different cultures and races that make up the American social complex, nor do they show much evidence of different linguistic groups or groups of differing economic status.” In short, the interface represents a narrow, exclusive version of reality.

  • Computers reinforce capitalism, class privilege, discursive privilege, logocentric privilege
    • By relying on white and white-collar iconography: manila folders, files, documents, telephones, fax machines, clocks, watches, and desktop calendars.
    • By creating distinctions between owned texts and other texts through storage and password protections
    • By creating an English-centric environment that can only partially include other languages, hardcoding the English bias in science/technology into the personal computer’s default settings
    • By privileging hierarchical thinking by hardcoding hierarchical structures into the computer environment

What is missing are different kinds of spaces: domestic, blue collar, etc. (DeVoss directly attends to the ways computers encode gender binaries into their design and the associated discourses of marketing and design.)

What is missing are different ways of knowing – association, intuition, bricolage (see: Garrett, Landrum-Geyer, and Palmeri in New Work of Composing; see Faigley)

What to Do:

“…learn to recognize – and teach students to recognize – the interface as an interested and partial map of our culture and as a linguistic contact zone that reveals power differentials. We need to teach students and ourselves to recognize computers as non-innocent physical borders (between the regular world and the virual world), cultural borders (between the haves and the have nots), and linguistic borders.” (see: Rawnsley for non-altrustic) One way to do this is to work with students to “re-design/re-imagine/re-create interfaces that attempt to avoid disabling and devaluing non-white, non-English language background students, and women.” The site for doing this work is in teacher service, encouraging those new teachers to understand themselves as more than users, also critics (see audio-visuals, Jones).

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