“why technology matters to writing”

Assuming that technology matters to writing, Porter teases out the varying ways that technology matters by considering the role of particular technologies, the habits and attitudes surrounding a particular technology, and the context of learning and use.

Handwriting: Porter traces the ways that he was taught handwriting, and how those kinds of handwriting instruction shaped his understanding of writing and his writing practices. Namely, he discusses the ways that handwriting as writing (see: Yancey) was product-centered, and hadwriting-as-labor per Yancey

  • Fixate on appearance rather than content
  • Readability matters
  • There is an ethical component to delivery based on the idea that good penmanship equivocates to a writer’s credibility and character

Typewriting: Porter’s writerly moment came in the culture of typewriting at the high school newspaper. In this section, he discusses the relationship between handwriting and typewriting as a process-oriented shift: from translating handwriting to typewriting to composing directly on the typewriter.

  • Learned about the power of publishing and the importance of editorial control

Word processing: did not change his writing process in revolutionary ways; still working within a print/typewriter culture, still producing print products, still working with a “print-based, manuscript view of rhetoric”

Desktop publishing: he was teaching a desktop publishing course while working with a GUI interface: “Teaching that course pushed me to consider visual design, page layout, and graphics as integral to rhetoric and writing. (Of course the Mac platform and its graphic user interface promoted that perspective.)”

  • Community of practice: This was the first instance where Porter learned how to use the machine in a collaborative context – partially because the machines were expensive and available only in a lab. And partially because the learning curve on these machines is difficult: One of the features of this story is certainly the importance of social networks and personal help, as well as the value of having access to public labs. Whenever I pushed to another level of technology use, somebody was there to help give me a boost to that next level or that next set of skills.” Prior to this, he had only consulted with other writers re: changing his writing process after the fact and in response to keyboarding technologies.

Online publishing: discusses email, MOOs, and web browsers. Part of that development was when the “internet became graphical,” “Desktop publishing became electronic publishing, and Internet publishing broke through the ASCII barrier. Now, finally, our graphically interesting pages could be published and widely distributed on the Web.” Pedagogical, scholarly responses to these new developments happened witin communities of practice and on a learning curve: “My experience with web-authoring tools resembled my earlier experience with email: starting out with a very basic ASCII type of tool, and then moving quickly through several different applications, up to a fully functional graphic tool. Staying current at this time meant struggling to learn different tools, some of which were hard to learn—and which then rewarded our struggle by becoming immediately obsolete.”

Takeaways

  • Porter argues that technologies matter, because they happen in social and ideological contexts. For Porter these contexts varied, but as a specific case, Porter embraced the networked revolution because he was in a context that believed in the transformative power of technology and had the support to engage with those technologies within communities of practice.
  • Technologies are not just instruments. Examining technologies alone offer a narrow view: “They don’t show the kinds of products I produced, or their effects. They don’t show the learning, training, discipline, and practice that always guides use. They don’t show the political, social, or rhetorical contexts of use. They don’t show the learning communities that influence the nature of use, the way the particular tool is learned, deployed, and changed.” (see: Selfe and Selfe)
  • A non-instrumental view of technology provides for the refashioning of a technology such as the internet, a technology developed by the Department of Defense that was refashioned by user communities to challenge the authority of the experts.
  • Writing is: “writing is not only the words on the page, but it also concerns mechanisms for production (for example, the writing process, understood cognitively, socially, and technologically); mechanisms for distribution or delivery (for example, media); invention, exploration, research, methodology, and inquiry procedures; and questions of audience, persuasiveness, and impact. From the scenic/contextual perspective, writing technologies play a huge role—especially in terms of production (process) and distribution (delivery). If you see writing as an action (directed at some audience for some purpose in some social context), then you are more likely to see computer-based Internet writing as having a dramatic, even revolutionary impact on writing.”

For the field:

  • We need a theory: “We need a theory that focuses on writing as not simply the activity of an individual writing or the isolated writing classroom (where the field of computers and writing has been strong, but also limited), but that looks closely at the socialized writing dynamic and the conglomerate rhetorical dynamic of readers, writers, and users and their impact on society. The revolution, if there is one, is the social one of interconnectivity. The writer and the machine have become one—the cyberwriter—but we haven’t yet engaged the full implications of that metaphor.”
  • Computers and Writing is a misnomer, because the field’s focus is not the machine: “The computer is the machine we use, but our critical focus through the years has never been just the machine. It has always been some kind of writing application (for example, word-processing, electronic publishing, email, the Web), or the dynamic interactions of cyberspace (for example, studies of synchronous discourse), or how computer technology changes the classroom dynamic.”

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