Writing Technology:
Studies on the
Materiality of Literacy

By Christina Haas

Chapter 3
Reading On-line

From the outset of these chapters on observational and empirical research, Haas goes out of her way to emphasize that she is not out to necessarily criticize enthusiasm about the potential benefits of technology. However, she believes that "common sense alone would suggest that no technology is wholly or exclusively beneficial" and calls for us to conduct systematic research into computers and writing to test these reigning beliefs. For Haas, such work as Gail Hawisher's 1986 and 1989 meta-analyses of computers and composition research suggest "a much more complicated picture" than is normally seen in "visionary" discourse about literacy and technology (p .52).

Haas begins this chapter with results of interviews she conducting with 30 computer users over nearly a decade. From these interviews, Haas identified four areas in which users reported reading difficulties while writing on the computer:

From here, she goes on to report procedures and results of three separate empirical studies she conducted into on-screen reading and writing tasks -- spatial location recall, information retrieval, and reading to revise. Additionally, she provides a framework of four computer features, published in an earlier article (Hansen & Haas, 1988), that she believes help account for problems with on-line reading reported in these three studies:

Haas argues that these results demonstrate that "[a]ny changes in literate behavior that computers facilitate or mandate are neither inevitable nor invisible. Rather, they are the result of actual features -- in this case, visual and tactile -- of the technology" (p. 72). Such detailed analyses of system features is necessary, Haas believes, for those of us in the humanities and social sciences to argue persuasively about how such systems should be designed so as to better support online processes of reading and writing.

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