Building a Print/Digit Interface

by Michael J. Salvo

The new Computers and Composition  segment, "Print/Digital Dialogue," is designed to enable communication between print and digital forms of professional conversation. For some time, email discussions have been peppered with references to other digital resources as well as print resources. Rarely do professional print journals refer readers to digital resources, even with scholars such as Janice Walker creating citation guides for references to digital scholarship in print. Print is important -- this effort to put digital and print resources into conversation should not be seen as a threat to on-line discussion but as an opportunity to expand the professional community of Techno-rhetoricians. We are members of a hybrid community, existing both on-line and off, and need bridges between on- and off- line scholarship. It is a translation from one established realm into another, perhaps less developed one.

The first installment of "Print and Digital Dialogue" is scheduled for print publication in Spring of 1997 in Computers and Composition  and will involve analysis and commentary on the Alliance for Computers and Writing discussion list (ACW-L) from September of 1995. RhetNet is simultaneously representing the thread. By digital standards, this is an ancient conversation -- surpassed by such discussions as the "SchoolSux" debate (which is near its digital demise although it is just now being referred to in print) and the more recent debate about grading -- which spawned an engrossing Tuesday Cafe session. These conversations are collected in RhetNet's NetTexts segment as well as Netoric Cafe's logs.

These are priceless collections of Techno-Rhetorical debate. They allow us to see who we are as a professional community, and to map trends as they occur -- indeed, we have been able to speculate while the debates were occurring. Try doing that in print! However, as good as these resources are, they have no means of reaching out to scholars who have not yet entered digital debate.

Primarily, the paper publication of edited digital exchange will be a reminder that on-line dialogue is taking place. The appearance of digitally-constructed professional texts may prepare more scholars to enter the interaction afforded by such lists as the ACW-L, MBU-L, RhetNet, WPA-L, WCENTER. Representing the best of the on-line debate in print will eventually, I hope, validate digital scholarship so that the web texts, email discussions, and virtual spaces we create receive the intellectual attention they deserve and result in the professional reward necessary to inspire more people to spend more time on-line in meaningful debate.

Those of us who are already on-line, those of us participating in any of the numerous varieties of professional on-line dialogue, recognize the value of the work we do over our modems. We interact in ways that are impossible in print. We are changing the ways in which scholarship gets done and the way knowledge is shared. We are also changing the characteristics of professional debate as well as opening the doors to more participants -- we interact with national figures and graduate students, professors at research universities and lecturers at community colleges, high school teachers and department chairs. It is unfortunate that our work is not yet recognized as valid. However, we can not hope for recognition unless we develop means of communicating with our print-minded colleagues. This project is one such way to enable interaction across the linear/paper barrier.

As a translation from the digital realm to print, necessary sacrifices will be made. The most profound difference is the scarcity of space in print versus the seemingly endless information of the internet. Editors of print journals need to cull material and need to restrict access to a few authors while web editors are encouraging authors to expand, digress, and include links to meta-textual contemplation of their own texts. Electronic journals based on the WWW have choices to make based on what they perceive their audiences to want; print journals have to worry about the number of paper pages in each issue. As such, electronic journals are better able to present contexts not possible in print along with layered texts that can be productively and strategically read by experts and newbies alike. Finally, the hypertextual possibilities of the Web are lost in any transfer to print. Hypertext allows the reader to chose digression, when more detail is needed, when to follow links to related material. Print representation of this multi-linear world we have come to know, this world we have collaboratively constructed, is necessarily restrictive and distorting. However, I refuse to let this opportunity to reach a print audience pass by untried.

Limitations of print necessitate that I edit, condense, and remove segments of the on-line conversations. It means de-contextualization as well as misrepresentation of the flow of dialogue. Once in print, digital dialogue is little more than paper transcript -- the living text destroyed, leaving only skeletal remains.

Skeletal remains are more than we currently have in print. Hypertextual paper-based text is unwieldy -- even with choices and footnoted directions, the implied linearity of print guides the reader from beginning to end. Without digression, aside, flow between high and low tone, or quirky snippets, the print representations will be far from the experience of digital discussion. For the time being, it is an unsure first step. I look forward to a better means of accomplishing this task -- as well as a time further off when digital scholarship will not need to be justified.

Any comments or suggestions are welcome.

Michael J. Salvo
Editor for "Digital Dialogue," Computers and Composition
Managing Editor, Kairos

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    KAIROS Kairos: A Journal for Teachers of Writing in Webbed Environments.
    Vol. 1 No. 3 Fall 1996