are not “just tools” for writing. Networked computers create
a new kind of writing space that changes the writing process and the basic
rhetorical dynamic between writers and readers.
Computer technologies have changed the processes, products, and contexts
for writing in dramatic ways—and rhetoric theory, composition practice,
and writing instruction all need to change to suit how writing is produced
in digital spaces.
Writing is radically
changed by internetworked computer technology. Everybody says that—and
researchers in the field of computers and writing have been exploring
the implications of this claim for 20 years. But are we really REALLY
ready to accept the implications of that claim, even some rather disturbing
implications? Here are three implications we can think of that will be explored
in this webtext.
print rhetoric theory is not adequate for computer-based writing—what
we are calling "digital writing." Yes, many rhetoric terms,
concepts, and strategies can be imported and usefully applied to computer-based
writing. But by itself and without dramatic translation and repurposing,
that theory will be inadequate, outdated, and unhelpful. A new theory for
digital writing needs to be developed—or, rather, continue to
be developed, as researchers in computers and writing have been doing
(though we feel much more needs to be done). In this webtext, we do
not actually provide a comprehensive rhetoric theory for digital writing;
rather we explore the question: Why do we need a new rhetoric theory
for digital writing?
- It is
no longer possible to teach writing responsibly or effectively in traditional
Writing instruction MUST be computer based, in some sense, to meet the
needs of student writers. Here is the more disturbing implication of
what the field of computers and writing has been doing for 20 years;
that field has been assigned to a secondary status as a subfield in
rhetoric and composition, a specialty area which, while important, is
secondary to the main field. What happens if, in effect, computers and
writing becomes the main field? What happens if that is
the field of composition in the 21st century (Bill Hart-Davidson & Steven Krause, 2004)? Our article explores the
implications of this point and argues the case that indeed this will
happen, or should.
writing in digitally mediated spaces requires that we shift our approaches.
The context in which we teach matters, perhaps more than ever
before. Attention to context requires attention to details, affordances,
and infrastructural possibilities—possibilities anchored to and
existent within and across physical networks (e.g., classes and communities) and
digital spaces (e.g., actual computer networks and servers; DeVoss, Cushman, Grabill, in press). Our teaching
should engage students in thoughtful, critical consciousness of this
context, and encourage them to be active participants in selecting among
multimodal tools for writing and for delivering/distributing that writing
across multiple digital spaces.