Kairotically Speaking: Kairos and the Power of Identity

Myth of Transparency...

Because online reading is so different from what we expect when we read a print text, it's easy to see why designers might seek to make reading easier in online spaces by trying to make the interface transparent. But how much do issues of transparency matter to members of hiring and tenure committees? I suspect that if committee members have an online reading experience similar to their experience when reading print, then they considered their reading successful. When Kairos was still in the genesis stage, Mick Doherty (1999) tells me in a personal e-mail, the founders "agreed that the [computers and writing] community also needed a more 'traditional journal'—one that could publish native hypertext, but which also looked more like something a tenure and promotion committee could recognize—table of contents, peer review process, etc." Ten years ago when these native hypertexts first appeared, hiring and tenure committees might very well have felt comfortable with the pseudo print format, but many candidates were forced to print their webtexts for inclusion in their portfolios (some probably still are). This forced format change likely occurs less often, I suspect, because many of the webtexts in Kairos (and other online journals) seem to reflect print conventions rather than present themselves as multimedia, multimodal writing (and my webtext is no different). Of course, this connection is natural, given that making publications count in academia depends on candidates' abilities to successfully explain or demonstrate their scholarly contributions, which are often defined in terms of print. But this structuralist perspective merely imitates print and can be quite dangerous in its "slavish consistency" (Bolter & Gromala, p. 72), which promotes absolutes and encourages segregation of the designer (writer) from the design, the content from the code, the interface from the medium.

What constitutes good design, then, has evolved from a philosophy of basic transparency, a strategy that seeks to render the interface invisible. But this philosophy, so say Bolter and Gromala (2003), is a myth that "artists and designers have told us (and themselves) in order to justify their designs" (p. 48). The history of this justification, which Bolter and Gromala trace back to ancient Greece and Rome, demonstrates that the "pursuit of transparency is endless, because transparency is redefined with each new technology" (p. 52). The book preserved the powers of print (Eisenstein, 1979, p. 116), and now with standards of usability, the screen risks becoming equally transparent because "its operations are invisible" (Norman, 1998, p. 172). Because, as Richard Lanham (1993) explains, we are more conscious of text as a visual object in electronic environments, the relationship between text and reader changes drastically (pp. 5-6). Lanham describes this relationship as oscillation: "a bipolar decorum, an oscillation between a text's surface (its style) and its content (or form)" (Kaplan, 1995). Lanham says that because we "look THROUGH the text instead of AT it" (p. 63) when we read, we forget for a moment where we are. This, I suspect, is what Teague means when he writes "if you notice that you don't notice" then he's done his job. Yet, electronic text, Lanham says, forces us to consciously look right at the text—dismantling the myth of the transparent print interface.

Certainly, transparency isn't all bad. I practice and preach methods of web design and usability that encourage building transparent interfaces because, as Bolter and Gromala tell us, the philosophy of transparency can help us explain "why icons are better than words, why 24-bit color is better than 8-bit," and why transparency can make a web site more compelling (p. 49). But that is exactly why this myth is so dangerous: according to Bolter and Gromala, transparency can "simplify and exaggerate" (p. 49) complex issues just when users need to be jolted awake. The "danger of transparency," they tell us, "is that the interface will mask the operation of the system exactly when the user needs to see and understand what the system is doing" (p. 55).




Dismantling Kairos 1
Dismantling Kairos 2

Autonomous Technology of Tenure 1
Autonomous Technology of Tenure 2
Autonomous Technology of Tenure 3

Kairotically Speaking 1

Myth of Transparency 1
Myth of Transparency 2
Myth of Transparency 3
Myth of Transparency 4

Kairotica of Kairos 1
Kairotica of Kairos 2
Kairotica of Kairos 3
Kairotica of Kairos 4




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