Kairotically Speaking: Kairos and the Power of Identity

Myth of Transparency...

If we are to face the autonomous technology of tenure, we must heed Michael Day's (2000) wisdom in regard to interface transparency: "we need to recognize that evaluators may be watching us in ways we may not be aware of, and could be judging us by criteria that bear little relevance to our pedagogical goals" (p. 33). Perhaps a good way to begin dismantling the autonomous technology that is tenure is to consider the perpetual symbol of the tenure process—the portfolio/binder. The tenure portfolio represents the sum total of a candidate's teaching, research, and service contributions collected neatly in a binder (or two or three). This binder—a cheap, three-ring, plastic contraption—synthesizes the candidate's scholarly arguments, pedagogical practices and philosophy, as well as his or her collegiality. As the tenure interface, this binder provides an evaluative picture into a tenure-track faculty member's candidacy for what my university calls "continuous employment," or tenure.

The contents of this binder should be so well presented that committee members look through the surface instead of at it. Any differences in presentation tend to highlight not necessarily a celebration of scholarship or teaching, but concern for the status quo. Even when candidates have control over presentation of the binder, the binder is still limited by the contents required. Its purpose is to provide committee members with a window—a transparent surface—into the candidate's value. But as a window it cannot provide what the committee really needs—reflection. The tenure binder seems to be following a strategy of transparency because the goal is information delivery, which does not really represent the candidate's participatory roll in scholarly conversations or pedagogical practices (versus numbers). If binders are designed well enough, if the artifacts are familiar enough, the committee does not have to spend time figuring out what they mean. For technorhetoricians who publish in online journals like Kairos, presenting online artifacts shatters the perfect transparency of the binder. What if the room where binders are stored does not have a computer? What if a reviewer suffers from Luddism such as G. Douglas Atkins (2000)Notes8 who was in love with his pen? What if the disk containing the webtext is damaged or if the Internet connection is down at that moment of review? What if the members simply don't extend an effort to construct the meaning of an artifact? Although digital artifacts are becoming more acceptable lately, they are not so common as to render themselves invisible to the process.

But I think this process is what offers an opportunity for instituting Bolter and Gromala's counter-strategy to simple transparency—reflectivity. Reflectivity is a mirror that reflects the user, the process, and the context (p. 74). By advocating a strategy of reflectivity, they are not suggesting that we forego transparency because as designers, "we want the interface to disappear for the user," but only "for part of the time," and "not completely and not irrevocably" (p. 53). But when do we want the user to be more aware of an interface? With digital art, for example, when we want to make the "medium itself an experience to be savored" (p. 66). Bolter and Gromala point to the Three Mile Island accident as evidence of an accident occurring because the interface had become too familiar, too invisible:

The problem was that the operators did not question their interface. They treated the valve indicator as if it were a transparent window on the level of water inside the reactor. The operators should have been prepared for that possibility; they should have looked at the indicator rather than through it. Under the pressure of an emergency, however, they made the assumption of transparency. (p. 54)

Following Lanham's oscillation theory, Bolter and Gromala argue that "interfaces should oscillate in a controlled way between states of transparency and reflectivity" (p. 68) because an "effective interface functions as a mirror as well as a window" (p. 74). When functioning as a mirror, an interface can encourage users to look directly at the surface, perhaps leading to "moments of revelation, when the user comes to understand her relationship to the interface" (p. 74). Technologically speaking, these moments seem to occur most often when users seek to change the default settings of any situation.

In many academic contexts, a default setting is the tenure process. The default that needs interrupting is the tenure binder, which seemingly acts only as a window, enabling candidates and committee members to look through the surface of institutional boundaries. Tenure is the exact time when we would want users (committee members) to "be able to look right at the interface" (Bolter & Gromala, 2003, p. 55), to reflect on the process that so defines our lives as academics. And if it functions as a window, committees demand explanations when digital artifacts are presented because their expectations for the familiar print format are not satisfied. But the opportunity that digital artifacts provide is that they force this expectation to the surface of the invisible process of tenure. In an effort to appease these demands, many webtexts resemble the transparent interface of print, succumbing to its goal of transparency.



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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