AH: I want to ask one more question. In Electric Rhetoric, you discuss television as the prevalent screen in our lives. Is this still the case or have the Web and the Internet eclipsed television as the most all-encompassing screens?
KW: That's such a good question. I might comment that there are more televisions than toilets in the United States, something I had learned from my friend David Marc, who wrote a really brilliant book (his dissertation at Iowa in American Studies) called Demographic Vistas: Television in American Culture (1984)—an homage to Whitman's Democratic Vistas. I would have to look at hard numbers and studies of the numbers of televisions and the numbers of computer and other screens. The data I have seen are showing that a lot of new screen use—computers and text messaging screens on telephones and Blackberries and so on—may not have the ubiquity of the television.
What we do know is that things are changing very quickly. My question is, "Are we going to just be technological determinists and say, 'Oh, capitalism made us do this. Late capitalism is doing that to us.' Or, are we going to say, 'We don't want to see this; we want to see that.'" If you go to CCCC and listen to [Gail] Hawisher and [Cindy] Selfe, they're saying, "Don't do this; we need to do this." Or [Andrea] Lunsford and [Lisa] Ede say, "Don't do this; we need to do this." Then they go off to their universities and do those things, and I've tried to do that as well.
I've also collaborated with [Laura] Gurak. We were writing an article on small screen literacy, partly as a result of looking at that little screen in the elevator at the Conference on College Composition and Communication [Laughs]. I imagine we'll get that article done, and then she blocked out the table of contents to turn it into a book. I would like to finish that collaboration, but technological things are changing quickly.
Another part of the issue is, "Are Humanities intellectuals going to step forward?" This is one of the points I made in Electric Rhetoric. Are we going to admit that we watch TV or stare at screens of various kinds, or are we just going to look at print books? I could read print books 14 hours a day and drink coffee and that would be it—or read student essays. I love to read student essays on screen and in print. Things are changing, but we've had other periods of faster technological change. I would like to see intellectuals in the United States step up and [say] we need to be working in these media.
We need to take the lead here, and CCCC is doing that. I think the Rhetoric Society of America has done a lot of exciting work looking at old and new media. And I think the Coalition of Women Scholars in the History of Rhetoric and Composition is doing good work in that field. The Association of Teachers of Technical Writing is one of my favorite professional organizations. I just gobble up their Technical Communication Quarterly. Four times a year I learn so much about imaging. I also think of people like Robert Johnson, Professor of Humanities and [Past] Chair of the Humanities Department at Michigan Tech. He deploys classical rhetoric, by the way, so seamlessly, so wonderfully. All these scholar-teachers and organizations are doing wonderful work so that I have great hope that we'll be able to help make them reach their pedagogical and scholarly potentials. And we need to have a government that is not bought and paid for by big media and other big companies. That is a larger problem of capital.
AH: I think we'll end on that note of hope.
KW: Good! Because I am very hopeful! [Laughs]