Carl Whithaus

Carl's responses were written in two different sessions while he was anticipating a move from the East coast to the West to change academic jobs. His first response was written in a "borrowed office cubicle” and the second just as he was leaving for his cross-country relocation. Carl’s immediate circumstances led to a hybrid response—one that crossed from academic to personal and back again. 

"The experience you describe is a liquid text experience. Our language, our media for connecting are becoming... across space and time they are becoming and opening... and yet, there is something funny about bringing the personal into research, about making the private public... a taboo being broken? Or something not quite so heavy."


A week later, Carl ventured further into the personal with his recollections of place.


"Now for a personal note: moving out of Norfolk.  When I was young my father was in the Navy. We lived in Norfolk, and my mom took me to the zoo. Now 30 some years later, I am living in Norfolk, and we are leaving Norfolk. My son is two and has been to the zoo with his mom. There is a layering of locations and memories. There is a layering of places and memories. There is something about a military town, about military brats (not my son, but me), and movement. Somehow this links with the idea of a liquid text that I mentioned earlier... that your project on memory got me thinking about."



Carl echoes some of Donna Haraway’s (2004a) "disrupted unities” and "emerging pleasures,” and her sense that there is "serious potential for changing the rules of the game" (p. 30). The tension between new ways of communicating and old rules is a hallmark of rapid change fueled by the relentless pace of innovation in digital communication technology.

Social-networking researcher danah boyd (2007) claimed, "What it means to be public or private is quickly changing before our eyes and we lack the language, social norms, and structures to handle it" (para. 1). In a 2008 article, boyd extended her argument positing that "Information is not private because no one knows it; it is private because the knowing is limited and controlled" (p. 20).


New communication technologies like cell phone texting seem to encourage rule breaking. In a 2008 poll by Edutopia, 52% of respondents believed that text messaging "harmed” students' writing skills (see Ring). A smaller percentage (19%) believed that texting might have some negative effects on student writing, and 26% believed that no harm was caused. Not only does it break "traditional" grammatical rules, texting requires revised decorum. Should we text at our home dinner tables or at a restaurant? Should a text message interrupt a movie or a conversation?



Carl’s comment leaves us wondering about new technologies and their apparent tendency to lead us across boundaries. The fluidity of the media themselves, the "liquid text” experience, seems to foster a hybrid private/public discourse. No doubt the "something funny" Carl felt is common to many of us. We lack frameworks to deal with these hybrid discourses. danah boyd (2007) claimed that "Today's teenagers are being socialised into a society complicated by shifts in the public and private" and goes on to characterize most adults as "panicking" (para. 1). Although some adults are panicked, many of us have a reaction like Carl’s: something feels funny. Decorum is warped and rules are broken. As we suggest later in this text, a pedagogy of techno-memoria would necessitate considering the gap between what is private/memory/pathos and what is public/academic discourse/ethos. We consider "public privicity” as a hybrid discourse that would negotiate the delicate balance. 


As teachers and researchers in composition and communication, our jobs will never be the same. The students that boyd wrote about are already in our classrooms, bringing with them multiple, fluid, rhetorical strategies. They can learn much from us, but the turnabout may be equally productive. We can learn from each other if we are willing to explore unknown composition territory—with them in a pedagogy of techno-memoria.