Mya Poe

Mya, a Black lab devotee, was intrigued by the puppy named Zipper in Patty's tale and saw her tale as a "wonderful little story about technological change embedded inside this much larger story about technological change in American culture today.”  Her comment expanded upon Zipper to the technology of the zipper and hybridity.


"The zipper is a good example of how our contemporary lives are surrounded by ‘old’ technologies that continue to be relevant. This hybridization of technology in our everyday lives means that we are not tied to a singular historical technological moment and that technologies from various historical periods can coexist at a single point in time. In our hybrid technological lives, we daily use ‘anonymous’ technologies such as zippers that may be more than 100 years old next to current, ‘conspicuous’ technologies such as fleece (1980s) and moisture wicking garments (1990s). It is this technological hybridization that I find so fascinating about technology and change. It is not that we are on some continuous technological advancement or that we are headed down some technological path of destruction. Instead, our lives are this wonderful patchwork of technologies."  



In his theory of concretization (introduced in Monroe), Andrew Feenberg (1999) "refers not merely to improvements in efficiency, but also the positioning of technologies at the point of intersection of multiple standpoints and aspirations" (p. 218), adding that these standpoints and aspirations include the human as well as the machine (p. 219). The process of concretization takes place in communities, or what Jay Lemke (1995) called the ecosocial system. According to Lemke, the ecosocial system encompasses the human social community as well as the material ecosystem that "enables, supports, and constrains it” (p. 119). In such a system, change is effected by a community that Lemke defined as a "system of doings, rather than a system of doers” (p. 10).


What both Feenberg and Lemke argued is that technology and our uses of it are underdetermined. What can and will happen as technologies become part of the ecosocial system is not predetermined. Hybridity allows for choice, for difference, for a lively, open ecosocial system, for cyborgs, and for agency.  



Mya’s example of the zipper illustrates a technology that has become so fully a part of our lives that we only notice a zipper if it’s broken. If we are fortunate, someone nearby will have a safety pin (a 14th century BC technology) to stand in for the 19th century zipper. The zipper’s invisibility makes it one of those powerful technologies about which Mark Weiser (1991) contended, "The most profound technologies are those that disappear. They weave themselves into the fabric of everyday life until they are indistinguishable from it” (para. 1). Many of our digital communication technologies quickly become part of the fabric of everyday life. Like the zipper, we only notice them when they are broken, and we employ other, perhaps older technologies to stand in for them.


Not unlike the communication technologies themselves, the techno-rhetorical strategies that we adopt along with them often disappear as they are intertwined with the fabric of everyday life. While we may be hyperaware of texting behaviors that seem to be breaking with decorum and transforming spelling, the other rhetorical practices woven into texting practices are rarely interrogated. What are people writing as they’re texting? For our research, a better question might be "What are families texting?”

When a soil science colleague of Patty’s heard about her research, he sent this email:

I thought I would share that texting & instant messages are the primary communication forms between my wife, my two grown daughters, and myself. I happened to forget my phone today, so when I got to work I felt obligated to IM my wife to let her know that I was unavailable by text. Otherwise, we would likely have had some miscommunications today. (Rupp, personal communication, 2009)

Business Insider reported that 35% of US children 10-11 years old and over 5% of 5-6 year olds had cell phones (Frommer & Angelova, 2010, para. 1). 75% of these children and their parents are using text messaging to communicate (see AT&T, 2008). Although much of that texting/writing might be just keeping tabs on each other, even that activity builds techno-rhetorical skills. As our respondents have shown, families are writing and composing with a broad range of digital communication technologies that encourage and foster composing practices. Our research and pedagogy should encompass the exciting hybrid techno-rhetorical practices that students bring with them to the classroom. And composition courses themselves need to be hybrids, places where all sorts of composing practices are considered.