Presentation Abstract

Computer/Hero: "Literacy," Answerability, and the Good Cyber-Citizen

One of the assumptions that informs current discussions of “literacy”--whatever the term itself might mean--is that “having literacy” makes one a better citizen; to be literate is to be able to participate. Recently, discussions of literacy as indicator of equality and cultural citizenship have expanded to include computer and network literacies. In these discussions, however, both the “empowerment” of our students and the attempted creation of microcosmic democratic societies depend upon a curiously instrumental view of the language of hypertext and computer technology. In this paper, I argue that our emphasis on technological instrumentality prevents us from making the connections between “literacy,” cultural equality, and civic responsibility that are a part of our field’s mythos. Further, I argue that a Bakhtinian revision of the rhetorical triangle provides the remarkable potential to see answerability in action, particularly in the context of hypermedia and MOOs. This paper explores how computer technology, like other constructs, exists in dialogic consummation with the co-existing subjectivities of the writing classroom. As Charles Schuster writes in “Mikhail Bakhtin as Rhetorical Theorist,” Bakhtinian theory makes the Aristotelian rhetorical triangle dialogic; that is, the heuristic contains an active, responsive “hero” rather than Aristotle’s passive “subject.” Each element of the dialogic triangle--author, hero, and audience--mutually responds to and is responsible for the others. This dialogism makes itself apparent in the computer writing classroom, in which technology not only affects but constitutes the rhetorical situation and democracy as much as authors and audiences do. Ironically, the advanced technology of the internet provides us with the stunning opportunity to be old-fashioned, to be product-oriented and instrumental rather than process-oriented and dialogic. The assumption that technology is transparent, just like the assumption that technology is all-powerful, shapes a classroom in which technology is a non-participatory and non-interactive tool. That is, we may move through “transparent” technology or throw up our hands at “all-powerful” technology, but in neither case do we acknowledge our interaction with the computer. This emphasis on technology-as-tool elides the intertextuality and intersubjectivity of writing with computers, creating an anomalous emphasis on product and writerly insularity. With some notable exceptions (such as MOO spaces), student-authored projects on the web tend to emphasize the product. Many of us encourage our students to “translate” their papers into HTML; some of us create mostly static class web pages, artifacts of the semester’s writing class. In this paper, I show how dialogic interaction--with its questions, provocations, and temporary answers--forms a crucial part of computer technology, particularly the writing technology that makes hypertext and MOOing possible. Hyperlinks and MOOs represent self-constitutive choices for writer and reader. Author and audience do not act upon the objective reality of a computer; they create, but do not begin, and do not end, new technological “heroes” that in turn shape their very being in both the dialogic triangle and the classroom.

Author: Jacqueline Rhodes


Target Audience: Not Applicable

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