Presentation Abstract

Interventions in the Onrush of Technological Change, or Confessions of a Hardware Junkie

During the question and answer session following a panel at Computers and Writing 97 (by presenters from the University of Texas at Austin) which addressed the costs, monetary and otherwise, of computer writing programs, I was struck by the idea that we are the beneficiaries of an embarrassment of riches. While the presenters cautioned that we must balance the high cost of technology against its benefits, they also noted that both media outlets, and, concomitantly, administrators, took unusual notice when technology was incorporated into writing courses, and that more traditional courses and faculty members are marginalized as computer-mediated writing comes to the fore.

Likewise at my medium-sized state institution, technology and the technologically literate are given preeminence in administrative decision-making. For example, the University’s present five-year plan calls for development in seven ranked areas, the first of which is technology, and the last of which is multicultural diversity. As one initiative in the former category, the campus completed last Spring a $120,000 interactive television studio, of which many of us are now struggling to find uses. Yet developments of this type are foregrounded in admissions and fund-raising literature, and certainly enhance the professional status of those in the administration responsible for establishing them, while building friendly relationships between corporate suppliers and those staffers responsible for purchasing decisions. And of course such developments are justified by the contingency that other institutions around us already have these technologies in operation, and that we must catch up with them.

I want to take the opportunity of this presentation to wonder just where this technological wave is taking the field of computers and writing. Certainly techno-rhetoricians are active in critiquing the means and ends of technological development. Yet to an extent, we may see as simply natural, as impervious to examination, this immense onrush of technological change.

Of course this occurs on a small scale: As a computer hobbyist, I recognize how easily I am caught up in the hype of bigger, better, faster and more capable. As I daily read computer magazines and equipment catalogues, I notice the incremental production in me of the desire for more, the creation of the subjectivity of a perpetually dissatisfied consumer, who also maintains the crazy assurance that the next download or purchase will scratch that itch. Likewise I am troubled that on a larger scale,sI as a computer-mediated writing instructor and technology booster, am complicit in the transfer of significant wealth from the public to the private sector, in the form of technology purchases. In this light, Billie Wahlstrom recommends we “make certain that we are not simply expanding a market without forcing real change in the way computer companies envision their roles.” Again, I will use this presentation to seek ways in which we might intervene in the onrush of technological change to accomplish this goal.

Author: Jeffrey Maxson


Target Audience: Not Applicable

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