Looking Back, Looking Forward

Twenty Years of Kairos

Eyes of the Wise

In 1996, a hardy band of graduate students (primarily from Ball State, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, and Texas Tech) had the idea to create Kairos, a new kind of academic journal, one that would live online rather than in print, where authors would both write and design their essays rather than flowing text into flat lifeless templates (for more on the history of Kairos, see Eyman, 2006; Kalmbach, 2006; and Salvo & Doherty, 2002). Since its beginning, the editors of Kairos have been committed to preserving their history and have archived all 20 years of the journal at http://kairos.technorhetoric.net/archive.html.

The first issue of Kairos is available in its archived interface at http://kairos.technorhetoric.net/1.1/archival/index.html. However, as near as I can tell, this issue is not the oldest Kairos artifact in the archive. Rather, that honor goes to an essay–manifesto written by founding editor Mick Doherty (n.d.), "Kairos Layers of Meaning," which seeks to explain why they had named their soon-to-appear journal Kairos by unpacking the history of the term in Greek rhetorical theory. You can see in this webtext many of the design notes of issue 1.1; indeed, the design seems identical except that the interface for issue 1.1 was built out of six separate frameskairos 1.1 frames and was so complicated, it has its own user manual (http://kairos.technorhetoric.net/1.1/archival/guide.html), including the image to the right, which seeks (without much success) to explain the purpose of all these different frames. This is the can-do spirit of the computers and writing community at its best, a determination to take advantage of new technology regardless of the cost.

It took me several passes to read through the issue. I kept finding new and striking material hidden away in different, odd corners. There are seven separate sections, and almost every one has a one moment that made me stop and say "wow":

The scope of the work, the energy and exuberanace, and the sheer number of voices is truly striking. So much so that we put together an author index with this essay so that you can track down the contributions of the 45 people who made Kairos 1.1 possible.

What I take from all this work is that issue 1.1 of Kairos had a very different purpose than Kairos does today. Well, perhaps different is the wrong term, a broader purpose might be better. Today's Kairos readers will recognize many of the above sections, but what they won't find is the very conscious community building in the first issues of Kairos. These authors and editors had a clear sense that they wanted to nuture a community of techno-nerds, scholars drawn to the intersections of rhetoric, technology, and pedagogy. The journal had deep, early connections to the Computers and Writing conference and made an effort to keep readers informed about upcoming events in our community. The excitement about MOOing, the intoxication of links: the clicking into the unknown, the gathering of documents and MOO transcripts, the fearless embrace of frames.

Today you will find a more professional, polished tone in Kairos, the articles are far more sophisticated both in argument and in structure, as you would expect. We have had 20 years to talk about these issues, and the HTML standards have evolved dramatically since 1996. Still, I miss the tone of this first issue. I miss the energy, the exuberance, the way text spills all over my screen. I miss MOOing and the flat, Storyspace-influenced style of linking from node to node with no attempt to create a structure that might orient the reader to what was happening. I can even almost, but not quite, convince myself that I miss frames.

Issue 1.1 of Kairos captures a moment in our history that will never be again. We should celebrate that moment.