The Aftermath of Access

Collin Brooke and Jennifer Bay kicked off their panel, "The Aftermath of Access: From Critical to Creative Computer Literacies" by showing theses from the Creative Computing Manifesto. I thought their approach -- two presentations that were sort of networked together -- was excellent; composing my notes now, I'm struck by how nonlinear the presentation was (in a good way!). I'll do my best to summarize the panel here, and hopefully contribute something to the conversation. Maybe the fact that I'm linking to the sources they mentioned will be helpful for some of you.

Bay (someone I don't know, so I'll use the last name) started off by problematizing a concept one encounters in writing courses. She said, "'The writing public' is already out there. People are already in it; they don't have to 'enter' it." She then described three kinds of computer literacies: functional literacy (the ability to use), critical literacy (awareness of values and ideologies embedded in computer culture), and network literacy, to which the panel was devoted.

To historicize and situate network literacy, Bay then reviewed Carolyn Miller's 2004 article Expertise and Agency: Transformations of Ethos in Human-Computer Interaction (PDF). In it, Miller identifies two major kinds of ethos associated with computers: rational reliability and sympathy. An "expert system" is rationally reliable, as opposed to an "intelligent agent," which gets its ethos through its common sense. Its agency emerges through social interaction. The 1990s saw a good deal of analysis of intelligent agents -- AI programs -- bots.

The association between intelligent agents and networks was pretty intuitive, but Collin later offered a good, clear, follow-up. After Bay discussed Miller's taxonomy, she cited David Weinberger's recent essay that argues for the "strong social benefit" of tagging. We can type in any word we want; we don't have to choose from a hierarchical list -- but "tag continuity" emerges in community, yet it's not stable. In tagging, we create a "folksonomy," a communal ethos. By the way, while some in rhetoric and composition studies are talking about tags, Bay and Collin were the only ones presenting about it at this conference, which I think is worth mentioning; they, along with the students in Collin's Network(ed) Rhetorics seminar, are the first in our field to do this kind of serious engagement with network practices like tagging.

Then Collin began his first node of the presentation with some thoughts on deixis and its relation to technology -- here and now. In an expert system, the system at the center, users at the margin. Centripetal. Inward gestures. But with intelligent agents, users are at the center, centrifugal. Outward gestures. He referenced one of the theses of the Creative Computing Manifesto: "Learning happens when things work; different learning happens when things don't work." He noted that in writing pedagogy, we often use newer technologies to achieve the ends of older technologies (and I feel like a dolt, because I accidentally falsely attributed this statement to Dennis at the blogging special interest group. Sorry Collin.:)). We treat the classroom as an expert system, with the teacher or classroom at center. Blogs allow for bidirectionality -- connections outside the classroom. Blogrolls allow for different, shifting, fluid directions and gestures. What I took from this is that, you know? We shouldn't try so hard to run the show when it comes to using technology in the classroom. Students are intelligent agents, and they already know how to represent themselves in networks (note Collin's referencing of The Facebook in his post about networks, which I linked to at the beginning of this post). Collin said, "We ask students to set up small worlds that we won't necessarily be a part of: the class won't always be at the center."

Then Bay brought up the (fixed) rhetorical modes of being in existing rhetoric curricula: teacher, citizen, expert, confidante/friend? (for personal writing). Networks disrupt these modes and allow for new ones, if I understood the point correctly. Then, after what must have been a perfectly coherent transition that I just didn't catch due to all. The. Ambient. Noise. in that room, they brought up Jason Kottke and his decision to try blogging for a living through micropatronage. Collin added that if links are the currency of the web, Kottke's already a professional blogger. Search engines love blogs that link a lot, and often filter blogs end up getting privileged, as well as particular groups of people who keep them. Bay cites Herring et. al.'s study.

Bay and Collin then ended up talking about some stuff I know Mike would have really gotten his groove on to: the blogroll is in some sense a restrictive economy, but also not restrictive because it doesn't cost anything. It's restricted if you put a cap on the number of blogs on blogroll, you create a false economic scarcity (I thought when he said it that this statement could have been influenced by a recent post of Mike's). Collin displayed a quotation from Georges Bataille that I didn't catch, unfortunately. Then Collin mentioned the power law distribution, which disrupts economies of scarcity when you consider the power of the long tail. Businesses like Amazon are leveraging the long tail. An aside: My enjoyment of this session was greatly enhanced by the fact that I've gotten to read the progression of Collin's thinking on these issues and see how he pulled them together.

He ended, as promised, by using the heavy metal umlaut article to describe an economy of abundance on a micro level: Wikipedia. Good stuff! I'm still contemplating how I'll use their insights, but making these notes has helped.


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Great summary--our panel sounds much better here than it did in my head...

I just posted the audio files of the session over at my joint, for anyone who's interested in hearing the actual presentations...


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