computers and writing in the rearview

Back for a couple days now. Overall a good conference. It was great to see many of the people I’ve been talking to over the past couple years but never had a chance to meet, as well as meet some other good folks.

I look at Computers and Writing and see an interesting and diverse community rather than something that seems like a community built around a common paradigm. Without trying to put labels on anyone, there are people with a strong new media/theory bent, others who come from a more cultural studies/politically-engaged perspective, still more who are focused on the technology issues, and so on and so forth. Even taken together though this group is a small fraction of the rhet/comp scholarly community, and an even tinier fraction of the faculty teaching composition nationally.

This point was hit home for me when I was talking with a textbook editor from Pearson. She was saying how she comes to a conference like this one and faculty will say things like "Well, no one teaches the modes anymore," and she’s thinking, well how come we sell all these textbooks built around the modes then? Point taken.

On the other hand, I was thinking that C&W has been around for more than 20 years. What would it mean if it were around 20 years from now? In a way it would mean that the conference and the field were going strong. But would it also mean that teaching and studying writing in terms of technology was still a segment of our field? Would it make sense to have a Books and Writing conference?

I could see that it would be understandable if a segment of rhet/comp were focused on the role of emerging technologies in the discipline–and that this conference would always be a site for that investigation. In 1983, when this conference began, very few people used computers for writing. Now what would you say? I wonder how far back you’d have to go to find a rhet/comp PhD program where 90%+ of the dissertations produced in a given year were written without the use of a computer.  Would you go over or under 15 years? What about FYC student papers?

Obviously the relationship between computers and writing has changed over the last quarter century and will continue to change in perhaps even more dramatic fashion.

I am simply curious, particularly as the speed of innovation, and the popular accessiblity of those innovations, seems to only be increasing: will the bulk of rhet/comp start to catch up with those who study emerging technologies? Or will the attenuation between these disciplinary spaces rupture at some point?

And I am not, btw, referencing here some need for rhet/comp to jump into the latest technologies. No, it’s not about the technology; it’s what the study of technology has told us about compositional practices. That’s where the paradigm shift lies. It’s almost classic Kuhn if you think about it. A scientific discipline operates according to a certain paradigm. Then, one day, new tools are developed, perhaps in an unrelated space. These new tools allow that science to be practiced in a new way and lead to new discoveries that disrupt the old paradigm.

I think that’s what’s happening here.

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One thought on “computers and writing in the rearview

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  1. It is interesting to reflect on the role of the C&W sub-group within rhet comp. My sense of earlier versions of C&W communities was that they served as helpful thorns in the side of the bigger rhet comp. It’s odd to think that at some point C&W people spent a good deal of energy having to champion technology and that there was real resistence from rhet comp–font play, hypertext, chat. Now that technology has been embraced by rhet comp, maybe C&W will morph so that it maintains some of that thorny corrective nature–I see this with new media still challenging the printed word, but hope it extends to other thorns like–why must writing classes be configured as dry service spaces for the academy. Things are shifting, though, I agree in terms of what if anything sets C&W apart from rhet comp.

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