digital rhetoric

CCCC presentation on computational composition

Putting together my presentation for next week. I half-jokingly suggested on twitter an audience exchange where I'd promise to go to your panel if you came to mine. It's a half-joke because I'm in the second-to-last session on Saturday, so I'm a little worried about who will be left around at that point. I take solace in the fact that I can put my presentation up here and increase my audience by at least 10-fold I imagine.

My presentation is about "computational composition" and mobile phone networks. The main way that I've been making use of this in my classes is with Twitter, so I'll talk some about that. Honestly I've never been fond of the "look what I did in my class" genre though that gesture seems to be necessary in the CCCC proposal. Really I'm more interested in talking about how the tropes of computation, mobile tech, and networking reshape the increasingly dated conversation about multimedia/multimodal comp. As I suggested in my last post about NCTE's 21st century writing (and could equally be said for the WPA Council's technology plank in it's FYC outcomes or what gets mentioned in MLA's recent report on the undergrad major), I think something significant happens when you put composition through that turn.

[side note: I've had some exchanges about the usefulness of the word "composition" and the desire for another term or maybe a proliferation of terms with no fixed identity. I would hope to estrange composition but perhaps that's not likely.]

Anyway, I've got three angles on this turn. There is the material aspect of the computational perspective that asks us to consider the hardware and software at work in compositional processes. Obviously all digital compositions proceed through computation. These computations are largely automated: steadying your camera, cropping photos, audio effects, compression algorithms. It's the intelligence of the network at work there. But we can extend farther than that to think about searching, findability, and usability as all shaped by computational factors. Certainly mobile technologies play into this equation.

Second is the notion of a participation literacy, which Trebor Scholz talks about. Kevin Lim and I were discussing this the other day at the SLN conference. This is quite different from the visual/multimedia literacy that we often mention. Mobile technology is an integral part of the lived experience of networked participation. My students used their phones on a voluntary basis with twitter, so I will bring in some discussion of how this worked in my class. But really I'm wondering what it might mean to see composition as a participatory activity in which students are at least partly/optionally engaged through mobile tech.

Third is a retun to computation but more as a metaphor, as the lens through which we increasingly see ourselves and our culture. Obviously there are negative/critical things to mention here. One can see this in Hayles and others (though certainly that is not all Hayles is doing). However rather than simply decrying the idea of computation, one can also see the potential for deterritorialization here… the way that "computational" estranges composition.

Anyway more on this later, but that's a rough sketch.