For my Composition I classes, my students are working on technology autobiographies about the role technology plays or has played in their life. It’s a modification of the assignment designed by Richard Selfe, which I hope will yield more interesting results than those in Writing: A Manual for the Digital Age. I have faith in my students. To aid them in this process, I wrote my own technology autobiography, which centers around the purchase of my first computer.
This is a little more low-tech and mono-modal than I like being in this blog, but it isn’t fair to bring in other, shinier tools in a model essay. Though I am more than a little in love with a screencast version of this assignment I discovered on Youtube:
Okay, here is my textual version of the assignment:
The Return on my IBM Stock
My parents rarely buy anything full price– in fact, I credit all my mathematical skills to the bargain shopping days of my youth. I can quickly calculate percentages off and understand how to calculate what size product is the best value when a coupon variable is added. My family never went to Disney World or even to the movie theater. Our vacations were as value packed as our grocery shopping carts. We took educational tours of the country in our Ecoline Van, back in the days of 99 cent gas — taking in the Rocky Mountains, Yellowstone National Park, Gettysburg, Washington, D.C., etc. This is why when my dad brought home an IBM computer — I knew it was because he believed in its value.
Computers were still rare commodities, straight out of sci-fi fantasy books in the late 80s , early 90s. Instead of the vivid blue graphical interface of today’s Microsoft Windows (version 17 or whatever), our IBM ran through DOS prompt commands. At the age of 10 I was typing out elaborate lines of code to eek out line drawings and shapes that were reminiscent of Spirograph creations, and I loved every minute. As the youngest child in my family, I had been waiting years to be given a command prompt. During high school, I used the computer to practice my typing skills and to type my first research paper, which was on martial arts, a love I can probably tie to hours of playing the clunky, pixelated fantasy game Shogun.
My parents never reaped the rewards from the computer. Their technological prowess peaked with the VCR and even then their knowledge was limited. To this day, I am the one that programs their cell phones and accesses information from the Internet for them. My father, who operates high-tech farm machinery, cannot master home electronics.
Still, it was money not wasted. Like few children of my generation, I had the opportunity to grow up with computers and, therefore, had a natural affinity for them. The very first computer I bought at age 19 cost $3,000, more money than many of my friends at the time spent on their first vehicles. I built my first website on this computer, discovered alternative music before Napster became illegal, typed the first of pages of the novel which would later become my master’s thesis in fiction writing, and kept in touch with friends via email (there was no Facebook at the time). A few years later, I would built my own computer from scratch with the help of some computer engineering friends. It made me feel like a feminist to construct and operate technology as well as my male counterparts.
The most important skill I learned from my technological endeavors is discovery through play. I became a graphic designer mostly through hands-on, trial and error training — much like those early days of writing code under a dos prompt. I remember the first week of my internship at a newspaper, trying to figure out the logic of QuarkXpress. In my interview, I said I could do page layouts. However, my only experience was with a much simpler program. Someone in the classifieds department took pity on me and gave me a few pride-saving tips. Three years later I was the periodicals editor at a liberal arts college, overseeing all the publications and running my own freelance graphic design business on the side.
Even after I abandoned graphic design to become a graduate student in English, I still found value in my technical skills. As I moved from my master’s in fiction writing to my doctorate in rhetoric, I found myself continuously drawn to new media ecologies. I became fascinated by cultural ramifications of search engine algorithms, the phenomenon of “going viral,” and the potential for online activism. These explorations of the relationship between composition, rhetoric, and technology are what gave me an edge when it came to job applications. It also led to the completion of my Ph.D.
For me, few dollars have ever been as well spent as those that went towards my first computers. When my father brought that IBM home, he knew computers would be a significant part of the future. However, he couldn’t have foreseen how significant they would be in my future in particular.
Here’s the questions I have so far. Please comment with suggestions if think an additional question needs to be added. I’m basing these off of the Norton Handbook’s defining of the rhetorical situation:
- What do you want to do with your Twitter feed and blog. Entertain? Inform? Persuade? Self promote? Make money? Write to learn? Gain professional development?
- How do you want to be perceived? Authoritative? Relatable? Witty? Well-read?
- What do you want your audience to do, think, or feel? How will they use what you tell them or share with them? What kind of response do you want? How can you elicit it?
- What is your audience’s background—their education and life experiences?
- What’s your relationship with your audience, and how does it affect your language and tone?
- How can you best appeal to your audience?
- What’s the appropriate look for your rhetorical situation? Should your blog design/profile picture look serious? Whimsical? Personal?
- How can you make best use of the mediums? (For example: What can be visual? What hashtags are relevant? Where can you add links?)
- How does the genre dictate your design style and writing choices? (For example: You should have shorter paragraphs and more white space when writing online)
We begin our new media writing journey with blogging and Tweeting, where success hinges upon on our ability to develop a distinct voice, to identify our audience, and to network. For example, there are thousands of cooking and lifestyle blogs online. To standout you need a unique lens, a fresh perspective, humor, or an innovative approach. Consider one of the most successful examples of a cooking and lifestyle blog, Pioneer Woman, which led to a show on the Food Network. She capitalized on the fact that she lives a lifestyle that most of us can only imagine on a large cattle ranch in Oklahoma. It has humor, tradition, and cowboys. Of course, not all of us are willing to market ourselves and our lives in that much detail.
“In Confessions, I post photos of cows, horses, and my four weird children…as well as frequent shots of my husband wearing chaps” – The Pioneer Woman
Blogging begins by asking what it is you have to offer your audience. Could you deliver informed and educated cultural commentary, a humorous take on everyday life, a skill you can teach others, etc.? Examine successful blogs that fall into the same category as yours (technology how-to, parenting, pop culture) — what makes them standout in the crowd? Next, we learn about your potential audience through Twitter, Facebook, and Pinterest — discovering what they (moms, gamers, fans) are most likely to retweet, share, or pin.
Like the Pioneer Woman, who left big city life to become a rural homemaker, new media writers are also on a journey. We are operating in a constantly evolving medium. As soon as we learn one application, we must transfer our knowledge to another. I am here to document these journeys. That is what I have to offer my audience. My lens is my academic training, which helps me understand the distributed agency that exists within online writing. We are dependent on our technology and on our network of viewers. To be successful, I not only have to be witty, creative, and informed, I need to have a readership that can put my advice into practice, offer commentary, and spread the word.