A Thesis by
Jarret W. Krone
Key Terms to Consider:
Digital Dualism asserts that the digital world is ‘virtual’ and the physical world is ‘real’. More simply, it is the theory that there remains a distinct and recognizable separation between online and offline experience.
Augmented Reality (anti-digital dualism) opposes digital dualism by suggesting that “the digital and the physical are increasingly meshed” (Jurgenson) and that both experiences channel into one central identity, and one central reality. Due to the extended use of digital tools, the logic of all things digital infuse our reality and alter the way we perceive the world. In this sense, we experience the digital and nondigital simultaneously.
Transliteracy: “the concept of transliteracy calls for a change of perspective away from the battles over print versus digital, and a move instead towards a unifying ecology not just of media, but of all literacies relevant to reading, writing, interaction and culture, both past and present. It is, we hope, an opportunity to cross some very obstructive divides” (Thomas, et al).
Multimodality (Multimodal Composition): the combination and blending of modes like text, audio, video, and image to create meaning and achieve different rhetorical outcomes.
Literacy Residuals: Elements of past literacy practices that mediate, shape, and inform new literacy practices. Deborah Brandt claims that literacy residuals follow us, inform our understanding of new literacies, and remain in our periphery throughout our lives, and “exist simultaneously within society and within the experiences of individuals.”
Technological Residuals (Skeuomorphs): Like literacy residuals, technological residuals have the ability to pile-up, layer, and accumulate; elements of older technologies play a significant role in defining what new technology can and should be capable of doing. T.R.’s are elements of tools from our past that reemerge as metaphor, and become a tool in itself by linking the logic of older tools with the capabilities of new tools.
I want to offer my most sincere thanks to Dr. Kim Jaxon, who from the very beginning made me feel like the work I was doing as a student, mentor, colleague and instructor was important and meaningful. This thesis was a joy to write largely because of the positive feedback I received along the way from Dr. Jaxon. Without a doubt, she has helped to shape who I am today as a student and instructor.
I also want to thank my second reader, Dr. Tom Fox, for his continuous support over the years. Some of the hardest classes I have taken were with him, and many of the foundational concepts in this thesis derive from wrestling with extremely complex ideas in his “Networks, Memes, and Rhetoric” class. Despite the difficult nature of his classes, he always made it clear that there was always a way in to the material, and it was our job as students to find those avenues.
I also have to thank Dr. Chris Fosen, who is another professor that makes up the brilliant collection of composition professors at Chico State. His English 130 class eight years ago forever changed the way I thought about school, learning, and myself as a student. He inspired me then, and continues to inspire me now. In many ways, his impressive knowledge of the field helped guide me to some of the central texts I use in my thesis.
Lastly, I want to thank my colleagues and friends in the English graduate program. I could not have asked for a more supportive and positive environment to thrive in as a student and scholar. As I look back on my experiences as a graduate student, I will think of you all fondly and miss you dearly.
These are the people whose voices and inspiration live in-between the lines of my ideas and writing. I thank you all and dedicate this work to you.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
I. Introduction: The Persistence of Dualistic Thought
Our World of Dualities
The Emergence of the “Anti-Digital Dualists” and the Digital Divide Debate
We’ve Seen and Heard this All Before: A History of “Problems” with New Technology
II. Augmented Reality and Transliteracy: Underlying Principles of an Important Relationship
Composition’s ‘Multimodal Heritage’
The Intersection of Anti-Digital Dualism and Transliteracy/Multimodality
III. The Cultural Shadow of Tradition and the Power of Nostalgia
Tradition and the ‘Social Disease’ of Nostalgia
‘Vintage’ as the Materiality of Nostalgia
The Influence of Residuals on New Technology and Culture
Illustrations of Nostalgia in Education: The Living Metaphor in our Stacks of Essays
This thesis examines the role dualistic conceptual frameworks play in the decision making process, and I make claims about how these limiting systems of thought impact our culture on many levels, including academia. I introduce readers to the concept of “digital dualism,” and use this concept as a way to illuminate the types of modern dualities and oppositions that are at play in the education world, and in the collective mind of society. Using this lens, I call attention to the common tradition/innovation duality, and argue that this duality causes fragmented and conflicted perceptions of what progress looks like. Nostalgia and tradition play a key role in complicating our understanding of progress, and these forces prove to be quite powerful in an education system where change and innovation move far too slowly. I ultimately make the claim that Nathan Jurgenson’s concept of “Augmented Reality” (anti-digital dualism) represents a theoretical counterpart to the concept of multimodality and transliteracy, and that for instructors there is much to gain from understanding and being aware of the underlying principles of this relationship.
INTRODUCTION: THE PERSISTENCE OF DUALISTIC THOUGHT
Our World of Dualities
“We invoke one dualism only in order to challenge another. We employ a dualism of models only in order to arrive at a process that challenges all models… The dualisms… are the enemy, an entirely necessary enemy, the furniture we are forever rearranging” (20).
Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus (1980)
Our understanding of our world and experience is inherently bound in cognitive and social frameworks that allow us to classify, categorize, and make sense of all emergent knowledge in predetermined and socially constructed ways. I define these dualities as sets of concepts distilled to two opposing or contrasting parts. They are what create the either/or dynamic when it comes to the choices we set up for ourselves. As an instructor, I continue to be very interested in when and how these potentially limiting systems of thought force us to view issues in necessarily conflicting or opposing ways. I use this study of dualities and dualistic thinking to help us understand our typical methods for maneuvering through the overwhelming complexity in our lives, and to help provide some insight into how these frameworks consciously or subconsciously influence educators’ choices about how and when to employ digital technology for learning. This dualistic framework shows itself as we make choices in our day-to-day lives, and I wish to point out that this type of thinking can negatively impact pedagogy, especially when it comes to how we adopt new technology and confront the possibility that these new technologies can change the landscape of modern education.
In an article recently published in The Atlantic called “The Emotional Psychology of a Two-Party System (2013),” Joseph Burgo addresses why we often create “black and white,” overly simplistic options for ourselves when it comes to decision making. He focuses on our political system as a primary example of dualistic social constructions, but we can notice this method for decision making everywhere. He hypothesizes that this type of thinking leads to a near impossibility of rational compromise:
Black-and-white thinking reflects the psychological process known as splitting. When we feel unable to tolerate the tension aroused by complexity, we “resolve” that complexity by splitting it into two simplified and opposing parts, usually aligning ourselves with one of them and rejecting the other. As a result, we may feel a sort of comfort in believing we know something with absolute certainty; at the same time, we’ve over-simplified a complex issue. (Burgo)
This notion of “splitting” is an interesting one when we think about the way we conceptually organize emergent knowledge and how these dualistic conceptual frameworks can actually obscure, devalue, and limit the scope of new ideas and information. Burgo wonders why we choose to limit the scope of our beliefs and political opinions by categorizing them into two central parties. He argues that:
ambiguity or confusion is so difficult for many of us to bear that we instead retreat from it into a feeling of certainty, believing we know something without any doubts, even when we actually don’t and often can’t know. Those of us who have trouble with such discomfort often resort to black-and-white thinking instead. Rather than feeling uncertain or ambivalent, struggling with areas of gray, we reduce that complexity to either/or. (Burgo)
We have a strong desire to feel certain about aspects of ourselves and our lives, even when these perceived ‘certainties’ do more harm for us than good. We give ourselves the option of feeling ‘certain’ about the nature of our reality and the decisions we encounter because the alternative option wrongly implies that we are wandering through life, unsure of ourselves and our choices — lost in oblivion.
The point Burgo makes about our discomfort with ambiguity as a result of being bombarded by choice may play a key role in understanding why we create dualities as a conceptual framework in order to interpret and make sense of the complex world around us. For Burgo, uncertainty drives our motivations for creating and sustaining categories (often in opposition to one another) that condense an array of complex issues into only a few primary camps of influence. Burgo uses the red and blue parties of the American political system to illuminate the idea that we choose this “black and white” approach to decision making “as a psychological defense mechanism [to] resolve emotional ambivalence.” When there are too many options in front of us, we become filled with anxiety due to the pressure to make well-informed decisions on an overwhelming amount of issues. We alleviate this burden by creating oppositions and dualities.
This issue of dualistic limitation is one that we can notice in many aspects of our culture. In fact, this method of theoretical organization is one that has existed for quite some time. We can trace this desire for dualistic thought back to the times of ancient Greece. One of the oldest dualities forged by the human mind is related to the construction of knowledge. The two structures that produce knowledge are theory and practice. There has been much discussion and debate within the field of rhetoric and composition about the relative value of theory and practice. Many compositionists have felt that theory makes the discussion of composition and pedagogy far too exclusive and actually obscures issues in the field that need to be discussed straightforward, upfront, and with practicality. This opposition to the value of theory has been labeled “Anti-Intellectualism,” in which they “attack the ‘activity of theorizing,’ arguing that theorizing is an activity people engage in as a kind of clouded state of thinking that is not in touch with reality” (Dobrin 16). There is a sense that theory, as a mode of knowledge creation, moves away from and clouds important issues embedded in reality. But, according to Sidney Dobrin in his book Constructing Knowledges: The Politics of Theory-Building and Pedagogy in Composition, for the ancient Greeks on the issue of knowledge building, “theory [was] considered a superior form of knowledge to that deriving from local practice” (9). It wasn’t until Aristotle that we began to “acknowledge that theory and practice can and should inform one another…” (Dobrin 9). That is, theory and practice dialectically construct and imply the other. It became clear that “We cannot force theory and practice into binary opposition: this is theory; this is practice. The two are so bound up, intertwined, enmeshed in one another — to the point of actually depending on the other, or of even becoming the same thing — that we cannot actually discern between the two at points” (Dobrin 9). Dobrin points out that the process of building knowledge is complex and multifaceted, and cannot reasonably be broken up into this either/or duality where we irrationally want to hold theory and practice as distinct, separate methods. Both methods inform the other and simultaneously feed into the same goal and process, which is the building of knowledge.
Along a similar vein, in Plato’s political dialogue with Socrates and Phaedrus, the trio discuss the privileging of spoken word communication over writing. A primary concern was that written discourse would lead to a breakdown of one’s memory. Socrates tells Phaedrus, “And so it is with written words; you might think they spoke as if they had intelligence, but if you question them, wishing to know about their sayings, they always say only one and the same thing” (166). They continue, “In fact, it [writing] will introduce forgetfulness into the soul of those who learn it: they will not practice using their memory because they will put their trust in writing, which is external and depends on signs that belong to others…” (79) In these examples it is new technology (in this instance writing) that is forced into the position of the devalued “other.” Its newness forces a confrontation between what is already known and what still needs to be understood. This confrontation recreates and re-solidifies the tradition/innovation duality.
As expressed in Burgo’s article, these self-established dualities force us to perceive the options before us in constrictive and limited ways. Why must we be pressured to submit to one side or the other? In the case of Burgo’s example, with so many complex decisions regarding our government, the American people, and the issues that pervade political discussion, how is it logical to assume that our viewpoints can be neatly ordered into one of two political parties? The perspectives of political parties are very inflexible in their beliefs and opinions, as the tendency for a party’s belief system to evolve and change reflects vulnerability, weakness, and indecisiveness in the eyes of most. If we assume that our political system is merely a microcosm of a dualistic framework that is embedded within the psyche of society, then we should consider that the constrictive nature of dualistic thought exists in many aspects of our culture — including the very institutions that serve as the foundation to modern society. I am most interested in the institution of education, and how these frameworks work to sustain potentially stagnant theories and pedagogies in education as a whole, and more specifically, in the field of composition, literacy studies, and digital literacies.
These early examples of the formation of dualities are an important place to start as we move into a discussion of modern dualities that shape the way we think about teaching, and more specifically, the way we adopt practices and value systems related to the use of digital technologies in the writing classroom. The central question that drives this thesis is how does this “black and white,” dualistic type of thinking translate into ways teachers think about, talk about, and employ digital technologies in the writing classroom? So far in this chapter, I have introduced the concept of the socially-constructed duality, and explained why dualities represent a problem, albeit an historically and culturally embedded problem.
Chapter two picks up the question: What can the concepts of digital dualism and augmented reality offer us in terms of a useful framework for thinking about technology in the classroom, student literacies, and writing pedagogies? Further, how do these concepts help to highlight the superficiality of the perpetual “Literacy Crisis”?
Chapter three answers the question: Why is a study of nostalgia and tradition important to use as a framework for thinking about how certain technologies are used, or not used, in education? Does nostalgia throw a wrench into the mechanism of progress and innovation?
The conclusion clarifies how these chapters fit together and which key principles arise from placing all of these concepts in relation to one another. I consider how and why these issues might be useful within the realm of education, pedagogy, and literacy.
Before moving to chapter two, in the next subsection, I familiarize the reader with the idea of “Digital Dualism,” and introduce the two different camps of scholars who argue for or against its existence. I use some of author Ann Blair’s insights on the repetition of “Information Overload” to delegitimize arguments around the negative impacts of digital culture on our minds and society.
The Emergence of the “Anti-Digital Dualists” and the Digital Divide Debate
…Social media, among other digital experiences,
were constituent parts of reality, not distractions from it.
And while the digital could certainly “augment”
our experience of the world, it was not to be treated as
conceptually separate space. Offline and online were not
mutually exclusive but, today, mutually reinforcing.
Chris Baraniuk (2013)
What is Digital Dualism and where did this idea come from? Why should we talk about it in conversations around literacy, technology, and education?
The ideas summarized and expressed in this section are especially important to me, as I maintain strong curiosities about how emergent technologies alter the landscape of our everyday lives, and the attitudes that reflect how these new tools evolve and shape culture. I am constantly thinking about how new technology can offer different opportunities to provide students greater access to the types of reading and writing practices they are accustomed to and experience everyday. I believe that student engagement and participation is strongly linked to students’ perceptions of access. And these perceptions of accessibility to knowledge is linked to the types of digital and non-digital tools that are valued in their classrooms.
My research has centered around if and how the collective mind of society can reconcile the common and pervasive digital/physical and online/offline binaries. Scholars started to point out that skepticism, uncertainty, and fear toward emergent technologies was heightened as people began becoming more and more dependent on computers and other digital tools (Brandt, 1995; Baron,1999; Palmeri, 2012). A common theory emerged that gained more substance and legitimacy with each additional essay and blog post being written about it. From this growing body of research arose the theory of “Digital Dualism,” which is a term coined in 2011 by Nathan Jurgenson, a University of Maryland doctoral student in sociology, digital theorist, and co-creator/editor of the Cyborgology blog. As his theory and writing began to gain momentum and popularity on websites like The Atlantic and The New Inquiry, many other notable scholars started commenting on his ideas and providing insight to extend, clarify, and challenge the points he was making about the “fantasy” and “fallacy” of the digital/physical divide. Jurgenson’s theory began gaining such momentum in the academic community that scholars interested in socio-cultural analysis from a variety of disciplines began researching, writing, and arguing against the beliefs of the “Digital Dualists.”
“Digital Dualism” reflected a belief, to various degrees, that there was a distinct separation of the self when it came to the interaction with, and the perception of, the online and offline world(s). The “Digital Dualists” are a camp of scholars who believe that the 21st century self is still divided and represented by distinct online and offline worlds. Jurgenson’s theory of digital dualism provides a frame for which scholars can critique and analyze how our culture perceives and values the influence of digital tools in our everyday lives. His theory affords us a way in which to articulate and counter many of the popular arguments being raised about how the internet and other digital tools are pushing culture in a negative direction — toward a life of less substance and a life retreating from ‘real’ face to face communication. In his essay, “Digital Dualism versus Augmented Reality,” Jurgenson explains:
The power of social media to burrow dramatically into our everyday lives as well as the near ubiquity of new technologies such as mobile phones has forced us all to conceptualize the digital and the physical; the on- and off-line. And some have a bias to see the digital and the physical as separate; what I am calling digital dualism. Digital dualists believe that the digital world is “virtual” and the physical world “real.” This bias motivates many of the critiques of sites like Facebook and the rest of the social web and I fundamentally think this digital dualism is a fallacy. (emphasis Jurgenson)
The basis of Jurgenson’s argument is that due to the proliferation of digital tools, and our sustained experience in the digital world, we now carry the logic and nature of all things digital within us at all times. The individuals that make up our culture no longer have the choice to move freely from digital to physical space. Both spaces inform and mutually reinforce the other. We no longer can really escape the digital world like perhaps we once could because the logic of the tools inform and alter the way we think about and interact with the physical world. We experience, simultaneously, both the digital and physical worlds, and in this sense, the initial boundary or barrier that once existed between our digital and analog selves has dissolved.
Perhaps one of the most notable scholars to resist Jurgenson’s claims about the illusion of “Digital Dualism” was American author Nicholas Carr, who has written numerous books about the influences of new technology on culture. The premise of Carr’s central thesis that extends across multiple works is that digital technologies have reshaped the way that we learn, read, write, and access information. But for Carr, these changes brought on by new digital technologies can be problematic and even detrimental to human intellect. Carr contends that the constant, obsessive use of digital technologies compromise the wealth and capability of the mind. He references an array of cultural phenomena and achievements that occurred in the distant pre-digital era and nostalgically recognizes those events as being symbolic of the greatest human feats of all time. He laments a time where (supposedly) we could dedicate our focus to one thing for long periods of time without interruption allowing us to be more creative, to think more critically, and to develop a more in-depth understanding of whatever has our attention. As an aside, Carr doesn’t seem to acknowledge that things like fishing, farming, hunting, making goods, sewing, trading, and writing all are forms of technology, albeit non-digital, and that they could all be seen as potentially ‘disruptive’ technologies.
As his latest book title suggests, The Shallows (2010), digital technologies have drastically altered the way we delve into texts and consume information. He argues that the internet has caused our generation to become increasingly impatient and distracted when we consume texts, and that our attention spans have decreased due to the methods we have adopted in order to traverse the vastness of digital space in a timely fashion. In other words, we have substituted the ability to analyze and remain engaged in dense texts for the ability to skim and scan snippets of a larger amounts of text. This just seems like a necessary adaptation to me. Not better. Not worse. Just different.
Jurgenson and like-minded scholars began pointing to moments in Carr’s arguments where the “Digital Dualist” fallacy showed itself in his logic. This sparked a back and forth commentary between the anti-digital dualists and Carr similar to a game of chess. Carr would make an argument to counter that of Jurgenson and the anti-digital dualists and the anti-digital dualists would return with a well thought-out, well-articulated rebuttal. I enjoyed following their debate online as each side offered subtle jabs to each others’ theories and pointed to holes in logic. In a recent essay published on Cyborgology titled, “Digital Dualism and Lived Experience: Everyday Ontology Produces Everyday Ethics,” French philosopher and digital theorist Stéphane Vial responds to Carr’s previous online retort:
Don’t deny it, Mr. Carr: There does exist a “general and delusional dualist mentality.” That’s obvious. That’s exactly why, as you say, “people really do feel a difference and even a conflict between their online experience and their offline experience.” Yes, I really do feel myself this difference in my own life, but I absolutely don’t feel this difference as a conflict or a problem… One century after the invention of the telephone, we still know the difference between the face-to-face presence and the telephonical presence. But we don’t feel it as a problem or a conflict anymore. We know how to enmesh them peacefully. That’s the same with the difference between the digital and the physical: We are learning how to enmesh them peacefully and, very soon, we will no longer feel them as a conflict. (emphasis Vial)
As this example demonstrates, both sides are adamant in making their arguments stronger and more well-supported than the other. Vial makes a solid point by using the introduction of the telephone as a historical analogy to delegitimize and trivialize the concerns that follow(ed) the rise of digital technology. Carr maintains a pessimistic voice about what the internet and digital tools are doing to our literate skills, and Vial is saying no, this socio-cultural fear resulting from ‘new’ technology has indeed risen before, will rise again, and there is no reason to perceive this ‘conflict’ between online and offline experience as problematic. Carr returns in a blog post titled “Digital Dualism Denialism” to make an interesting point about the history and persistence of the nature versus machine dualism. He states,
Nature existed before technology gave us the idea of nature. Wilderness existed before society gave us the idea of wilderness. Offline existed before online gave us the idea of offline. Grappling with the idea of nature and the idea of wilderness, as well as their contrary states, has been the source of much of the greatest philosophy and art for at least the last two hundred years. We should celebrate the fact that nature and wilderness have continued to exist, in our minds and in actuality, even as they have been overrun by technology and society. (Digital Dualism Denialism)
Carr makes a point about the genesis of the online/offline duality by referencing the types of thoughtful dialogue that arose over the last few hundred years as a result of the fears about the conflict of new technology entering nature. In this quote, he seems to take a step back from the back-and-forth debate about the existence or nonexistence of digital dualism and addresses a perspective that is not common in the commentaries about the influence of digital technology in our lives. The above quote stood out to me as being a bit odd coming from Carr, as it didn’t seem to align with his typical authorial viewpoints about how digital technologies are affecting culture and our minds. He suggests that these popular cultural dualities (nature versus technology, wilderness versus industry, and online versus offline) have contributed to some of the greatest philosophical debate and artistic expression throughout history. He is saying that these dualities about nature and technology have always been there and most likely will always remain. It adds to the complex beauty that is life. I like this thought from Carr and I generally agree. But, I’m not necessarily buying that this ‘beauty is in the dichotomy’ argument is central to Carr’s beliefs about digital technologies and the negative effects they have on our communicative abilities. He seemed to just be sidestepping the more difficult questions around whether or not digital dualism is real. In a short essay from the blog The Machine Starts, Chris Baraniuk explains the perspective of the anti-digital dualists further:
[Carr’s] book expressed grave concerns over the neurological impact heavy use of the web may be having on people, but Jurgenson and his colleagues rarely if ever give much credence to this idea, preferring to emphasise the value of augmentation as a contemporary paradigm one must first and foremost accept and, to some extent, celebrate. (Baraniuk)
Jurgenson and his colleagues highlight the notion that augmentation should be the framework used when developing our intuition about new technology and its effect on humanity. And, as Baraniuk clarifies, “to Jurgenson, online and offline [are] not mutually exclusive but, today, mutually reinforcing” (2013). So, there is a sense that because experience is made up of both the online and offline ‘worlds,’ it behooves us more to evolve culturally parallel to the direction that new technologies take us, rather than always questioning and remaining hypercritical and skeptical about these emerging technologies at each step of the way. The term “Digital Dualism” gave scholars the language to describe and deconstruct the current widespread arguments that technology is ruining, or at least, reshaping the way we interact with one another and experience the world.
Undoubtedly, we will learn (or have already learned) to mesh online and offline experience together seamlessly, just as we did with telephonical presence and face-to-face presence. Nobody considers the act of talking on the phone to be a nuisance or a habit that takes away from ‘authentic’ communication. The focus for criticism has shifted to internet use, social media, and texting, but the rhetoric that surrounds the “problem” is the exact same. This makes me wonder: haven’t we heard this all before?
We’ve Seen and Heard this All Before: A History of “Problems” with New Technology
With the rise of digital tools and significant increases in access to information, the rhetoric associated with “Information Overload” has re-emerged once again to influence discussions about what digital technologies are doing to our minds, perception, and sociability. Because I believe the concept of information overload is a product of an inherent fear toward how any new technology will alter society, I find concerns about the detrimental effects of new information technologies to be unwarranted.
David Banks, a regular contributor to the Cyborgology blog, recalls German philosopher Ludwig Klages’ term “Logocentrism,” which is a theory that describes spoken word as being the ideal or superior method of communication. Banks’ aim was to shed light on how Klages’ theory has reemerged in a modern, digital context. Just as Klages’ theory pointed to a social preference toward spoken word communication in the early 20th century, we are experiencing a similar divide motivated by tradition, nostalgia, and deep-rooted feelings about authenticity. Banks posits:
Ludwig Klages called ‘logocentrism’ the privileging of the spoken word over other forms of communication… Just as speech was privileged over the written word in ancient Greece, we tend to privilege the physical over the digital. A hardbound book is the real thing, while the ebook is something ephemeral or unnecessary. As our own Sarah Wanenchak describes it, ‘This feeling is instinctive, gut-level; it can drive us without us being explicitly aware of it.’ My own print book collection and skimpy Kindle library are a testament to my own digital dualism. The feeling is so hard to shake, it seems, because the logic of the supplement is so pervasive. (Banks)
We are noticing a rise in the privileging of older, pre-digital methods for creating and consuming content that grows parallel to the mainstream use of certain of digital tools. Just as writing was for a time controversial in an age that valued spoken word communication, we look at social media and other digital modes of communication with the same skeptical eye. Are we really choosing connection over conversation as MIT professor and author Sherry Turkle and others theorize? Or is this simply a cautious, knee-jerk reaction to the “threat” of digital communication flooding our lives? Haven’t these same conversations and arguments about problems with new technologies already been articulated throughout our history? At the heart of this fear surrounding new technologies is a genuine concern for our ability and overall desire to communicate with one another, the means in which we do so, and how we can come to terms with, and approach more positively, these rhetorical cycles of information overload.
The concept of information overload is commonly used as a way to describe how new information technologies create exponentially more ways for the average person to produce and consume information, and concerns follow about how to organize and make sense of this flood of information. In the article, “Information Overload: The Early Years,” author Ann Blair tells us that, “Worry about information overload has become one of the drumbeats of our time… Many feel the situation has reached crisis proportions. In the academic world, critics have begun to argue that universities are producing and distributing more knowledge than we can actually use” (2010).
Blair points to numerous examples in history to show that these same uncertainties, concerns, and arguments have been expressed time and time again throughout history. She poses an essential question:
But is [information overload] really so novel? Human history is a long process of accumulating information, especially once writing made it possible to record texts and preserve them beyond the capacity of our memories. And if we look closely, we can find a striking parallel to our own time: what Western Europe experienced in the wake of Gutenberg’s invention of printing in the 15th century. (Blair)
She addresses the rise and public availability of libraries as another historical example of the threat of information overload. Ultimately, we need to understand that great changes in communication and information technologies have happened before and will continue to happen. As history has shown, we have no choice but to adapt to these changes and evolve harmoniously alongside the tools that keep us creative and connected. Blair concludes that:
What we share with our ancestors… is the sense of excess… A new technology does not act alone, after all, but in concert with our ambitions for it. Overload has long been fueled by our own enthusiasm — the enthusiasm for accumulating and sharing knowledge and information, and also for experimenting with new forms of organizing and presenting it. (Blair)
The central duality that arises from our fear of information overload is that of new practices around the creation and distribution of knowledge versus old practices. The ‘new’ implies new risks and new uncertainties; the ‘old’ is often idealized as being more true, real, and authentic to human experience. There is always an underlying fear that new technologies will complicate and corrupt current established systems, and with this hesitancy, this duality is reconstructed. These divisions separate our feelings about the pull of tradition and forward-looking nature of innovation. The temptation to rid our lives of its sheer complexity results in our desire to create and recreate oppositions and dualities, and the information overload rhetoric works to sustain the boundary between tradition and innovation.
As briefly mentioned previously, in chapter two, I bridge the seemingly disparate concepts of anti-digital dualism (sociology and web theory), multimodality, and transliteracy (literacy studies), and I examine the key theoretical overlap of these concepts as well as suggest why these connections are important for educators and pedagogy. I use the work of Jason Palmeri and Dennis Baron to reinforce the claim that the act of composing has always been multimodal, although perhaps this concept of multimodality became more recognizable with the rise of digital culture. I transition into making the claim that multimodality and transliteracy are cross-discipline theoretical counterparts to anti-digital dualism, or as web theorist Nathan Jurgenson calls it, “Augmented Reality.” Again, to be clear, augmented reality is mediated and defined by both physical and digital experience simultaneously. At the end of chapter two, I introduce Deborah Brandt’s work and focus-in on her explanation of literacy “residuals,” where she argues that different literacies have the ability to pile up and blend together in the mind of an individual. I pick back up on the idea of literacy residuals in chapter three where I compare Brandt’s notions about literacy residuals to the types of technological residuals we are noticing in emergent digital tools. This idea of the ‘residual’ is important because it puts forth the understanding that we never completely leave certain technologies and their corresponding literacies behind. They follow us, the new piling up on the old, creating dense networks of literacy skills that we can pull from. These ideas led me to cultural critic Raymond Williams’ depiction and model of the dynamic cultural process. He provides three different classifications/categories for this process — residual, dominant, and emergent. Williams’ cultural process model led me to claim that because technology evolves exponentially, we are starting to see cultural residuals interact with emergent culture within the same temporal moment. In other words, due to the rapid evolution of technology, cultural elements of the past are existing at the same time as new forms of culture are emerging.
AUGMENTED REALITY AND TRANSLITERACY:
UNDERLYING PRINCIPLES OF AN IMPORTANT RELATIONSHIP
The concepts of multimodality and transliteracy seem
to mirror Jurgenson’s argument about augmented reality
in that they share the same theoretical foundation:
both concepts’ internal arguments are about blending and layering
with the purpose of dissolving constrictive frames.
(Excerpt from chapter II)
What can the concepts of Digital Dualism and Augmented Reality offer us in terms of a useful framework for thinking about technology in the classroom, student literacies, and writing pedagogies? How do these concepts help to highlight the superficiality of the perpetual literacy crisis?
Compositionists like Jason Palmeri and Dennis Baron argue that even before the digital era, the act of composing and the inspiration that guides this endeavor is always mediated by a multitude of modes. This chapter works to highlight the understanding that the composing process has always been, and always will be, entirely multimodal. This notion is important because it plays a key role in deconstructing the concept that the composing process involves only the writer’s knowledge of alphabetic writing and the blank page. Scholars like Palmeri, Baron, and Cynthia Selfe argue that the composing process has always been multimodal, even before digital culture gave us a clearer understanding of what multimodality meant for the modern composing process.
It is also essential to understand that print-based texts have risen in popularity alongside the rise and development of digital tools like word processors and digital presentation platforms. Selfe helps us to understand that we use digital platforms like Powerpoint to support the practices around print-based texts, rather than using the platforms to create meaning by themselves. In other words, our initial skepticisms toward the value of digital tools encouraged us to use them as a way to supplement, or to use alongside, tried-and-true methods of extracting ideas from print based texts. This suggests that instead of simply transitioning entirely to digital methods, we adopted a more augmented, or blended, approach to create meaning by using both digital and physical methods at the same time. Palmeri recalls that “teachers of writing were concerned… that shifts in communication technologies necessitated a rethinking of composition’s exclusive focus on linear, alphabetic text,” and that, “in the late 1960s and early 1970s [compositionists] were concerned that the electronic revolution had produced a generation of students who were more interested in multimedia forms of composing — the film, the television program, the comic — than in writing conventional print texts” (87-88). Moving away from valuing purely “linear, alphabetic texts” was difficult for the education world, and I think there are still remnants, or residuals, of this hesitancy. Multimodality, as it was redefined in the digital age, reinvigorated most compositionists by giving them a fresh way of thinking about the range and possibility of the field.
The concept of multimodality (the blending of image, text, video, etc) mirrors Jurgenson’s ideas about augmented reality in that they share the same theoretical foundation: both concepts’ internal arguments are about blending and layering with the purpose of dissolving constrictive frames. Augmented reality, as a framework, is a way to substantiate multimodal and transliterate practices — practices that support students and the aims of writing instructors.
Composition’s “Multimodal Heritage” (Palmeri)
What seems most important to make clear is the understanding that multimodality is not a new concept in the field of composition; it is a concept that perhaps has been made more visible with the advent of digital technologies, but multimodality has always been present when it comes to creativity, production, and composition. As instructors, we have been utilizing multimodal methods and practices far before the recent rise of digital culture. We seem to perceive multimodal teaching practices as necessarily emerging parallel to the rise of digital technologies, but this is not the case. Jason Palmeri, in his book, Remixing Composition: A History of Multimodal Writing Pedagogy, clarifies:
Looking closely at the ways that past compositionists responded to the ‘new media’ of their day, I demonstrate that writing teachers have a substantial history of engaging analog technologies for composing moving images and sounds — a history that predates the rise of the personal computer or the development of the graphical web. (5-6)
The multimodal approach to composition is not something that became relevant as personal computers became the main tool for writing and research and the dominant method for literacy development in young people. He goes on to say that, “Ultimately… alphabetic writing and reading are deeply embodied, multisensory processes; in this sense, alphabetic writing is always already multimodal” (9).
Along a similar thread, in Dennis Baron’s article, “From Pencils to Pixels: The Stages of Literacy Technologies,” he reminds us that:
Writing itself is always first and foremost a technology,” and that,“we often lose sight of writing as technology, until, that is, a new technology like the computer comes along and we are thrown into excitement and confusion as we try it on, try it out, reject it, and then adapt it to our lives — and, of course, adapt our lives to it. (70)
Baron echoes Palmeri in explaining that writing has always been a form of technology; it has always been multimodal, and the moments that we recognize and remember this notion is when new and emergent technologies force us to consider how these new forms will alter our lives by changing the way we communicate. Baron touches on the ways that new technologies spread in culture and how people, often with initial reservations, come to trust and eventually embrace new writing tools. He says that:
as the technology spreads, so do reactions against it from supporters of what are purported to be older, simpler, better, or more honest ways of writing. Not only must the new technology be accessible and useful, it must demonstrate its trustworthiness as well. So procedures for authentication and reliability must be developed before the new technology becomes fully accepted. One of the greatest concerns about computer communications today involves their authentication and their potential for fraud. (71-72)
This sense that new technology could be socially and culturally damaging is one that has been a part of human experience for a very long time. Baron reminds us once again that Plato and other ancient greeks were concerned that the act of writing would be detrimental to one’s memory; the pencil and eraser as new writing technologies would encourage students to be more careless and sloppy with their writing knowing that they had the chance to erase, revise, and start over; the telephone would threaten our privacy and would potentially “replace the school or library as a transmitter of knowledge and information” (Baron 78); the personal computer (PC) would negatively alter the way that we perceive and internalize texts, and would eventually cause us to distance ourselves from one another socially. New writing technologies, modes of communication, and tools for making meaning have always been under the critical eye, especially once its availability reaches the masses.
If we think about these ‘modes’ of comunication in perhaps a more primitive sense (say, pre-industrial America), we can see that alphabetic writing has always been inherently shaped and influenced by an array of outside forces that supplement and enhance the writing process. Palmeri illustrates a fine example of how studying the composing process across modalities can help us to better understand the writing and revision process in our own field. He says:
Compositionists seeking to gain insight into revision need not necessarily restrict their investigation to the processes of alphabetic writers; rather, compositionists might study how painters and sculptors revise ideas during the process of composing, considering how their visual revising strategies might be adapted to alphabetic writing. (28)
The question of whether or not multimodal composing practices benefit students is one not really worth considering since multimodality has always been embedded in the writing process or any composition process for that matter. The difference, now, is that digital tools allow us to “blend images sounds and words” (28) within the same creative product like never before. With the rise of digital technologies, multimodal practices have simply become more apparent and visible to instructors, therefore more easily perceived as a threat to ‘real’ or ‘organic’ methods for composing.
The duality that is forged here is a relatively distinct separation between a pedagogical value system around purely alphabetic writing (somehow separate from outside modes of influence), and a writing process that extends its boundaries by acknowledging and putting to use a range of multimodal tools. In an article by Gail Hawisher and Cynthia Selfe, titled “Globalism and Multimodality in a Digitized World,” they acknowledge that:
In Pedagogy’s ten-year emergence as a major journal in English Studies, our own work and the field of computers and composition have moved toward multimodal composition. Although the field has always been interested in teaching reading and composing in the broadest possible sense of these terms, students’ assignments have often been limited to print even as the assignments migrate online. Research reports similarly continued to prize print despite the growing use of programs like PowerPoint, capable of supporting sound and images but often used more as digital mirrors for print text. (58)
Hawisher and Selfe bring up an issue that that is central to this project. Why is there such a noticeable tendency to grasp tightly onto certain outdated methods like working primarily with print while new and often better tools are emerging? Is it that there is an unavoidable lag-time for the majority of the education world to catch up with the progressive outliers? Or is it something more deeply-rooted than that?
As a teacher of writing, I see many of my colleagues who continue to value the pen-to-paper approach to writing, and who still insist on having all writing, informal or formal, be submitted by hand as a hard copy. There may be certain composing processes that lend themselves more to certain analog tools, just as there are some processes that demand the use of digital composing tools. I have asked these teachers and colleagues out of genuine curiosity why they appreciate handwritten, physical copies of student work, and many replied that they have a sense that creativity is summoned most effectively and truthfully through the wistful, yet deliberate movement of the hand, and the feeling of control while pressing down a pen and watching it glide across a piece of paper. Was this value system around handwriting and the physicality of texts intensified as digital texts slowly became the norm? As computers and other digital composing devices became the primary tools for writing, values around handwriting and print texts grew simultaneously with the mainstream usage of digital tools.
In an article by Kevin M. Leander titled “You Won’t Be Needing Your Laptops Today: Wired Bodies in the Wireless Classroom,” he addresses some discussions in education around hesitancies to fully embrace an “open information space,” where there are no limitations on the range of information students may seek, and the methods by which they do so. He says that, “The discourse of bounding the school as a closed information space is constituted and supported in different ways. One relatively simple way is through online/offline distinctions as formed by the faculty, where offline texts are privileged…” (33). Leander suggests that this fully “open information space” is a bit unnerving for teachers because it creates a learning environment for students where teachers begin to have very little or no control over what types of information students are consuming in class. Admittedly, infusing a classroom with digital tools requires a teacher to forfeit some of the control they may be used to when it comes to classroom maintenance and lesson planning. Palmeri quotes the work of Gitelman and Pingree (2003) and explains how the introduction of new media, “tend[s] to ‘pass through a phase of identity crisis, a crisis precipitated at least by the uncertain status of the given medium in relation to established, known media and their functions’” (89). This identity crisis associated with new media is immediately apparent within education, as teachers often remain uncertain as to how to make it worthwhile for both the students and themselves to attempt to productively incorporate these forms of new media into the classroom. With so many different options of tools and media, finding ways to utilize these tools in effective ways can often feel daunting to teachers, as incorporating them purposefully can feel like walking a tightrope between disruptiveness and productivity. As is most often the case, particular tools, whether analog or digital, lend themselves to particular pedagogical situations.
Leander elaborates by saying that:
The online/offline distinction functions as the definitive quality of a ‘source,’ a binary of two different types of media. Since the students wanted to give online sources primacy… Faculty suggested that they now needed to be taught to focus attention on offline print. Another discourse on closing the information space indexed [in a teacher’s] response involves distraction from schooling through too many texts, or too many unauthorized texts… (34)
This concern is one we have definitely heard before and is one I have addressed above in my description of fears associated with information overload. The internet is an open information space where information and ideas are entirely fluid. It resists structure and outside control. Students are in full control over what they are reading about, watching, or looking at online. It is evident that, “With an open information space, the idea of the skill set necessary to succeed changes entirely” (Leander 34). In thinking about this, it becomes easy to see why the education system pushes against an open information space and why it is so controversial. In an open information space, the concept of knowledge becomes quite fuzzy, because rather than needing to store information in our heads, we can now access any information from our fingertips by tapping into the collective knowledge of the world — the internet. The controversial nature of the classroom as an open information space reestablishes the duality that holds separate new and old understandings of how knowledge can and should be demonstrated.
This makes me think back to my years struggling as a trigonometry student in high school. I can recall myself and other students asking our teacher why we were not allowed to use calculators on the exams. He said that in order to prove to him that we knew how to solve the problem, we had to provide a long-hand illustration as to how we got our answers. This seemed to make some sense at the time. I wish I could have told him then what I know now. And that is what ‘knowledge’ looks like is determined by the tool used to ‘access’ it. If students are evaluated on the accuracy and efficiency of solving mathematical problems, why would teachers be hesitant to use a tool that may provide more opportunities for student success? Are students better off not using calculators to solve problems? Or, is it more reasonable to show them how to use a calculator effectively since the technology exists? Did attitudes and preferences about traditional or ‘more real’ ways of problem solving play a role in my trigonometry teacher not allowing us to use calculators? Shouldn’t we always use the most effective tool at our disposal for a particular job? In a blog post on Chronicle.com titled, “Is Dependence on Technology the Real Threat?” Robert Talbert quotes mathematician Dr. Seymour Papert addressing issues around technology, dependency, and learning. Papert picks up on this discussion of calculators in schools and provides an example about the value of teaching fractions to students to support his perspective about new technologies in schools and the ‘problem’ of student dependency on these tools. He says:
One theory [among educators about why we should teach fractions in school] was that manipulating fractions was actually closer to what people needed back before there were calculators. So a lot of school math was useful once upon a time, but we now have calculators and so we don’t need it. But people say that surely we don’t want to be dependent on the calculator. To which I say, Look at this thing, these eyeglasses, that make a dramatic difference to my life and the life of everybody who reads or looks at any tiny detail. Once upon a time we would have been crippled, severely handicapped. Now we’ve got these and we don’t need to go through all that suffering. So we are dependent on this little thing. (Talbert quoting Papert)
Talbert goes on to argue that technology is not the real threat to learning. Rather, a real and noticeable threat involves students’ dependency on teachers to push them toward the right answers. He argues:
Far more of a threat to students’ long-term success is the dependency they can develop upon people, especially teachers. If a student has trouble manipulating fractions without a calculator but can read a problem thoughtfully, model a quantitative situation intelligently, and complete and validate her work independently, I feel pretty good about that student’s chances in the future. (Talbert)
Both Talbert and Papert are suggesting that new technology can and should supplement students’ experience in school. It is inevitable that our value systems surrounding learning and teaching will shift with the changing technological landscape, and we should embrace this change.
Leander poses an essential question toward the end of his article and asks, “Why might it be that a school that has solved the computer and internet access problem, a school in which online access is nearly ubiquitous, would ultimately find itself refusing technology?” (45) This is an essential question that needs an answer. With so many different modes of technology and digital tools, why do we still find ourselves so often unwilling to adopt at least some of these practices in the classroom to help borrow from and build off of the knowledge and experiences of our students?
The Intersection of Anti-Digital Dualism and Multimodality
This chapter argues for the value of transliteracy as a means of countering “obstructive (technological) divides” (Thomas) in the composition classroom. The concepts of augmented reality and multimodality play a key role in framing the legitimacy of transliteracy. Transliteracy, as recognized in a 21st century context, is a methodology that highly values the ability to be literate across many forms of media. Transliteracy values all methods and tools for composing and meaning-making equally, and resists forces like tradition, nostalgia, and skepticism toward new technologies. Nostalgia manifests in a number of ways in our culture. One aspect of culture where we can notice the impact of nostalgia is in our tendency to be drawn to all things vintage or retro. We covet the lure and charm of antiquity.
I would like to preface the following ideas with this question: If we view the concept of “Digital Dualism” as a fallacy, and we consider our cultural fascination with vintage to be at times counterproductive in terms of progress, is it fair to assume that vintage subculture remains a force within the walls of the education system? And more specifically, can the implications of vintage be found in the ways we think about pedagogy and student literacies?
My aim is to examine and articulate the intersection that brings together the socio-technological theory of anti-digital dualism and the concept of multimodality, which is a concept generally conceptualized within the field of composition, rhetoric, and literacy studies, as multimodality is concerned with how combinations of modes render different rhetorical effects and outcomes. These cross-disciplinary concepts (anti-digital dualism and multimodality) are brought together because they both represent a theoretical movement toward deconstructing socio-technological boundaries, biases, and binaries that limit, obscure and impede the way we think about and embrace new forms of technology that will shape our lives. These concepts become most important and interesting when they enter the realm of literacy theory and pedagogy. They offer a frame in which to analyze and critique the ways that new technologies in education are often held in conflicting, opposing, or dualistic presuppositions that stem from long-standing cultural dualities like tradition versus emergence; virtual versus real; wilderness versus industrial society; and even further back to Plato’s political dialogue with Socrates and Phaedrus, where the trio discuss the privileging of spoken word communication over writing. In this historical analogy, writing was the emergent technology that forced the intellectual community to examine and criticize how this new technology (writing) would alter or corrupt the “technology” they were comfortable with, which was communication through spoken word and dialogue.
Bronwyn T. Williams’ “Why Johnny Can Never, Ever Read: The Perpetual Literacy Crisis and Student Identity,” eloquently calls attention to the trend where each generation, upon entering adulthood, voices urgent concerns about a “literacy crisis” that becomes apparent in the generation that follows them. He points to a cycle of ‘literacy nostalgia’ where each generation wrongly assumes that the following generation’s literacy practices, and the work resulting from these practices, cannot be compared to the high level of work of their own generation. This is clear example of how nostalgia distorts the way we perceive the past in relation to the present. Williams suggests that no matter which trends or practices are being supported in the world of education and literacy development, there will always be distinct feelings of inadequacy stemming from adults comparing the literacy practices of the past and present. There is always a veil of superiority that hangs over the eyes of the now-adults, as they encounter and reflect on the literacy practices of the next generation. What contributes to this cyclical perception of literate inadequacy? Williams says that, “Every generation, upon reaching middle age, finds itself compelled to look at the literacy practices of young people and lament at how poor the work produced today is compared to that of idyllic days gone by” (178). There is no doubt that these feelings about literate inadequacy toward the younger generation is learned and adopted. I’m confident that with the influence of new technologies, we will look at the generation following us and believe that there is something missing or corrupted. Williams argues that:
Even brief conversations often reveal that [students] are reading and writing a great deal outside of the classroom. And, still, the rhetoric of the perpetual literacy crisis would ask us to look at these students and see inept, struggling readers and writers and ignore other forms of literacy they have mastered. If we identify these young people as ‘in crisis,’ rather than confident and adventurous readers and writers, how does that influence how we approach our teaching and our means of assessment? (180)
Williams poses an important question here and points to the corrosive nature of the ‘literacy crisis.’ What’s happening is teachers are monitoring and measuring students by the same assessment and evaluative protocols that they experienced as students. It seems that teachers often forget that new technologies spur new literacy practices, and further, that the measurement of student success must evolve to reflect the types of literacy practices specific to that generation. Williams goes on to acknowledge that “Students might read and write a great deal online and communicate well with people around the world through instant messaging, but these activities are not considered legitimate literacy practices” (180). I do not believe in “illegitimate” literacy practices, as legitimacy is simply determined and defined by tradition and by the expectations of the education system. Literacy practices are dynamic and change in ways that parallel current trends in culture. If our teaching practices and pedagogical values about literacy are shaped by tradition and narrow views about what “legitimate” literacy practices look like, we are doing our students a great educational disservice by devaluing the relevancy and usefulness of the methods and tools they use to practice reading and writing outside of the classroom. This unwarranted sense of a literacy crisis plays a role in sustaining older, more traditional value systems in education. The future is uncertain and possibly intimidating for educators, and the pedagogies of the past are visible, recognizable, and therefore more trusted.
Both nostalgia and tradition have potential to manifest in the classroom in ways that can be corrosive and problematic, especially when it comes to student access, agency, and engagement. In William Strong’s article, “Writing Across the Curriculum,” he addresses the disruptive nature of tradition in education. He explains that:
Traditions have great momentum. In education, most of us tend to teach as we have been taught. Thinking outside the box is rare; and even rarer still is taking action outside the box. Put another way, the basic structures of secondary schools have long resisted change. Although we now have whiteboards rather than chalkboards, handheld calculators rather than slide rules, and moveable desks rather than desks with wooden runners, such changes are mostly cosmetic. The desks often remain in rows, just as they did in yesteryear. And today’s drill-and-practice software packages, though delivered on sleek high-tech computers, are much like the workbooks used by earlier generations. In general, ‘old wine in new bottles’ seems to sum up the situation. (Strong 37-38)
Strong rightly suggests that we are making strides toward making the classroom a more authentic and culturally-relevant space for learning, but that the changes are apparent merely at a surface level. We are seeing more effort to introduce digital tools and online platforms into the classroom, but still, our ideologies about what learning is, and what it should be, has remained the same. The ‘cosmetics’ of the classroom change, but the underlying values and structures associated with learning largely remain the same. The value of tradition is an ideology that is very hard to shake, and we can notice its persistence when we look closely at the education system.
As aforementioned, digital dualism addresses an issue about modern social identity, where digital and non-digital narratives have come to represent conflicting value systems in our culture. The “Digital Dualist” framework, which perceives the digital as disconnected from the physical, encourages and forwards a fallacious ideology that we can, and must, retain our own humanity by denying the notion that the digital world is already deeply embedded in our reality. For the anti-Digital Dualists, the online and offline stimuli in our lives blend together and condense into one central reality, and one central identity — a self that is not fragmented by the potentials for change following the rise and mainstream-ification of certain digital technologies. This notion that our identities are always mediated by emergent technologies resonates because it strongly connects to Palmeri’s quote about the nature of composing as having always been multimodal. Just as reality is composed of a blending of both digital and physical experience, the composing process is always mediated by a blend of stimuli, including the technologies that we use. Digital and physical realities cannot be perceived separately, and the composing process cannot be performed in isolation outside of modes of influence. So now we must consider that the online/virtual world is, in a sense, just another form of technology that mediates the logic and nature of all experience. It has always been this way.
This is why I think Dennis Baron’s argument is so important: that writing itself becomes visible as a form of technology only when new forms force us to think about how they may alter the writing process, and change what we know to be true about composing methods and practices. He reminds us that, “new communications technologies, if they catch on, go through a number of strikingly similar stages. After their invention, their speed depends on accessibility, function and authentication…” and interestingly, “in a kind of backward wave, the new technology begins to affect older technologies as well” (71). Similar to the way new communication technologies force us to remember that writing is itself a basic form of technology, new and experimental pedagogies force us to recall and consider older, more traditional methods of teaching. Perhaps this is what sustains this perpetual literacy crisis that Williams describes.
The relationship between these two concepts seems to reside within the notion of augmentation — which I could rephrase as blending, or seamless layering. For Jurgenson and the anti-Digital Dualists, identity is augmented by online and offline experience; for compositionists and literacy theorists who believe in practices around multimodal composing, the act of composing is always augmented, or made larger in scope, by the influence of sensory experiences. So, my question, that I’ll return to toward the end is, if, as described by the anti-digital dualists, augmented reality is something we’re moving toward, or already within, then what does that framework look like when translated or reconceptualized within the field of composition and literacy studies?
A common element that appears to be at the center of both of these issues is the socially-constructed conceptual duality. We want to either privilege the authentic nature of the non-digital narrative, or embrace the progressive spirit of the digital narrative; and, historically, we’ve wanted to think about the composing process as being a purely alphabetic and decontextualized process, or, as an always-multimodal endeavor. For the scholars who are trying to dissolve this culturally-pervasive digital/physical duality, part of their aim is to highlight the cyclical and persistent rhetoric that shadows the emergence/tradition duality. This common rhetoric presents the non-digital experience as being more authentic, truthful, and desirable; an existence that should take precedence over an always-connected, digitally-mediated, and “shallow” lifestyle (Carr). Jurgenson and the others’ argument is that our perception is already augmented where, “the digital and material realities dialectically co-construct each other” (Digital Dualism versus Augmented Reality). This social duality is real; it is pervasive and cyclical. We can hear it in discussions with friends, in conversations about the effects of new digital tools and media on society, and certainly within the realm of education where instructors review the most effective options for student learning and pedagogy.
In composition and literacy studies, these issues aren’t necessarily articulated in the same way as the social theorists writing about digital dualism, but this problem is visible, similar, and as potentially problematic within the education sphere, albeit labeled and talked about differently. The concept of multimodality is founded on the notion that writing and composing have always been, and always will be, heavily influenced by the sensory stimuli around us. The multimodal approach to literacy dismantles the notion that reading and writing can ever be decontextualized. Many compositionists and literacy theorists consider the idea of multimodality to be the primary opposition to long-standing pedagogies that value and reinforce purely alphabetic writing. These conflicting understandings of the definitions, origins, and purposes of text are an example of the types of rhetorical dualities that are forged by the inflexibility of the education system. As Kevin Leander points out, this inflexibility derives from ideologies and values that are rooted strongly to elements of the past, such as “institutional reproduction, school-as-factory, historical inertia, institutional self-preservation, and institutional irrationality” (26). These ‘strongly rooted values’ of the education system are what continue to revive and reify the emergence/tradition duality. New tools have always clashed with the old. This duality, whether it exists consciously or not, creates a division that separates a sincere openness to experiment pedagogically with emergent communication tools, and a desire to stick with older, more trusted composition/communication tools that derive from feelings of sensibility and familiarity.
The foundational claim of this thesis is that dualities exist in the mindset and practices of the education world, often manifesting in ways that limit the possibility and range of pedagogy, and constricting what the ‘real,’ rigorous work of the academy should look like. In Literacy in the New Media Age, professor of semiotics and education, Gunther Kress, addresses a strong duality that exists within the field of literacy and communication studies. He identifies two separate categories of logic for communication, and each category is accompanied by a different set of values. The first is the logic of writing, where it is sequential and governed by a logic of time; the second, the logic of the image, is entirely determined and governed by space, and by the “visual/depicted elements in spatially organised arrangements” (2). This distinction mirrors the tradition/emergence duality mentioned previously, as well as resembles the logical separation between a purely alphabetic writing model and multimodal composition model. The logic associated with purely alphabetic writing exemplifies a more traditional form of composition logic, and the image incorporates a logic that became more visible and potentially transformative with the advent of personal computers and other digital technologies. Kress encourages us to understand the notion that social, economic, communicational, and technological change will always shift the “uses and purposes of the technology of writing” (9). He also adds that logics, structures, and perceptions associated with the consumption of certain types of texts change relative to the adoption of emergent technologies. Nathan Jurgenson and the anti-Digital Dualists believe that the logic of online experience mediates all offline experience, and vice-versa. These online/offline logics are meshed, entwined, entirely co-constructed, and represent one collective way of being in the world. New media and technology forces us to confront our feelings about what we value about older tools and practices, and why we value them. As Kress explains, moving forward and adapting to technological change usually means we have to reconcile strong feelings about naturalness and authenticity when it comes to the relationship between particular modes of writing, and the medium we choose to employ to achieve certain rhetorical outcomes. He acknowledges that the impact of new media on writing is absolutely inescapable. These “Different modes offer different potentials for meaning making. These differing potentials have a fundamental effect on the choice(s) of mode in specific instances of communication” (Multimodality, 79). Kress goes on to point out that preference in relation to particular communicative modes for meaning making is most often cultural. He says that:
Societies have modal preferences: this mode is used for these purposes, that other mode for those other purposes. Over long periods, ‘Western’ societies have preferred writing to image for most areas of formal public communication… the reach of modes varies from culture to culture. What may be done by speech in one culture may be handled by gesture in another; what may be well done in image in one culture may be better done in 3D forms in another, and so on. (Multimodality, 83)
According to Kress, our cultural affinity for print-based, alphabetic texts stems from a Western ideology about which modes of communication are most valuable, most meaningful, and most representative of an authentic and trustworthy way to create and consume texts.
Deborah Brandt’s article “Acculmulating Literacy,” extends Kress’s claims by arguing that an individual’s experience with literacy over time becomes mixed, enmeshed, and intertwined as the anti-digital dualists suggest. Brandt argues that variations of peoples’ literacy practices can, and often do, coexist, transform, and build on each other — becoming layered throughout the span of one’s life. She introduces us to the “transformation model of literacy,” where it, “reveal[s] how older and newer incarnations of literacy may be operating simultaneously at any historical moment, usually-but not always-in a complementary relationship” (654). Brandt calls principles or elements of these older literacy practices “residuals,” and claims that these residuals follow us, inform our understanding of new literacies, and remain in our periphery throughout our lives and “exist simultaneously within society and within the experiences of individuals” (652). She says that contemporary language learners have to “piece together reading and writing experiences from more and more spheres, creating new and hybrid forms of literacy where once there might have been fewer and more circumscribed forms” (651). With ever-increasing communication/composing options available to our students, they find themselves needing to be literate in, and effectively participating in, a number of different communication platforms. Old and new communication technologies, and their corresponding literacies, do not always counteract, or cancel each other out as they pile up; they layer and build off of one another, often giving students an incredibly rich source of rhetorical awareness. That is, an in-depth, almost second-nature sense of how best to communicate in any given context. Perhaps one of the roles of the teacher is to help students hone this sense. Brandt seems to be echoing some principles that follow the concept and aim of transliteracy, which supports the practices and values around being literate across multiple forms of media. Sue Thomas, in her collaborative article, “Transliteracy: Crossing Divides,” explains this concept further. She says, “the concept of transliteracy calls for a change of perspective away from the battles over print versus digital, and a move instead towards a unifying ecology not just of media, but of all literacies relevant to reading, writing, interaction and culture, both past and present. It is, we hope, an opportunity to cross some very obstructive divides” (Thomas, et al). Thomas articulates the necessity for educators to begin to dissolve the ideological divisions that exist in education and suggests that adopting pedagogies that utilize a transliterate framework will help to do this. Transliteracy places all methods and tools with a common equally-relevant pedagogical system of practice. Digital and nondigital methods exist in this system and interact harmoniously; they can be used in various combinations and are chosen based on which tool/method is most appropriate given the context for its use.
So, earlier I asked the question: if augmented reality is something we’re moving toward, or already within, then what does that framework look like when translated or reconceptualized within the field of composition and literacy studies? This “unified ecology of media,” or transliteracy, represents the theoretical counterpart to anti-digital dualism/augmented reality within the field of composition and literacy studies. It represents a blending and co-appreciation for all communication tools — new or old; and it works to dissolve the historically problematic emergence/tradition duality that lurks in our pedagogies. This methodology can encourage teachers to help make options within this vast media landscape more visible to students and to help them think critically about which communication tool (whether analog or digital) will be the most efficient, impactful, and rhetorically advantageous in a given context. We should invite students to consider all forms of media and technology that are available to them; to use this “ecology of media” as an opportunity to explore the relationship between tool and purpose, and to give students some power over the types of media and literacies that will define their learning experience.
Deborah Brandt reminds us that:
Important… is the realization that the history of literacy at any moment is always carrying along a complex, sometimes cacophonous mix of fading and ascending materials, practices, and ideologies. Literacy is always in flux. Learning to read and write necessitates an engagement with this flux, with the layers of literacy’s past, present, and future, often embodied in materials and tools and just as often embodied in the social relationships we have with the people who are teaching us to read and write. Indeed, as changes in literacy have speeded up in the twentieth century, literate ability has become more and more defined as the ability to position and reposition oneself amidst literacy’s recessive and emergent forms. (“Accumulating Literacy,” 666)
Picking back up on this idea of literacy residuals, Deborah Brandt offers us an important understanding of the role ‘residuals’ play in the evolution of literacy theory and practice. She encourages us to remember: “Literacy piles up in the twentieth century in a residual sense, as materials and practices from earlier times often linger at the scenes of contemporary literacy learning” (“Accumulating Literacy”). As I’ll address later on, just as Raymond Williams tells us that cultural residuals play a central role in shaping the nature of the present moment, Brandt follows a similar vein by reminding us that all old literacy practices and tools accumulate, ‘pile up,’ and blend together, informing the way we interpret and internalize emergent literacies. She says that, “emergent practices take their place alongside fading ones and often co-opt elements of the older forms” (“Accumulating Literacy”). In this sense, Brandt acknowledges that the ‘residual’ and the ‘emergent’ can, and often do, interact in ways that can benefit us, by creating an in-depth and complex accumulation of literacy practices, both new and old, that we have experienced and absorbed over a lifetime. When discussing the overlap and interaction between the ‘residual’ and the ‘emergent’ within the realm of literacy, there is the potential for both to layer and blend together harmoniously. But, she addresses the other side of the coin as well, stating that this accumulation of diverse literacy practices also can act as a barrier for individuals attempting to learn and develop new literacies. In theory, older practices can get in the way of newcomers trying to learn a new literacy, and the logic associated with older tools can disrupt one’s ability to understand an emergent communication tool. Brandt eloquently suggests that:
Rapid changes in literacy and education may not so much bring rupture from the past as they bring an accumulation of different and proliferating pasts, a piling up of literate artifacts and signifying practices that haunt the sites of literacy learning. These complicated amalgamations of literacy’s past, present, and future help to formulate the interpretive opportunities and complexities facing current generations of literacy learners (“Accumulating Literacy”).
I look at this piling-up of literacy practices with optimism. My sense is that the accumulation of literacies creates more complex and diverse types of learners with a greater literate range, rather than creating disruptive barriers. As new avenues and tools for literacies emerge, older practices shift in purpose in order to better supplement, or complement, newer tools and literacy practices.
THE CULTURAL SHADOW OF TRADITION
AND THE POWER OF NOSTALGIA
“The modern opposition between tradition and revolution is treacherous”
Svetlana Boym, The Future of Nostalgia
Why is a study of the effects of nostalgia and tradition important for thinking about how certain technologies are used, or not used, in education? How can the layering of technological residuals (skeuomorphs) inform our understanding of how literacies pile-up and accumulate (Brandt)? How do these ideas foundationally resemble augmented reality? Why is this important?
In this chapter, I examine how nostalgia complicates our attitudes toward innovation, and in turn, complicates structures in the education system. I examine the interrelations between Brandt’s “literacy residuals” and the concept of “technological residuals,” and discuss the significance of that connection. Ultimately, my conclusion indicates how all of the ideas examined in the earlier chapters help to make us more aware of the limits of the series of dualities associated with our conceptions of identity, communication, and culture. In this examination, there is much to infer about why educators make the pedagogical choices that they make, and it informs and modernizes our values moving forward.
Tradition and the “Social Disease” of Nostalgia
Nostalgia is the feeling of a deep longing to “arrest the moment,” and results in a misguided search for a better time, a better life, or a more meaningful experience that resides in the glorification of the past. In Leo Marx’s article, “The Idea of Technology and Postmodern Pessimism,” he argues that:
It is illusory to suppose that we can isolate for analysis the immediate, direct responses to specific innovations. Invariably people’s responses to the new—to changes effected by, say, a specific technical innovation—are mediated by older attitudes. Whatever their apparent spontaneity, such responses usually prove to have been shaped by significant meanings, values, and beliefs that stem from the past. (239)
Marx is suggesting that no new technological innovation can be examined and weighed, from a value standpoint, in ways that aren’t mediated by the influence of history and tradition. When a new form of technology comes to the forefront of society, we perceive and imagine the value of its use in relation to what we desire from the future and what we’ve valued about the past. Marx recognizes that societal attitudes towards the promise of technological innovation changed as more and more events suggested that perhaps technology, “as a primary agent of progress,” (240) didn’t always translate to a better means of life. Perhaps we started to realize that the idea of progress was more complex than we had thought. Perhaps we started to understand that progress could not always be defined by the introduction of bigger and better technological tools, or by a linear, forward-stretching sense of time. Perhaps we started to see that progress could be determined by the choices we make to adopt and utilize new technologies, or more counter intuitively, to disregard strategically new technologies that may prove to be detrimental to society. Marx explains:
With the increasingly frequent occurrence of these frightening events since Hiroshima, more and more people in the ‘advanced’ societies have had to consider the possibility that the progressive agenda, with its promise of limitless growth and a continuing improvement in the conditions of life for everyone, has not been and perhaps never will be realized. (240)
This is a very interesting moment in our history. What seems like for the first time, we came to understand the complicated nature of progress and innovation. If progress isn’t determined by linear time, or by the introduction of impressive new technological devices, how do we measure progress?
In her book, The Future of Nostalgia, Harvard Professor Svetlana Boym examines early historical perceptions of nostalgia. She writes, “Contrary to our intuition, nostalgia came from medicine, not from poetry or politics” (3). When we think about the origins of nostalgia, most often we think about an early poet’s lament for a love now gone, or for the wonder and innocence of younger years that have slipped away. Boym begins her book by suggesting that nostalgia came to light first as a medical condition during time of war in the 16th century. She provides a historical example where “Swiss soldiers [who were] serving in France” became incapacitated by feelings of longing for their own countryside and families. Boym further describes nostalgia as being “the disease of an afflicted imagination” (4) that would often manifest in physically debilitating ways that included “nausea, loss of appetite, pathological changes in the lungs, brain inflammation, cardiac arrest, high fever, a propensity for suicide” (4). As time passed, doctors began to realize that nostalgia was becoming “less and less curable. By the end of the 18th century, doctors discovered that a return home did not always treat the symptoms” (6). The root cause of nostalgia was, and remains, extremely elusive. It became known widespread as a social and public epidemic, whether it attacked the mind, the body, or both.
Our feelings about tradition have always complicated our cultural attitudes toward innovation, progress, and what it means for a society to advance. Tradition has the habit of appearing entirely unproductive at times, while simultaneously holding an extraordinary amount of value. Similarly, the related concept of nostalgia has a way of lodging itself into our psyches and distorting how we perceive the past. Most often, nostalgia manifests in very idealistic ways. We remember moments from our pasts and snippets of recollections in a way that reflects a longing for something that wasn’t necessarily there at the time. In time memories become distorted, and the word nostalgia describes our skewed senses of beauty and truth in the hindsight of our lives. Some people view nostalgia as being harmless – a word signifying the feelings about the innocence and hopefulness of our younger selves; but for others, nostalgia can become something more harmful and unproductive, if in the right contexts. Time alters culture, and sometimes nostalgia and the value systems that accompany it can spur hesitancies about leaving older, tested, and cherished practices behind. In Susan Stewart’s book, On Longing: Narratives of the Miniature, the Gigantic, the Souvenir, the Collection, she examines “certain metaphors that arise whenever we talk about the relationship of language to experience or, more specifically, whenever we talk about the relation of narrative to its objects” (ix). She addresses the cultural construction of nostalgia, the origin of its purpose, and the significance of underlying narratives, like nostalgia, in our lives. For Stewart, the presence of nostalgia, or “longing,” is problematic and at its core utopian. She says, “nostalgia wears a distinctly utopian face, a face that turns toward a future-past, a past which has only ideological reality” (23). Nostalgia distorts our vision of and attitude toward the present, as it is a type of ideological narrative that “continually threatens to reproduce itself as a felt lack” (23). Stewart believes that the underlying narrative of nostalgia essentially represents a denial of the present and is “a sadness without an object, a sadness which creates a longing that of necessity is inauthentic because it does not take part in lived experience” (23). Feelings of nostalgia seem to be motivated by a distinct desire for authenticity and truth in one’s life, where mediated experience, which is retrospective, is valued over present lived experience.
‘Vintage’ as the Materiality of Nostalgia
Tradition and nostalgia manifest in any number of ways, but I believe people use the values associated with both as a way to separate themselves from the crowd. In a society that is so infatuated with new technology, people often use old tools and traditional methods as a way to find and express individuality.
Nathan Jurgenson, in his article “Hipstertechnoauthenticity,” relates our cultural obsession with nostalgia to the popularity of the vintage, or retro subculture, in our society. There is a profound appreciation and longing for things we consider old, outdated, or timeless. This subculture arose from a desire to push against mainstream social conventions, some of which included the use of popular new technologies and forms of media. We notice this fascination with vintage arise in many facets of our culture: fashion, transportation, food, architecture, art, aesthetics, and the list goes on. What fascinates me is that often we don’t want to have to choose between our fascination with vintage and our desire for the new and innovative, so we developed an aesthetic and way of being that incorporates the best of both worlds. We embrace new and impressive forms of technology while paradoxically reveling in the quality of a simpler age. This paradox can be plainly seen in the tools we use. We buy top-of-the-line, high-tech cameras and employ options for washed-out, vintage, black and white, or grainy filters. We dust off forgotten typewriters in hope of finding some inspiration from an old, yet trusted composition tool. We write in spiral-bound notebooks and journals to make our secrets and inner feelings seem more real to us. We cherish the sound and complexity of vinyl, while carrying iPods in our pockets. We celebrate the old while simultaneously embracing the new. We are walking contradictions of desire pushed forward by a need to be original and authentic in a time where popular technology and media make us feel like just another face in the crowd. And we don’t like this. This feeling of being unauthentic plays a key role in our infatuation with the tools of our past. We revert to older, more outdated tools in a very public way so that we feel original, and not like just another new tech wielding conformist. As Jurgenson suggests:
The rise of retro-tech is about the need to demonstrate mastery and agency over one’s identity… That people may or may not have more agency over their devices is of far less importance than demonstrating identity-authenticity: agency over who you are. I am not an automaton, I am a unique, special, creative, authentic, authentic, really authentic individual (“Hipstertechnoauthenticity”).
Jurgenson uses the term “agency” here to refer to a sense of empowerment and competence and the ability to act and think independently. He claims that we often demonstrate agency and explore our own individuality by using and celebrating more low-tech, vintage gadgets to stand out in a society constantly flooded with technological innovation. Jurgenson acknowledges that:
People are quite aware of the power of vintage and retro as carriers of authenticity. Sharon Zukin’s book Naked City expertly describes the recent gentrification of inner cities as the quest for authenticity, often in the form of grit and decay. For those born in the plastic, inauthentic world of suburban Disneyfied and McDonaldized America, there has been a cultural obsession with decay (“decay porn”) and a search for authentic reality… (“The Faux Vintage Photo”)
From analyzing our fascination with vintage within the domain of modern technology, it seems that today’s preferred technological aesthetic often incorporates embedding techniques and systems of the old into visions for the new. We can this aesthetic everywhere.
This idea of vintage and its role in promoting feelings of authenticity seems relevant to our discussion of digital dualism, because just as a digital dualist approach to understanding the 21st century identity implies an ideological separation between our digital and analog selves, the very notion of vintage implies that its opposite must exist simultaneously as well. If Jurgenson’s theory about augmented reality holds up, then perhaps we can use this theory as a method to assume that the value of vintage culture and the importance of new technological tools have meshed together to form a new aesthetic pushed forward by a contradictory desire for modern innovation and for the nostalgic devices of our past. Perhaps this emergent technological aesthetic suggests that we are making steps toward reconciling the ideological divisions between tradition and innovation, and between the digital and non digital. Using this framework, tradition and innovation become blended, or augmented.
The Influence of Residuals on New Technology and Culture
As technologists understand and (mostly) agree on, some degree of skeuomorphic usage is necessary. But when the innovation stops simply because retro design becomes the norm, there is a problem. What are the innovative skeuomorphs in and around your institution, department, or classroom? Are they required bridges or the fallacy of tradition at work?
Jeff Borden (2012)
“The Machine in the Garden,” as Leo Marx calls it, represents a primary cultural conflict, or duality, that persists in modern thought, and replicates cyclically from one generation to the next. This conflict is expressed in American literature where the machine of industry spreads further and further into America’s pastoral landscape and within the consciousness of the people. The conflict emerges as we attempt to calm our distraught feelings toward the introduction of industry/technology into nature, where ‘nature’ represents both untouched physical landscapes, and the uncorrupted essence of the mind. This conflict of nature versus technology is sustained by our trust and dedication to the here and now, and by society’s recursive skeptical eye toward emergent technologies that could potentially threaten what we know to be true about ourselves and the world around us.
My research and study based in composition, literacy studies, and digital rhetorics has led me to the socio-cultural theory of digital dualism, and how this pervading cultural framework results in perspectives that work to distort and obscure values around the emergence and mainstream-ification of digitality in our culture. This ‘distortion’ noticeably manifests as a conceptual separation between the digital and non-digital narratives in our lives, leading to a sense that the modern identity is fragmented by the usage and effects of the very tools we create. Anti-Digital Dualism posits that this is, and always has been, a fallacy. Emerging from this is the notion that there has always been a deep cultural appreciation for tradition, or for processes and practices which are already known, and this appreciation fosters cycles of conflict between our trust with the old and our embrace of the new.
In his book Marxism and Literature, Raymond Williams addresses the form and nature of the cultural process, and he introduces us to the cultural ‘residual,’ where it “has been effectively formed in the past, but it is still active in the cultural process, not only and often not at all as an element of the past, but as an effective element of the present” (122). In other words, residuals are elements of culture that have been formed in the past, but still maintain relevance and importance in the present. Williams offers us a clearer understanding of how cultural residuals, or recognizable and dynamic units of tradition, reify and reform as ‘elements of the present.’ He reminds us that since culture as we see it now is always a product of the living-past, the nature of the living-present is heavily influenced and mediated by underlying cultural residuals established in the past. Parts of our past reemerge in the present in an array possible ways — from our cultural fascination with antiquity, vintage tools, and processes, to our awareness of how material of the past can reemerge as metaphor within the present. Williams’ explains that “in particular phase[s] of a dominant culture there is a reaching back to those meanings and values which were created… in the past, and which still seem to have significance because they represent areas of human experience, aspiration, and achievement which the dominant culture neglects, undervalues, opposes, represses, or even cannot recognize” (123-124).
Even after certain tools become irrelevant and their usage dies off, their memory and associated logic lives on, often in the form of metaphor, informing the way we think about and adapt to emerging technologies. Because technology evolves exponentially, we find ourselves abandoning tools more quickly than before. We are starting to notice ‘residuals’ of tools from our past reemerging as metaphor, and becoming a tool in itself. I consider this metaphor a tool because it works to link our understanding of older tools with our explorations of new tools. Tech companies and innovators look to use the ‘skeuomorph,’ or as I’ll call it, a metaphor of the past, to make their software, aesthetic, and overall nature of the tool look and feel like something we have experienced before. Put simply, the skeuomorph is an element of design that is borrowed or transplanted from something old and utilized in something new.
The ‘skeuomorph’ appears to be the result of the cultural ‘residual’ and the ‘emergent’ beginning to overlap and interact within the same temporal frame of the cultural process. The ‘skeuomorph,’ then, becomes a mechanism for cultural reconciliation, where we find ourselves experiencing both the residual and emergent all at once. Consumers are certainly enticed by any new technology, but at the same, they still want to feel a sense of familiarity, a way recollect a potentially simpler time, and a means by which to materialize nostalgic longings for what is now gone. Apple has been aware of the power of the ‘skeuomorph’ for quite a while, as they build-in many skeuomorphic interfaces into their software. Some examples of skeuomorphic interfaces include the shutter effect of the iPhone’s camera feature, the wooden bookshelf aesthetic in iBooks, the gear-like mechanism displayed on the ‘settings’ button, the image of a floppy disk representing the save function, manila folders signifying where we can store digital content, and the list goes on and on.
Skeuomorphs are used and can be noticed in many aspects of culture, and the principles behind the skeuomorph were alive even before the digital. But why are they desired, or necessary? I posit that they are used to help reduce the anxiety about how best to handle the influx of new technologies in present culture. We pick and choose particular technological residuals to help guide us (to learn more quickly) into new eras of technological experience. Skeuomorphs are like metaphorical stepping stones that provide glimpses of older experiences (residuals) while introducing us to the capabilities and potentials of the new (emergent). Some people are annoyed and frustrated by the use of skeuomorphs in new media, as they view these older interfaces and aesthetics as being evidence of some kind of innovative cop-out, or that they get in the way of creating something truly new and meaningful. Most importantly though, the skeuomorph points to the notion that technologies and their corresponding literacies have the ability to pile-up, layer, and accumulate; elements of older technologies play a significant role in defining what new technology can and should be capable of doing.
We live in a culture where technology and the means by which we access and attain information evolves and transforms at an extremely high rate, quite possibly at a rate which we have never experienced before. Perhaps this exceptionally high rate of innovation causes the ‘residual’ and the ‘emergent’ (which usually maintain a substantial linear distance) to become interactive, where ‘residuals’ become closer to the ‘emergent’ than ever before, and these typically disparate processes find themselves existing and becoming more compressed within the same temporal moment. Perhaps this interaction between the ‘residual’ and the ‘emergent’ within the present moment results in anxiety — a cultural anxiety about which tools we should use and trust at a given technological moment, and which ones we must leave behind entirely. This anxiety has the potential to strengthen to the point where it works to derive various cultural conflicts and divisions, much like what we are noticing with the causes and effects of digital dualism, and with the fragmented perspectives on how to use (if at all) digital tools and platforms to encourage and sustain literacy development.
Cynthia Selfe reflects on some of these issues in her article, “Redefining Literacy: The Multilayered Grammars of Computers.” She tells us that there is no denying the immense impact computers have on literacy, but that “not even the most enthusiastic claim to know just what the impact has been or how we should deal with it in our teaching” (3). She does acknowledge that in order to maintain an academic environment that reflects the practices of the workforce, teachers must add new “computer grammars” to the list of literacy practices they need to teach students. For Selfe, it is not enough to tell students to read or write a digital text without knowing that you have shown them efficient ways of doing so. A few of the “computer grammars” that would need to be given attention to included keyboards, computer screens, various computer programs, and word processing. Selfe, along with Brandt, addresses the idea of “Multilayered Literacy,” and describes it as a build up, or accumulation, of types of literacy practices that range from interacting with physical texts, to reading and writing via computers and digital platforms. She suggests that teachers and students have needed to “layer” their computer literacies on top of their literacies related to physical texts and tools like books, pens, and paper. She wonders: “How much of an impact do these different grammatical conventions have on individuals? Can people who have acquired literacy in the print medium acquire comparable computer-based literacy skills?” (8). Selfe is questioning whether or not blending or layering these two different grammatical conventions causes any sort of struggle or conflict for someone whose past primary literacy practices were developed via physical texts and tools, and who now find themselves needing to be proficient in computer grammars. It seems possible that there could be a disconnect between their past literacy practices, and the digital practices that the education world and the workforce expect. According to Selfe, this is where teachers need to recognize that developing student literacies around useful and relevant digital tools is essential if we want them to be successful readers and writers of digital-based texts. She says, “Individuals still must learn to cope with the conventions of the screen and the page, modifying reading and writing processes accordingly” (9).
Selfe theorizes that part of the difficulty of moving from print texts to digital texts has to do with having to reorient oneself to different spatial arrangements associated with digital texts. She elaborates by telling us that “pages are static structural units of a longer, spatially represented text; the text on a page does not change with time. Screens do not represent structural units of a text; rather, they are temporal windows on a virtual text. Virtual texts, unless they are translated into the print medium, exist only in the memories of the computer, the reader, or the writer” (7). She is explaining that our ability to memorize information has a direct correlation to our bodies interacting with physical texts. The sensation of interacting with physical texts — page turning, the weight of the text in our hands, etc — provides us a spatial awareness and textual memory that digital texts cannot. This spatial awareness is something we have learned and grown accustomed to after years and decades of interacting with physical texts. We are good at moving through physical texts efficiently and find ourselves more confident in doing so, because those types of texts represent the genesis and foundation of our text-based literacies. Physical texts provided the foundation for all of our current literacy practices, most of which now involve computers and digital texts. Can these “layers” of different literacy practices build off of each other and interact in productive ways? Do we benefit from having and maintaining “Multilayered Literacy” practices? Or, do older literacy practices resist or push against the literacy practices associated with digital texts? Is it necessary for students to ‘overcome’ practices around physical texts in order to be successful when interacting with digital texts?
Selfe goes on to argue that there is a “media generation gap” between students who have grown up reading and composing on a computer, and teachers who learned to read and write via physical texts. Selfe is concerned with the possibility that, “[teachers’] conceptual vision in these areas may be limited by the media generation to which [they] belong and its pencil and paper strategies” (Selfe and Wahlstrom, 1988) (12). She suggests that perhaps teachers will need to adopt pedagogies that they aren’t necessarily accustomed to, in that they will need “to turn to [their] own students for help, observing the literacy strategies they develop on their own for coping with computer-supported communication environments” (12). In other words, the practices, habits, and digital tools that students bring into the classroom should not be perceived as distractions from the ‘real work’ of the class, but rather, those practices should be considered and used as a way to modify, supplement, and blend in with the current literacy practices of the class. Just as Selfe showed in her examples, both teacher and students could collaborate in deciding on methods and strategies for composing texts, to “[invent] and [exploit] a new set of literacy skills… Using different fonts, font sizes, symbols, highlighting, and graphic elements… [to] not only [adjust] their writing to the conventions of the screen and the computer, but also [to reconceptualize] the content of their assignments in terms of these [agreed-upon] conventions” (13). This method of a co-created or negotiated pedagogy may prove to be difficult for some teachers to adopt, as it requires a willingness to release much of the power to students. By giving some of this power over to students, we invite them to start thinking about which tools would be the most productive to use and why. It encourages them to start analyzing the rhetorical advantage of using, for example, a digital poster board instead of a formal piece of argumentative writing. With so many different tools to choose from, part of teachers’ responsibility should be to help students identify which tool is the most efficient and rhetorically advantageous in a given context.
Illustrations of Nostalgia in Education: The Living Metaphor in our Stacks of Essays
I often wonder why in a time where information can be consumed, sorted through, and manipulated in online space, some teachers still insist on collecting and responding to student work via physical text. I’ve seen colleagues stumbling and shuffling through the halls carrying stacks of their students’ papers, often leaving a trail of loose sheets behind them as they make their way to their cluttered offices. At times, most often towards the end of the semester, I hear teachers complaining about the multiple stacks of student work waiting for them in their offices or on their dining table at home. There is meaning to be extracted from these stacks of papers.
I find these stacks of papers interesting for a few different reasons. First, I believe that accompanying these stacks there is more of a distinct feeling of accomplishment and pride from the perspective of the teacher, as their students’ work and the rigor of their class is tangible, and the weight of students’ hard work and ideas can be physically experienced. The physicality of these texts points to a sense of realness and this ‘realness’ is all wrapped-up in feelings of authenticity. As physical texts, student work is not weightless, intangible, or hidden in folders in digital space. The words and ideas can be touched and flipped-through. From a recent experience, I’ve come to understand the value of student work in physical form. As I was working through draft after draft of this thesis, at some point I needed to print the thing out and let the pages flip through my fingers. After living primarily online, there came a point when I wanted to experience the work in a different way. I wanted to feel all of the work I had done, certainly, but I also needed a new way to perceive my work outside of my word processor. And, it was nice to feel the weight of my words, and to experience the physical result of late nights of writing, and long days in my university’s library. I have come to understand that I need to experience my work in both the physical and the digital form. In my mind, both forms serve a particular purpose at different junctures in the writing process. I compose digitally, but eventually I will want to experience the work more fully as a physical copy.
My sense is that physical copies of student work provide teachers with a heightened sense of pedagogical accomplishment; these physical texts act as a reaffirmation of the dedication and hard work by both the students and teacher. Physical representations of student work carry strong feelings about what writing, as a product, should look like. Even in a time where so much creation and consumption happens online, physical texts continue to feel more authentic. But, I want to argue that these increased feelings of authenticity are an illusion; they’re misplaced. Nearly 25 years since the personal computer was available to the public and we still have these deeply-rooted perceptions about how texts and information ought to be consumed, and in my opinion, these preferences still widely lie in favor of analog texts and methods.
Generally, I have no problem with teachers wanting hard copies of their students’ work, but I want to emphasize the point that, as instructors, we must have clear reasons why this method for creating and responding to text benefits the students. We must ask ourselves as often as possible, why do I want my students to do it this way? Teachers have to be absolutely aware of the purpose behind using, or not using, certain technologies in the classroom. From working with other instructors over the last five years or so, I’ve noticed that the built-in awareness of purpose at every pedagogical step isn’t there for every instructor. I believe that many make decisions based on instinct, on what they as instructors are comfortable or familiar with, or based on how they learned something, rather than making informed, purpose-driven decisions about what they want to teach and which tools and methods would be best to support it.
As instructors, tall and looming stacks of papers should make us think. Are our pedagogies, practices, and preferences about text controlled and defined by tradition? Are we making conscious, purpose-driven decisions about how best to engage students within specific contexts? Are we closing out opportunities for our students to become engaged? Are we making sure that we remain open to, and excited about how new technology can potentially lead to better, more productive and inspiring pedagogies? These stacks of papers might suggest to us that our teaching practices and designs for engaging students are getting a bit stale. Many essential questions and issues similar to the ones mentioned above go unexamined due to the power of nostalgia. These stacks of papers have the power to close off the promise of what these questions can offer us.
“Ultimately, if we seek to value the diverse embodied knowledges of all students and teachers in the field of composition, we must embrace a capacious vision of multimodal pedagogy that includes both digital and nondigital forms of communication” (160).
Jason Palmeri, Remixing Composition
In starting this project, I had envisioned being able to make some powerful, wide-sweeping argument that can be articulated in a sentence or two. I thought that certainly by the time I was writing or rewriting my conclusion my claims and ideas would be so clear and understandable that readers could hold them in their hands or put them in their pockets. Many of the claims and connections in this piece are nuanced. They’re subtle. They exist even between the lines of text. I try to be as clear as possible as to why research and discussion around conceptual dualities, digital dualism, augmented reality, multimodality, transliteracy, information overload, literacy residuals, and skeuomorphs fit together and belong in conversations about pedagogy and literacy.
What I’ve come to realize through this research is that as problematic as dualities can be in many different contexts, especially within the decision making process and in the education world, it is not possible to dissolve them altogether. And, as Nicholas Carr would point out, perhaps we shouldn’t — as these nature versus technology dualities force us to consider our evolving relationship with the tools we use to express, create, and communicate. Examining and reexamining this relationship is important for culture. Our world is inherently bound in opposing forces and dualities, and as my research has made evident, as you try to isolate and break down one duality, another one undoubtedly arises. The goal of this project is not to attempt to dissolve or deconstruct the dualities mentioned above, as it is entirely impossible. In the quest to dissolve the structural and cognitive limitations of dualities, there are only more dualities to encounter in the process.
My aim for this project was to address the importance of being aware of these pervasive and often damaging dualities like tradition and innovation, nostalgia and progress, theory and practice, digital and physical, online and offline, and how these dualities embed themselves within the psyches of teachers, both new and seasoned, altering perspectives about pedagogy and what learning should look like in school. If we can start paying attention to and becoming aware of the underlying reasons why we value and hold dear certain teaching practices while dismissing others, we can understand that many of these decisions to reinforce these practices are strongly influenced by personal desires and ideals that are distorted by the glorification of the past. This is certainly not always the case, and I know teachers spend a great deal of time and effort working to make the learning experience for the students bounded in culturally and generationally relevant literacy practices.
Digital Dualism, or rather the concepts and theories used to deconstruct this notion, can be used productively in discussions about the value of purely alphabetic writing versus the value of multimodal composing. In reality, this clear-cut division doesn’t exist. Just like Chris Baraniuk explained in his summarization of Jurgenson’s theory of augmented reality, alphabetic and multimodal methods for composing mutually reinforce each other. One method can be used in service of the other, and vice versa. In practice, the composing process really can never be divided into a choice of either alphabetic writing or multimodal composing. We create this duality in our heads.
As a scholar of dualities that emerge around digital literacy, I am first and foremost interested in how examining and opposing the attraction of these dualities can support student agency, increase students’ access to knowledge communities they wish to join, and create productive conversations around reading and writing practices in our culture. All of these issues have become, and are becoming, increasingly intertwined within conversations around digital tools and the types of literacy practices that shadow these tools. After reading everything I could find around the topic, I began to recognize that digital dualism offers an extremely productive way to articulate and exemplify many of the conflicting attitudes towards the practical/impractical use of emergent technologies in education, which I was noticing in conversations about how to best engage with the mind of the 21st century student. Over the past six years I’ve spent the majority of my academic career strolling the hallways of the English Department, sitting in meetings with colleagues, talking with professors in their offices, and engaged in classes where we talked about how forms of tradition, or particular “cultural residuals” disrupt the potential for new tools and literacy practices to be taken up and viewed as legitimate. In an age where information, questions, problems, and ideas are most easily accessed in online space, there remains a strong pull towards older, more non-digital avenues for meaning-making when it comes to teachers making decisions about what the work of a class should look like.
Digital literacy pedagogies continue to carry a constrictive veil of hipness, where some instructors and fellow colleagues downplay the potential for new literacy tools by implicitly dismissing them as “cool,” or still as the new thing, or as an obvious pedagogical interest for teachers because ‘kids’ like them. From my experience treading the lines between student and instructor, it has become absolutely evident that there remains a heavy tension between the old and new ways of doing things in the classroom and condescension about why digital tools are taken up by teachers is thick in the air. Some instructors view the employment of digital tools and valuing of digital literacies as some form of pedagogical cop-out — like it is superficial, or too-obvious a way of gaining student favor. For some instructors, literacy in the digital world feels far too much like play, and lessens the rigor of ‘real work.’ This is dangerous and terribly unproductive when it comes to the way schools and departments reconcile perspectives on what is considered the real, rigorous work of the academy.
Anti-Digital Dualism, or augmented reality, provides us with a framework to leverage, support, and substantiate the movement toward multimodal and transliterate practices in education. In my mind, this theory helps us to highlight, label, and socially deconstruct much of the pervasive rhetoric we hear in English Departments about how certain texts ought to be produced and consumed, which platforms lend themselves to being most authentic for textual analysis and discussion, and whether digital or physical representations of texts make for a more intimate, real, or true experience.
I continue to be most concerned with the type of knee-jerk dismissals of how new technology can positively influence the nature of learning in the classroom. Too often, pedagogies stiffen in time, becoming small collections of static methodologies, rather than dynamic, ever-changing processes that follow the evolving interests and learning needs of our students. The adoption of new technologies in education will always be a strong source of ideological and pedagogical conflict, as new technology cyclically threatens our notions about what teaching and learning should look like. From a teacher’s perspective this, understandably, often causes anxiety and uncertainty about how best to approach the needs of their specific class. Because new technology (and thus new methodologies) change and evolve so quickly, it becomes more feasible for instructors to simply maintain the practices and strategies they are comfortable with, rather than trying to adapt their pedagogies every year. If new technologies were met with less hesitancy, distrust, and doubt, there would be more thoughtful and relevant experimentation with digital technologies in the education system. Pedagogies and approaches to student learning must shift with the sway of culture. People are dynamic. Culture is dynamic. The institution of education that often defines who we are, and who we will be, should have the ability to be as adaptable and forward-looking as the individuals who move through it.
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