It seems like most weeks’ readings inspire at least one mention of Kent’s ideas from a student in this class. I am afraid that I will have to be that student for this week. So, basically, definitions of terms like technical writing, technical communication, and technology are not set in stone; they can change over time. Changes come about through a discussion of those ideas, like technical writing, technical communication, and technology, and when a consensus is reached about definitions for those ideas (or at least a majority opinion comes to rule the definition roost), those consensus definitions become more commonplace in the social and cultural world.
A few of this week’s readings bring up how certain groups with power, groups with hegemony, define what technology is (Haas) – or they define how texts, be they electronic or in print, can be owned (Howard). In the case of ownership and copyright, the “privilege” of copyright law (Howard 402) is bestowed upon the United States public by its Constitution and governing bodies. The Haas and Selfe & Selfe readings show how a certain group’s agenda sets the tone, through certain rhetorical strategies, for how technical communication and technology itself should be defined. What is cool about the Haas and Selfe & Selfe readings is that some academics are working diligently to redefine certain ideas to better serve underprivileged groups.
Now, a few weeks ago our class discussed scientific methods, particularly ethnographic studies, and I asked a question about how much success some groups, like feminists, who have tried to redefine science’s agenda to better serve the underprivileged, have found during their attempts at changing consensus – or at least forming a different consensus that could serve as a binary to the one in power. I asked that not because I didn’t think the feminists had much to say in their arguments (I pretty much agreed whole-heartedly), but because I was worried whether creating a binary opinion about science and its methods would really change much in a field like science, which was established quite some time ago as a power in the Western world, or technical writing, which oftentimes seems to serve a business agenda (this was discussed in our class’s last face-to-face meeting when many of us wondered how beneficial the “symbolic-analytic” work ideal for technical communicators really is). Can we change any definitions for fields that have long, structured histories?
Thankfully, we were asked to read Bernhardt’s “The Shape of Text to Come: The Texture of Print on Screens”, and, after reading that work, I think that applying cultural theory and criticisms to fields like digital rhetoric and computer technologies will prove very fruitful. Part of the reason it will prove more fruitful is because electronic texts do not seem as well established as ideas like science. For example, electronic texts have changed dynamically (in at least one way) from how Bernhardt described them, mainly through the ways we use them:
Screen-based text differs from paper text in many ways…. We use text on screens under different conditions and for different purposes than we do paper texts.… A real virtue of paper text is its detachment from the physical world. We can read [paper text] on planes or in the car; we can put books in our backpacks or leave them at home. (411)
Bernhardt’s claim here doesn’t stand true anymore, as we have laptops, webbooks, Kindles, and tablets on which we may read electronic text on planes or in the car; we can put those new technologies in our backpacks or leave them at home.
Are digital texts, then, young enough that arguments about them can actually have a lasting effect?