Technological Causes of Cyberspace Intimidation

Aletha S. Hendrickson
University of Maryland, College Park

To assimilate cyberspace culture and to master also the intricacies of spreadsheets, word processing, database, accounting and tax, graphics, desktop publishing, and other computer programs--not to mention E-mail and computer games--requires immersion in special topoi tantamount to mastering the special topoi of a profession. One of the fear-evoking stimuli that trigger intimidation in susceptible persons includes the conflict among special topoi (technological, disciplinary, and institutional), topoi which now requires special knowledge. It's not stretching the point to note that the Aristotelian archai that Carolyn Miller characterizes as the "key technical concepts [that] underlie the shape and effectiveness of specialized argument by serving as special topics" (314) relates to "technological" special topoi. After all, computer-masters program software to "think" and act in specific ways which in turn forces audiences (users) to think and respond accordingly. Along with software geared to virtually every profession from

The Rhetorical Dimensions of Cyberspace
Aletha's Stuff:
Intimidation of Cyberspace | Types of Intimidation
Psychological Causes | Textual Features of | Active and Passive
Benign and Destructive | Works Cited | Notes

library science to accounting, from architecture to human resource management, computer-masters push software designed solely to maintain and enhance the software that is already loaded such as "Remove-It" which housecleans the hard disk, virus detectors, data compressors, and the like. True, programmers do immerse themselves in the special topoi of the disciplines for which they create software (e.g., accounting, academic research, communication), but it is also true that software manipulates the thought and procedures of its users. To cite but three examples: E-mail has generated much controversy over the propriety of citing E-mail sources, of "flaming" and "spamming," of inputting text for optimum onscreen readability. Computer-scanned resumes must be altered from persuasive, action verb-based documents to informative, noun-based texts just to accommodate non-human readers. And database users must configure their data within programmed confines, rather than to their own preferences and specifications. Carolyn Miller and Jack Selzer characterize special topoi as "patterns of thought deriving from specific genres, institutions, or disciplines--patterns that are material to gaining the assent of an audience within a particular discourse community" (316). Surely those rhetors (cybermasters) who create World Wide Web sites with particular means of access, linguistic practices, and mandated technological procedures, can be said not only to spawn unique, electronically-elite discourse communities within a supposed democratic medium, but also to engage special topoi, a discipline-specific topoi unrelated in content to the special topoi of the disciplines represented by content communicated within cyberspace. As has been shown, those susceptible to intimidation can encounter intimidatory situations anywhere along the information highway: from turning on the computer, to learning the latest downloading techniques, to accessing the best listserves, to upgrading for the latest technology. These "learning" sites encountered in cyberspace spark intimidation due to epistemological anxiety, that is, a fear of not understanding or knowing things that others have mastered. The special topoi inexorably tied to cyberspace intimidation causes the phenomenon of "passive" intimidation which I next contrast with "active" intimidation.

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