I would like to extend a heartfelt thanks to the following colleagues for the supportive climate of intellectual exchange and healthy difference of opinion that they have made possible: Eric Friedman, Lisa Haefele, Mark Patrick, David Plotkin and Ellen Strenski. In particular, I want to thank K.M. Keating for reading multiple drafts of this paper and providing extensive and valuable feedback.
The question of how to refer to information technology is something of a vexed question, but this is itself an indication of the degree to which it interpenetrates a number of domains and the uncertain position it occupies within those domains. I have tried to resist at all costs the modish tendency to slap the prefix "cyber" on top of anything that moves; likewise, for reasons that will become clear in this essay, I have avoided using anything that employs the adjective "virtual." Another option is to use the term "hypermedia," usually employed by critics like Landow and Ess more narrowly in connection with hypertext-based systems, in a more expansive sense; however there is a great deal of uncertainty concerning whether or not we can actually describe technologies such as the computer or, more problematically, the Internet, as media in their own right rather than subsets or mutations of existing media. In the end I have settled, not very satisfactorily, for information technology or infotech, by which I mean the cluster of technologies that centers around the enhanced capabilities of information processing made possible by the advent of the microprocessor, but also not excluding older communication technologies such as radio, television and telephone.
Indeed, characterizing humanities scholars as Luddites is perhaps being generous given that a large percentage of the current professoriat neither embrace nor spurn infotech; having barely transcended the age of the quill pen it is far easier to hope that new technologies will simply go away and not have an impact upon the way in which they teach. Furthermore, it is likely that the differences in proficiency with infotech between older and younger faculty will become yet another source of contention to add to the list of problems besetting humanities departments.
Social instrumentalism as it is applied to infotech in education could learn a great deal from studies of the influence of television, an area that for many years has also been characterized by an instrumentalist outlook. The consistent failure of studies to prove that television has a deleterious effect on the nation's moral fibre, and the correlative evidence that people do not passively absorb television but react to it an incorporate it into their lives in interesting ways (although we might not always agree on the value of these processes), serves as a reminder of the folly of positing people as passive consumers of technology.
Several colleagues and myself have discussed these issues in relation to the narrow educational application of a single technological option, that of a listserv, highlighting the often subtle nature of the disincentives and inequalities in access to technology; see Friedman et al., "An Electronic Discussion List in an Undergraduate Writing Course." We also discussed some of the more general educational implications of inequities of access in a panel at the 1995 Computers and Writing Conference; the text of this panel is available on the World Wide Web at http://www.oac.uci.edu:80/indiv/friedman/publications/ElPaso/
The final essay, "Politics, Ideology and the Isolated Composer," by Handa herself, seems aware of some of these problems with the rest of the volume and tries to rectify them through a thoughtful analysis of the connections between, for example, the military-industrial complex, the computer, and the college curriculum. She also warns against the temptation to perceive the mere use of technology as a new form of pedagogy (174). Given that Handa's intent is only to identify some of the problems with current theories and raise issues to be picked up later, perhaps it is unfair to criticize her for failing to provide any solutions to these problems. But given the overall practical orientation of the volume such an attempt might not have been amiss. More to the point, the concerns that Handa outlines are not significantly different to those with which composition instructors who have no interest in infotech have to deal. And while this is in itself a useful realization, a more useful strategy would be to highlight what is significantly different about the issues posed by infotech in technology or to explore how the introduction of infotech changes the traditional issues facing composition.
In many respects the hybrid character of STS is its strength, and many of the critics who see themselves working in this area actively try and break down the boundaries between disciplines to promote a more cooperative view of the cultural place of science. This hybridity has also rendered STS vulnerable to attack, in the form of such works as The Higher Superstition. Although this particularly nasty attack on intellectual freedom testifies to the anxiety of some scientists over encroachments on their turf, its central charge, that STS is parasitic upon "real" science stems from the inability (or unwillingness) of many STS critics to articulate a compelling public rationale for their work that is independent of the borrowed prestige of science.
I consider Flynn's attempt to characterize composition as a "feminized" discipline in contrast with a more "masculine" range of scientific fields to be dubious at best. However her essential point about the overall development of composition seems valid to me.
Interestingly, Fox finds that there is not substantive difference in the national awards etc., given to women and men. This suggests that discriminatory practices and structures are solidly based in institutional and organizational settings and procedures, and that these are to some extent counteracted by the broadest divisions of discipline. She also notes a key factor may be women's lack of access to the collaborative matrix that constitutes science. In contrast to the humanities where isolated, low-tech production is the norm, science often requires collaboration and large amounts of money and machinery, making it very difficult to start an individual research project.
This is an area where there is still very little research. Judy Wajcman notes that there are still relatively few sociological analyses from women who have got "inside" technology. And while a new sociology of technology has emerged in recent years it has tended to gloss over gender differences by focussing in a conventional way upon groups that have an influence upon technology design, rather than recognizing that absence of influence is also significant (204).
Some problems with this line of argument are the difficulty of avoiding the same gender essentialism it presumes to decry, and a tendency to ignore more subtle forms of interpersonal and institutional oppression in a quest to downplay overtly conspiratorial notions of bias and systematic oppression.
Furthermore, it is important to realize the degree to which new technology frequently requires more intense exploitation of older technological forms. In the case of information technology, key components such as microprocessors and hard drives are also produced by nineteenth-century methods of mass production, in factory environments in Asia and Mexico that do not differ substantially from the sweatshops associated with the Industrial Revolution.
For further discussion of some of the issues raised here see Tijdens et al. The articles in this collection tend to be short, but cover a wide range of issues and include several case studies, as well as more positive accounts of encounters between women and information technology. See also Lovegrove and Segal for more in-depth discussion of women's education, the macho hacker ethic and gender bias in information technology workplaces.
Often this optimism is based on a flawed methodology. Charles Ess, in his article "The Political Computer: Hypertext, Democracy and Habermas," in common with the majority of contributors to Landow's volume the assumption that the world of hypertext is the embodiment of post-structuralist criticism of conventional print-based reading practices. Not only does this description of post-structuralist theory as the locus of revealed truth in general run counter to the methodology of many post-structuralist critics, but specific instances of the theory are themselves problematic. Thus Ess' application of Habermas' theories of communication to hypermedia (a domain which was never the context in which they were elaborated in the first place) and his refusal to take material questions of access to and knowledge about technology into account, severely compromise his discussion of the democratic potential of hypermedia.
The most important aspect of this research is its emphasis upon the constructed nature of ignorance. "Ignorance" is not a black hole in understanding, as conventional scientific wisdom has it. People often are perfectly able to articulate why they don't know or don't choose to know something. People thus prove to be a lot more reflexive than scientists themselves in their understanding of science and their ability to adapt that understanding to real world needs. My only criticism of the tack that Wynne takes is that it appears to tip too much the other way and argue that all public understanding is legitimate. Evidence of understanding is, after all, not necessarily evidence of a reflexive appropriation of attempts at a hegemonic discourse; US culture in particular is filled with individualistic appropriations of social reality that verge on the paranoid. The problem here is how one translates one's individual understandings and negotiations with social context into a group identification, and this is precisely the problem that is being negotiated in relation to so many areas of the Internet; it is also the problem that is under negotiation in so many composition classrooms.
War in the Age of Intelligent Machines by Manuel De Landa not only provides a provocative investigation into the military input into a number of different technologies but makes an ambitious attempt to place the development of these technologies in the context of Western historical development.
One disturbing example of this is the collection edited by Kiesler and Sproull, Computing and Change on Campus to which I have already alluded in this article. The collection is a detailed investigation into the results of Carnegie Mellon University's massive investment in information technology in the early 1980s. But thorough as the study is, one aspect that is ignored completely is the effect of commercial investment in education, and omission that is worrying given that CMU developed its status as a high-tech campus largely through a joint-venture agreement with IBM in 1982.
A recent issue of the on-line journal Postmodern Culture contains an article entitled "The Moving Image Reclaimed" by Robert Kolker, featuring a discussion of Scorces's debt to Hitchcock that includes actual motion picture examples. I accessed the article using a Mac Power PC with a seventeen inch monitor (a street cost of between $3000 amd $3500 dollars at the time) linked to the University's backbone network. The article was fascinating, but it took over an hour to read due largely to the length of time it took to load the video clips. The clips were not that long, in my version they did not include sound, and the image quality was not fantastic. Bear in mind also that what Kolker is doing in this article, while new in many respects and having some interesting consequences for film studies, is relatively simplistic in terms of what we can expect from the Web, and the problems begin to seem obvious. (An interesting footnote to the article shows that Kolker is not unaware of these problems).
On April 30 1995 the National Science Foundation computer network, which has long been the literal and figurative backbone of the Internet, was dismantled and replaced with a system of regional routers. Since government ownership of the backbone components of the Internet has been one of the major obstacles to charging for use of the basic telnet, ftp and mail services of the Net (although charging for access to the Net has, of course, been in place for some time), it is possible that breaking the backbone into smaller units will allow these units eventually to be sold off to private interests which will then be able to charge "tolls" on the information highway.
This perspective is present even in a critic as thoughtful as Jean-François Lyotard. In his conclusion to The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge, Lyotard observes that the computerization of society could have one of two results: "It could become the "dream" instrument for controlling and regulating the market system, extended to include knowledge itself and governed exclusively by the performativity principle. . . But it could also aid groups discussing metaprescriptives with the information they usually lack for making knowledgeable decisions" (67). But he goes on to claim that "The line to follow for computerization to take the second of these two paths is, in principle, quite simple: give the public free access to the memory and data banks" (67).
The relation of national interest to the international nature of hypermedia is a vexed one in both reports. On the one hand Humanities and Arts on the Information Highways emphasizes the national economic value of cultural heritage, but then it also claim that "[n]ot only are the primary resources required by arts and humanities international in scope and distribution, but the dialogue in which humanists and artists are engaged is necessarily multinational. Government will be required to ensure that no restrictions are imposed on the flow of cultural data across borders" (33-4). As the recent GATT and NAFTA negotiations, both ostensibly in the interest of free exchange, have shown, there is a level of incompatibility between these two points of view that is not easily resolved.
Another interesting instance in the use of hypermedia in the service of a Last Beach ideology occurs in Kevin Costner's 500 Nations TV series, much of which deals with the culture of Native Americans before European contact. One of the selling points of the series has been its use of elaborate VR recreations of now vanished Native American cultural sites. This kind of technological application serves both halves of the Last Beach ideology: it is both the recovery of the treasures of an older civilization by a newer one (as in Eco's model) and the incorporation of these treasures into a national data set that marks them as part of "our" civilization.
Friend's solution, for example, is to develop a hypertext unit based around a single case-study that will enable her students to explore the consequences of multiple viewpoints on an issue without ever arriving at a definitive "right" answer. In terms of classroom content the design of the interface as Friend outlines it, with its possibilities for multiple individual positionings, collaborative work, and with its requirement that students add to the interface to ensure its ongoing evolution, more than achieve her goals of a non-distributive classroom. What is missing from her account, however, is a recognition of the way in which computers specifically, and information in general, are implicated in the same distributive logic that she criticizes. As Selfe and Selfe point out, there are any number of assumptions embedded in the computer interface that are very far from creating the kind of heterogeneous discourse community that Friend desires.
This is, in fact, the point at which I part company from Lanham once again. Lanham places too much emphasis on education as the servant of society, following its trends, obeying its commands, and turning out students perfectly adapted to its exigencies. To an extent this is unavoidable, indeed our teaching is always motivated, at some level, by a conception of what a "healthy" society should be, and the belief that we are teaching our students to be effective members of society. But it is my belief that we should be teaching them not citizenship but strategies of citizenship, bearing in mind that sometimes in history it has been necessary for good citizenship to consist in being a bad citizen: the McCarthy era and the Vietnam war protests being just two of numerous examples.