Summary week 12

March 31, 2008 at 4:51 pm (Summaries)

J.T. Grabill discusses how the digital divide is growing more than people think.  He first talks about the divide itself.  This is not limited to just income and education.  There are more factors including race, family history, and environmental influences.  The NTIA came out with a survey showing how different races are way below the national average when it comes to ICTs.  Even when these groups have money and a higher education, they still do not reach the national average, which is exceeded by only White and Asian/Pacific Islanders.  He also recognizes why there is an importance to the digital divide other than the obvious.  Our country is made up of infrastructures, which in turn are directly intermingled with the percentage of ICT users.  Without these users, society cannot be built up as great.  Even looking at statistics now the divide is growing for the lower classes and minorities.  This complex problem needs to be addressed if we expect our culture and infrastructures to grow.  -chris-


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Prompt 1

March 31, 2008 at 4:50 pm (Reading responses)

When looking at both of the questions, I can see either of them being a valid response.  While reading about the BlackPlanet website in the first article, I wanted to see what it was about.  The article made it sound very interesting and I even was considering setting up an account in order to see a culture that is more so “underground” (70).  I don’t feel that people should be forced to be raceless on the web.  I do feel that people should be allowed to join websites that aren’t part of their race or culture in order to understand people more.  We only see Ebonics on TV but rarely in everyday use.  Joining BP would give one the opportunity to see the language in raw, unedited usage.  On the other hand I could see why people would be mad for outsiders to join the site.  Some people see the site as a way to be with other people who understand and live in their racial group and culture.  If a bunch of people joined that knew nothing about this, people would see them as posers or trying to infringe on their freedom within the website.  I could see the more dedicated users of BP taking this stand towards people posing with a black identity.  These examples are why I could see either reaction in the prompt 2 scenario.

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Summary assignments for week 13: Vieregge, Zephyrhawke, Bryant, & Crawford

March 31, 2008 at 3:03 pm (Summary assignments--MWZ)

Critical lens: Identity politics—gender and sexuality*

Vieregge: Haraway, Donna. J. (2004). A Manifesto for cyborgs: Science, technology, and socialist feminism in the 1980s. In The Haraway reader (pp. 1-45). New York: Routledge.

Zephyrhawke: Haraway, Donna. J. (2004). Modest_witness@second_millennium. In The Haraway reader (pp. 223-250). New York: Routledge.

Bryant: Alexander, Jonathan. (2006). Writing queer digital youth. In Digital youth: Emerging literacies on the world wide web (pp. 229-289). Cresskill: Hampton Press.

Crawford: Taylor, T.L. (2006). Where the women are. In Play between worlds: exploring online game culture (pp. 93-124). Cambridge: MIT Press.

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Reading response prompts: week 13–Critical lens: gender & sexuality

March 31, 2008 at 3:01 pm (Reading Response Prompts-MWZ)


Is cyberspace a safer space than physical space? Think about the claims that are discussed in these readings, and the ways in which these readings position themselves in relation to the issues surrounding a consideration of safety (what is it? why is it important? and so on). Reference at least two of the readings in your discussion.

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Ax says, “Access! Ack!” Sizz….

March 31, 2008 at 10:02 am (Reading responses)

Why does access dominate our discussions of race and class online? What (if anything) should we being doing to respond to the dearth of discussion beyond access? Please refer to at least two of the readings in your response.

The why questions seems fairly easy to answer.  Race conversations are often concerned with the problem of access–not just to technology, but to public spaces, cultural capital, elite jobs, etc.  So when computers and writing takes up this problem, it’s good to start with access as a first step.  If non-whites can’t even get to computers (the physical aspect of access), then the whole conversation ends there.  And one step further, when non-whites actually start using computers but experience real and perceived exclusion from software, organization, or existing online communities, they lack access in another way (a de facto kind of access problem).  And again, that barrier needs to be overcome before the next level of technology use can happen, like the BlackPlanet phenomenon Banks describes.

Beyond that, the prompt’s questions are harder to answer (and certainly more opinionated, yes?).  No matter what I plan to say, it keeps coming back to access for me.

For example: I’m thinking about BlackPlanet, trying to think what kinds of issues we can discuss “beyond access.”  Well, it’s a space that’s community-driven, where it’s safe and encouraged to relax one’s multiple identities for a second and just indulge in the ways of talking that many black folks grew up with.  The site itself is organized in a way to encourage that safe community, where everyone can get to everything and comment in a complex, web-like way.  Banks mentions that this site design “is important because of what it implies about access.  There are no parts of the Planet that are inaccessible because they are too far from home” (77).  So we’re back to access again; it’s the base on which the superstructure of this kind of online community can exist.  Grabill’s concept of the infrastructural access makes the same sort of point (464-65).

Or consider Blackmon’s much more critical exploration of African American students’ computer use.  If I try to think “beyond access” here, in search of another or additional paradigm to discuss her theories, I might focus on the concept of the “cyber human” who is constructed by technology to be “raceless” (417).  [Firefox, by the way, doesn’t seem to believe that racelessness exists, putting a little red “Silly!  Nobody can be raceless!” squiggle under the word.]  This cyborg concept makes for intriguing thinking, but I immediately have to back up (as Blackmon does) and start thinking about the ways different people must erase different amounts of themselves to shift into their computerized identities.  For white men, in other words, moving through online spaces is a very comfortable “fit”; very few, if any, aspects of their speech, thought, and identity must be lopped off before trying on this new techno-outfit.  But isn’t that again a question of access?  To some, the opportunity to play with new forms of communication is simply more accessible.

So why not just accept that access underlines many of these conversations, and move on from there, instead of trying to find a new starting point?


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Summary: Gruber

March 31, 2008 at 6:23 am (Summaries)

Gruber, Sibylle (2007). Living in different cultures: Experiences of the borderlands. In Literacies, experiences, and technologies (pp. 29-54). Cresskill: Hampton Press. 

In this difficult-to-summarize chapter, Gruber describes the issues that both she and one of her students, Alba, faced as they integrated into the American university system and the ways their identities and writings were shaped by that new environment.  This is a purposeful theoretical move; Gruber writes, “I also want to show that as a researcher I need to be critically aware of my own interpretations of my work and my own positionalities as the researcher and teacher in this context” (29-30).  Gruber contextualizes these stories into a wealth of published criticism about identity, with a focus on academic discourse and critical race theories, and a special interest in the ways that Alba’s online writing engaged difficult issues with a voice and sophistication she didn’t use in class.  Gruber’s scope is broad as she moves from story to story, discussing the following issues, among others: the struggle between family and fitting into dominant society; the class divide on campus; the ways their experiences alternately confirm or contradict various theories (say, the exact way one lives in the “borderlands); the context behind quiet students in class; women’s education; and the ways instructors can/should respond to students’ difficult posts.


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Week 12: Response to Prompt 2

March 30, 2008 at 10:43 pm (Reading responses)

It seems to me that the focus on access in the discussion of race and class online is largely a result of the simple inclusion of the word “online.”  One of the major emphases in the promotion of online technologies is the availability of “access” for everyone, everywhere.  As Blackmon states in (Cyber)Conspiracy Theories?, “computers and the World Wide Web are being hailed as the great equalizer for students in the computerized classroom” (153).  The basic idea is that, through sheer availability of so much information so easily and so quickly to anyone with a computer, those who would previously have been uninformed now have access to information.  In addition to information availability, the possibility for anonymity of online interaction is claimed to provide an even playing field for anyone of any race or class to interact with anyone else.  As seen in our earlier readings on distance education, economic class is often a much bigger factor in the un-equalization of students than the proponents of such technologies like to admit.  However, the general assumption of the World Wide Web is that it “equalizes” opportunities so that race, class, and gender are no longer relevant issues.  As Banks states in his article, this is obviously not the case – the very attempt to force every internet user into the mold of the White-dominated “ideal user” interface shows that the internet cannot in of itself equalize access; the best it can do is standardize interaction so as to make all things appear equal – an attempt which Banks would find both futile and detrimental.


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Summary: Banks

March 30, 2008 at 10:29 pm (Summaries)

Banks, Adam J. (2006). Taking black technology use seriously: African American discursive traditions in the digital underground (pp. 68-85). In Race, rhetoric, and technology: searching for higher ground. Mahwah: Lawrence Erlbaum.

In this article, Banks discusses how the African American oral tradition is reflected in the use of online technologies such as Black Planet, and the way in which “undergrounds” like Black Planet to assert the unique culture and resist a tradition of writing being thought of as “the domain of White culture”.  Banks cites examples from Black Planet of user names, user messages, etc., to show that the Black oral tradition is reflected and perpetuated within the online writing space.  Banks focuses on two main qualities of the oral tradition which can be seen in online spaces such as Black Planet: tonal semantics and sermonic tone.  Banks’ discussion illustrates how African American language is finding a space in which to exert its own authority, and also the way in which cyberspace can provide a place for discourse that defines and encourages African American culture and the African American oral tradition, rather than forcing it to be the “other” in a White-dominated forum.


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Deepening the Discussion

March 30, 2008 at 9:02 pm (Reading responses)

Why does access dominate our discussions of race and class online? What (if anything) should we being doing to respond to the dearth of discussion beyond access? Please refer to at least two of the readings in your response.

I think that access dominates the discussion because it is the natural starting point. How else can we begin to discuss the problem? I think that computers and composition is held to too strict a measure. As Grabill says, the field is only 10 years old. As such, we are still just scratching the surface of the experience of writing and reading with computers. Traditional classrooms have remained relatively unchanged for a hundred years.

Not only is this a young field of study, but also the technology of computers and composition is changing so rapidly that a scholar’s assumptions may be shifting in the middle of writing a paper or developing a theory.

In Grabill’s article, he spends a lot of time talking about the interface used for writing. But that interface is light years away from the interface of today. Today’s social websites have almost no interface at all. Just a box and some buttons. The rapid change involved in computers and composition makes it tough to study anything but generalities and statistics, which is something that you can do with access. It’s tough to build a castle on shifting sands.

Maybe Blackmon’s article does the best of transforming access into a deeper discussion because it reaches back before computers and composition and discusses the historical distrust of minorities in technological systems of communication. The concept of historical access is a good way to expand the discussion because it ties cultural information (which has a deep history) into the current discussion of access.

Perhaps by linking the discussion of access to include more cultural, economic and social ideas about composition education, we can deepen the discussion.
-M. Markham

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Vieregge – Race and Technology

March 30, 2008 at 8:57 pm (Reading responses, Uncategorized)

The reason that access is the central issue within the discourse of race and technology is that one must have not only physical access but access through competency and purpose as well. Samantha Blackmon makes this point very clearly when she writes, “In order to benefit from all of the “advantages” of American economic society, these students must not only have material access to the machinery but must also be competent, comfortable, and confident” (155). But the essay, “Taking Black Technology Use Seriously” brings up another interesting angle to the conversation, namely that purpose is crucial as well: “Librarians and other staff members at other staff members at many branches became disillusioned, however, because these children and young adults weren’t making what the saw as “productive” uses of computers or the Internet” (73). Therefore access in a sense really means three things. First, it means physical possession, whether permanent or temporary. Someone must actually be able to have regular physical access to a computer in order to use it. Not having ownership of a computer till I was 23, and not having one (of any worth) in my house until I was 18, I know all too well how frustrating it can be to have to use a computer during only certain hours of certain days, and only then with supervision by librarians. That constraint itself prevents encouragement of creativity. Van Gough didn’t paint in thirty minute intervals – I’m assuming. He didn’t have justify his expermentations either. Then there is competence. I would really like to use professional film editing software, but I’m not at this point competent, so MovieMaker and IMovie I must use. Then of course there is purpose, which is discussed indirectly in the aforementioned article which states, “there are times we can get out of the way and share some control” (84). The purpose behind doing this would be to give them a purpose. I can understand why this would be at the forefront of the discourse on race and technology, and it is easy to forget – as a wired to the hilt graduate student – what it was like being in my parents’ household, which was a place where color TV and Cable was avante garde. Teachers must be aware that they have different access and abilities than their students, which they might easily forget.

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