So, this post is being written on my shiny new MacBook Pro. (Thanks a zillion, mom!) I’ve been having a lot of fun figuring out the nooks and crannies of the Mac OS, and having bouts of frustration with the keyboard–it works, but you have to apply more prssure to the keys than I would otherwise have thought, in addition to just getting the hang of using the narrower notebook keyboard. It’s been a learning experience, and in the best way: driven by curiosity, not mandated by function. Of course, in order to know how to do certain things–use certain functions–I have to explore, but the point remains.
Having recently read Johnson’s Everything Bad is Good for You, I’ve been sort of theorizing this experience. One point that SJ makes is that one function of complex media is just this search/explore pattern, process that, Johnson argues, equips cultural consumers with a set of skills based on conjecture, hypothesis, and deductive reasoning. SJ locates this in games, but it might be extended to at least one part of the technology learning process. The Mac came without bulky manuals and guides and whosits and howtos (rather disconcerting at first for this longtime PC user), and that provokes an interesting thought. (Well, interesting to me at least.) Apple seems to have moved away from the PC-model of learning–the don’t send you the weighty tomes that I’m sure Dell, HP, Compaq would. Instead, the interface in the Mac OS seems to encourage the sort of exploration I’ve been enjoying the last thirtysix hours or so (not consecutively).
As an invention strategy, then, we might ask how to make exploratory texts. Here, of course, I don’t mean the familiar exploratory essay, but rather a text that allows for a reader and a writer to try things, play with them, follow options and connections. This is not a new goal, of course, since many of the new media rhetorics we’re familiar with seem to have just this ideal as their guiding goal. But it may make for an interesting assignment: ask students to design their own OSs–not to a computer, necessarily, but to a space, perhaps, or a text of their own choosing. That is, if the OS is the basis for how we interact with with the computer, we might ask students to apply that notion to another moment of interaction: How do you interact, say, with Wayne State’s campus? What information is necessary to make one’s way from Parking Structure #2 to State Hall: what options are you presented with, what paths are open to you, and what happens should you follow one path rather than another? I’m not sure this a great assignment or anything; in this bare bones description, it sounds like the lamest Choose Your Own Adventure book ever published: “If you decide to give a dollar to the Lyndon LaRouche volunteers, go to page 72.” But there is something of an interest here–I think I’m edging to what I’ve seen described as the Deleuzian notions of “drift,” but since I’m behind on my Deleuze, I can’t sy for sure.
Something else I’ve been thinking about, invention wise. I’ve not written much about the “dictionaries” project of late, because it was sort of stagnant for a while. But recently, two ideas for possible ways to make this syllabus work:
As I’m envisioning it right now at least, the semester would revolve round two projects. The first would be based on neologisms; the “necessary words” assignment. In a nutshell, the goal of this project, as the name indicates, would be to create a list of necessary words to describe cultural phenomena. Students would be asked to first, coin the word, and then to explain its meaning and to suggest why it’s a necessary word–what is the exigence, then, for proposing the new word. The research would be based upon finding scenes in writing (or elsewhere) that are described by this word. So, for example, one that I’ve come up with is indiegestion, whose roots lie in “indie” (as in music) and “indigestion”. Indiegestion describes the moment an indie band reaches a certain point of oversaturation, and even those writers and critics who championed them initially grow weary of them. So, to show this through research, I’d locate the early reviews of a band’s work, and then find the follow-up scene where (ideally) the same writer describes a frustration or disappointment with the same band. This wouldn’t be the strategy for every neologism, of course: the methods of example would depend on the word in question. So, why do I like this assignment–what theory is behind it? Well, using Rice’s Rhetoric as a starting point, I could point to features of commutation & appropriation as at least two new media rhetorics at work here. The tutor text for this project would be McFedrie’s Word Spy: The Word Lover’s Guide to Modern Culture, which is a somewhat satiric (but nonetheless valuable) guide to media-derived neologisms, compiled both through observation and invention. In addition to Rice’s work, I could point to other new media theorists (or, like Derrida, who have influenced new media studies) whose work abounds in neologisms and wordplay–as Rice uses Burroghs, for example. Another point such a project might make, at least peripherally, is that the new media (or at least, the media that are still new to us) need new words to describe new experiences: just three years ago, the noun/verb “YouTube/youtube” would have been gibberish–actually, “Google/google” makes even more sense there on the same grounds. Another, more concrete point about invention is that since students are inventing their own words, they also need to invent the appropriate criteria for its demonstration. . .thus, they’re being called upon, as in the mystory/discourse assignments, to invent as they invent–both the text in question and the rules or creating that text.
The second project is based on the text that Rice recommended, Unspun. For those unfamiliar with it, it’s similar to Raymond Williams’ Keywords, except instead of terms central to critical theory, the terms investigated here are all tech related (there is some overlap–Williams might make good addenda to this text). My idea here for this project is somewhat more vague . . . at present, it’s just called the “demonstration” project. I’ve been thinking about ways to ask students to demonstrate how some of these words circulate in different ways through the web or through discourse. For example, one of the essays in Unspun is “Ideology.” My idea for what a student interested in ideology might do is to create a series of wikis or blogs or sites that mimic/echo different ideological perspectives found on the web or elsewhere. So, for example, you might have a student set up both a religious fundmentalist blog, using the blog genre to compile fundie sites online and offer comment on them; in turn, the student would also have to create a blog/wiki for a counter-sitem, working the same way but taking the opposite stance. Okay, so that example is not the greatest. But one of the other essays is “authorship,” which might yield itself to a richer project. I envision a student creating a series of sites that consider different dimenions of a single author: biographical information & influence on his or her work; the ethos created by an author through the work he or she produces/d; and the Web imprint of an author: how an author is presented/hailed/critiqued in online discourse. This is just one question about authorship that the Web might lead us to, of course: there remains the question of who students (and instructors) become once we engage with the phenomenon of online authorship as well–but how to suggest a project for that question escapes me thus far. More reading/thinking are in line. Anyway, the point I want to achieve with this project is not to have students just write about online authorship or ideology–to use them as topoi–but to demonstrate these scenes of contention, to perform them. Again, the debt to Rice’s work is obvious, but as a side note, I’m pleased with these ideas at least to the extent that I think/hope they show I’ve started to embrace the Vitanzan/Ricean dictum: Theory Is Practice: to have my pedagogy be informed by theory, and to to have my theory be enabled by pedagogy. To think, as Rice might say, rhetorically.