Tag Archives: identity

Mining the Archollection, Writing the “Stuff of Life”

In his chapter on remix, Adam Banks draws from the work of Catherine Latterell because of her attraction to the concept of remix as something that “allows students ways of juxtaposing texts and ideas from academic and popular culture as well as other forms of public discourse and encourages students to create a wide range of print, oral, and digital texts” (88). Although Banks is clearly interested in these pedagogical values of remix, he advocates that our definition of what remixes, mixtapes, and samples are and do should also emphasize how they enact a “synchronizing of generational commonalities and tensions that allows, even demands, innovation while remaining linked with histories and traditions” (90-1).

So, even if we aren’t explicitly utilizing African American rhetoric within our first-year composition courses, how can we get our students “to remix history in order to point a new way forward” (100)? Furthermore, how can we get them to recognize composition as one giant “digital humanities project, as a thorough linking of texts, techne, and technologies” (155)?

I’m especially interested in how Banks calls for a “linking of texts” that preserves their “histories and traditions” because it feels (at least to me) like he is proposing a New Historicist approach to composition, which could have numerous exciting possibilities. And I very much agree with his assertions that we, as teachers, cannot “create any syllabus or teach anything without the explicit and implicit borrowing and reuse that DJs have celebrated and mastered,” and that “[e]very course we teach is a mixtape” (138).

But what are some examples of texts that we can introduce into our first-year composition classrooms that carry with them historic import?

Well, I’d like to think that material culture (or Material Culture?) is a fine place to start.

In my past two years of teaching E110 here at UD, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed watching my students’ reactions when I introduce their final writing assignment of the semester: a material culture multimedia project that asks each of them to examine a significant object from their own lives. They first write a personal narrative detailing how that object has helped them understand who they are as individuals but also as members of various communities (family, school, hometown, teams, etc.). They must then transform that narrative generically for a class presentation.

Initially, they view material culture as just a bunch of “stuff,” not as a series of “texts” that can offer valuable insight into their personal histories.  Sort of like this guy:

Image
Because I like to make their lives “miserable,” obvi.

But their final projects almost always rise to the challenge:

ImageAnd what I’ve received are narratives centered around extremely evocative objects: a childhood home, a bracelet commemorating a loved one, a tchotchke from their birth country, or even a video game that has helped them through major life transitions like divorce or changing school systems.

So, why material culture then? Well, for Banks, part of what is at stake in using African American rhetoric in composition is to show black students how to interact with their backgrounds/origins, and their capabilities in a multimodal world. Material culture, as I’ve shown in the project I have my students complete, achieves a similar end. Likewise, Banks wants us to educate our students on how “to critically examine the technologies they often use without careful consideration” (88). To that end, it would behoove us to conceptualize material culture not just as “stuff” but as an archollection (archive & collection) of critical life technologies, ones that we may take for granted through everyday use but nonetheless tell us a great deal about who we are, where we came from, and what we can do both inside and outside of the composition classroom.

An Infinite Frontier

How we write on the Internet is different from how we write in print. But who is writing (and what they can write about) has also changed.

In A Better Pencil, Dennis Baron continuously talks about the “frontier spirit” associated with Internet interactions (2). He argues, “The internet is a true electronic frontier where everyone is on his or her own; all manuscripts are accepted for publication, they remain in virtual print forever, and no one can tell writers what to do” (25). This frontier is “rough and uncivilized” (139), or at least seemed to be, in terms of both online authors and their unique style of writing.

What interests me about the frontier, however, is the historical significance that immediately comes to mind –the frontier as something to be conquered and standardized after a period of lawlessness. It was a place, at least in the US, where difference was ruthlessly eradicated and a standard culture implemented. I think, in a sense, Baron is correct in associating the Internet with the American frontier.

(Manifest Destiny)

vs

(M4nif357 D357INY) 

To a large extent, we have adapted to online writing; we’ve moved past l33t, at least. My iPhone autocorrects “ttyl” to “Talk to you later” (and I use “autocorrect” as a verb without a redline appearing in my Word document – though WordPress is not convinced). Most everyone with access to technology uses that technology as a digital author, whether they compose e-mails, post on Facebook, or run a blog.

Yet, I think we can adjust our understanding of the Internet as a frontier if we look at who is writing, not just how they write. As you will very likely hear from me several times over the course of the semester, I use Tumblr. I recently saw this written in a post on my dash:

 Once upon a time there was no internet. You kids know about this, sure. But you don’t really know. There was no way to learn all the things you should have learned. And when you were alone, you were really really alone. (Rubyvroom)

Anonymity and identity are tied up with authorship in the digital age. Oftentimes, this is worrying. More often, as Standage will point out in Writing on the Wall, it leads to the new type of internet troll that tirelessly posts comments playing up all types of prejudices. Despite that, because “no one can tell writers what to do,” marginalized voices (and cultures) have reemerged onto the electronic frontier. I talk about Tumblr specifically because there are more teenagers, people of color, women, and LGBT-identified individuals than other platforms, leading observers, like Tom Ewing of Freaky Trigger,  to say of the website,

What looks to dim outsiders as some kind of obsession with ‘social justice’ often just springs from people talking about themselves, their lives and the shit that happens to them. (All Our Friends)

Tumblr user Me-ya-ri remarks of this changed landscape, “I remember all to [sic] well what it was like to not have any words” (Me-ya-ri). When we think about the words we use online, how we manipulate them with fonts or colors or how we replace (or augment) them with images or videos, we should also consider the access to them that the Internet grants us.  It is, I think, a truly untameable frontier.

 

 

 

Embarassing Email Addresses and The New Person

The most interesting difference since 2007 is a strange one, since it’s conventional to imagine that the relationships between people have changed. What this doesn’t do is acknowledge that the actual definition of what a person is has changed. Prior to the really big expansion of the use of the internet (when I started undergrad), when you talked about a person on the internet, you were talking about a person *using* the internet, a USER, who could just as easily drop the little bits of themselves they’d put out there and disappear. You had a friend from high school, their MySpace page gets deleted, and they’re gone until you go find them in “real life”. But at some point, after we begin to depend on this technology enough, it becomes inseparable from us–you cannot, after all, ever really delete a Facebook page, or stop using an email address, because the information is not wholly private, and thus not wholly containable. A part of you is in here.

Think, for instance, about how email use has changed. The embarrassingly verbose, ridiculously fetishistic email addresses of the early century are nearly gone (except for socially awkward moments of realization, when they pop back up), and people tend to centralize around one or two or three addresses, instead of just getting a new one and naming it something silly. It went from being a screenname to an address, that you have to give out to other people.

There’s also the moment of absolute panic the moment something is accidentally shared or deleted–it’s mourning and self-panic now, instead of the same phenomenon as misplacing car keys. It’s the idea of the person that’s been redefined.

Anonymity and Projected Identity

The primary concept that jumps out at me as being changed is the idea of identity.   With technology as widely-available and accessible as it is today, anyone can use the internet in any place at any time.  At a universal level of user identity, this technology is no longer solely for tech nerds, people who are literate in code, or computer scientists.  At a more personal level, anybody can create an identity for his or her self in the virtual world.  Platforms such as Facebook and Twitter can be used to project a specific sort of identity for the user, one which may or may not be true to life.  Additionally, people often have multiple social media accounts, multiple blogs, or multiple email addresses that they can use as a way to compartmentalize different elements of their identity.  Other platforms, such as reddit, are designed so that the user can be, if they choose, completely anonymous.  Platforms  such as these require us to re-think the meaning of a full, comprehensive identity on digital platforms, as well as what it means to be anonymous.

Identity Freewrite

It seems to me that identity before writing online used to be found in a physical manifestation of an individual: what one wore, what they carried with them to class, who they associated with every day during school (school being the place where writing happened). For example, I used to be the girl who carried the notebook around and drew pictures on other students’ hands (the thing to do—not in a creepy way), but didn’t dress well and was obviously shy.

Now it seems that identity is still somewhat found in these things (these physical demonstrations), but more so identity is found in what our writing/web-public space looks like. People are judged based on their Facebook tags and posts, what blogs they read and share, and how they distribute information online. Identity also seems wrapped up with whom one is connected, as well as how connected they are and what their web skills are (at least in finding and distributing information). My identity in real life may be somewhat staid or boring, but I may have a lot of twitter posts because I can write clever lines.