Computer-Mediated Communication Magazine / Volume 2, Number 3 / March 1, 1995 / Page 4


A Point

by Nancy Kaplan

One point of my stories about the Internet and my humble beginnings is that the circuitry, the operating systems, and all the auxiliary routines supporting input and output devices were configured by people to accomplish specific ends--and to obstruct other ends, even if that obstruction was not deliberate or intentional. When people constructed these computing devices, when they devoted resources to writing the programs the computing devices would run, when they defined the problems for which a particular sort of machine and a particular sort of software formed the solutions, those people defined a computing environment appropriate to just those purposes and problems. The higher degree of success they attained--the closer the match between problem and solution--the less room remained for accidental, incidental, revolutionary, unforeseen purposes and uses.

Christina Haas and Chris Neuwirth have persuasively argued, then, that humanists must themselves learn a new literacy--the skills and knowledge required to understand the design of machines and software if not the skills and knowledge required to do the designing ourselves--so as to engage in productive exchanges with those who are designing and deploying the literacy tools of the future. The shapes of our tools, after all, do powerfully affect who can speak, what they can say, and to whom. The stakes are very high indeed.

If in 1968, when I was beginning to edit technical documentation, some visionary had told me that most of my professional life would be intimately joined to descendants of the devices I used then, I probably would not have believed the prediction--so arcane, so unwieldy, so disconnected from the lifeworld of the humanities and the daily experience of human beings did they seem to me.

That was then, you say?

This page is part of the article, "E-literacies: Politexts, Hypertexts and Other Cultural Formations in the Late Age of Print."

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