Masthead CMC Magazine / February 1, 1996
 Hopes and Horrors, by Rob Kling

Genres of Writing About Utopian and Anti-Utopian Visions

Authors craft utopian and anti-utopian writings within a set of conventions that limit what they say. Even though these writings describe possible future events and social forms, their conventions prevent the authors from discussing important social relationships that are also likely. These utopian and anti-utopian writings about computerization form a genre of discourse. A genre refers to any body of work that is shaped by a set of conventions. The works that we readily identify as romantic comedies, impressionist paintings, horror films, newspaper editorials, and popular movie reviews are constructed with a set of conventions that make them readily intelligible and accessible. Authors and artists who work wholly within the conventions of a genre also limit the kinds of themes that they can effectively examine. Authors of romantic comedies usually don't explore boredom between the romantic partners and the ways that they negotiate their differences, day to day.

This section examines how genre formulas influence writing about computerization which is supposed to be nonfictional--writing in which the author attempts to tell us truths about the world of computerization "out there" and not simply the author's imagination. Many science fiction writers portray very vivid technologically utopian and anti-utopian images. But journalists, managers, and computer scientists also organize their stories about computerization in --utopian terms in allegedly nonfiction outlets such as IEEE Spectrum, Communications of the ACM, Scientific American and the New York Times.

A few of these works, including Weiland's selection about meetings with desktop conferencing systems, are framed in terms of future technologies and related social practices. But many descriptions of the use of current technologies in existing settings are also framed with specific genre conventions. Conventions make works more easily intelligible to their primary audiences. And social analyses of computing are written with genre conventions that limit the kinds of ideas that can be readily examined. Many professionals and scholars who read these social analyses are often unaware of the ways that works are crafted within the conventions of specific genres, and the ways in that these conventions limit as well as facilitate analysis and debate.

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