In our last class, we discussed the repercussions print culture had on the way we think about the world and how it shapes our cultural practices and values. This resulted in the question: are we better off with print culture than we were without it? As I think of an answer for this, I can’t ignore negative implications of print culture. For one, its imperialistic tendencies. As we read last week in the Glutenberg Galaxy, once an oral culture is introduced to writing system that reduces sound to visual form, the human psyche is transformed:“Oral cultures indeed produce powerful and beautiful verbal performances of high artistic and human worth, which are no longer even possible once writing has taken possession of the psyche” (14). This reaffirms our notions of technology as stated in the initial definition: “Technology is never static and changes throughout time and space.” We can infer from this definition that as we take up new technologies, we also lose a cultural something. It is never easy to weigh the lose or the gain. But I’m trying now to imagine a world without books and without being able to use writing. Within my own cultural context, this seems narrow way of experiencing life. Without books, I’d imagine the beliefs of my elders and my community would be my beliefs. If not, I would be exiled with little chance of finding a new life and community.
This brings me to the here and now: whether or not print or digital technology has influenced my opinions about written text (and I’m sure it has) I value the ability to listen to others and their experience—to learn and to realize my limited perspective of the world is not the only one out there. I believe this particular worldview has created a hesitancy in me to judge good from bad or to see situations in black and white. I have and always have, despite my Catholic upbringing, a hard time thinking of prescriptive rules for what is right and what is wrong. Print culture may have very well influenced me to take the time to understand a situation’s context and to reserve judgement. The simple task of sitting down, being subjected to a voice not my own as I read (versus a single representation of a community voice) provided me with practice of this. If I think about what writing means to me as a cultural practice and how it shapes my values, it is hard to for me to not to consider what it means to be ethical.
As our readings have suggested, perhaps this desire to know another wouldn’t exist if it wasn’t for written texts. As we move into a world more dependent on computer/phone technology for communication, I’m sure this will change. The internet offers more chances for interruption and direct communication without careful and thoughtful analysis. For example, you can read a news story and reply by typing out a response, giving yourself little time to process. There is a certain attitude of privilege I see coming from my students and even myself that comes from being able to instantly satisfy desires (food, entertainment, communication, etc.). It is no wonder there are so many craft/practice-focused communities emerging in retaliation ( yoga, “slow cooking,” sewing). I suppose this is why I was directed to studying Ravelry, a social networking group for knitters, as a subject of interest last semester. It is hard for me right now to consider how this may influence my classroom practices other than noting to my students that academic writing can’t, and never will, be instantly satisfying. Our ENG101 standard assignment sequence represents that. But in a fast-food world, how can we as instructors continue to claim the writing we teach is something of value?
For myself, I have little problem answering this question. Everything in my personal experience has verified that knowledge from written text has the possibility to help one shape their own circumstantial hardships and find a better position to live a life. Even if I were to ignore or not acknowledge this experience, if I were asked to take back this knowledge and go back to an alternative world without written language, I would refuse! I’m paraphrasing a Lynda Barry quote here, but if you have a box in front of you and have the choice to know or not know what is inside, of course you are going to choose knowledge of what is inside. When I teach communication through writing, especially in ENG101 classes, the focus becomes on analysis, or understanding what is inside the box and figuring out what the hell to do with it once you understand it. I hope my students can transfer these skills to their own life and understand written communication is a means to position one into power; written communication can allow for one to better express her/his ideas and lead to the type of change s/he desires—whether this change be political, personal, or professional.
My hope is that in teaching writing and asking students to closely look at text and examine their own choices, we are encouraging people to act responsibly, thoughtfully, and to remain accountable for their actions. Now I’m going to be lame and end with one of my favorite comp/rhet quotes. I hope you will forgive me for my lack of imagination when it comes to a conclusion:
“…accountability signifies recognizing that none of us lives autonomous lives, despite the grand narrative of U.S. individualism. Accountability means that we are indeed members of the same village, and if for no other reason than that (and there are other reasons), all people necessarily have a stake in each other’s quality of life.”