This is a post I made to the group Tumblr I am creating for a digital literacies course. I thought I would share it here as well.
Welcome to ENG 365! As many of you may know, this is the first time the department is offering this course, and I must say that I am excited to be teaching it. Clearly technology has changed the way we experience the world and communicate with one another. From Gutenberg’s fifteenth-century invention of the printing press to SnapChat, how we produce, circulate, and consume texts continues to evolve and expand as our access to different technologies does the same.
As part of Generation X, I tend to be lumped into a generation caught in the middle of the technology boom. We Gen-Xers are not digital natives, but the majority of us also don’t consider ourselves luddites. And as a professor whose research interests involve how students compose and identify as authors, I cannot help but be interested in the ways the digitization of our world has changed how we read, write, and communicate.
So, a little about myself: I am originally from Titusville, Florida, so in some ways I grew up surrounded by ideas of technology and how they could change our world, as I sat on my driveway and watched NASA shuttle launches. My family and I moved often during my youth, but we tended to stay in the south (at one point I lived in Arizona, and that is definitely not the south). I eventually attended college in Mobile, Alabama, and while I began my collegiate studies as a marine biology major (I guess it was the Florida girl in me), I ended up with three degrees in English. My research interests include the ways legal discourse and public dissemination of that discourse influence how we perceive of writing, the ways spaces and locales influence our identities as writers, and marginalized writers and spaces. Thus, our class is an extension of my interest in how the digital world (if we want to envision the technology universe as a space) influences our identities and practices as writers.
When reflecting on my own experiences with technology I am astounded by the snapshots of memories that come to mind: my first word processor; the yellow legal pads on which I wrote my papers before typing and submitting them; my first HP computer in graduate school; the first time I designed a website (and made a fool of myself on the internet), failed attempts at reading on a Kindle app; the moment I realized Evernote was going to change my life; seeing highschool friends and their lives unfold on Facebook; the ways colleagues and I use FB Messenger as a means of mentoring one another; the arguments with my eleven year old about her insistence that she needs an Instagram account; my worries about the ways the internet affects privacy and what this will mean for my children; the fact that I am part of a virtual advocacy organization that is raising awareness for a rare metabolic bone disorder; and even the fact that my voice text function never seems to quite catch the gist of what it is I want to say. I imagine I could spend forever recounting the ways technology affected and continues to change my every day life and my life as a writer, researcher, and teacher.
However, in an effort to collect and cull these memories into a moment that is meaningful (and in memory of a good friend who recently passed away), I am going to write a brief note about when I realized the Internet was forever. Keep in mind that my first internet experiences were dial-up, and my first email was an AOL account. I can still hear the buzz of the connection and see the the pop-image of “you’ve got mail.” When my friends were getting email, I refused. I was certain the government would be watching me. So, it is interesting that when I finally joined the world of the technologically literate, I wasn’t more careful. In 1997, I was enrolled in a graduate seminar on research methodologies and one of our assignments involved learning the basics of coding and developing a personal website. The assignment was fun and exciting to me (and quite different from the seminar papers I was writing in other classes), and I decided my website should be fun and exciting too. Young and stupid, I decided that my website should, well, focus on what I thought of at the time as the fun part of graduate school: partying. I won’t bore you with the details, and compared to what you find on the internet today, this was beyond tame. The course professor was brilliant, and I respected him and his advice. For some reason, however, as he walked among the rows of huge networked PCs in our classroom and reminded us that the internet was forever and to be cautious about our choices, I didn’t listen.
Flash forward two years: I was still in graduate school but for family reasons had decided I needed to work full time. At this point I had gotten married and the partying days of graduate school were behind me (for the most part). It was time to be an adult. A mentor mentioned that a number of academic institutions were using the internet to get background on candidates for all sorts of jobs, and I decided I had better search my internet profile to see what might be found. The first hit when I searched my full name: my light blue, text-heavy website with my foolish ramblings about my likes and dislikes at the time (and, yes, it does occur to me that this very post might mean this ridiculousness could be uncovered). Needless to say, this was my first brush with the internet and curation. The first time I realized that with every email, every site visited, and every public “publication,” I was creating a digital footprint. People who had never met me could read about me and make judgments about who I was as a person. This was a sobering moment for me, and I think about it often when I am creating documents that I know will live forever in the internet universe (and my friend, Michael, reminded me of it quite often when we talked about this very class last year).
In telling this story my goal is not to preach to anyone. And this is not a class dedicated to erasing all of your internet memories (in part because that is not possible) and replacing them with a polished and professional cyber image. It is, however, a class about how technology contributes to our understandings of and ways of experiencing the world, and this particular moment was invaluable to me as I began to think about myself as an author.