Carlson Post 1: A Millennial’s Reading of Cynthia Selfe

The assigned article by Cynthia Selfe immediately piqued my interest this week due my previous experience working in a college IT department where a large part of my role involved preparing and supplying computers for faculty, administrators, and students. I thought this experience might provide me with some personal insight into the topic of the article — until I realized that the article was published before I was born. This realization made Selfe’s first statement seem a bit ridiculous: “People who say that the last battles of the computer revolution in English departments have been fought and won don’t know what they’re talking about” (63). Of course these people don’t know what they’re talking about; this article was published before the “world wide web” was invented! Hindsight is 20/20, but it’s clear today that the “computer revolution” certainly wasn’t over in 1988.

Once I realized that I would have no personal insight into the happenings in technology and academia in 1988, I found it interesting to be reading this article from the position of a postinternet millennial. For example, by the time I went to college as a student, personal computers were provided to all administrators and faculty, and while most students purchased their own computers, numerous labs were available to all students as well. I’m so enmeshed in contemporary digital media culture that I find it difficult to imagine how an English department would operate in a time before computers or even during this liminal period that Selfe describes where computers are only accessible to some individuals.

Despite the fact that computers are much more available now than in the context of this article, Selfe still offers several relevant points. She identifies the importance of being deliberate with an English department’s use of computers. With all department employees now having access to a computer, it’s still necessary to put careful consideration into how the computers are used within the department, i.e. who has access to what information, which applications/software are supplied by the department, what type of hardware is purchased, etc. The issue of privacy is much more of a hot topic now than it was in 1988, but Selfe seems to have anticipated this issue, stating: “The concept of linking departmental members with an electronic network raises as many problems as it solves . . . preserving individuals’ rights to privacy must be a top priority” (66). Additionally, Selfe brings up the role of computers in power hierarchies, which is still relevant today. For instance, there is still a question of which software should be paid for by an English department. Consider for example a photoshop program (such as Adobe) versus a citation/bibliography processing program (such as EndNote). While Adobe Photoshop may be most useful for administrative employees in the department for marketing and communications, this type of program would be much less useful for faculty who may prefer a program like EndNote for managing their research. Since both applications require paid licenses, power hierarchies would likely come into play when deciding which software would be provided by the department.

Works Cited:

Selfe, Cynthia. “Computers in English Departments: The Rhetoric of Technopower.” ADE Bulletin. 90 (Fall 1988): 63-7. Web.

One thought on “Carlson Post 1: A Millennial’s Reading of Cynthia Selfe

  1. feralroots says:

    I completely relate to this post. It appears that most of the scholarly articles assigned for this weeks reading were published between the 1950s and 80s, perhaps a good foundation in the origins of digital humanities, like you suggested.

    Selfe’s idea of not only asking inexperienced users to participate in the set up of technology programs, but actually using them as a tool was brilliant, I thought. The issue of accessibility is still one of great importance in our current academic climate. I think you are correct in saying that we now have much greater access to technology than the academics of Selfe’s day, however *who* is published and consequently looked to as leading authority etc. is still an issue we grabble with in academia.

    Selfe’s idea of democracy hasn’t been realized in any academic department, not really. Then there’s the issue of socioeconomic background at early ages that allows us access to these mediums and possibly controls who is allowed to steer these conversations. Essentially, students attending school that can afford these technologies get a leg up. Of course there is the public library, but this still leaves students on their own to figure it out without guidance or instruction.

    I also honed in on the issue of privacy she/you discuss, which is more relevant than ever. The threat of plagiarism is rather scary to me as a writer, and when we have all of our work on our computers, that threat is very real. I really liked that Selfe didn’t try to merely uplift technology, but also showed it’s contradictions/paradoxes, and the unsavory side of these things. It made her seem not only reliable and honest, but realistic about the pitfalls of merging the humanities and with technology.

    I liked your discussion of hierarchies and paid licensing as well. The department will sign a contract with a company, and that is what are forced to use throughout our collegiate careers, regardless of whether or not it is the most beneficial for us individually. This seems to take the democracy out of it, as well as individuality, creativity, and freedom of expression.

    Great read.


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