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