Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Roadkill Line-Up vs. Tucked-Away Technorati

I used to wait in long lines just to check my email. Volunteering for a year after college didn't really make buying a personal computer possible, so I'd wait... and wait... and wait... sometimes for an hour before I could participate in the world of e-communication that had seemed to overshadow all other forms. Scanning the faces of my fellow line-waiters, I'd often find that I was the only white person in sight.

Now, I roll out of bed, put the tea kettle on the burner, and fire up the ol' (and by ol' I mean a 2005 model--pretty ancient, huh?) iBook G4. In no time, I'm emailing with mom, checking on flights to a warmer destination, or blogging like I'm doing here today. I'm part of the technorati now. My dependence on the public library is no longer part of my life, and I'm thankful for the convenience that a personal laptop brings with it. But I'm also aware that I'm no longer exposed to the harsh everyday reminder that Internet access is clearly divided along lines of race and class. And for that, I'm not grateful. After all, why should I allow the digital divide be invisible to me when I know it exists? To some degree, I saw it right before my eyes, so why am I not taking steps to combat it now?

Is cyberspace the "democratic and progressive medium" (xii) that everyone claimed it to be in its mid-90s heyday? Nakamura replies with a booming "No way." And after being a dependent library email user for a short time, I'd have to agree. This stuff is far from being equal, yet postmodernist influences would have us believe that it is. The "roadkill" are alive and well (or not so well, I suppose), residing in low-income neighborhoods in every major U.S. city. In the middle of the city, yes, but isolated from cyberspace. Makes me think about Nakamura's later quote:

"While everyone in cyberspace is disoriented, people of color in cyberspace come to the medium already in this state, already marginalized, fragmented, and imbricated within systems of signification that frame them in multiple and often contradictory ways" (xvi).

So, before people of color even gain access to the Internet, before they are even subjected to the unrealistically categorized "menu-driven racial identity" aspects of cyberspace, they are marginalized and "cybertyped." And while breaking into online spaces is the first step toward having an influence over the infrastructure and discursive conventions that favor the privileged, Nakamura's warning that our online "fluid selves" are just as likely to be oppressed by the "cultural hegemonies, rules of conduct, and regulating cultural norms" that exist outside of cyberspace is important to keep in mind as our students engage in online learning/interaction. We need to remember that many of the same prejudices, pressures, and racist attitudes from the face-to-face world get transferred to these "theaters of identity" (I really like that term b/c it seems to suggest some of the performative realities that Katie and Shawn have discussed). And as an instructor, I take that as yet another call to engage students in the conversation of what kinds of power relations exist in online spaces. As a follow-up, I can suggest forming alliances, or "strategic affinities" (8) in order to become more active, critical participants in cyberspace.

But then I'm reminded that I'm talking to college students here--many of whom have personal computers of their own, and many of whom can't keep track of the countless techno-gadgets that dominate their lives and their backpacks.

If only some of our excess could be redistributed to the people in that library line...

1 comment:

kristin said...

Lots of good stuff here. I'm drawn to this quote:

"We need to remember that many of the same prejudices, pressures, and racist attitudes from the face-to-face world get transferred to these "theaters of identity" (I really like that term b/c it seems to suggest some of the performative realities that Katie and Shawn have discussed)."

First, I think you're right in that we need to be attuned to the things that go on in the online spaces we require our students to use. When ugliness appears, we need to figure out how to address it and deal with it. We can't just avoid it and hope it goes away. We also need to be prepared for it, for as some of Rachel's work with MySpace shows, the ugly often comes out even moreso online.

But, along with this I'm also interested in the concept of the the "theater of identity" but moreso I'm curious in the concept of "performative realities." I was writing to someone about the in a response earlier today, but I'm always a little hesitant to use the term performance when talking about online spaces as I think for many people it tends to separate out online space from offline space. I realize we perform all the time, but I think some folks think this performativity is heightened online and thus in some ways is bracketed off from our "real" life, and I just don't buy it. I'm not saying you're saying this, but I would think about it. That is, if our students are assholes online but "seemingly" good people offline, how do we rectify this discrepency? Do we just say "well, online spaces bring out different personas" or do we acknowledge how that ugly is there in the offline person as well, but just somehow enable by the online space? I guess I see this too with performing and representing identities, in that I think we're always representing ourselves with the available means presented to us, so it's not as though we can get online and represent something entirely "other" and unconnected to our face-to-face lives.

All that aside, I do think in teaching w/ and about technology we do need to be very aware of the digital haves and havenots--not making assumptions but instead tailoring our pedagogy to suit all students.