Wednesday, February 27, 2008

The Selfes Strike Again

It’s easy to be extreme.

Subtract the nuances, those pesky gray areas that pervade our lives, and you’ll be safe to vent from your black or white pedestal of choice. As Jerry mentioned in Tuesday’s class, just because the horror stories of online predatory acts and Internet-based identity fraud have the potential to turn us into frightened old fogies, that doesn’t mean we should yield. We don’t want our students to think of us as the paranoid freak police, do we? I don’t. They already have plenty of reasons to think we're/I'm freakish.

Similarly, we can’t let the realities of social inequity in online spaces paralyze us from engaging in the important pedagogical work that new media provide. For example, while the racial profiling that happens on our nation’s border crossings surely shows its face in online spaces, such ugly misuses of power should not cause us to shut down our monitors and call it a hopeless battle against technology. Instead, as suggested by the smarty-pants Selfes, we need to strike a “necessary balance” of viewing technology both as a site where oppression exists as well as a place to pave rich possibilities, or “new discursive territory” (66).

And while my praise for the Selfes may be a tired tune by now, I’ve gotta commend them yet again for their ability to state the unfortunate realities without getting buried by them. As I continue to wrestle with how to approach technology in the classroom, their ultimate warning rings very true for me, and it is this: that our use of computers has the potential to “achieve both great good and great evil” (68). It's another push to be a critical user, not a passive one.

As they point out, marginalization happens through many “subtly potent gestures” (69), which refers back to the pervasive gray I mentioned a few paragraphs ago. It’s in those passing, nuanced, under-the-table occurrences when mistreatment most often happens. Just as Standard English has become the invisible default in computer interfaces, so too does hegemony creep up on us in sometimes not-so-obvious ways. Does that make it any less dangerous? Nope. In fact, the sly ways of profiling and other disempowering acts could be more dangerous if they appear with a low-fi consistency rather than an overt infrequency. If social hierarchies are build into the software design and infrastructure itself, we might be blinded to it all the more.

And while I found myself writing "isn't that a stretch?" in the Selfes' margins every once in a while (e.g. pointing to the white hand tool that moves boxes in computer programs as oppressive--come on, really?), I generally agree that guiding students to "recognize computer interfaces as non-innocent physical borders" (77) should be added to the agenda--pronto. On that note, I'd better go make some additions to tomorrow's 402 plan.


jlpetersen said...

You know when I used my pointer to click the comment link, it turned into a white hand. Mac hasn't addressed this problem, but if you look at the "hand" it really looks more like a glove. And as I mentioned in class, what if the hand were black--what might this induce us to proclaim?
I agree with you about the Selfes' good noggins on their shoulders, and as we touched on on class, the point that interfaces have built-in assumptions is well taken. My computer is still a "desktop" but now I can cover it with pictures of a beach hut and a corona and lime. I don't, but I can.

kristin said...

I think in a lot of ways, the interface has become so normalized that it's difficult to deconstruct it. And I do think there's something to be said for the white hand...maybe I've been in the ivory tower too long. But, out of all the available choices, why white? Maybe it was an innocuous decision, but it is a little intriguing to me.

I couldn't agree more with you and Selfes that, "we need to strike a “necessary balance” of viewing technology both as a site where oppression exists as well as a place to pave rich possibilities, or “new discursive territory” (66)."

I think ignoring technology definitely isn't the way to go. Instead we need to figure how to work with, through, alongside, and within it in order to empower our students to realize that they can take charge of their own lives and make change in the world. But sometimes I get overwhelmed and really question, "wait, so how do I do that again?" Therein lies the challenge, and I hope that a lot of your final projects will solve the mystery for me :)