Excuse me, I just storied myself

To make ready for class today, I went through a few invention exercises.
I wanted to mix it up, vary the approaches to show a range of possibilities for
essay one: A Tech Autobiographical Sketch. The assignment serves a few purposes,
not the least of which are a writing sample and a portrait of students’ tech
backgrounds, which influence my aims and design for the next several weeks.

The assignment asks students to tell their technological becoming.
It’s a narrative essay about gadgetry and mechanisms, from old, block-style
Legos to one-buttoned joysticks, from coin-op school supply dispensers to
cordless phones with auto redial. And my favorite: hand-held football
games with red, LED players on both teams, no matter whether it was the Patriots and Panthers or the Lions and Browns (my imagined, dream Superbowl). Red blips on both sides of the ball; a fresh 9-volt battery and a 45 minute school bus ride, one-way; those were the days.

My models for the class, for the essay, included a graphic organizer, a messy map of sorts that starts with a blank sheet of paper and a will to scribble
without inhibition, loose clusters of ideas. The second model, even more
spontaneous than the first because of its disregard of coherence, was a list of
50. A fit of associations with the perpetual present guided by impulse and
only the faint beckoning of the writing prompt. My list (for the tech
autobiographical sketch) looked like this:

Boeing 757 to Seattle, Supersonics shirt, Mount St. Helens, Pong with
paddles, Frogger, black and white television, Galaga at Pizza Hut, camcorder,
C64 programs in basic, [friends who] pirated software, welding and your eyes,
Tetris, first broadcast warfare, statistical reports, digital photography,
surveillance cameras, exercise equipment, rocket launches, stopwatch, camping
with cords, Popular Science, helicopter bike, northern lights, fishing
sonar, radar detectors, Sault locks, fax machines, Mouse Trap, Operation w/
glue, Walkman, audio books, Lance Haffner Final Four, Adam computer, tape drive soccer, Rambo knife w/ compass, Tecmo Bowl, breakaway rims, car stereo wiring, magnet games, batteries, race track motors, vibrating football board, UHF/VHF antennae, TV adjust with pliers

I stopped at 44. The inventive scope had me reeling. Could have
gone longer, but I had to get on with the third model: a formal outline.
Less stimulating, in my view, but important to show, to talk about what purpose
it might serve, its relative structured-ness. So I dummied one up on the
evolution of photography in my days: slide-projector shows, Polaroids, a
costly/priceless Dimage7i, up to Kodak’s abandonment of film camera’s in Western markets last week.

This assignment, good or bad, was already concocted before I read

Galen Strawson’s review

Jerome Bruner’s book, Making Stories
, which I came upon over at
Arts & Letters Daily. I haven’t read the book, but the review sparked my interest, led me to believe Bruner’s latest has parts that would help me think more fully about narrative and its place in composition studies.

This snippet of the review left me with a kind of Myers-Briggs itch, which
I’ll explain:

Is any of this true? Do we create ourselves? Is the narrativity view a
profound and universal insight into the human condition? It’s a partial truth
at best, true enough for some, completely false for others. There is a deep
divide in our species. On one side, the narrators: those who are indeed
intensely narrative, self-storying, Homeric, in their sense of life and self,
whether they look to the past or the future. On the other side, the
non-narrators: those who live life in a fundamentally non-storytelling
fashion, who may have little sense of, or interest in, their own history, nor
any wish to give their life a certain narrative shape. In between lies the
great continuum of mixed cases.

The “deep divide” between compulsive narrators and their counterparts left me wondering whether I’ve been obtuse in weaving narrative slants into
solicitations for essays in undergraduate writing courses. Surely we aren’t
rigidly fixed along any continuum, are we? My itch comes from the
resonant echo of this passage to other sorts of neat social stamping–the sort
that rely on gross simplifications to exclude our moods, fluctuations,
interanimations and ambiguity. I was told late last week that I’d be part
of a committee of three who will meet for six hours next Monday to revise a
departmental strategic planning statement. Important work, to be sure.
But six hours? Why? Because we’re all introverts was the
explanation. Well, yeah, in this case, on this project, I’d rather work
independently for two hours, quietly, to do the work we’ll accomplish in six
hours of circular exchanges about how to spend money on this and that. The
administration buys into Myers-Briggs typecasting; it’s that simple. Once
you’re an “I” there’ll be no doubling back, darling.

But, for me, I rather tend to regard myself as INFP one day, ESTJ the next. Flexible and varied, more so than essential. But then again, maybe I’m just storying myself that way through contrived, never-ending narratives.


  1. Wow, the “Tech Autobiographical Sketch” sounds like an intriguing assignment. I’m constantly circling around these questions with my students, who are primarily engineering, computer science, and architecture majors.

    I was also intrigued by the Kodak story (I blogged it the other day), especially in the sense that I think it will change how people “remember” or “record” the past.

  2. Hi Chuck,

    I’m hopeful that the tech autobiographical sketch bring about interesting, lively exchanges. I’ll know more on Thursday when the essays come in. It’s a prompt I revised from a literacy memoir assignment I’ve used in the first course in our FY sequence. I was reluctant about assigning something so clearly cast as a narrative in the second course in our FY sequence, since the progression generally shifts from personal narratives to impersonal exposition in these courses.

    I first heard about the Kodak annoucnement on CNN Headline News. God knows what I was doing watching headline news–compulsive channel flipper! I saw it later on Yahoo!News and on a few blogs, including yours (if memory serves me). I probably should be more careful about attribution, since I know others got to it first. As I was putting together course materials, it was on my mind. I think it’s particularly interesting that Kodak intends to continue marketing its film lines in “developing markets.” This comes close to explicit corporate naming of the great divide, eh? In this sense, Kodak is defining consumer options by restricting its markets and this seems especially intriguing for companies vested in discursive media such as photography.

  3. Don’t worry about attribution (of course it’s always fun to get a trackback or a comment). I think we have similar readings of Kodak’s decision, especially given the prohibitive start-up costs of buying a computer to store one’s digital pictures….

    I’d imagined the Technology Literacy project as working well at the beginning of first semester as well, although I’ve tended to avoid students doing autobiographical writing lately.

  4. First the film line of cameras, now 1,500 employees. Next, Kodak will be reducing the pixel specs in their digital lines in the spirit of all this corporate cropping. Then again, what do I know about running an industry-dominating photography company?

    I like the trackbacks and comments, too, and have promised myself to be more gracious with attributions. FWIW, a quick glance this afternoon tells me the tech autobiographical sketches brought about some interesting, thoughtful writing.

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