Cynthia L. "Technology and Literacy: A Story about the Perils of
Not Paying Attention." CCC 50.3 (1999): 411-436.
Selfe wages an argument about uptake, attitude, and
attention toward technology in the field of compositions studies. She
opens with characterizations of boredom and avoidance, suggesting
that many in the field presume technology to be antithetical to the
humanist project of composition studies. Selfe warns of the "perils of
not paying attention," citing statistics about the ubiquity and tendential force
of technologies (70% of jobs with a BA will require familiarity with computers,
The largest portion of Selfe’s talk is concerned with the 1996 Clinton-Gore
administration report called Getting America’s Children Ready for the
Twenty-First Century, which committed to unprecedented expenditures on
technology in educational settings (amounts disproportionately high when
compared to spending on more conventional literacy initiatives). Selfe’s
contention: we haven’t paid attention to it (481). Furthermore, she finds
it disconcerting that, as of 1999, there were no published statements on
technological literacies from MLA, NCTE, CCCC, or IRA. Of course, technology
literacy initiatives don’t necessarily change the conditions of access
interfering with literacy education.
Selfe goes on to support her claim that literacy is always political
(424). Clinton-Gore commitments to technology spending are directly
tied to larger motivations for keeping an advantageous position in the expanding
global economy, which increasingly depends on such technologies (Gore: the
Global Information Infrastructure is a "metaphor for functioning democracy").
Boost in education, then, are part of a complex "economic and political
Compositionists must pay attention across scales, both to the larger
forces of technology change, and also to local sites and situated
knowledge. She calls this change in scales "attention to action,"
and it involves "paying critical attention" to a long list of sites and
activities: curriculum committees, standards documents, and assessment programs;
professional organizations; scholarship and research; all levels of classrooms
and courses; computer-based communication facilities; school systems; school
board elections, pre-service and in-service ed programs and curricula;
libraries, community centers and other non-traditional public places.
To wrap up, Selfe notes that humanists and scientists both have
much to gain from more critical attention to technology in these multiple
"Given this situation [insights from CCCC colleagues], however, I find it
compellingly unfortunate that the one topic serving as a focus for my own
professional involvement–that of computer technology and its use in teaching
composition–seems to be the single subject best guaranteed to inspire
glazed eyes and complete indifference in that portion of the CCCC membership
which does not immediately sink into snooze mode" (412).
"Allowing ourselves the luxury of ignoring technology, however,
is not only misguided at the end of the 20th century, it is
dangerously shortsighted" (414).
"As composition teachers, deciding whether or not to use technology in our
classes is simply not the point–we have to pay attention to technology"
"By paying critical attention to lessons about technology, we
can re-learn important lessons about literacy" (419).
"In other words, the poorer you are and the less educated you
are in this country–both of which conditions are correlated with race–the
less likely you are to have access to computers and to high-paying,
high-tech jobs in the American workplace" (421).
"Thus, the national project to expand technological literacy has not
served to reduce illiteracy–or the persistent social problems that exacerbate
"A situated knowledges-approach to paying attention also honors a
multiplicity of responses to technological literacy" (430).
Terms: persistence of print (413), "pay attention" (413), Bordieu’s "doxa"
(415), educational policy (416), myth of literacy and large-scale literacy
projects (419), illiteracy (428), Haraway’s coyote way of knowing (429), local
- Related sources:
- Bordieu, Pierre. Outline of a Theory of Practice. New York:
Cambridge UP, 1977.
- Giddens, Anthony. The Constitution of Society: Outline of the Theory of
Structuration. Berkeley; U of California P, 1985.
- Latour, Bruno. Aramis or the Love of Technology. Trans. C. Porter.
Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1996.