Tuesday, November 7, 2006

Wysocki and Jasken, "What Should Be An Unforgettable Face"

Wysocki, Anne, and Julia I. Jasken. "What Should Be An Unforgettable Face...." Computers and Composition 21 (2004) 29-48.

Wysocki and Jaskin argue for an expanded, generous recognition of interfaces as situated and reflexive.  Computer interfaces are rhetorical, they contend.  In the first half of the essay, they survey Computers and Composition in the 80s and 90s to identify a range of arguments that discuss various aspects of interfaces, while leaving other aspects unaddressed.  Collectively, Wysocki and Jaskin want to call our attention to the partial treatments of interface, while showing that much C&C scholarship addresses the rhetorical nature of the interface and has been forgotten.

In the second half of the essay, they examine handbooks to show the emphasis on technical knowledge and functional ease at the expense of rhetoric.  These arhetorical stances are read across 14 books, suggesting the dangers of ultra-constrained treatments of interfaces--emphasis on the technical encourages us to forget about the other stuff, and only the barest advice about web design prevails (often treating web design like designing for paper).

So that we don't forget the interface's rhetorical nature and so that we see broadly beyond the technical (or recognize the rhetorical entangled with the technical), Wysocki and Jaskin recommend the work of redesign and cognizance of the presence of interfaces in both print and online materials.

Key terms: graphical user interface (30), seeing and visibility (31), interface (32), HCI and screen (32), interface as rhetorical (33), interface as complexly socially situated (33), PC vs. Mac interfaces (35), role of software (35), expectations of teachers (36), writing handbooks (37), technical as arhetorical (39), functional ease (40), form and content (43), redesign (45).

"We are concerned here precisely with how sight-and hence the metaphors for knowledge-building and comprehension that are linguistically tied to sight-is always just as much about what we don't see as about what we do, always about where attentions are not directed as much as about where they are" (31).

"What do interfaces--and our teachings about how we and people in our classes should both shape and read them--encourage or allow us to see, and then, just as often, to forget to see?" (31).

"Taylor's (1992) words ask to imagine an individual who perhaps recognizes, but perhaps not, that as she sits at a computer using software she is being seen by the software--by the software's makers as they are embodied in their design decisions--as being dull and uninventive; the software therefore only allows her the actions that a dull and uninventive person can be expected to take, and hence--if she approaches the software without abilities or background or desire or encouragement to distance herself from it--she must be that dull and uninventive person, at least for the minutes or hours she uses the software" (34).

"All these writers argued that we have to see interfaces as not just what is on screen but also what is beyond and around the screen if we want to understand how interfaces fit into and sup port the varied and entwined sets of practices that shape us" (36).

"In these varied words from writing teachers and researchers, then, we hope you can see how

  • when we are encouraged not to see the interface as taking part in shaping how we use computers,
  • when we are encouraged to look through form (as though it is arhetorical and ought to be invisible) to content,

we miss--we are able to forget--how complexly and how strongly interfaces take part in the wide ranging, and certainly not always positive, effects that computers have in our practices, lives, and relations with others" (37).

"We have examined handbooks and guides that many writing teachers use, books that so frequently now include sections for helping students design web pages, and--instead of instruction that helps students attain a broad and mindful view of interfaces--we see instruction that often constructs the technical as neutrally arhetorical; emphasizes getting work done--the values of efficiency, ease of use, and transparency--over other possible human activities and relations; and separates content from form, as though form contributes nothing to how others respond to and are shaped by the texts we make for each other" (38).

"If we do not discuss with students how what is present on screen is dependent on the attitudes and backgrounds of those who design what we see and not just on apparently neutral function or technical requirement, then we risk what those earlier writers saw: how audiences can be restricted or silenced or reduced in complexity by what we produce" (45).

"Is it possible to design--is it worth pursuing the design of--reflexive interfaces, interfaces that themselves encourage the wider kinds of seeing we have discussed here, interfaces that encourage their audiences to question how the interfaces construct and shape those who engage with them?" (46).

Bookmark and Share Posted by at November 7, 2006 9:13 PM to Visuality and New Media