Writing is perhaps our most flexible tool. Since its invention in 3200 BCE, this tool has been used for a remarkable range of activities—and has been combined with other technologies to shape what is possible in different societies and contexts. And the current information and communication technologies—such as social media, instant messaging, and collaborative writing spaces—are certainly making their mark, changing how we read, write, compose, and argue.
In this class, we’ll examine writing as a tool that interacts with various information and communication technologies, and we’ll try out various information and communication technologies to better understand how they interact.
Assignments and Grading
Project 1: Offline writing. (20%)
Not only has writing been offline for almost all of its history, it has been done in specific media: fired clay, bones, papyrus, marble, paper, sticky notes. In fact, it’s hard to go an hour without encountering some kind of offline writing. As Karlsson shows in her article, even trades that seem to have nothing to do with writing actually involve writing. In a highly literate society, writing is applied to most of our problems.
Find and analyze four pieces of offline writing that are related to each other in a specific activity. Examples might include:
- a shopping list, a printed circular for a grocery store, a sticker on an apple, and a sign advertising a sale.
- a flyer for a Greek event, a ticket for the event, a sign at the event, a t-shirt commemorating the event.
- a course syllabus, course notes, an assignment for the course, a picture of the whiteboard during a lecture.
- the Starbucks menu, a chalkboard showing today’s specials, a receipt, a paper coffee cup with the customer’s name written on it.
Analyze the pieces of offline writing in these terms:
- Purpose. What does each piece of writing do within the activity? What role does it play in comparison with other examples of writing?
- Medium. Why is each piece of writing in this medium rather than others? How does this medium help it to achieve its purpose?
- Links. How does this piece of writing link up with other pieces? For instance, the barista may take a name for the receipt, but also may write it in marker on a Starbucks cup. In what ways do these pieces of writing become associated?
- Strengths and weaknesses. In becoming associated, these different texts may reinforce each others’ purposes or roles in the activity. but they may also undermine them. Discuss some ways in which the four pieces of writing reinforce or undermine each other.
Include pictures or scans of each piece of writing, either as embedded figures or as separate uploads.
Project 2: Social writing. (25%)
We’ve done offline writing for a long time, but two trends—universal literacy and widespread access to digitally based information and communication technologies—have radically increased both the variety and the interactivity of writing. We can now keep in close, interactive contact with a variety of relationships via social networking (e.g., Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Google Plus) and messaging (e.g., SMS/texting, instant messaging, GroupMe, Skype, Google Hangouts). And as the Haas et al. piece illustrated, this new (historically speaking) affordance has led to behavior that older people might find bizarre—such as texting someone who is in the same space.
How have information and communication technologies changed the nature of relationships, either close or distant? Write a paper that explores this question. For this paper:
- Interview 2-3 people who has grown up with, and uses, social media or messaging. Specifically, find people who have used social media or messaging since high school (at the latest). Discuss the following:
○ What do they use social networking or messaging to do? Under what conditions? Ask for specific examples that you can capture, either via screen capture or by writing verbatim.
○ How do they use social networking or messaging to interact? For instance, do they comment on others’ status? Do they monitor how others feel or what others are doing?
- Interview 1-2 people who did not grow up with social media or messaging. These could be relatives, employers, professors, etc. Discuss the following:
○ Do they use social media or messaging? If so, how do they use it? If not, why not?
○ What have they found most counterintuitive about social media?
Based on the research above, write a paper that compares and contrasts the expectations of the two groups. Compare both sets of expectations to your own.
Project 3: Collaborative writing. (30%)
Collaborative writing has become increasingly important in endeavors from entertainment to business to education, helped along by new and powerful ways to collaborate. As Zachry et al. show, publicly available online services have created an additional collaborative layer over businesses; as Sherlock demonstrates, collaborative texts such as wikis are key to making certain activities in World of Warcraft happen. And of course Wikipedia is the poster child for massive collaboratively written endeavors.
This project involves examining such collaborative writing spaces, but it also involves using them.
In groups of 3-4 people, select a collaboratively written text to examine and evaluate. You might consider texts such as
- a wiki for an online game or a Wikipedia page
- a Google Doc for an open source software project
- a piece of documentation in a content management system
As you examine the text, you’ll collaborate on an evaluation of the text. Specifically, you’ll look at features such as:
- Identity. Are collaborators identified? How are they identified—with full names, pseudonyms, etc.?
- History. Does the system show the history of changes? How do you get to it, and to what degree does it show the changes?
- Controls. Who controls the text? What levels of control are embedded in the software? What roles are established? How do people move from one role to another?
- Contributions. What features allow people to make contributions? Are these features easy or hard to use? Speculate on how the qualities of these features affect the quantity and quality of the contributions.
Collaboratively write a paper based on the evaluation.
- Use collaborative writing software (such as Google Docs, a wiki, or a content management system) to write and submit the paper..
- Use a project management tool (Basecamp, Asana, Wrike, Google Sheets, etc.) to plan, track, and adjust writing tasks.’
Project 4: Networked writing and alliances. (25%)
In their book The Zapatista Social Netwar in Mexico, Ronfeldt et al. describe how the Zapatistas took advantage of relatively new information and communication technologies (new in 1998, anyway) to network different actors with different agendas, resulting in alliances that quickly changed the dynamics of revolution. We see similar tactics being used with more recent actions leveraging more recent technologies: the Arab Spring used Facebook and Twitter; Occupy Wall Street and the Tea Party use social media and discussion boards; the Syrian rebels use Skype; Anonymous uses a variety of channels.
Select one instance—possibly from these, possibly from other instances—and research it. Specifically, examine how entities with different agendas meet and network those agendas via information and communication technologies.
Required Texts and Course Readings
Baten, J., & Van Zanden, J. L. (2008). Book production and the onset of modern economic growth. Journal of Economic Growth, 13(3), 217–235.
Bender, E. M., Morgan, J. T., Oxley, M., Zachry, M., Hutchinson, B., Marin, A., Zhang, B., et al. (2011). Annotating Social Acts : Authority Claims and Alignment Moves in Wikipedia Talk Pages. LSM ’11: Proceedings of the Workshop on Languages in Social Media (pp. 48–57). Stroudsburg, PA: Association for Computational Linguistics.
Ferro, T., Divine, D., & Zachry, M. (2012). Knowledge Workers and Their Use of Publicly Available Online Services for Day-to-day Work. SIGDOC ’12:Proceedings of the 30th ACM international conference on Design of communication (pp. 47–53). New York: ACM.
Hutchins, E. (1995). How a cockpit remembers its speeds. Cognitive Science, 19(3), 265–288.
Karlsson, A.-M. (2009). Positioned by Reading and Writing: Literacy Practices, Roles, and Genres in Common Occupations. Written Communication, 26(1), 53–76. doi:10.1177/0741088308327445
Law, J. (1986). On the methods of long distance control: Vessels, navigation and the Portuguese route to India. In J. Law (Ed.), Power, action and belief: A new sociology of knowledge? (pp. 234–263). Boston: Routledge.
Morgan, J. T., & Zachry, M. (2010). Negotiating with angry mastodons. In Wayne Lutters & Diane H. Sonnenwald (Eds.), Proceedings of the 16th ACM international conference on Supporting group work - GROUP ’10 (pp. 165–168). New York: ACM.
O’Leary, M., Orlikowski, W., & Yates, J. (2002). Distributed work over the centuries: Trust and control in the Hudson’s Bay Company, 1670-1826. In P. J. Hinds & S. Kiesler (Eds.), Distributed Work (pp. 27–54). Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
Oxley, M., Morgan, J. T., Zachry, M., & Hutchinson, B. (2010). “What I Know Is …”: Establishing Credibility on Wikipedia Talk Pages. WikiSym ’10: Proceedings of the 6th International Symposium on Wikis and Open Collaboration (pp. 2–3). New York: ACM.
Ronfeldt, D., Arquilla, J., Fuller, G. E., & Fuller, M. (1999). The Zapatista Social Netwar in Mexico. Santa Monica, CA: Rand Corporation.
Sherlock, L. (2009). Genre, Activity, and Collaborative Work and Play in World of Warcraft: Places and Problems of Open Systems in Online Gaming. Journal Of Business And Technical Communication, 23(3), 263–293.
Schmandt-Besserat, D., & Erard, M. (2008). Origins and Forms of Writing. In C. Bazerman (Ed.), Handbook of research on writing: History, society, school, individual, text (pp. 7–22). New York: Erlbaum.
Smart, G. (2008). Writing and the social formation of economy. In C. Bazerman (Ed.), Handbook of research on writing: History, society, school, individual, text (pp. 123–135). New York: Erlbaum.