Today in Digital Rhetoric, we’re covering the history of the internet in about 35 minutes. Considering that some programs devote an entire course to this, I am feeling the pressure to make the lesson meaningful and informative.
I like to focus on the origins of the internet, ARPAnet, and its links to the military-industrial complex. To me, a lot of the issues we face today are rooted in the internet’s early focus on connecting research institutions engaged in the Space Race.
At the same time, I want to talk about some of the cool stuff that the early internet afforded. For example, MUDs (Multi User Dungeons) created spaces for people to meet and play. For example, when I lived in Scotland in the mid-1990s, telnet allowed me to meet up with my friends back home and chat for free.
I also remember using Mosaic. In the early 90s, my high school received a grant for internet access and education. Below, is a good example of what “surfing” the web looked like back then. I remember waiting entire minutes for a page to load if it had a lot of images. At the same time, I took a rudimentary coding class in which we learned the basics of HTML and LINUX. And, while I resented taking these classes at the time (Why do I need to learn programming? I’m going to be an English major?!), I still use these skills today.
Today, we take the glitzy interface of the web for granted. Even WYSIWYG software like that which runs this WordPress blog hides the architecture that holds the internet together. I reminds me of HGTV shows like House Hunters in which people walk through a home and complain about the paint and the carpet. In many ways, I think this exactly what Karl Stolley addresses in the Lo-Fi Manifesto.
By understanding the relationship between the web and the internet and the history of the development of both, we can begin to see how issues of access, race, gender, and corporate interest play out today.
I’m traveling around this Mid-West this summer. The twist is that I’m complete dependent on ride-sharing and public transportation. So far, someone stole my Beats (my fault), people have shouted, and men have said gross stuff to me and other female passengers. At the same time. I’ve met some really nice people – a Sister of Loretto gave me a holy medal and a bus driver paid part of a fair for two disabled women who were a dollar short. A lot of this travel has been made easy by the internet. I can consult my friends and book my tickets as I make my next steps. I’ve had my friends print my tickets at their jobs. It’s been really nice.
Now, I’m preparing to go to my dad’s place in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. Of course, his house is so rural, he has to drive an hour to pick me up from the bus. Here’s the rub – he has neither the internet nor a cell phone. So, I can’t just give him an address that he can plug into Google Maps and print off the directions. I can’t talk him in with my own directions via cell. He needs step by step directions. This means, I am going to call him on his landline tonight, look at the directions of Google Maps, and he is going to write them down.
Say yah to da UP, eh!
As we near the end of my Digital Rhetoric course, I’ve started reflecting on what I hoped students learned this semester. I realized about halfway through the semester that we haven’t spent a lot of time learning how to write for the per se. In other words, while we talked about the power of social media and rhetorical velocity, we did not discuss how to craft the perfect Tweet or leverage Facebook for a marketing strategy.
Rather, we’ve spent most of our time talking about what the interwebs are. We discussed remediation, the consequences of collaborative writing, how genres have social action, how social inequalities persist online, and how truth is created and maintained. In other words, we talked about how the interwebs shapes our world and our perceptions.
I had a moment in which I felt guilty about not spending more time discussing the hows of digital rhetoric until I read this article in The Atlantic. Marcio Jose Sanchez suggests that students use the web all of the time, but that they don’t fully appreciate what being digital means. When we call current students digital natives we may be doing them a disservice because this moniker “falsely assumes that today’s students intrinsically understand the nuanced ways in which technologies shape the human experience—how they influence an individual’s identity, for example, or how they advance and stymie social progress—as well as the means by which information spreads thanks to phenomena such as algorithms and advertising.”
Digital natives need to learn how online environments shape the way we understand the world. Teaching them how the interwebs work will make them better writers, thinkers, creators, and appreciators of digital media.