Readings, and Related Inspirations

Hill, Blair & Selfe²


The first several years I taught beginning composition, I took for granted that we had computer lab days. It seemed like a natural part of teaching composition. I assumed every university had this added to their courses. My first year, we even had to teach our students to design a website. There was so much backlash from the all but untrained GTA’s however, that this was removed by my second year. The last year I taught, there were even several GTA’s that were attempting to get out of their lab days. They were bartering for fewer days ‘stuck in the lab’. After completing our reading for this week’s Visual Rhetoric course, I’m guessing that Cynthia and Richard Selfe, Charles Hill, and J. Anthony Blair would all be pretty discouraged by my colleagues desire to ‘get out of’ lab days. In all three articles we read, the authors are arguing that the issues that the use of visuals in the argument arena pose are complex and multi-layered. While Selfe and Selfe are arguing about computer technology, most notably the use of the desktop interface, their argument can be tied into the psychological and rhetorical standpoints that Hill and Blair make in their respective chapters featured in the 2004 book Defining Visual Rhetorics. What is salient for me in these articles is the matter of the extent to which the visual influences how we teach argument in the composition classroom coupled with the reminder that we should not take for granted the impact of our use of both technology and the visual in this setting.

According to J. Anthony Blair, the rate at which we take in visuals on television in a 30 second period “would be impossible to express… verbally in 30 seconds” (51), and illustrates the alarming amount humans can process visually. While I have heard this idea before in Art History courses, this number, contextualized with Selfe and Selfe’s ideas about the interface as a social imperialist tool, shifted the way I think about the use of images in my classroom. Over the years, I have subjected my students to computer lab days, photos to analyze, slides to look at and videos to watch – all without thinking much about any kind of marginalization I might be doing to the people sitting in my classroom.

These realizations brought up a few questions I would like to pose to the members of this course:

–          To what extent are the images we chose to use in a composition course, or in any other instructional arena, overlapping with the attitudes raised in Selfe and Selfe about technology in the classroom which place technology as “at some level and to some degree, seem[ing] to support racist, sexist, and colonial attitudes” (484)?

–          Where desktop interfaces are concerned, would something as simple as changing icons to cartoons, or other shapes, help with Selfe and Selfe’s border issue? Do these issues still exist, 18 years later?

–          Why is the concept of bricolage associate with women? I personally have never felt left out of the technosphere based on my gender. Can someone address this issue? Am I alone in this?

In the end, it is clear that all the articles present important topics that are still relevant today, despite several issues being out of date from all the pieces, though I am wondering whether Blair is perhaps overthinking the need to argue for visual persuasion as a means of persuasion. He poses a legitimate question: “what sorts of causal instruments will we allow to count as persuasion” (42), which I think might set the stage for this entire course.


4 thoughts on “Hill, Blair & Selfe²

  1. I think you have to be very aware of things that could be considered sexist, racist, etc. I for one had never considered the fact that the pointer mouse is white to be an issue. I remember it being a black mouse cursor when I was younger.
    I wondered about changing the icons and if that would help with the interface issue that is presented. Would using the idea of a kitchen and present ‘folders’ as ‘plates’ really make that huge of a difference. I’m not sure if the simple changing of that would help at all.
    I also had some trouble with the bricolage concept that was presented and the way it interacted with gender so you are not alone in that!

  2. I’m trying to decide which of your questions I’d like to answer! I have pretty strong opinions about each. . . But I think I’ll just take a stab at the last two.

    2. I first read the Selfe and Selfe piece in 2009 as a part of an Electronic Writing and Publishing class and have since read it two or three other times in various classes. And although I’ve had a number of different opinions and thoughts about it over the years, I’ve ALWAYS been confronted with the same question: “When does an interface become so common that it fades away? When do we just become so accustomed to it (even if it’s bad) that we don’t think about it anymore and just use it?”

    Mary mentioned on Tuesday that the goal of good designers is to create a product that allows the interface to fade away into the background. Users only notice it when something changes (is updated) or when there’s a problem.

    I’ve been doing a lot of research on user-centered design and intuitive design–and it makes me wonder about WHEN something BECOMES intuitive. The word “intuitive” implies that we do or feel something because it’s bred into our nature. It’s a natural feeling that we weren’t directly taught. I grew up with a computer and was never directly taught how to use it–I just did. And looking at my young cousins and my friend’s children, I see the same things in them, too. No one teaches them–the just do it.

    In that same vein, students in my comp class may not know how certain functions of a computer work or have a complete mastery of Word, but I don’t know that I’ve EVER come across a student who didn’t know how to interact with the desktop.

    Although we all seemed to come to an agreement in class on Tuesday that the desktop metaphor doesn’t work and the hierarchical system is restrictive to both user and designers, I wonder if Selfe and Selfe’s argument from 18 years ago applies in the same ways as it did then.

    Have computers become so ubiquitous that even people who don’t own laptops or personal computers at home know how to at least go through the basic operations of a computer, such as opening a file or application?

    3. Like you, I never felt left out of the “technosphere” because of my gender. I actually began my undergraduate degree as an IT major. I will admit that the first days of classes were always funny because I always had very helpful people ask if I was lost or in the correct class. But after those first initial encounters (which I found more humorous than anything else), everything was fine. All of the technical environments in which I’ve worked over the past few years have been everything but antagonistic or negative. Maybe I’m missing something, too.

  3. Pingback: Benjamin and Flusser – a new approach « valerievisual

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