Race, Rhetoric, and Reality: Adam Banks and Chuck D

For Steve’s class on Tuesday we read Adam Banks’s Race, Rhetoric, and Technology and was lucky enough to have Adam, a former SU prof now at Kentucky, Skype in. Then on Wednesday night, the family and I went to see Chuck D give a talk he called “Combating the Weapons of Mass Distraction” which was sponsored by our Kappa Alpha Psi fraternity. Both experiences were inspiring, and both addressed issues of race and access.

There’s a nice summary of Adam’s book plus our conversation with him over on Hitt’s page, but essentially RRT argues that when it comes to the Digital Divide, our conversation has to be about transformative access; and in order for tech to be truly transformative we (the field of comp/rhet and beyond) have to go beyond material access to address other functions of technology, namely “critique, use, and design” (44). To get there Adam broadens the definition of technology to go beyond the artifact (somewhat out of necessity) to include processes, discursive practices, and tropes. So, for example, if racism is literally coded into various social constructs — the legal system is one example Adam uses since it imprisons a disproportionate number of blacks — then we need to think about how to undo that code. Drawing from Derek Bell, Adam argues that the jeremiad, “an African American rhetorical form that is both a warning and a lament” (95) is one such “countertechnology” that does this work.

I was reminded of the jeremiad on Wednesday night when Chuck D addressed a group of mostly black undergrads. Although the talk was informal and a little scattered at times, Chuck’s main point was this: “You chasin’ the money, you runnin’ in the desert.” He called attention several times to the Occupy Wall Street as a sign of inequality that is going to lead to a social collapse, and encouraged us to think about what it means to “get money.” “If you don’t know what money is how you gonna get it?” If you’re not “a nerd at your goddamn major,” you’re going to finish college with nothing but debt. Although Chuck underscored these warnings (and framed them through hip hop many times), he was also funny and hopeful. He often reflected on what’s possible in college based on his experiences, at one point talking about the importance of brotherhood and collaboration: “I got four majors out of friendship and paid for one.” And at one point Chuck, also an avid Tweeter, held up his smartphone and said “There ain’t no excuse for you to not have an answer today … it’s impossible to not see somethin’ comin’ at you.”

Throughout Adam’s book, which was written six years ago (read: a long ass time in tech terms), I did wonder what role mobile devices are playing in the black community and how that changes the access game when it comes to his axis of critique, use and design. It makes me think about some of the affordances and limits of those devices as reading and writing tools. In a way we did talk little about this when a classmate of mine asked Adam about the role of Twitter in the black community, which does have a proportionately high rate of use among nonwhites. Adam had some interesting ideas about future work in those areas which was rich for discussion about the role of public and private discourse, counterpublics, and the underground.

There were other interesting, subtler connections between Adam’s project and Chuck’s talk: the function of hip hop in both liberation and domestication, African American intellectual identity, and the role of language in all of it. But both experiences also have me thinking about how I can bring some of this work back in to the classroom next semester since I’m betting on getting a WRT 205 course that I’d like to center on either remix culture or countertechnology, hip hop, or countercultural music more generally. Adam had some cool ideas in this regard; the intellectual mix tape, a petcha kutcha style assignment and other ideas are worth trying out. I’ll be revisiting those when the time comes.

Newspaper map

Today NYT’s Gadgetwise blogged about Newspaper Map, a site that uses the Google Maps’ API to plot newspapers from all over the world. The interface is searchable by newspaper or by region, can be filtered by language, and has full social media integration. But the coolest thing is that when users find a paper, they can either click and go directly to the site, click a link to the paper’s or Twitter profile (if it has one), or have the site translate the paper to another language. Just playing around with it, I visited papers in the Congo, China and Afghanistan. I’d like to play around with it more, but I wonder what the potential for something like this would be for research and student writing. Would the site be useful to an average American student in a FYC classroom (or in the writing center) who is trying to locate a primary source in a nation’s own context? Hell, could I? Just by browsing some of the sites in the aforementioned countries, I was a little stunned by how Google translate handled them, and how those sites were casted visually. (Take this one, for instance.) I’ll tinker with this some more this summer to see what I can come up with. But I’m also interested in placing this tool into a larger conversation on research strategies (i.e. when a student might use this tool). More on that soon.

Workflow and the tablet

Part of my doctoral study gear-up means reflecting on previous workflows and anticipating new ones. By workflow, I guess I mean the day-to-day processes involved with accessing, consuming, documenting, archiving, and processing information from all things professional — coursework, exams, and the dissertation, just to name a few.  And since I have to return my Macbook to the Writing Program when I resign in August, I’ll soon be picking up a new machine that will need to last four years. And there’s the rub: which machine (or machines)?

Without belaboring this much, I know I’ll need a laptop and it’s going to be a Mac. I’ve considered the iMac and Mini, but they just don’t offer the portability I’m going to need. And part of the reason I’m quitting is to regain some of the agency I’ve missed since sitting at a desk 9-5. A desktop is going to (re)nail me to a chair.

Then there’s the question of reading. Most the texts from my latest graduate course were read from my laptop, which saved me both time and $.  And it worked, for the most part. But after a while (say, for example, page 300 of Hawk’s Counter-history) I would either get a headache from squinting at my laptop or a backache from bending over my desk to read my monitor. Frankly, I doubt I’ll ever feel as comfortable reading a screen as I currently feel reading print, but it’s gotten easier over the years and it’s not like information is shrinking. Software (RSS readers, “find” features) are obviously making this more possible.

But how about a tablet? I want one. Badly. But I’m trying to figure out if I need one. Some folks in the program have gotten away with reading on large PC screens, so I’ve considered getting a larger Macbook instead of the standard 13″. I still think a tablet would be easier to read than a 17″ Macbook, plus having two devices means having two places to store stuff (for better and for worse).

But the problem with the tablet, as I see it, will be of balancing reading and writing tasks (and maybe) keeping files current. Would I miss cutting and pasting quotes to Word, for example? Will exporting and organizing readings on multiple devices become a time suck instead of a time saver? I wonder how folks who have tablets have incorporated them into their workflow. Has it been an easy process? What apps or other peripherals make this easier or necessary? I know some have been using wireless keyboards or have downloaded apps that make annotating pdfs a breeze. Anyone?