Metaphoric Space, Cyberspace, and Work Space — Computers and Writing 2009

Chair Mikhail Gershovich, Barch College, CUNY

Hacking Spaces: Place as Interface

  • Danielle Nicole DeVoss, Michigan State University
  • Douglass Walls, Michigan State University
  • Scott Schopieray, Michigan State University

Writing-a-go-go: Ubiquitous Computing and the Thirdspace of Workplace Writing
Tina Bacci, University of Rhode Island

The Examined Life–Cyberspace Style: The Construction of Space in the #philosophy IRC Undernet Community
Kennie Rose, University of Louisville

What follows are my rough notes, lightly edited. [My own comments are in square brackets.]

Hacking Spaces: Place as Interface

  • Danielle Nicole DeVoss, Michigan State University
  • Douglass Walls, Michigan State University
  • Scott Schopieray, Michigan State University

situate this analysis of instructional spaces on issues these spaces
pose–issues of restricted movement, impaired ability to collaborate,
sensory disruption, limited leadership ability, and functional/material
constraints. We attempt to return to the roots of hacking and
to situate hacking as a particular tool for negotiating and, at times,
disrupting the assumptions built under, within, and across
instructional spaces.  

I didn’t get the handout they were passing out…

Danielle’s start:

Want to take back “hacking” to its 70s culture, against hoarding of information, towards a more user-friendly notion. 


Look back at 20th C learning C spaces (19thC), rooted in industrial era designs, moving large numbers efficiently through the educational system.

Our classrooms reflect this mindset, even though education “has long since dropped that mindset” [that’s optimistic!]. Learning is relatively isolated in these spaces, because they aren’t designed to help our students interact with each other.

Our classroom spaces communicate to us that what happens in the classroom is very different from what happens outside. 21C learning is supposed to be about linking the classroom to the profession. Huge classrooms with people crammed into one space, big dividers between students, desks and chairs where they can’t take notes — not the way they will apply learning in the outside world.

Refers to new spaces with “real chairs that all of us would want to sit in.” Technology  is embedded, not always obvious.

Danielle — says ethernet drops and power cords seem mundane.  [Agreed — this is the same room I was in before, and the back row is full of people who need the few power plugs that are available up there.]

MIT’s SteamCafe: Touchscreens at end of booths in cafe.

Four threads — access, interface as space, (Phil Alexander — showed overlapping windows, said we work and think here, why make students think in an environment that starts with a blinking vertical insertion bar on a white screen.)  networked spaces, physical layout.

Showed some floor plans — two PC classrooms, with typical rows, separated by dividing bar, “with a particularly loud or popular teacher next door” it can be hard to keep your class focused.

Showed another classroom — students can isolate themselves in a pod with their backs facing the instructor, can’t see projection screen.  Another classroom with pillars in the way, or arrangements that block rows.

Heuristic for what to hack:

movement, collaboration (arrangement can prevent orientations), sensory (3 air conditioners), leadership (our field has a tradition of rearranging furniture to shift focus), functional/material (students think of you as the IT person)

(Imagine that we had a dicussion about 70s hacking.)

Administrative hacks — know the system, know how space decisions are made. Know the people, don’t step on toes. Know the methods for how to make space-related proposals.

Hackers understand the way things work, that’s why they can get things done.  The problem becomes a way to focus on some other feature that you do want to talk about.  On the day you turn on 3 air conditioners, you turn the class into a chat class. 

Talk about the physical dimensions of the class, how people talk. Then move students out into the world and look at other writing spaces. [Think of the news copy desk reflecting the traditional hierarchical workflow in a newspaper?]

Writing-a-go-go: Ubiquitous Computing and the Thirdspace of Workplace Writing
Tina Bacci, University of Rhode Island

computer and microcomputer technology in the workplace have expanded,
and in some cases demolished, the office walls. The traditional binary
of work writing and home writing is complicated with a third, elusive
category of on-thego writing. This article uses the space and place
work of Nedra Reynolds as a starting point to investigate how the
intangible and transitory nature of “on-the-go” affects workplace

Mobile workers transport the spaces they visit into transient offices, replacing the structures of the offices they’ve left behind.  But e-mail on the go resembles the writing practices of social networking.

[Bacci is beginning with a survey of the literature. Because she’s reading aloud from a written paper, there isn’t much for me to write about just yet.  I’m not well versed enough in this field to be able to evaluate anything so far, or quote selectively and intelligently from what she’s saying.  I’m more conscious of wishing I had her text in front of me so I could give it my full attention. ]

References to Soja’s definition of thirdspace — a “thirding of the spatial imagination”. — simultaneoulsy real and imagined,and more.  So far Bacci has apologetically prepared us for a long quote, and shown a tiny image in the printout in her hand. 

Refers to a smartphone advertisement — a man who says he thinks of his bus as his office.]

Airports designed to emphasize flow of passengers, not work, stripping the identity of “worker” and replacing it with “traveller”.   Describves a traveler who, needing a plug, moved a low table over to a pole and sat on the floor. 

Expected to find that established office writing behaviors would follow workers who created an imagined office with their mobile technology.  Reynolds — once constraints become familiar, they become encoded, rarely noticed or questioned.

Writing on the go more similar to social networking sites [Isn’t this because of the interface, — using your thumbs on a phone — rather than the location?]

On the go writers recognize that e-mail sent from a mobile machine contains a disclaimer — “Please excuse spelling errors” messages.   Considered acceptable, even expected, but not the kind of writing they would use on a full keyboard.  What is or is not appropriate given the application chosen.  Social affordances give cues in ways similar to genre in…. [here she referred to some names that are outside of my field, so I’m a bit lost… looks like she’s cutting for time and jumping around a bit.]

Bacci says her work is an early investigation, inventive social affordances going on in difffrent technical and social applications.


The Examined Life–Cyberspace Style: The Construction of Space in the #philosophy IRC Undernet Community
Kennie Rose, University of Louisville

study examines the rhetoric of #philosophy, a chat room that operates
through the Internet Relay Chat (IRC) protocol on the Undernetnetwork.
#philosophy’s mission statement describes it as “a reliable place . . .
for civil philosophical conversation.” Using an ethnographic approach,
I gathered hours worth of chat transcripts and material from the
channel’s website; then, I analyzed this data through the lens of
speech act and cultural rhetorical theory.

Looking at older social tools, will apply ideas about space to a chat transcript of the philosophy IRC channel.

Nedra Reynolds (Rose has put up a slide citing this figure who’s unfamiliar to me but important to his point… much easier for me to follow along.)

Unversity spaces separated from surrounding city… in USA the surrounding city tends to have straight lines, but universities have curvy lines, buildings placed in irregular patterns. Unconscious recognition that you have walked onto an academic space.

You expect students, professors, other kinds of university workers in the space; patterns of behavior expected of these groups.

Showed example of a visitor violating protocal and being “silenced” and referred to a legalistic document explaining all the rules of membership (which earned a few snickers from the conference audience).  Rules that avoid “personal issues” as a distraction from talking about philosophy.  This group goals exclude discussing the specifics of the current philosophical scene.

Why people come into this chat room to discuss philosophy in a universal, absolutist way. Discussed his position without much power working in a movie theater, taking classes… he was attracted to a space where the goal was discussing universal questions, hooking into western philosophical tradition that argues the universal is more important than the specific.  Conjectures that others may have been attracted to the space the same way.

Future research… Reynolds mentions that sensing boundaries involes a type of knowledge that’s very hard to name or research.

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