Earlier this week, the Computers and Writing folks discussed the decline in the use of the word “computer” in MLA job ads. The decline is more than offset by a rise in related terms, so the discussion appropriately focused on the value of “computers” as an umbrella term. (In our daily lives, we increasingly use things we know as tablets, netbooks, smartphones, etc. rather than “computers.” There are now, for instance, computers in cars, photocopiers, cameras, and treadmills. My IT department refers generally to “devices.”)
Today’s topic, which focuses on the term “multimedia,” makes me think about that word “writing.” The umbrella concept is “Computers and Writing,” but our understanding of the value of “multimedia” as a practice asks us also to explore our understanding of “writing.” I think we’re more likely to push back against the use of multimedia if we focus on what we do as “writing,” and more likely to embrace different media if we conceptualize what we do as “composing” — thanks in no small part to the linguistic availability of the visual and musical concepts of “composition.” (But then there is also “compost.”)
One of the nice things about our recent theorizing of multimedia is the way it has turned our attention to the materialities of composing. From material social conditions to composing tools and writing materials, this focus has been an important part of computers and writing scholarship over the years. Anne Wysocki and Jody Shipka have made recent contributions, pointing out that an awareness of the materialities of composing may be a criterion for new media texts and that these texts need not be limited to the digital, or even to print.
These movements bring our focus to engagements with the material world. When we work volume levels or visual opacities, we engage with light and sound–waves. Multimedia composing engages us as the materials push back: too many visual layers, too loud, too quiet, too buzzy. Positing such direct connection with the materials raises for me two questions:
What can we say about the role of resistance in multimedia composing?
How might what we learn about materials and composing for multimedia recast our thinking about writing with words, or with multimedia and words?