It’s hard to remember sometimes that I actually have my own life, my own interests outside of sitting in hospitals and nursing homes—the activity that has dominated the last month for me. I had conferences with students this week and it felt good to get back to being a different sort of care provider. Maybe it’s just that I’m in a generous mood, but the professional and technical writing class I’ve had this semester has been one of the best of my career. People are engaged and involved for the most part, and have picked projects that have some relevance to their career paths. That always makes a difference. Although Krista has taught a unit for the past month so that I could tend to my mother, I still think of them as my class.
One thing that has really made this class click is the use of more technology—I used google docs for the first time with great success, and Krista has taught the instructions module using wikis. I am a firm believer in technology in the classroom, and this has been effective both as a way of presenting material and concepts, but also in just plain getting the job done. Being separated by several states has not made me lose touch with the class at all. It may have its dark side, but I really do think that technology is mostly good.
In the shower this morning, it dawned on me that at the core I really believe that technology has the ability to tell us more about the world. The danger, ultimately, though is losing sight of the world part of that equation. Fantasy has its uses, but in the end, reality is what matters.
Trying to place this in a historical perspective, it occurred to me that one sticking point is skill. When photography was introduced, it was suspect because the skill required to use it was taken as being of lesser importance (because it was “mechanical”) than the skill required of a painter. Though it might have required a significantly different skill set, there was much overlap—mostly in the arena of taste (or more precisely, selection). In other words, at least in the realm of realism, both painters and photographers had to know where to stand and when to record the moment. Reduced to this, photography was at great advantage because of the speed with which a practitioner might develop their skill—it takes much longer to create even a hasty sketch to review.
It seems clear that on one level skill (as in the complex manipulation of surfaces with pigments) was reduced, but over time and in different ways, the skill of knowing where to stand would only become stronger in the new practitioners. In fact, hybrid practitioners of the technologies of painting and photography necessarily emerge due to the unique advantages of both. Painting was/will never be dead as a conceptual and expressive apparatus, but as a technology of knowing the world painting is more limited than photography.
The creation of tangible manufactured products—(print documents) in the writing classroom does not seem to be under threat by new technologies, at least not for a long while. However the advantages of proofing, sharing, changing, and transforming these products through less tangible technologies seems assured. The question that I think we have to ask is how do these new communications technologies tell us more about the world through speed and access. And, by the same token, how is our skill at conceptualizing and expressing our reality eroded by this new group of practices?
In word, or in images, it is tough to label one technology as “better” — for the question always lurks: better at what?