Academic journal article College Composition and Communication

Emplacing Mobile Composing Habits: A Study of Academic Writing in Networked Social Spaces

Academic journal article College Composition and Communication

Emplacing Mobile Composing Habits: A Study of Academic Writing in Networked Social Spaces

Article excerpt

"This semester it's been Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday," said a master's student named Kim. As we talked, she sat in a familiar location on one side of a café booth with her laptop snapped shut and a muffin stacked on a journal alongside it. She was describing her current routine for studying in the Gone Wired Café, which was an independent coffeehouse located on the avenue linking a large public research-intensive university to the "East Side" of the adjoining city where she lived.1 Kim completed work for her graduate courses at Gone Wired and rarely diverged from her routine even when spend- ing time there with others. Often donning noise-reducing headphones plugged into her Mac laptop, Kim treated time in Gone Wired like a job commitment. She was amused at herself for being so set in her ways:

I wrote like a poem or something about coming to Gone Wired. First thing you put down your bag, you sit down, or you plug your computer in, and like you take your laptop out... and you plug it in, and you put your headphones on and you open the laptop and you get all your stuff situated. You know? And then I go check my email and I check Twitter and all these things have to happen in a very specific order for me to feel like okay now I can work. You know?

Although I would describe Kim as particularly methodical, I did understand. Research examining the relationships that composers form with places, tech- nologies, and other artifacts emphasizes how material environments tacitly and explicitly support thinking and writing practices (Reynolds; Prior and Shipka; Bowen). For example, Paul Prior and Jody Shipka assign the term environment selecting and structuring practices to describe "the intentional deployment of external aids and actors to shape, stabilize, and direct consciousness in service of the task at hand" (44).

The study from which Kim's case is drawn extends this focus on the connections between materiality and composing processes by analyzing "how people move through the world" when writing in a hyperconnected, information-rich culture (Reynolds 26). Scenes for writing shift significantly when individuals maintain nearly constant contact with one another through mobile devices and online social networks (Katz and Aakhus, "Introduction"; Ito, Okabe, and Matsuda; Ling and Yttri; Parry; Pigg et al.) and experience what Richard Lanham has called drowning in floods of circulated data and text online (6). To learn more about how these contexts affect composing practices, this qualitative research examined writing in two semi-public places. The first site was the Gone Wired Café, a coffeehouse and frequent workspace for graduate students, faculty members, and undergraduates that was located three miles from a large midwestern university.2 My second fieldwork site was a university social learning space called the Technology Commons, which was also located on a highly traveled pathway: a pedestrian crossroads traversing one of the country's largest metropolitan universities. During several weeks of research, I inhabited each place as a participant-observer and interacted with twenty-one student participants in interviews and videotaped observations.

After describing why research on composing with digital, mobile technologies can benefit from situating device use in place and time, this article traces two cases of everyday writing process from the larger project. As a result of this analysis, I suggest that public social places like coffeehouses and social learning spaces offer a temporary place to dwell and locate writing, which is a need expen rienced by composers who work and learn with smartphones, laptops, and tablets. When focused on the screens of mobile technologies, we can easily forget that their use is never disembodied or immaterial. Writing with mobile technologies is enabled not only by servers, cables, Wi-Fi networks, and histories of development and labor, but also by how users make places for devices in everyday practice. …

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