Academic journal article Research in the Teaching of English

Forum: Where the Machine Stops: Software as Reader and the Rise of New Literatures

Academic journal article Research in the Teaching of English

Forum: Where the Machine Stops: Software as Reader and the Rise of New Literatures

Article excerpt

In his short story "The Machine Stops," E. M. Forster (1909/2009) describes a postapocalyptic world where airships circumnavigate the globe. Human beings communicate their needs to the Machine by pressing a button. The Machine provides, automatically. When one character launches an excursion to the forbidden surface of the planet, Forster describes the Machine as unable to process the "imponderable bloom" of his curiosity and creativity. It is an uncanny forecast of today's obsession with informational texts and information systems in an age of market-driven and technophilic education reform. The ubiquity of software and information systems in data-driven educational settings means that educators and students are always subject to the logic of databases and worldviews of those who profit through software (Lynch, 2013a, 2013c). Researchers and educators must move beyond the "orthodoxy of optimism" that surrounds technology (Selwyn, 2014) and turn their critical gaze toward software (Berry, 2011; Kitchin & Dodge, 2011). We, as a field, must have a systematic way to theorize the impact of software on pedagogy.

A Growing Divide between Literature and Technology

Technology is sometimes positioned as the book killer by techno-skeptics (Carr, 2010; Darnton, 2009; Manguel, 2008) who claim that technology is creating the "dumbest generation" (Bauerlein, 2008). The literati's chorus, however, is onedimensional. Texts and technology share etymological roots in the Greek tekne (Goldhill, 1986). Writing is itself a technologizing of the word, as Walter Ong (1982) states. Literature and technology are inescapably bound together: books themselves are a form of technology (Howard, 2009). How does one unpack this "relationship between mechanism and meaning" (Ramsay, 2011, p. 85)? Part of the problem lies in the fact that the word technology is used to refer to nearly anything that plugs into a wall, rendering its meaning unhelpfully imprecise. Another word exists that suggests the complexity of what is happening in these digital times: software. Software conveys a complex assemblage of devices, networking systems, user interfaces, code, and information systems while also alluding to the political and economic entities that promote the educational use of what I call software-powered technologies (Lynch, 2013b). As software increasingly mediates lived experiences-including reading and responding to literature-what does it mean for educational research and practice? I propose the establishment of new literatures as a way to frame the inquiry.

Why New Literatures?

What does new literatures mean? New literatures refers to two ways of foregrounding the role that software plays in researching and participating in the teaching of literature: one ontological and the other critical. First, I will explicate the ways software mediates and shapes readers' meaning-making experiences in accordance with its ontology. Second, I will attend to the way software asserts the ideologies, politics, economies, epistemologies, and pedagogies of those who produce and promote it.

New literatures examines the ways in which software's agentic and active qualities, which are the result of both software's ontology and the social, political, and economic conditions in which it is produced and promoted, shape the kinds of transactions (Rosenblatt, 1983) readers can have with texts. Several fields contribute to new literatures. English educators have articulated useful ways of researching what is meant by teaching literature in schools, especially the role of the individual reader as the maker of meaning (Purves, 1993; Sumara, 1996) and the act of interpretation as a collective endeavor (Blau, 2003). Others have explored the way the teaching of English is affected by the use of new technologies (Buck, 2012; Hicks, 2009; Kist, 2010; Rozema & Webb, 2008), often drawing on theorizations of the new literacies and new media (Cazden et ah, 1996; Leu et ah, 2007; Moje, 2009) and multimodal composition (Jewitt, 2009; Kress, 2003). …

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