MORE INPUT (Johnny 5 & the Struggle to Unplug)

“Read. Watch. Ponder. Post.”

I’ll admit I really liked the above prompt for this week, even though I’m a bit late to the game in finishing my post. There were a lot of “quotable quotes” from the readings from this week, although I’d like to start here, with Clive Thompson’s answer in his NYT interview.

When Thompson is asked what one piece of technology he would want with him were he stranded on a desert island, he responds: “I would probably take an e-reader loaded down with a gazillion books. (Making the assumption it has a solar ray so I can power that e-reader.) I am frankly really excited that modern technology allows us to read so many books in the way it does now. That was the dream of H. G. Wells and other science fiction writers, that all of knowledge could exist on a single device — which it does now. But, if I couldn’t bring electronics with me to my deserted island, I’d probably bring penicillin.”

I know I’m not alone in my amazement at the rate that technology improves. If you were to go back in time and tell 10-year old me that one day, you could fit endless books inside a device smaller than some of the books I was reading, I would wonder if you were crazy. If you told me you could fit books inside of a cell phone, I would be positive you were crazy.

As a result of this, I spent quite a bit of time pondering the nearly endless connectivity of our culture at this point in time, as “unplugging” is something I struggle with myself on occasion (okay, maybe a lot). After all, it can be hard to put down a device that gives you all the information you could ever want (and then some), right at your fingertips. It’s no wonder that, in response to “Is Google Making Us Stupid?” by Nicholas Carr, commenter Kevin Kelly makes the following observation:  “Question is, do you get off Google or stay on all the time? I think that even if the penalty is that you lose 20 points of your natural IQ when you get off Google AI, most of us will choose to keep the 40 IQ points we gain by jacking in all the time. At least I would.”

I liked this comment because I have definitely opted not to unplug from time to time, if “unplugging” meant losing access to information that seemed really critical at the time. Even when I’m supposed to relax, I find that access to a device (say, my smartphone) is often still a priority. That is, I often can’t relax without knowing that access point to information is there.

What can I say? I like to look up answers! I like information.

As the robot Johnny 5 says in the film Short Circuit, “I NEED MORE INPUT.”

A Bio a Day…

…keeps the questions at bay? (Kidding!)

On a more serious note, I wanted to share the bio I wrote for my Global Perspectives Program experience. (Those of you in Contemporary Pedagogy may also be interested in this as you write your Teaching Philosophy and think of ways to talk about your work and research, which is why this post has also been shared with you.)

Oddly enough, I really struggle with this kind of writing, and it took me a long time just to write what follows below. (So if any of you readers out there have comments or suggestions, I’m all ears!)

And here it goes:

Rachel Kinzer Corell is a MA student in English with a focus in rhetoric and writing, in addition to completing the Preparing the Future Professoriate certificate as a GPP fellow. A word nerd with an eye toward helping others find ways to communicate in context, she is very interested in the practical application of technical writing strategies to “real world” experiences. Rachel is currently Lead GTA for the Engineering Communications Program, where she provides in-house writing feedback and technical writing instruction to students in the Department of Materials Science & Engineering. (To date, her biggest challenge has been convincing MSE students of the reasons why they need the keen eye of an English grad student to help them communicate.) She also holds a MA in English from the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, where she focused on composition & rhetorical studies. Her research for her MA Capstone project at VT considers how professional writing consultants can use technical writing strategies through practical application, and how that writing instruction functions when it occurs outside its traditional home in English studies.

Prior to graduate school at Virginia Tech, Rachel worked in a number of administrative capacities both within and outside of higher education, although they all share a common thread with respect to professional communication. These experiences influenced her research interests regarding ways people use the means available to them to communicate more effectively, especially in professional contexts. In addition to teaching first-year composition as an adjunct faculty member for a community college and working as an online writing tutor, she has served as an office manager for a solo law practice, and worked in assessment and evaluation for a large, urban K-12 school system. She also has experience working as a communications assistant at a small art gallery, and as an administrative coordinator for an arts education nonprofit.

When she isn’t helping humans with her various professional pursuits, she spends time with her classy canine companion, Agent Margaret Carter. Those of you in and around the Blacksburg area may know her better as Peggy; she’s become quite the Avengers fan since her rescue in May 2013. You may also know Rachel as “Peggy’s person.” In her dream universe, when she is not at work helping humans in their quests to be better communicators, Rachel would have all the time and resources in the world to help rescue and train dogs.



Being a grad student made it necessary for me to skim-read

Carr’s assertions of the production of stupidity on the internet are grounded in a similar argument made by Marshal McLuhan, whose famous aphorism, “The Medium is the Message,” is now more or less ubiquitous. It refers to a very similar phenomenon described by Carr in his examples of the clock and the telegraph, as well as Nietzsche’s use of a typewriter. McLuhan’s aphorism asserts that any message in a new medium is necessarily co-determined by previous technologies. Walter Benjamin writes of just this sort of effect of the relation between photography and commercial society: the photograph’s reproducibility exploded on the commodity scene as a revolutionary force.  Carr is outlining the passage from the enlightenment to now in a historiography of technology–somewhat arbitrary and incomplete. Was it not the enlightenment that first conceived of the rationalization of civil society, and the movement from mythological knowledge into scientific?

At any rate, I started skim-reading when I entered grad school in which I am assigned far too much reading than can be realistically done in the chunks of time given. Who can read 400 pages of dense theory a week for one class? And yet the pages are assigned, nonetheless. Some of the more honest professors will of course tell me that I shouldn’t even try to finish all of it. I can also say that I MUCH prefer reading deeply, and if anything is hindering me from that, it’s the bulk of readings I must charge through every week. That’s not to say that education done in this way isn’t useful, but it is to point out that my relation to the internet does not lessen my interest in deep reading.

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