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Longo, Bernadette. “Human+Machine Culture: Where We Work.” Digital Literacy for Technical Communication : 21st Century Theory and Practice. Ed. Spilka, Rachel. New York: Routledge, 2010. 147-68. Print.

  • Early on in this article L. sketches a lovely picture of what constitutes digital community in online spaces.  She notes that though the relationships are (sometimes) virtual, real bodies in physical space lie behind “the screen.”  Paying close attention to the relationships and communication that occurs through the computer-mediated context of digital community provides the basis for culture. . . a culture that L. will consider in this article (147).  She calls this culture a culture of human+machine.
  • Article trajectory:  1) define “culture” in the context of machine+human relations; 2) explore “community” in relation to computer-mediated cultures (argue against “all-inclusive” communities in digital spaces and complicate traditional activity theoretic explorations of community in isolated, organizational research settings [1. Doesn’t AT account for this non-isolation by linking the subject to the wills/mores of the community?]); 3) Consider whether the kinds of social connections fostered in human+computer environments satisfy the need for human+human connections.
  • L. defines culture as “the ways in which people relate to each other within a particular social context – how their beliefs, assumptions, worldview, and so on are manifested through everyday actions and decisions” (149).  L. claims that the culture is traceable by looking closely at the ways that language and symbolic action play out; as such, culture is the province or Writing Studies at large and certainly for TCers in digital environments where text and symbol play the primary role in interactions.
  • L. notes that cultures in virtuality are so myriad (because of their visibility) that they actually defy categorization . . . they are heterogeneous, affinity-based, and intensely localized (150).  L. sketches how Bruffee’s conception of community (idealized, open, and concretized by established knowledge; however, also subject to change by dominant discourse accepting outside discourse) and Rheingold’s conception of community in digital spaces (human+machine enables potentials for democracy, open access encourages participation and mobility[smart mobs], inclusionary) are both good willed; however, neither attend to the exclusionary effects of community creation (for Bruffee discussing academic this takes the shape of cultural gatekeepers, for Rheingold discussing digitality this takes the shape of folks without access to the technology of participation).
  • L. notes that creating phantom universal communities is a much preferable tact than challenging community be highlighting the exclusionary practices of community formation; as such, community never receives negative connotations (153).  The exclusion of particular groups in the TC setting usually occurs through the inclusion of fantastically technical/scientific language.  So, while science might aim to create a common human community through narratives of progress, it is intentionally exclusionary to a large population of human beings.
  • L. notes that in our current technoscientific knowledge economy technical communication is a tool used to give value and validate particular kinds of scientific knowledge (154).  This entire structure (the technoscientific knowledge/information economy) has expediency as its final goal . . . often at the expense of ethics, justice, and freedom.  L. also draws attention to the danger in considering simulation as the real:  nostalgic and metaphoric references have power:  1) they provide familiar categories that allows us to help users understand information; and 2) they extend power imbalances from the prior period into the future (156).  This results in our perpetuating systems of repression into digital worlds that might actually offer the possibility to liberate ourselves from said systems.
  • Despite the powerful influence of technoscience to manage and classify into “groups” humans using knowledge systems rooted in expertise human beings resist.  de Certeau made light of this in his explanation of the “tactical” moves that people make in their daily lives.  We see this in a lot of different places; specifically, Spinuzzi describes just such tactical work when he describes the splicing that occurs at Telecorp in Network.
  • L. points to AT as a means to describe how culture and human activity intersect.  Because AT takes the interrelatedness of human activity and consciousness as its base-level measurement, AT can lay claim to a cross-cultural analysis methodology that operates as a metatheoretical heuristic for understanding contextualized, contingent systems of human action.  As Russell & Spinuzzi highlight, the insertion of genres as mediating-tools-in-use allows us to trace the ideological assumptions, power distributions, and values of the activity system in place (162).  When writing becomes the center of generic tools-in-use we see the intersection of AT and TC . . . especially in technoscientific environments.
  • The workarounds (Spinuzzi) share much with parruques (de Certeau) – they are both means to circumvent the established order/system in a way to meet the needs/ends of the individual (163).
  • L. provides some useful critiques to AT at the top of 163:   1) who benefits from the rules of the status quo that are already stabilized?; 2) whose worldview do the community rules represent?; 3) whose worldview isn’t included in the rules and community?; 4) who benefits from the particular division of labor?
  • Working back to Gramsci, L. closes by highlighting his concerns about the intellectual: what are the benefits of being the public intellectual?  Surely they outweigh the costs.  As TCers we use our “expertise” as intellectuals to take folk knowledge and instrumentalize it so that it is amenable to systems of expediency and capital; however, there are moments when that instrumentalized literacy breaks down, falters.  In those moments when the dominant order breaks down the intellectuals (or scribes of technology as TCers are known) have the capability to remake the world anew.  It is this particular ethic and politics that should, according to L., undergird our approaches to culture and community in an age of human+machine (166).

One Response to “Longo – Human+Machine Culture: Where We Work”

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