Listen Up: My WRITERS TALK Interview with Kevin Kelly

Posted: April 5th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Hacking, Rhetoric, Self-Promotion, Writing | No Comments »

Truly one of the highlights of my professional career thus far:

Image of Kevin Kelly

Kevin Kelly, Senior Maverick for Wired and author of What Technology Wants, talks with guest interviewer OSU professor Ben McCorkle about technology, the Amish, and how some innovations are destined to be invented.

Monday, April 4, 3:30 pm., WCRS radio, 98.3 & 102.1 FM
Wednesday, April 6, 8:00 p.m. WCBE radio, 90.5 FM

Listen to the show

From the Archives: “An Open Letter…”

Posted: January 4th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Editorial, Hacking, Writing | No Comments »

[Ed. note: This piece was *going* to be included in an issue of a hacker magazine that has since petered out (not that one), so I include it here in order to give it some public life, however small.]

An Open Letter to the Hacker Community
From a Lowly Teacher of Writing

It was a few years ago that I found myself in the midst of the hustle and bustle of New York City as I attended the flagship conference for teachers and scholars in the field of rhetoric and composition, the Conference on College Composition and Communication (CCCC). Already, I know what you’re thinking: “Yeah? Good for you-you got some kick-ass knishes from off a Midtown lunch cart, but what’s this got to do with H4X0RS?” Well, you can imagine my delight when I stumbled across a panel presentation on the role of hacking in the teaching of writing. Entitled “Hacker Pedagogy: Writing Ethic(s), Learning Code(s),” the session was billed as follows:

Cynthia Haynes, University of Texas, Dallas, “Passionate Code: Hacker Pedagogy and Writing Theory”;
Noah Wardrip-Fruin, Brown University, “30 Years of Hacker Pedagogy”;
Jan Rune Holmevik, University of Bergen, Norway, “Teaching to Learn, Learning the Code.”

Finally, I thought, a chance to see my professional and personal interests come together like so much delicious chocolate and peanut butter. Sadly, though, the presentation didn’t happen–I sat in the room for a good fifteen minutes with my friend, several other attendees, and one disgruntled tech support guy, all of us with bated breath, but to no avail. As much as my curiosity willed it to happen, this talk on how writing instruction and hacking are related activities never came to pass; the participants simply failed to show (I suspect that the coincidence of the Iraq invasion had something to do with it…international travels and all that). Though it never came to fruition, the mere promise of a session at CCCC on hacking suggests to my mind an important connection between the counterculture of hackers and the institutional lackeys of the (under) world of composition, for both groups are interested in mining the rich field of new literacy practices in order to better comprehend how these practices affect (and are affected by) politics, power relations, and culture at large.

In the world of higher education, composition is a discipline that’s ripe for the hacking: often viewed as the “gateway curriculum” to university culture, most students encounter a writing class as soon as they set foot on campus. The top-down values of the institution get instantiated in this environment, and the protocols for how knowledge and information are transmitted in and through this system are also established. But there’s room for subversion. The folks teaching these classes are oftentimes underpaid, underprivileged teaching associates, many of whom feel as if they’re exploited labor. Occupying such a position, many in the field of composition are interested in how to rework the university’s power structure to value the bottom-up forces: to these ends, conversations about how best to empower students in our knowledge-making enterprise, give activist support to striking physical plant workers, and unionize the graduate student body constantly resound in our hallways and on our listservs. Such topics ring in sympathy with the goals of many hacker communities. Technology is not so much about manipulating machinery as it is about questioning who has access to it and how they employ it to limit or delimit certain groups’ abilities to maneuver the social landscape-hackers know this lesson better than most.

The postcolonial critical theorist Homi K. Bhabha tells us that all writing (and I would hasten to include hacking as a highly specialized, highly activist type of writing) is inherently a political act. And as we travel this road, dodging potholes and roadkill along the way in order to make our way to (hopefully) a more participatory democracy, it’s good to recognize that fellow travelers know this as well-recent hacks of government and commercial sites with tags advocating all sides of the war issue attest to this awareness (and also show that hackers occupy a diverse range of the political spectrum). What at first glance appears to be two seemingly disparate groups, compositionists and hackers alike share a common philosophical interest in the political dimensions of our respective fields: a curiosity for how information systems (broadly conceived) work; what renders communication effective; how the means by which we communicate give shape and voice to what it is that we mean to say.

I’d like to close with a call to each of these kindred camps. To the compositionists, particularly those interested in all things digitally subversive (and who are very likely reading this publication), I encourage you to investigate the ways in which hacking can be adopted into classroom practice: as ethos, as methodology, as mindset. For the hackers that find themselves in the composition classroom, don’t be so quick to write off your instructor as a stodgy, staid grammarian of the old guard. Tinker, experiment, and occasionally bring your interests into the discursive space offered by this class. Perhaps even go so far as to strike up a conversation about hacking with your instructor. Who knows? There might be the soul of a hacker lurking inside.

Ben McCorkle
11 February 2005




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