About this site
There are a couple of different ways to read this piece.
You can bounce back and forth between the front page and the individual sections, starting with the first section (the site does read top-to-bottom instead of reverse chronological) and using the internal section links to move along, or you can use the link in the sidebar (at the bottom of the Sections list) to read it all in one page.
This essay was originally conceived as an interactive presentation, where readers could comment on individual sections. Although the comments are now closed, I've gone ahead and retained those reader contributions. The numbers in parentheses after each section refer to that section's comments.
In her Chair's Address to the 2004 CCCC, published as "Made Not Only in Words: Composition in a New Key," Kathleen Blake Yancey urges "that we move to a new model of composing" and she locates this model in "three key expressions": the circulation of composition, the canons of rhetoric, and the deicity of technology (311-312). The first two of these expressions are familiar ones; circulation itself has circulated as a key term in our field following the 2001 publication of John Trimbur's "Composition and the Circulation of Writing," and the canons remain one of our rhetorical inheritances from ancient Greece and Rome. The third expression, deicity or deixis, however, is probably not as familiar.
It's no accident, I would suggest, that the latest wave of technological innovation, the one prompting Yancey's "new model", is also preoccupied with the social. In the past few years, the phrase "social software" has emerged, transformed by its adherents from a small subcategory of software (designed to assist users with the planning of social events) into what may turn out to be a new paradigm or era in the history of software development.
Miller's description of these two systems as "dwelling places" is particularly appropriate, for in addition to their respective ethotic appeals, expert systems and intelligent agents each instantiate a distinctive spatial tendency. Expert systems centralize and automate expertise, which suggests a centripetal (or inward) movement, while intelligent agents are decentralized and engaged with the environment, a movement that is centrifugal (or outward) (Figures 1 & 2).
One possible approach, one that proves less relativistic, is to reframe the question. Specifically, is it possible to conceive of a technological "dwelling place" that accounts sufficiently for the deictic nature of technology? If Leu et al. are correct, and the pace of technological change is accelerating, then it stands to reason that deixis is an increasingly urgent concern for the design of technological systems.
There is a sense in which small-world networks are trivial, for we inhabit them on a daily basis by virtue of our social networks. Disciplines of study are small-world networks, for example: they are highly clustered into graduate programs and academic departments, dense clusters of faculty and students. And yet, each person in a given program comes there from another program, either from graduate school or a position at another school.
Classrooms, networks, systems
At a general level, Miller's discussion of expert systems and intelligent agents might encourage us to think about the relationship between technology and our writing classrooms. Most classrooms, both within and outside of our discipline, function as expert systems, and this (in our discipline) despite a push towards social and/or student-centered pedagogies. Distributing authority and responsibility for the classroom among its various members does not substantially alter the centripetal force that underscores the classroom; in the student-centered classroom, the instructor may not represent herself as the "expert" at the heart of the system, but there is considerable institutional inertia that holds her there.
Weblogs as small worlds
Ultimately, I want to argue that weblogs encourage the creation of the kind of small-world networks that I am discussing here, that they allow us to engage in both centripetal and centrifugal gestures, thereby enabling both the structure and dynamics of such networks. As a way of making this series of claims more concrete, I turn in this section specifically to the blogroll.
To maintain a blog, I would argue, is to participate in a small-world network, one that involves both clustering and connecting. The combination of these forces (embodied in any number of different kinds of gestures) results in a different kind of writing altogether.