Trahan: In your 2009 co-authored piece with Hawisher and Selfe, “The Electronic Landscape of Journal Editing,” you refer to Computers and Composition as an “advocate” within English Studies for the increased valuation of multimodal, digitally-published scholarly work. In what ways do you think Computers and Composition—both in its print form and in its online form—have impacted the humanities as a whole in regards to increasing the worth of digital scholarship?
Blair: That’s a really difficult question to answer. It’s a good question to ask, but it’s a really difficult question to answer in the sort of institutional way. Because here’s the reality: Computers and Composition, Computers and Composition Online—those are journals within rhetoric and writing studies in general and within computers and writing studies in particular—and that element of the field is not necessarily as well known within the broader discipline of English Studies, which seems to be gravitating toward this notion of the digital humanities. Think about Cheryl Ball’s recent commentary about the MLA Profession 2011 issue about evaluating digital scholarship, where despite the phenomenal work she’s been doing in the field, for example, there were no voices from rhetoric and composition. And, so, the piece that you’re referring to, the editorial collective piece I co-authored with Cindy and Gail, I think it was the only rhetoric and composition piece—or maybe it was the only one dealing with an online journal—in that 2009 Profession section on editing and the importance of editing.
Nevertheless, that gap still doesn’t prohibit what we do at C & C, print or online, in advocating, you know, a space for and the importance of experimentation with digital production—simply because it’s not about print anymore. Our students…I mean, what is composing going to be in twenty years? What are our students going to be doing? What are our students going to be using to read and to write? When you were a kid, did you envision using a Kindle?
Blair: Using an iPad? And you’re in your twenties, right?
Trahan: This is true.<laughs>
Blair: I’m in my late fourties, and, you know, I got a computer when I was twenty-three years old; it was a Sanyo 256K. The original computers I used were those VT100 line editors.
Trahan: I’ve never even heard of those.
Blair: Yeah. The old sort of big screen monitors…and there weren’t really programs in the sense that you had to use UNIX-based commands to type information into them. We’re come a long way baby, literally. <laughs> And so what’s it going to be like in twenty years? I mean, the fact that someone can access a course through their cell phone. And this idea that mobile technologies are changing literate practice, you know? As someone who is pushing fifty, I need to print stuff out so that I can feel comfortable reading it. Especially big things like dissertation chapters, book manuscripts I’m expected to read—I can read them online, and I have, but I prefer not to do it. I’m sort of wired that way cognitively. You might be wired in a different way. Well, how are the generations that come after you going to be wired to read and to write? We don’t know what it’s going to be.
So I think we have a responsibility both to the students we serve and the discipline we’re a part of, to maintain our relevance. And that means understanding that the way we teach writing changes as the technological literacies to read and to write and to compose themselves change. To pretend that there’s no change is a disservice.