You Have Died of Dysentery: Digital Technology vs. Analog Traditions


I recently read an article that pointed to my generation as a mini-generation who is distinctly different from the generations on other side. For those born from 1977-1983, we aren’t quite old enough to call ourselves Generation X (even if we loved Reality Bites) and we are not quite in on the technology-driven Millenials. Therefore, our micro-generation has been termed by Dan Woodman, Associate Professor of Sociology at The University of Melbourne, with the cross-over Xennials (also known as the Oregon Trail Generation, the Catalano Generation or Generation Y) for those people who were able to experience an analog childhood, but who have entered the digital realm as an adult.

What has this meant for me?

I have always felt this weird relationship with technology because it has functioned in such different ways throughout my life: from “dying of dysentery” with my friends in elementary school to pulling the sides off my printed reports in high school to spending countless hours in the computer labs in college and now living with a screen permanently within my touch, I can’t help but wonder how my unique situatedness between low-tech and all-tech of the “Oregon Trail Generation” has shaped my understanding of social-networking sites (SNS).

It amazes my students that I didn’t have a laptop or even a computer in my dorm room and I still made it through college—granted, I spent an exorbitant time in the computer labs and in the library, but I made it. I also made it through college and my first round of grad school without Social Networking Sites—MySpace and Facebook were around, but they weren’t all that popular with any of the people that I knew. In fact, I don’t think that I joined Facebook until closer to 2008 when I was getting close to my ten-year reunion and everyone was trying to get in touch for the big event (and I was only on for a few months before going off the grid again until I moved back to Charlotte in 2010). And yet now, that’s primarily the way that I stay in touch with people from my “past lives” and how I communicate with people in my current doctoral program

If I go by the rules of Dana Boyd, and I base a pseudo SNS-analysis on my profiles, networks, communication, and connections, then I am using at least 10 SNS almost daily—and this worries me. Having been a part of this Oregon Trail Generation, I still have a phantasmagoric fascination with technology and too much of an online presence scares me. How do I know who is looking at my profile and keeping my pictures and talking to my friends? It just seems so odd to me at times. Not always, but at times, and I go through these SNS-free streaks (especially with relation to dating sites like Match, Tinder, or Hinge) and I wonder if it has to do with my generation’s strange situatedness and relationship with technology.

What has this meant for my scholarship?

As a doctoral student in a Communication, Rhetoric, and Digital Media program, it is only natural that we pursue scholarship that involves technology; however, many digital scholars have found that technology scholarship seems to become outdated as soon as it is published. How should someone new to the field and slower to publish navigate the digital scholarship issue of remaining updated? Do we write with planned obsolescence? Do we continuously add updates? I can see that working with new editions of books, but how would that work with articles in journals?

I have looked to Cheryl Ball and Douglas Eyman’s 2014 piece, “Composing for Digital Publication: Rhetoric, Design, Code” and look back to Cheryl Ball’s 2004 call to “Show, Not Tell: The Value of New Media Scholarship” to help me answer these questions. In the individual article, Ball discusses how we can’t discuss new media scholarship without producing new media scholarship–the writer needs to show her readers what digital publication looks like rather than discuss it in the abstract. Furthermore, Ball and Eyman’s discussion of the importance of recognizing design and rhetoric as well as developing codes of language in order for digital scholarship to continue. On account of Ball’s article, I practice the kind of digital work that I want my students to do, which is why I use digital syllabi and create my own Wix websites as examples. From Ball and Eyman, I apply the concept of design, rhetoric, and writing for the digital space through my website and subsequent lessons on digital design and why it’s important.

Through my work with this burgeoning field of scholarship as well as my constantly evolving digital pedagogy, I have tried to bring a little of my past and my present to create a microcosm for critical digital readers and composers. I try to give my students the tools that they will need to navigate the digital realm and find what’s important, how to recognize manipulative design and to combat it, and how their voices in the digital world will always have a trace or be inscribed somewhere, so they have to learn the techniques for surviving and thriving with online composition.

As part of my micro-generation, I look to Donna Martin from Beverly Hills 90210 for her sage advice: “It’s like if you have a swimming pool in your backyard, you can tell your children not to go in it, you can even build a fence around it, but if you know that they’re going to find a way in to that water, don’t you think you ought to teach those kids how to swim?”


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