computers and writing

Here’s what I’m thinking of doing for the Computers and Writing conference. It relates to a number of things I’ve written here recently (and not so recently). In particular, it has to do with how we might conceive of the future of professional writing… always an issue for me.

Screencasting and the write brain: the newly mediated writing professional

In a Whole New Mind, Daniel Pink foresees the rise of “right brain” thinking in the professional world, a position emblematized by his slogan, “The MFA is the new MBA.” Though Pink’s claims should certainly be approached critically, I see some credence in his position. For professional writing, this right-brain approach suggests the importance of balancing the traditional technical writing emphasis on analytic and rational communication with an emphasis on empathic, holistic, and experimental writing techniques.

This shift is especially significant for the role of new media in professional writing. For the most part, new media instruction has focused on two subjects: developing basic new media skills (e.g., learning HTML and desktop publishing) and discussing the rhetorical implications of new media (e.g. hypertext’s nonlinearity, visual rhetoric, etc.). While these continue to be relevant, this emerging professional world will also look for writers who can compose across media, not only for the purposes of instruction or sales but also to communicate a more holistic and empathic understanding to their audience. On his O’Reilly weblog, Jon Udell has termed this new genre “screencasting.”

Of course metaphors, buzzwords, and claims of paradigmatic shifts only go so far. While many may see a new development here, Pink’s left-brain/right-brain metaphor resonates with our all too familiar tendency to emphasize writing either as a communication skill or as a conceptual/critical thinking practice. Furthermore, while Pink’s predictions may be accurate, this does not mean we should simply embrace the economy he describes. We need look no further than hiring practices in our own discipline for reasons to be skeptical of the future of professional labor.

My presentation will investigate these issues and discuss strategies for responding to these shifts in professional writing practices while maintaining a critical, rhetorical relation with corporate culture.

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