Compositonal computation

So I will be doing my thing at CCCC. I believe I have the honor of being in the final session. I signed off to make my presentation more accessible, but the only way my presentation is going to be accessible to anyone at that time is if I do it in the airport terminal. What are you going to do, right?

Anyway, here’s what I’m going to be looking at how mobile, computational-informational
networks operate to establish the conditions of composition. I’m planning on doing a series of mobile phone
composition experiments in my classes with the idea of articulating compositional computation, a heuristic
for using networks to encourage invention.

Here is part of my proposal. It mentions some material familiar to this blog.

In a 2006 cTheory
interview, N. Katherine Hayles remarks that postmodernism ends in April
of 1995 with the development of the Netscape browser, contending that "the sense of shock that accompanied postmodernism… has now just
become mundane reality." In "Un´Čünished Work: From Cyborg to
Cognisphere," Hayles writes that what follows postmodernism is a
post-human regime of computation: "the penetration of computational
processes not only into every aspect of biological, social, economic
and political realms but also into the construction of reality itself"
(161). Hayles fundamentally suggests here that computation has become a
metaphysic where we are no longer individual cyborgs (as in Haraway’s
manifesto) but rather nodes in an extensive network.

Though this
description of post-humanism may be chilling, an understanding of how
networks function as part of our cognition is necessary for any
investigation of composition. Building on Hayles work, Byron Hawk
writes in A Counter-History of Composition (2007), "in the context of
composition pedagogy, teachers need to build smarter environments in
which their students work… These environments are constellations of
architectures, technologies, texts, bodies, histories, heuristics,
enactments and desires that produce the conditions of possibility for
emergence, for invention" (249).

The issues here for composition
are two-fold. First, both Hayles and Hawk investigate composition in
the broadest philosophical sense, in terms of the construction of
reality and emergence. Here I ask, what does it mean to see
composition as computational? What does the computational metaphysic
mean for composition? Second, composition functions in a more familiar
register when Hawk addresses the issue of pedagogy. These pedagogic
spaces must be composed to produce the conditions of emergence, what I
call a compositional computation. Here it is possible to discuss the
strategic use of networks.

I will discuss three compositional
experiments undertaken in a course titled "Writing for Online
Publication." The purpose of the assignments is to call special
attention to mundane networked conditions that often go unnoticed. The
first is an individual composition of a mobile phone essay that follows
upon the mobile phone novels popular in Japan. Students write a series
of brief messages to a microblogging site such as Twitter that produce
a kind of essay. The second assignment examines simultaneity and
real-time coordination of activities as students work collectively to
document a large public event, such as a popular annual football game
with a rival college. The third assignment incorporates photo and video
as students investigate campus mobile media practices during a 24-hour
period.

[Sounds good in theory. Now I just have to do it!]

These experiments cast a spotlight on computational
composition by foregrounding the constraints and possibilities of
composing through a mobile network on a mobile phone. They demonstrate
quite clearly one way in which computation mediates our interactions
with the world and our efforts to communicate. However, these
experiments also represent a particular compositional computation where
the heuristic elements of projects seek to produce conditions for
emergence. Thus students not only have the opportunity to investigate
how technologies shape compositions, they can also develop strategies
for using technologies to establish good conditions for invention and
creativity.