Thoughts on Computers and Writing 2011
Before the regular routines start to roll through the days I just want to say how much I enjoyed the 2011 Computers and Writing Conference. Since 1994, I've attended the conference, missing just a few times. There is something about C&W that makes collaboration and friendship not the usual words we pitch about our work but a tangible atmosphere that permeates inside and outside the sessions. It's always a great experience. And the hosts in Ann Arbor did a fantastic job. The panels, town halls, keynotes, and posters were informative and provocative.
Let me add my perspective to others (Andre Peltier, Crystal VanKooten, Bradley Dilger, Steve Krause) who have weighed in. The currents that I picked up on were sound and crowdsourcing--though the usual array of subjects was also to be found. I'm excited about the sound current, and that an interest group is already forming to try to extend the sound-related energy at the conference. The crowdsourcing focus I picked up on vicariously, since most of the panels conflicted with my schedule. I do think there is a confluence of people dabbling with CMS experiments and a renewed interest in group dynamics linked with social media. Of course, these are my interests, so I could be myopic in fixing on them.
Theoretically, I think it's fair to say the posthuman turn is in full swing. Kate Hayles's keynote obviously played a part with its concentration on technology and the brain. But in many sessions there was much focus on objects, networks, tools, and the generally nonhuman (see Alex Reid's write up). The great part is that the continuing emphasis on people at the conference forms a nice counterbalance to too much focus on the nonhuman. And there seems to be an understanding of the complexity and contingency of knowledge so that no one paradigm gets too much sway.
When it comes to people, I think, things get even more complex. There are some troubling samenesses among us. When it comes to backgrounds, institutions, and bodies, the C&W crowd in many ways appears more similar than different. I know this is something we constantly work to address. No doubt that work and the need for it continues. But there are also amazing mixes of talents and people at Computers and Writing. I'm always blown away by the graduate student contributions to our field which were on full display at the conference. Conferences everywhere include a range of people, but rarely are the heirarchies broken down as they are at C&W. And special congratulations to the engaging undergraduate students in attendance. If this is a trend, it's most welcome. Here is where we shine. We simply don't have a problem with smart people with less time in the field teaching us new things.
I think this leadership from below speaks to something special about our community. This is something that came up time and again couched in discussions of what to name our field and how our work meshes with what is currently called digital humanities. We work together with undergraduates and graduates in ways not commonly found in the humanities. This matters and it means that we mustn't forget the forward pushing and ongoing nature of our approaches. We need to keep experimenting, making, and doing. It's no accident that we let those who know the new things lead the way. It's the laboratory approach stranded throughout our disciplinary DNA. We need to remember this as we think about our role in any conception of the humanities.
And let's not forget our studio sensibilities as well. I saw lots of great presentations. I'm so pleased to report that most of our members deliver information in engaging ways, with careful thought given to aesthetics and to multiple modes of knowing. But we are becoming more disciplined as well. We need to keep enacting and celebrating creativity. And we need to be creative. It's not something that can just be talked about. Last year, I said you don't study computers and writing, you perform it. I know I didn't get a chance to push things in these ways this year and I need to remember how much it matters.
I'm not listing any of the suggestions above as complaints or even concerns. I think we've got the mix about right. I'm invigorated by just the few short days I spent at Computers and Writing. The conference and the field are both doing well.