This is the second installment of my three-part review of Technological Ecologies & Sustainability (Eds. Danielle Nicole DeVoss, Heidi A. McKee, and Richard (Dickie) Selfe; CCDP, 2009). Click here for the first installment.
(Digest: First book from CCDP. Different from C&C Online or Kairos. Portable. Reliable. Speedy. More positives.)
I can’t stress how important I think it is that this book is the first offering from Computers and Composition Digital Press (CCDP) (https://ccdigitalpress.org/). You can follow the link to learn more about the press, so I’ll just say here that it very much grows out of the larger intellectual projects pursued by online Rhet/Comp journals such as Kairos and Computers and Composition Online. That is it explores the possibilities and affordances of digital media for producing new types of scholarship and scholarship about emerging technologies. But CCDP is different in that it works to carve out a new space for what we consider a digital book of scholarship. C&C Online and Kairos have gestured toward this sort of project through special-topic (Kairos) or conference-themed issues (Kairos) (C&C Online), but they have still been much more akin to journals than books.
So what, exactly, makes Technological Ecologies & Sustainability (TES) a book then? Well, I don’t think there’s a definitive answer yet to that question. And I’m happy for the ambiguity. But there are three features of this text that I think are important to note.
First, portability. One of the qualities that helped make paper manuscripts so valuable (and has kept all of the “death-of-the-book” doomsdayers looking like, well, doomsdayers) has been the portability of books. For such a long time, they’ve been a cheap, widely accessible, and highly portable source of content. Laptops and e-books are making a tiny dent in that territory for digital scholarship, but offerings from Kairos and Computers and Composition Online consistently require internet access to experience the text. (There are plenty of good reasons for this, and I don’t want it to sound like a criticism of either journal. I love those journals and they are so important to our discipline.) On the other hand, TES is almost entirely portable. Downloadable (is that a word?) as a PDF, you can access the text in print form, or on a computer even if there’s no internet access available. Of course, for the collection to be fully realized, the links embedded throughout the text require that access. Like I said, not solved, but the idea of portability is beginning to be explored.
Second, reliability. I’m not talking about veracity, precision, or accuracy here. I’m talking about those times when I’m readying a book from three years ago, and I follow a printed link only to find that the sources is no longer being hosted. Ugh! Because TES is so (not entirely) portable, it can exist in many, many more places. It can circulate. It takes on an existence of its own independent of CCDP’s servers. Although this phenomenon might seem rather mundane, I think it’s incredibly important. Fundamental, actually. It signals a fundamental transition. Instead of digital scholarship existing as a location, it now exists as an object. The text actually travels. Ironically, it’s this ability for the text to move around which is the source of its reliability. Through replication.
Third, timeliness and responsiveness. Although I think it’s less important the the two points I’ve made above, it’s important to note that digital publication can speed up the process of publication. Of course there are many cases in which this is not true, but not having to deal with printing physical copies and distribute them as posts and parcels does eliminate some of the most time consuming aspects of traditional publication practices. This isn’t to say that it’s always less work or faster to publish digitally. That’s way too oversimplified, and in most cases just plain wrong. I simply want to point out that in this case, I think that it happens to hold true, and that it’s worth thinking about a bit more.
Other postive attributes of the collection that I’d like to mention, but don’t have the time/resources to explore:
Includes live hyperlinks to web sites, print-centric documents, and multimedia elements.
It’s full of incredibly rich, poignant, intelligent chapters.
But all this praise is not to say that the collection is perfect or exactly what I’d hoped it would be when I first downloaded it. There are a few aspects of the text which reveal that yes, there are still important questions about publishing digital scholarship to which we still don’t have adequate answers. I’ll cover some of these points in an upcoming post. In my next post, I will try to offer some context for the collection by mentioning a few existing texts with similar projects.
In order to get some discussion going on this volume, please feel free to post your own response to the collection here in the comments section, post a link to a review on your own blog, or to other sites that link to the collection. Of course you’re welcome to post anything else you want. I’ll do my best to respond.