Review (pt. II): Technological Ecologies & Sustainability

Technological Ecologies & Sustainability
Eds. Danielle Nicole DeVoss, Heidi A. McKee, and Richard (Dickie) Selfe
Computers and Composition Digital Press
, 2009

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 peer-reviewed.

It’s full of incredibly rich, poignant, intelligent chapters.

It’s free!

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.

This article has 6 Comments

  1. I’m looking forward to installment three! In the mean time, I would also add WAC clearinghouse to the history of digital publishing in the field since they have published on-line edited collections that take a somewhat similar form to TES: http://wac.colostate.edu/books/selves_societies/

    When I think about that collection, I find myself really considering the portability of having multiple downloadable PDFs. I regularly cite the prior and shipka article from that collection (and have it downloaded to my computer in a folder), but I’ve never read the introduction or any of the other articles. Of course, this can happen with print collections too, but somehow the on-line format encouraged me to just focus on the one article out of context (like I might do in downloading articles from JSTOR). Of course, I’ve read several of the articles (and the intro) to TES but I have a different relation to that project! Anyway, you’ve got me thinking about the difference between printed and digital collections…hmmm.

    1. Hey, Jason. Thanks for the post. I agree. The _Writing Selves, Writing Societies_ text published and distributed by the WAC Clearinghouse is definitely a relevant precursor to TES. I didn’t think of it, though, because of its focus on activity theory. Because I’m not very well read in activity theory, that book doesn’t hold together in the same way that TES does. It’s just my sense, though. I’m sure it’s a solid book, but without that particular interest, each of the articles become relevant to their particular context, rather than the theory they have in common. That’s really useful, but it can create (for people like me and you, I guess) a sense of autonomy for each of the articles. I think the opposite can be said for this TES. The chapters hold together because of the common perspective they bring to their contexts, but the methodologies and intent vary more widely than in the Bazerman, Russe text. What do you think?

  2. Yeah, I do think TES holds together more as a collection (though that might just be because, like you, I’m more personally invested as as scholar in the issues it raises). In many ways, I think the frame of ecology and sustainability really calls us to draw connections among the articles. In a way, each article is but one node in a larger theoretical network about sustainging technological ecologies.

  3. Trauman–

    What a marvelously thoughtful review! And I love that you’ve emphasized the theoretical, historical, and technological contexts of TES as a publishing project. We couldn’t have said it better ourselves!

    I would also note that all publications of the CCDP–including TES–also have the imprint of CCDP’s partner, Utah State University Press Many junior and senior scholars work in departments where academic presses still reign supreme, so we see this imprint as an important feature of the CCDP and its publications.

  4. Absolutely. That’s such an important part of this project. So many people in academia won’t give something a sniff unless it’s associated with a university press. This is such a coup for you to be associated with a highly respected press like USUP. Thanks for responding!

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