Computer-Mediated Communication Magazine / Volume 2, Number 3 / March 1, 1995 / Page 19


Nothing Conclusive

by Nancy Kaplan

As I have argued elsewhere, all the tools, the techniques, and the social practices within which tools are devised, developed and deployed chart the contours of ideological spaces. That is to say, every tool and every social practice engages both material and conceptual worlds to help define what exists, what is good (or its opposite), and what it is possible to do. At the same time, our present social and economic relations, our implicit ideologies -- complete with fissures and inconsistencies -- form the conditions in which the technologies and techniques for their use are defined and developed. As Raymond Williams decisively showed in his analysis of television, cultural transformations -- both the changes and the continuities in the institutions and products of cultural life -- proceed from a double articulation, a "feedback loop" in the parlance of cognitive engineering. Beginning with the process of defining a "problem" or "opportunity" for which a given tool or conglomeration of tools can become first a solution and then the solution, the forms a set of tools, techniques, and social practices may take are determined at least as much by the socio-economic milieu as they are by any "inherent" or essential properties of the tools themselves.

The World Wide Web, glorious communications experiment that it is, will test this theory. The tools, originally developed by academic communities to enhance their knowledge-building activities, have gone commercial. The decision-making bodies determining HTML standards will ultimately shift to the corporate vendors as well. And while that is happening, other interests will be deciding how equitably access is distributed.

But equitable access to computers, modems, and Internet services alone will not be sufficient. Unless people know how to read what they see and to write when they can -- unless "E-literacies: Politexts, Hypertexts and Other Cultural Formations in the Late Age of Print."

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