Boring Information Computers & Writing 2010 ACCEPTED PROPOSAL


Most of what we do with computers is boring — which has interesting consequences for computers and writing as a field. I look at how and why computing is boring, even when it shouldn't be, and offer some suggestions for when and how we might make it less boring.


Most of what we do with computers is boring.

By "we" I mean everyone; but also, not quite so strongly, more restrictive senses: personal-computer users, composition and rhetoric scholars, sometimes even new-media-composition and digital-rhetoric scholars. Computers, celebrated for reshaping cultures and opening a new age of expression and experience, are mostly used for the pedestrian and dull.

The boring facts: Most CPUs are embedded 8-bitters. Most Internet traffic is email, and most of that spam. Most computation is scientific number crunching, with fascinating ramifications but dry stuff to watch. Most general-purpose computing is automated business transactions; these enable the bizarre, indispensable world of modern finance, but believe me — in themselves they're boring. Most computer users primarily use special-purpose computers called "phones", for talking. Most people alive today can't afford general-purpose computers, and don't want them; after more basic needs, a mobile phone is far more useful.

There's a tiny subset of fun stuff: games, web pages, mashups, remixes, documents, conference presentations. But even the majority of those are clumsy, tired rehashes of trite forms.

If the vast majority of computing is split between boring-but-profitable and lumpeninfotainment, with only a sliver of interesting work, what does that say for computers and writing? For computer users and writers, and for the practice of teaching computer-based writing and other new media? Can we encourage interesting uses? Is it important how statistically insignificant they are?

After a short introduction to boring uses of information technology as the dominant computing practice, and the relative unimportance (under certain metrics) of digital rhetoric and new-media studies, I'll consider a few of the ways in which uses that could be interesting often aren't. Then I'll provide some contentious examples of my own ideas for doing more interesting things with computers.