As a college student in 2017, it almost seems like an understatement to say that I use technology to support every aspect of my life. In this narrative I will focus primarily on the piece of technology that has been a part of my digital experience since third grade: the computer. As a college student, I carry my MacBook Air around with me all day. I use my laptop to write papers, to browse social media sites, and to conduct research. Because this technology is portable, I do not have to be in the library to start my homework. While those of older generations would ask me if adding the extra weight to my already overstuffed bag is really necessary, I cannot possibly recall the number of times in which my technology has been right where I needed it. However, I have not always had the luxury of being able to walk around with instant access to a world of knowledge at my fingertips. More specifically, I did not learn to appreciate computational technology until much later in my educational career. In what follows I will recall my experience with computers in a chronological order and reflect on how these experiences have contributed to my current dependence and appreciation for the computer.
For as long as I can remember my family had a desktop computer and dial-up internet. However, while my mom would use this computer to communicate with our extended family, I think the first time I used a computer myself was in third grade. My third grade classroom had four desktop PCs and we would take turns using them to access supplemental educational resources on the internet, such as websites containing basic arithmetic games. At the time I was thoroughly unimpressed with the newly-present computational technology in my life. While many of my classmates used computers at home to play games and to use an application called “Paint,” I spent all my spare time reading fiction. I could not fathom why the rest of the class was so intrigued by the classroom computers. I thought that they looked like little more than ugly boxes taking up space in the classroom. I was much more impressed with our classroom’s fish tank and the mini-library than I was with the ability to access the internet. Furthermore, the computer screen displays were dim and blurry, and I think this appearance made me even more reluctant to follow my classmates into the emerging technological society of 2005. The internet itself was incredibly slow, and I remember thinking at the time that waiting for the webpages to load was a waste of time when we could just as easily learn to solve basic arithmetic equations with a pencil and paper. While I admit that playing arithmetic games on the computer was more entertaining than merely memorizing the times-tables, I do not see how the technology helped the learning process in any way. Hence, my first exposure to computers and the internet is not the experience that I would say led to my current dependence on computational technology.
In fourth grade my elementary school PTO raised enough funds to supply the entire school with 20 Apple laptops (MacBook’s). Since each classroom only had about 20 students, this meant that every student would be able to use his own laptop whenever the teacher brought the laptop cart to the classroom. I was intrigued by these laptops and the ability to pick them up and carry them back to my desk. It was on these laptops that I first learned to type word documents. As a student who has always had messy handwriting, I was sick and tired of my teachers complaining that they could not read my handwriting. The B-‘s I received for handwriting on my report card were extremely frustrating. Hence, I began to appreciate technology when I was allowed to start typing my work. This memory allows me to understand Dennis Baron’s sentiment when he bemoans the physical effort of “handwriting, crossing out, revising, cutting and pasting” (1). However, at this point, I was still not impressed by the slow internet connection so I was not ready to acknowledge the computer’s full capabilities.
I started to rely on word processing technology more frequently in fifth grade when I joined our student newspaper. For an hour after school once a week the newspaper club would use the school laptops to type articles that would be published as soon as the next day. It was this process that made me truly understand the convenience of having a computer. Not only did I not have to worry about the editor being able to read my handwriting, but I also learned how to use spell check. This helped me work faster since I did not have to stop and think about spelling. I also appreciated being able to cleanly edit my work. It was a blessing to not have to worry about smudgy erasers making holes in the paper. Today, it is easy for me to forget the power of spell check. I often take it for granted when I am typing quickly without having to worry about spelling each word correctly. Nonetheless, having access to spell check gives me the chance to get my thoughts written down before I forget them because I do not have to waste time questioning whether or not I am spelling a word correctly.
This experience directly contrasts Douglas Eyman’s experience with digital rhetoric. As a Digital Rhetorician, Eyman aims to teach his colleagues how computers can be used for producing text in the form of writing, whether this be through the use of rhetorical appeals in online discussion forums or through multimodal composition (9). Assuming these colleagues were like Eyman and traditionally used computers to play computer games and to interact with others, I differ in that I used computers for writing right away. I think that this has made me a stronger writer today because I can write without the influence of others. While bloggers and the like understand using the computer to write for others, I know how to use the computer to write for myself.
My experience with technology in middle school played virtually no role in turning me into a technology-dependent college student. I still used the family laptop to write short papers and to conduct minimal research. Since my family still had dial-up internet even though high-speed internet was becoming more popular at the time, I still preferred using print references to internet references. Additionally, I had never learned how to conduct a productive Google search. Even when I opted to search the internet for research, I did not have much luck finding particularly helpful sources. This left me with a negative attitude towards technology and I continued to prefer the five-minute trek to the library to being able to use the internet from my house. This being said, I did learn to become a faster typist due to my “Computer Basics” classes. These classes taught me how to make a PowerPoint and how to use the internet to find pictures to place in either a word document or a slideshow. These skills proved to be useful as PowerPoint presentations began to replace the trifold posters that I was used to. In college I still rely on these skills when I am making a presentation for class. Seeing other’s poorly chosen pictures for their PowerPoints in middle school has taught me to be selective when adding images to my slides today, and I am careful to choose only those that add clarity to my main arguments.
One particular writing practice that I remember from middle school was handwriting my papers before typing them. I found that I would have a more difficult time composing my thoughts when I was focused on both writing and pressing the right keys at the same time. This experience is different from that of Baron who become so used to writing on the computer that he could no longer write drafts on paper (1). While I cannot share Baron’s sentiment, I think I have the advantage in the long run because even now that I have my laptop on hand at all times, I can still write with a pencil and paper. Sometimes I handwrite my outlines on paper before composing the drafts on the computer because it is easier to draw arrows and re-organize my thoughts on paper.
I got my own laptop in ninth grade. While I still did not have social media, I appreciated being able to access the computer whenever I needed it. I also created an email account, and I quickly got used to emailing my work to myself so that I could easily access it in case something happened to my computer. At this point I also got access to high speed internet both at school and at home so I began to prefer using the internet to print materials. The internet gave me access to recent information that was not yet published in books. This was especially convenient when my homework assignments only required simple Google searches that could be completed in a matter of seconds. For longer assignments such as research papers I used a combination of internet sources and print materials. While the print materials had higher quality information, I began to get annoyed with how long it took to look through the books to find what I need. At this point, I used the internet to find information whenever I could just to save time. In hindsight, the experience of learning to use Google effectively (i.e. altering my search terms to find the most relevant information quickly) has helped me become a better researcher today. This pertains to my college research papers but also to the work I do at my internship when it comes to searching for information about bills and policies.
It was in 12th grade that I began to use two important websites that I take advantage of today: Google Documents and Facebook. I started using Google Documents in AP Biology when I had to write group lab reports. Using Google Documents made my life much easier since multiple people could edit the document at the same time. We no longer had to email documents back and forth or worry that some of the changes being made were lost in the process. Additionally, Google Documents saved our work automatically so we did not have to worry about hitting the save button every few edits. Whenever I have a group project in college I do not hesitate to collect everyone’s Gmail addresses so that I can create either a Google Document or a Google Slideshow. Just as my high school lab partners could work together without meeting up, the same holds true today. Since everyone has a different schedule in college, Google Documents has once again proved to be one of my favorite digital devices.
I made a Facebook account as soon as I found out I was accepted to Trinity. I wanted to be able to join the class of 2018 Facebook page so that I could familiarize myself with the faces of some of my classmates and so that I would not miss any important updates from the Admissions office. While I do not use Facebook to add pictures or to update my status, it is one of my favorite ways to keep in touch with old friends from high school. Additionally, it makes keeping myself updated with current events easier than ever. I follow numerous new sites that makes up for the fact that I do not have a television in my room.
It was this exposure to the interactivity that digital technology provides that signaled my arrival to the point at which others started. While others were used to writing on social media for the purpose of communicating with others, this was the first time I was exposed to what James Zappen calls “a new rhetoric that encourages self-expression, participation, and creative collaboration” (Eyman 27). As mentioned above, I do not think that my late exposure to new media has hindered my ability to communicate with others. Instead I think that it has helped me because I have learned how to write a persuasive essay without relying on instant feedback from others. Additionally, I am comfortable expressing my ideas without relying on digital objects such as photos, videos and hyperlinks to make my point.
What has changed most from high school to college is the nature of my schoolwork. Most of my reading has been digitalized, and the papers I have to write are too long to be written with a pencil and paper. This makes carrying around a laptop worthwhile. I do not have to waste paper and add clutter to my already cluttered dorm room by printing out journal articles. With my laptop I can work anywhere I want without having to worry about having a public computer available. At this point in my life I cannot imagine what my life would be like without digital technology.
Kathleen Yancey argues that digital technology is changing the way college students write. She points out that today’s students must learn how to communicate “combining words with pictures with audio and video to express thoughts” because the traditional reading and writing curriculum is not enough (305). Yancy observes that students have learned to write due to their expose to an extracurricular writing curriculum consisting of instant messaging, blogs and email (302). I challenge this claim because my writing story is more traditional – I have learned to emails and blogs because I started to write the traditional way: with a pencil and paper. I think this makes me a more effective writer because I do not need to rely on digital media to express my thoughts.
Unsurprisingly, my technology usage in terms of a communicative context has picked up a lot since I started college. For the first time in my life, I am as technologically literate as my peers. Just like Eyman credits his college roommate for teaching him how to customize his VAX account, I owe it to my college friends for teaching me how to take advantage of my newly created social media accounts. For example, I created a LinkedIn account after I attended a career preparation program. During this program one of the advisors told us that if we do not have LinkedIn accounts we are “doing life wrong.” However, it was my friend who showed me how to take advantage of the site’s numerous search features to find more connections. Hence, because of my college social environment, I know how to use virtually every social media site and I can comprehend texting slang without any issues.
My experience with digital technology in college has focused more heavily on interactive text than my prior experiences. Eyman describes how text was originally considered to be “the container for arguments or persuasive discourse.” However, this definition was traditionally reserved for print texts such as books (Eyman 21). On the other hand, text pertaining to digital rhetoric goes further when it is studied in terms of a “communicative event” (21). Eyman cites Gunther Kress who makes two relevant arguments about digital text: (1) it is the result of social action and (2) it is made based on the social environment from which it was produced (22). As I have become more independent in college, I can no longer rely on others to communicate for me. This pertains to my heavier social media usage, but also my heavier email usage. In high school it was easy to meet with professors before and after class since their schedules always coordinated with my own. Now I rely on my Trinity Webmail account to communicate with professors. This communication ranges from setting up meetings to their sending reminders for when homework is due. As Kress predicted, my use of technology has expanded from producing traditional print text in the form of class essays to creating communicative texts.
Baron, Dennis. “From pencils to pixels: The stages of literacy technology.” Passions, pedagogies, and 21st century technologies (1999): 1-21.
Eyman, Douglas. Digital Rhetoric: Theory, Method, Practice. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.
Yancey, Kathleen Blake. “Made not only in words: Composition in a new key.” College Composition and Communication 56.2 (2004): 297-308.