Visible and Hidden Transcripts: Word Domination and Paths to Resistance




Claire's story

Clippie and friends

Word dominance

The public transcript

Transcript traces

Ideology saturation

Through thick and thin

Paths of resistance

Assignment Possibilities




This timeline, part of Microsoft's website's corporate history, tells the story of Microsoft – a consistent narrative which emphasizes a kind of technological manifest destiny.  It begin with a human face, one instantly recognizable.


Users can click through the timeline and see moment after moment of triumphant scientific progress.  They can also click on the human faces of progress, beginning with Bill Gates, in order to see and hear a particular triumphant moment.

The line is linear.  It is neverending.  It is inevitable and unambiguous – emphaszing the “passion” of its workers to succeed – a triumph of science mediated through the human faces of its workers, dots on the eternal line of teleological progress.  The ends served here is, of course, the eternal verity, the triumph of the market. 

Microsoft provides webpages about Word for its users.  The pages include blurbs celebrating the most recent releases or versions of the software.  The company has very specific ideas about Word’s target audience:  like PowerPoint, its audience is people in business. Its software suite, naturally,  is titled “Office.”   On Microsoft Word’s entry web page, the company advertises new Office products. 

A short blurb describes each product, for example:  “New, yet familiar programs build powerful connections between people, information, and processes.”  Similiarly, a blurb describing a version of Office Suite designed for teachers and students tells us:  “Easy-to-use programs and powerful new tools help you manage home and educational tasks smarter and faster.”

The assumptions underlying these blurbs are worth exploring.  Both use the adjectives “new” and  “powerful.”  These adjectives also appear in descriptions of new versions of PowerPoint, and the e-mail software, Microsoft Outlook.  Here, becoming dominant and gaining control are valued and hierarchy is assumed – the adjectives insist on comparison as they insist on valorizing the gain of power.  As described earlier, the attention to proper form found in Microsoft Word similarly presupposes a hierarchal world.  The emphasis on speed suggests there is a race on – and winning the race matters.

The market demands instant response, easy data transparency, and connectivity.  Reflection is unneccessary.  Get it out and get it out now.  Because these things are valued within Microsoft’s world, they are selling points for the software and the software is deliberately designed to promote these things.  Measurement matters.   Two questions predominate:  how much and how fast?

Within this wordlview, cooperation means connections between not just people, but also the things with which people can gain power.  The use of terms such as “manage,” “task,” and “information and processes” come straight from the business world.  Meant to convey neutrality, they valorize a particular kind of dialogue and its attendant worldview.  If you are not in business yet, they argue, you will be soon.  Information appears neutral:  a thing to be gained or lost and, clearly, ethical issues have no say here.

This language contrasts sharply with the humanist classroom, that is, one in which the wielding of literacies is not only instrumentalized into a method of gaining job opportunities but also (or rather) offered as invitation into becoming an actor in the world.