Medium Studies and C-MOC
Beyond concern with the writing process, human interaction with technology is an issue that needs further attention in addressing C-MOC. Pauses, inaccuracies, and other features of the program’s mediation allow the writer to treat the program less as a personal assistant than as a co-writer. And so, in noting the potential for VRT’s mediation to affect and maybe even guide the writing process, we might begin to look at it more as a scribe than as a tool. In a sense, the VRT program has agency in that it can compel a writer to change her phrasing based on its interpretation of her speech. Medium theory, first illustrated in Marshal McLuhan’s work, is a crucial standpoint from which to examine C-MOC’s current uses and future potential as a medium for writers. This section focuses on scholarship in medium studies relevant to computer-mediated oral composing.
My investigation of C-MOC was guided in part by three ideas about media proposed by Joshua Meyrowitz. Meyrowitz’s “Understandings of Media” provides a foundation for looking at medium as well as well as a look back to the metaphors though which media have been examined in past scholarship. He states that the three metaphors most often employed in media analysis have so far been: medium as vessel/conduit, medium as environment, and medium as language. The vessel/conduit metaphor “leads people to ask: What is the content? How did the content get there? How have patterns of ownership and control affected media content?” (45). Medium-as-language “looks at each medium as having a unique range of expressive potential” and “leads to the study of the ‘grammar’ choices (or ‘production variables’) within each medium and how their manipulation alters the resulting message . . . .”(46). And medium-as-environment holds that “each medium is a setting or environment or context that has characteristics and effects that transcend variations in content and override manipulations of production variables” (48). Calling for further scholarship integrating the three metaphors, Meyrowitz’ asserts that “we cannot change typefaces in oral speech” (47), demonstrating the kind of assumption concerning writing vs. speech that is being challenged by C-MOC. Meyrowitz argues that the most effective analysis will strive for as comprehensive an integration of all three metaphors as possible.
Thinking about C-MOC in terms of "medium as vessel/conduit" led me to acknowledge that all C-MOC programs share essentially the same "content"--all are sustained by sentence parsing programs that depend on a contextual analysis of a writer's speech to render it accurately as text. Secondly, recognizing "medium as language" seemed particularly fitting for this study, as the "unique range of expressive potential" has to do with the unique collaboration between writer and medium (I believe, for example, that many choices--in terms of syntax or content--that writers make with C-MOC are guided specifically by their interaction with the medium). And thirdly, the metaphor of medium-as-environment encourages a recognition of the unchanging aspects of the medium--all C-MOC programs (and I acknowledge that they are evolving as I write this) involve certain physical mechanics, such as microphones or headphones, as well as features such as verbal commands that writers must become comfortable with in order to take advantage of the medium. Considering these three areas helped me to generate basic questions to guide my collaboration with student writers.
Several media studies scholars who have directed their scholarship towards hypertext help lay the groundwork for a more medium-centered discussion of VRT as a rhetorical tool. Jay David Bolter and Richard Grusin’s Remediation, for example, explores the complex relationships between technologies, and their ideas relate to the mediation of writing through speech in electronic environments. The authors argue that new digital media “are not external agents that come to disrupt an unsuspecting culture” but rather they “emerge from within cultural contexts, and they refashion other media, which are embedded in the same or similar contexts” (19). VRT, though an oral technology, of course emerged from a largely print-based culture and therefore in some ways seems to reference print-based writing rather than the practices of oral composition demonstrated by early oral composing.