Still Paying Attention Ten Years Later:
                    A Bakhtinian Reading of the
                    National Information Infrastructure Initiative
                    Agenda for Action

“The authoritative word demands that we acknowledge it, that we make it our own; it binds us, quite independent of any power it might have to persuade us internally” (Dialogic p. 342).

Bakhtin and the Authoritative Word: Monoglossia

Bakhtin discussed whether texts precede internally persuasive speech (p. 341) or whether the texts allow authoritative language to proceed. In looking at genres, do we assimilate our consciousness to their ideological world? “The authoritative word demands that we acknowledge it, that we make it our own; it binds us, quite independent of any power it might have to persuade us internally” (Dialogic, p. 342). The authoritative word demands our acceptance and is perceived to be hierarchically and historically more authentic because it emanates from power centers such as government. Internally persuasive ideological discourse stimulates or dismisses possibilities in our consciousness. “Internally persuasive discourse—as opposed to one that is externally authoritative—is, as it is affirmed through assimilation, tightly interwoven with "one’s own word” Bakhtin stated. (p. 345). It operates simultaneously from both positions. The Agenda functions as externally authoritative discourse because it adheres to numerous factors of authority.

The Agenda functions as internally persuasive because its themes and language are so familiar, so half ours and half someone else’s. Americans are acclimated to the rhetorical background patter that calls for change as a road to progress and democracy—a road that must be repaved every generation with new technologies or economic imperatives found in public directives. Instead of just being told that education is the road economic health, the education should now also entail technology.  As Selber noted, "[T]here is the myth of equality through computers, the belief that computers will level the educational playing field" (4).  

The Agenda beckons us to use technology so that we may participate in democratic values, best schools, best health care, and social mobility. Once again, the Agenda tells readers that they must seize the opportunity to use technology towards social fulfillment: “The potential benefits for our nation are immense…firms will compete and win in the global economy, generating good jobs…ameliorat[ing] constraints of geography and economic status, and giv[ing] all Americans a fair opportunity to go as far as their talents and ambitions take them” (p.14). These are familiar terms, to which the reader wants to connect the best within him/herself. Readers find the Agenda internally persuasive, even though it emanates from an external authority. The Agenda implies a linkage of abstractions such as social mobility, with computer technologies. The wording of the Agenda in all its bureaucratic display encourages readers to concede how the discourse affects contemporaneous life’s work and embedded cultural and pedagogical practices and ideals.

Questions arise about the ideological nature of the Agenda. What are the possible socio-political outcomes of the NII and GII on ideas about property as represented in the language? The infrastructure of computers and televisions and peripherals in homes across the country slips into the realm of the public domain. Some may remember the inexorable spread of cable into cites and suburbs during the late 1980s, when property owners could not opt out of having cable installed. Cable installation proceeded door to door. In 2009, analog television was replaced by digital, with no opportunity for public resistance. Individual capital (property) of citizens is relegated under the governmental security and progress. The need to bring technology infrastructure to the public opportunity for surveillance, which I will not cover in this article. Computers and peripherals in private homes become a capitalized part of the national infrastructure. The Agenda seems to transfer privately-held capital to the public domain.

This slippage, however, in the locus of control can be compared to the large scale privatization of public building projects, stadiums and arenas, originally paid for with public tax dollars and now named and operated by corporations across American cities. These actions reshape public ownership into private capital. Similarly, national trends encourage the “selling” of public facilities, such as stadiums and public buildings, to private corporations. An outcome of the NII/GII is to bring under the corporate umbrella previously publicly and individually created and held capital. Infrastructure undergoes metamorphasis from private property to national infrastructure inextricably tied to national security and civic well being. Civic well being is not situated in the strength of the individual but in compliance with the demands of infrastructure.