Like Jeff, I recently received an invitation to my high school’s twenty-year reunion. I’m ambivalent about it: somewhat curious, but also not eager to spend a lot of money for a lame DJ and chatting with folks I mostly don’t remember. With my military service, I’ve taken a career path somewhat different from Jeff’s, but it’s interesting to think about what happens in twenty years.
Twenty years ago, I was a high school senior at Montgomery Blair in Silver Spring, Maryland, and then a college freshman at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh.
Twenty years ago, the American military was explicitly protecting economic interests in the Persian Gulf by escorting oil tankers when an Iraqi jet fired two missiles at the USS Stark and killed thirty-seven sailors.
Twenty years ago, Ira Shor described in Critical Pedagogy and Everyday Life the faceless, agentless agency of “a wildly growing and uncontrollable machine-economy [that] rushed across the land transforming everything it touched” and “created and peopled an educational frontier” in the form of the community college system (2); a system that some critics have suggested reinforces hierarchical structures of economic inequality.
Twenty years ago, Michael Joyce wrote the seminal hypertext fiction afternoon: a story. Bootleg copies circulated around the Carnegie Mellon dorms on 3.5-inch diskettes, where I encountered it. I thought it was something like a poetic interactive fiction, like Zork or Planetfall or Suspended. I also thought it was one of the most beautiful, puzzling, intricate, and compelling things I’d ever read in the way it went back and forth and traveled multiple times, multiple iterations, through various forking paths and nodes that changed in their meaning and nuance when I returned to them.
Twenty years ago, Robert Solow won the Nobel Prize in economics for his careful examinations of the ways technological development influences economic growth.
Twenty years ago, I was taking a freshman philosophy course from a professor I don’t remember. It was called “Philosophic Methods and Morals,” and it included a significant focus on logic and Turing Machines We analyzed and created various rule-bound (hypothetical) Turing Machines with read/write heads that moved back and forth on various tapes (paths?) depending on the symbol in each cell (node?). Working with these abstract computers was challenging, time-consuming, labor-intensive, but oddly fascinating in its crystalline intricacy.
Twenty years ago, C. Paul Olson wrote an essay called “Who Computes?” for the edited collection Critical Pedagogy and Cultural Power wherein he pointed out that “the computer as a tool does fundamentally reorganize material relationships and organizations of production and our thoughts about what production is” (183, emphasis in original). Charles Moran points out that composition still has not adequately responded to the economic critique Olson sets forth in the essay, but the way Olson demonstrates that better machines reduce work by replacing labor-intensive processes with capital-intensive processes (184) was a starting point for my dissertation.