I Am the Machine
I am by craft a teacher, specifically a composition professor at the local community college, but before that I taught high school English for seventeen years. Vaccari and Barnet discuss the “techno-genetic ‘memory’” that exists within humans and outside humans because human agency cannot be easily separated from technological life. This is part of Stiegler’s theory of epiphylogenesis: humans and their machines have no origins but appear simultaneously (Vaccari and Barnet). As a composition professor with an MEd. in instructional technology (design and use of media systems to deliver content) and a graduate certificate in teaching college composition I spend my days working with language to “manufacture…, mediate…, and [create a] material regime” for student agency and actions (McCarthy). This occurs both in the classroom and through PAL, an Internet-based learning management system.
When I taught high school, my students did not have regular access to Moodle (another learning management system). I taught in the present, using paper, lecture, and textbooks, worksheets and projection systems. Make up work was a never-ending loop of presence, absence, instruct, repeat, drill times a billion. I was the encoder, my students the decoders, and the signals I hoped my students received were about grammar, semantics, and pragmatics (Kinneavy 31). I was the media.
During my last year teaching high school, though, I moved my classes to weekly meetings in the computer lab to introduce them to the technology, to help them learn the craft, needed to quickly work through standardized testing because all of their end of course exams were computerized. The media (Moodle) contained the signals (the reading text and the place to respond) the encoders (my students) were to send to me (the decoder). Instead of my broadcasting through the present in paper, lecture, and textbooks, I overcame presence and absence with Moodle’s availability to my students at all times, or at least I overcame presence and absence through ongoing access to learning modules whenever my students were in the lab.
Now, as a college composition professor, I mediate my classes in both the present but also the past and the future. My courses are hybrid, requiring students to access their paper textbooks and online quizzes and to submit digital copies of essays to my Dropbox for grading while also handwriting impromptu timed essays. McCarthy says that “we are always not just…in media res, i.e., in the middle of events, but also simply in media” and that is certainly true for me. PAL is an “‘auxiliary organ … [that can] … give us a good deal of trouble on occasion” (McCarthy). My composition classes do not work without PAL, but sometimes they do not work with PAL, for PAL does not always accept student submissions and is sometimes unavailable for system-wide upgrades.
Nonetheless, I have, as Leroi-Gourhan theorizes, exteriorized my human traits and capacities (Vacarri and Barnet) to the world of PAL, where students can access additional information about how to research, how to document sources, and how to write. As before, when I collected materials for my high school students so as to engage them in study and to push through the noise of distractions (hunger, socialization, phones), I am a machine, Heidegger’s techne, “a receiver, modulator, retransmitter: a remixer” (Vaccari and Barnet) of information (not my own but found and remixed) to aid my students in their signals to demonstrate that they understand and are able to write and research. This world I have created within PAL, whose origin began somewhere before I ever took my high school students to the computer lab, whose origin began somewhere even before I earned a masters degree in this field, is without concrete origin and has become both an extension of who I am (for I am the intelligent designer behind the content within PAL) and an amputation (for my students do not need me as much as they would if I did not place my work within the ever accessible course modules) of me (McCarthy).
I have taken my skills and memory (tekhne to Stiegler) and made them exterior to me and therefore accessible to my students (Vaccari and Barnet). PAL provides, as Simondon theorizes, “procedures and processes that remain stable” because of the learning management system, allowing PAL to become concrete, unified with multiple functions in one structure, undistorted by signals from within (Vaccari and Barnet). I, therefore, wear the prosthetic of a learning management system, a system that I cannot and will not leave for it frees me from that never-ending loop of presence, absence, instruct, repeat, drill times a billion. As long as my students remain within the hybridized face-to-face classroom and enclosed PAL system, signals remain pure as we encode and decode.
Unfortunately, “signal ebbs away to noise” for my students are not wedded to PAL. They do not even check their school email regularly. They are wedded to their phones, their online games, their tweets and tumbls and texts. They do not know a world without their cell phones; they were epiphylogenetically entwined the moment they received their first cell phones, and like a “writer … [are] not … originating speaker[s]:” they are obsessive listeners “prone to disintegration” as they try to convey or recover content that becomes lost in the noise of sender / encoder, receiver / decoder (McCarthy; Kinneavy 31). We do “not feel happy with [our] god-like nature” (McCarthy), neither my students nor I, because despite our e(merge)nce with the machine, we no longer control “the structure of inheritance and transmission … [which is now] … external and non-biological” (Vaccari and Barnet). The technical has its own dynamic that guides a process of invention that precedes and exceeds the inventor (Vaccari and Barnet) and us, the users.
Kinneavy, James L. A Theory of Discourse: The Aims of Discourse. W.W. Norton and Company: New York, 1971. Print.
McCarthy, Tom. Transmission and the Individual Remix: How Literature Works. Vintage Books: New York, 2012. Kindle.
Vaccari, Andrés, and Belinda Barnet. “Prolegomena to a Future Robot History: Stiegler, Epiphylogenesis and Technical Evolution.” Transformations 17 (2009): n.p. Web. 24 Mar. 2016. <http://transformationsjournal.org/issues/17/article_09.shtml>.