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Politics of Interface: Power and its Electronic Contact Zones

Authors Selfe and Selfe present a position that computers in the classroom can be a type of inadvertent discrimination against certain groups of students. Underprivileged students who do not have computers often experience them differently than those who have grown up with them. Selfe offers ways in which the use of computers can discriminate historically, discursively, and from a feminist point of view. However, I thought that the authors brought up an interesting point in discussing capitalism and class privilege.

The authors talk about the metaphors often used in a system’s desktop interface. Elements such as files, folders, the recycle bin, and the fact that the desktop is in fact representative of a desktop is discriminatory against underrepresented groups who have grown outside of professional office elements which these metaphors serve. The authors suggest that there should be a variety of interface options so that various groups have an interface that is relative to their own class situation.

I understand where the authors are coming from on this, but I think that they are suggesting something that will not work. Suppose there is a workbench option available as a desktop interface (though I know that some desktop themes reminiscent of this can be downloaded) readily available with the computer. It is simple to customize the overall look of the desktop through the use of a wallpaper or screen saver. Even Gmail and Yahoo! accounts can be customized to an extent. However, the metaphors that have been established are used in more than the “look” of our desktop interface. Programming relies on such metaphors to explain processes and link files. If we were to go with the work bench metaphor and call “folders” “project shelves” and “files” “projects” a whole new method of instruction for higher computer processes must be developed along with those new metaphors. In essence, a lower grade of programming an computer use is created. And isn’t it discriminatory to identify a group by selling them the “Workbench” version of Windows? It almost implies that they are incapable of being comfortable in an environment based on professional office metaphor. This kind of implication would further widen the knowledge gap that the authors are exposing.

I think that basing the computer experience in multiple languages is the first major step towards eliminating this barrier. Customization of interfaces is an ineffective idea because it will only serve to identify those who are brought up outside of the metaphor and alienate them from that metaphor.

February 18, 2009 Posted by | Computers in the Composition Classroom | Leave a comment