The Shortcut Divide

“Wait, wait, what is it that you highlighted? Do I click here?”

“Do I need to get the YouTube BEFORE I make the post?”

“Hold on: what are you doing exactly? What button did you press?”

These are questions I hadn’t thought about.

“Oh, um, you just highlight the URL. You know, the long series of words that are in this bar – yes, this one.”

“It’s the button with the music note and the camera. You see that? There?”

“So, I just clicked the ‘video’ button. Yeah, where it says ‘video.'”

It’s easy to take for granted the processes online that feel so natural to those of us who have used computers for as long as we can remember.

Yesterday, I attended the last portion of a WordPress workshop for middle school and high school history teachers led by UC Davis Digital History developer Phillip Barron. I was asked to give a small presentation on the functional literacy project I developed for UWP 270 as well as any tips or experiences I had about working with WordPress.

Frankly, I’m not sure I had too much to offer (I still have so much to learn myself!). The main piece of advice I gave was not to have fear. Looking out at the group, mostly absorbed in their laptops, I couldn’t help but remember that feeling I get almost every time I sit in front of a computer and start a new project. For the most part, when I sit with my hands upon the keys, trying to figure out how to tweak the code of a webpage, I alternate between fear, frustration, and impatience. I know that it is within my control to change whatever it is that I want to change, but I do not intuitively know how to manipulate space on a screen. It takes me a long time to figure out how to do something new.

I felt really impressed with the group that was there because I know how challenging it is to change the way that we think about our work. Learning is fun. Learning is exhilarating. But much of the time, learning is also really, really hard.

So, there was a part of me that felt like a huge hypocrite standing at the front of the room, speaking about pushing past fears as if it was something I had already done. But after I gave my “talk,” I helped individual teachers work on their webpages, and I realized that I did have something to offer: patience. If there’s something that teaching has taught me, it is the patience to help people when they’re struggling, to listen through struggles, and to find solutions.

I realized that even as I struggle and complain about my own technical incompetency, I still have the major advantage of being young, of growing up knowing how to copy and paste, of understanding what a hyperlink and a URL is, of opening up millions of tabs on my screen and being able to effortlessly click among them. The concept I found I helped the participants with the most was just that: copying, pasting, choosing the right buttons to do certain actions.

For many of the things participants wanted to do, I had already found shortcuts. And that, I realized, was the source of the divide between my experience with computers and many of these workshop participants’ experience with computers: I felt comfortable enough with the fluid processes of using a computer and browsing the Web that I wasn’t afraid to take shortcuts and cut corners. The workshop participants, however, wanted every step laid out in sequential order; they wanted to know exactly what to press and when to press it.

There’s clearly no wrong way to use a computer, but the desire for linearity, for seeing all of the steps, for making the process of using a computer transparent surprised me a little bit. It shouldn’t have, of course. After all, what have I been reading about all year? The inherent discomfort in our postmodern tendencies to shake up the order of our lives, to see our lives and experiences as disconnected and fragmented. The shortcuts might seem easier, but for someone entering a new world and a new way of thinking, they can simply be baffling.

If nothing else, yesterday was a good reminder of why I’m so fascinated with and interested in the intersections between literacy technology: the way we use the devices so central to our lives changes the ways that we think about leading our lives. I think after yesterday, I’m even more motivated now to think closely this summer about how I’m going to adapt to teaching in a computer classroom and how I might consider integrating 21st century literacies into my formal writing class.

Techno Logic

Scroll it, click it, surf it…

Sounds a little bit like the process I was working through this weekend.

I made the leap and purchased my own domain to download the WordPress software for my webtext project. I can completely understand why “novice” bloggers (like me) are drawn to using the WordPress software: it’s not dramatically different than using the WordPress blogging platform AND you have a lot more flexibility for tinkering. There are hundreds of free themes from which to choose for your blog and – bam! – it looks professional.

Granted, I’m all about learning to code and customize a webpage, but it is liberating to know that there are some ways to ease into the process (a la templates) without looking like a complete newb. I know that I would eventually like to personalize the code on the templates I’m using (after all, how else do I make them uniquely mine?), but for now, I’ve been having some fun just testing out different templates and seeing what works well.

I’m debating between two right now (as my “starter” templates before I tweak) for my final webtext:

Brunelleschi WordPress Theme
Pico Light WordPress Theme

They’re more similar than different. All I knew going into this was that I wanted a kind of “light” minimalist theme for this was a quality that all of my interviewing subjects professed as something they desired in their own web design. It seemed appropriate to mirror their consciousness of what is attractive and, indeed, for an academic project, I think it only makes sense to keep the design simple (thereby drawing primary attention to the content and showing to the reader that, “Yes, this is serious!”). I’m not sure anyone would read my work seriously if I applied, say, this kind of template to it:

Monster WordPress Theme (Totally Adorable, Not Appropriate for Scholarly Research)

My foray into theme shopping aside, I’ve been tinkering around with the two to which I’ve narrowed down (and I really wish I had taken some screen captures of my attempts to make the font size on Brunelesschi larger; what a disaster! My page looked like a cluttered mess).

At this point, I’m really feeling the Pico Light template. I like that the way the header/subpages are all in one block (rather than in separated chunks). It somehow seems to mimic the appearance of a “cover page” more. It also seems to me like the Pico Light template highlights the banner image more, which I think looks rather stark, sophisticated, and serious. All good qualities for an academic webtext!

I could see myself tweaking the font a little bit; the modern sans serif may just be a little too “cold” for my tastes (what can I say? I’m a sucker for a serif) and perhaps I’d try to expand the font sizes on the pages bar so that each of the page titles don’t look so squashed together on the left-hand size. Of course my experiment with Brunlesschi has scared me away from doing that a little bit, but part of tweaking code is persistence; every pixel counts.

Any thoughts, blog readers? Which one do you prefer?