The "Disappearance Effect"

The “Disappearance Effect”

So, I had quite the struggle to get through Chapter 2 of Jody Shipka’s “Toward a Composition Made Whole”, (& although I’m pretty sure it’s against the rules) I decided not to blog about it until after our class discussion. While hearing what my classmates thought did help me, it still didn’t answer some of the key questions I had about the chapter. The major one I still can’t seem to find an answer to is what exactly is “mediational means”.

There were examples of pole-vaulting, quitting smoking, and even one about a birthday cake that I looked up myself in an attempt to understand what exactly Shipka (and Lev Vygotsky) was trying to get at. Finally I stumbled across this one rather lengthy definition, that after several read throughs seemed to make sense. The way I understand it, “mediational means” are anything that goes into the communication process – whether it be the words I’m using in this sentence, the laptop I’m typing it on, or the Dr.Pepper I’m drinking to keep me awake to do so.

One particularly interesting aspect of the investigation into “mediational means” is the idea “the habitual use of any tool brings about ‘amplifications and reductions’ not only in the moment of use but in the physical and psychological structure of the user” (page 51). Shipka mentions how the use of word processors has significantly effected the environment of writing. While you can essentially take a notebook and pen anywhere, you are only able to use a laptop on flat surfaces with nearby electrical plugs. On the other hand, however, you can write many more ideas at a faster pace with a laptop than you are able to scribe on paper. I can’t help but sometimes think it’s a choice between back problems (from lugging my laptop around to class) and carpal tunnel (from vigorously jotting notes).

We discussed this idea in class, talking about the “romanticizing” of pen and paper writing, and the idea of our laptops as partners versus tools. Shipka argues that the technology involved in the writing process (whether it be a laptop or the lights in the classroom) should be viewed more as a partner to the final project. She goes on to borrow the idea of the “disappearance effect”, a term coined by Bertram Bruce and Maureen Hogan, which states that as we become so accustomed to our technologies, we forget to acknowledge them and be active in our use. Shipka writes,

“Once the action a technology affords move from novelty to habit, we tend to move from ‘looking at technology as an addition to life to looking at life through that technology'” (page 54)

Anyone else thinking of Google Glass? Regardless of how tech-savvy you are, I think most people, as evidenced in our class discussion, have some reservations about referring to their technology as a partner. Maybe we’ve all just seen too many tech-gone-wrong movies like Total Recall and I, Robot or maybe it’s just a narcissistic human characteristic to believe we’re the only species capable of generating ideas. Either way, you try to go just one day without using your laptop, tablet, or smartphone, and you’ll quickly realize you’re guilty of enacting the  “disappearance effect”.