Break the Black Box

The importance of rhetoric in our everyday technology-filled lives becomes more and more palpable the further we read on the subject.  The further we read on the subject, the more I personally want to understand the mechanisms that seem to govern our everyday lives.  “The Algorithms of Our Lives” by Lev Manovich was a particularly compelling piece related to this subject of social media sites and software.  His basic argument is one I am concerned with: “If we want to understand today’s techniques of communication, representation, simulation, analysis, decision making, memory, vision, writing, and interaction, we must understand software” (Manovich).  All of our popular sites and applications derive from software programs, programs that we do not understand unless we have experience developing it.  More importantly, brings up the importance of rhetoric when creating these software programs as the people in power decide the information that they reveal and retain information to and from the user.  Manovich furthers this point of secrecy when it comes to algorithms in stating that “many popular software services use machine-leaning technology that often results in ‘black box’ solutions.”  Because if these “black box” technologies, we as users are limited in our understanding of how these sites work, placing control in large corporations that create and keep these software algorithms secret.

I find this secrecy quite unsatisfying.  The mystery drives me to learn more about the software that permeates throughout our society and culture.  Therefore, the “Introduction to ‘The Role of Computational Literacy in Computers and Writing’” by Mark Sample and Annette Vee furthered my interest in understanding software in understanding the coding that comes with it.  As a very old fashioned reader and writer (one who prefers reading physical books and takes notes typically with a paper and pencil), the notion of coding as a new (or is it old at this point?) form of writing is a baffling one.  I never considered coding to be a form of writing, and think with the growing prevalence of technology, perhaps adding coding to composition classes would benefit current and future students.  However, this can prove a challenge nowadays, how do we teach coding to older students who have virtually no coding experience?  Of course I speak for myself as one who has no coding experience, and I wonder that if I could learn coding and about software, how would this possibly help me in the future? I wonder that if I could code, could I finally reach into the rhetorically complex company software and break out of this “black box”?

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About Carla Aviles-Jimenez

Writing and Learning Center
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1 Response to Break the Black Box

  1. Gabriella Bulgarelli says:

    Hi Carla. I agree with you opening statement and I think that it applies even more so/we have become more aware of our rhetoric/the rhetoric of others through some of the discussions within this class. I, too am unsatisfied with the secrecy or exclusivity of the preponderance of programs with which we interact on the daily. Our recent exploration of search engines in class made me think of exactly what you talk about in your post. Regardless of being logged in our not, certain search engines are equipped to identify/retrieve information about us (such as location). Through some algorithm unbeknownst to us, they develop and tailor results to present us with things we like, certain advertisements and location/preference specific links. This is one of the most unsettling things because although there are no statistics proving so, it is an easy assumption to make that most of the users of these sites would have no idea how to understand or develop these algorithms themselves. This leaves people blindly accepting technology, unaware of the power it has (and the power we give it). I also enjoy physically reading and writing (as well as “vintage” film cameras and photography, cassettes and vinyl’s. I”m not snobby about it, but I do think they have their merits.) Regardless, the Sample reading also piqued my interest for that reason. I think its interesting to look at coding with the considerations of a language or source of communication. Mark-up languages are called so for a reason. It was mentioned at least once this semester, but it doesn’t seem to far off into the future when AP language classes expand their curriculum to include programming and script is superimposed with learning HTML and the rules of the TEI. As an english major, I often wonder if taking an online course or a comp sci course here at Carolina would further my knowledge of my “field” or make me more marketable post graduation. I also wonder, though, if Ill be able to keep up. You can’t teach an old dog new tricks. What we can do, however, is help younger generations transition now in order to keep up later in life.

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