I endeavor to blend two passions. The first is my love human communication. I remember when my eleventh-grade English teacher, Mrs. Crane, handed me a copy of Flannery O'Connor's complete short stories, and I devoured that book, which led to Faulkner, and Hemingway, to the point that my favorite haunt became the local bookstore's classics section, so that while my peers were in study hall doing their best to avoid studying, I was reading everything I could get my hands on. This led to learning to write, to becoming a student of writing, which in turn led me to pursue writing and literacy as a pathway through my college education.
Around the same time, during my eleventh grade year, my dad purchased our first PC, an HP 486 running Windows 3.1. Back then, there was no accessible Internet. The PC didn't even have a modem, but it was useful to me for its word processing capability, and I wrote all of my themes and research papers with it, printing them out on a dot matrix printer. I still have those files from those first word-processed papers.
I took that PC with me to college, and by then the Internet was new. That's around 1998. I bought a dial-up modem and installed it myself. I bought a book about the Internet that came with a copy, on a floppy disk, of one of the earliest web browsers, Mosaic, and I installed it on my PC. With the subscription to a dial-up account from a local provider, I can still hear it now, the handshake process of beeps and static that was a dial-up connection in the making. Once connected, I fired up Mosaic, and my life has never been the same since. In the address bar, I typed anything I could think of, just to see what would happen. I remember typing www.cocacola.com, and getting to Coke's earliest web page. WOW! This is so cool! From there, Amazon was a fledgling bookstore (I can see my order history from 1998! How many people can do that?), expedia enabled me to book my first plane flight to graduate school, and so it goes. I've been there every step of the way.
I like to figure out how things work. Installing that modem prompted me to unscrew the PC and push the ISA modem into its slot, and the next PC I owned, a couple of years later, I built myself. It ran an early version of Linux because I couldn't afford Windows. As I write this, I do so on another of my custom-built PCs. I became the guy that people call when their computers broke. I learned to troubleshoot, to fix malware and virus infections, to fine-tune a PC to run speedily without all the bloatware, and much more. It was all self-taught. I just wanted to understand how PCs worked.
Today, I sit here with a Ph.D. in English composition with seventeen years of classroom experience, and a couple of CompTIA I.T. certifications (A+ and Network+) that I earned just because I wanted to prove to myself that I could. And I find myself continuing to blend those two threads in my research agenda. In my life, I've witnessed the Internet completely change the way people communicate. I've seen it escalate so quickly that researchers are continually playing catch-up with regard to the ramifications of the technologies. In my classrooms, I've utilized wikis, HTML in a composition context, podcasts, Youtube videos, and I'm adept at doing these things with my students because I still have an unbridled desire to understand how things work. Ultimately, it is all about communication, about getting our messages across with clarity and precision, and students have never had more means to talk to the world, yet, so many of them are timid and uncertain. I'm certain some critical consideration is in order.
Literacy seems to be expanding and contracting almost simultaneously. Information and disinformation is at our fingertips, and students must learn to tell the difference. Communication is easier than ever, yet anything we post to the Web will outlive us all, so we'd better practice some critical awareness about what we do. Teaching these forms of literacy, and studying them, forms the backbone of my research agenda.