chapter  8
8 Pages


This chapter historicizes current literacy technologies, in particular the computer tools, sometimes called information technologies, that are used for the production and dissemination of written text. By historicizing I mean the reciprocal process of placing computer literacy technologies into historical contexts and, in turn, using those historical contexts to more fully understand today's technologies. However, the process of historicizing technology is a complicated, and complicating, process-more complicated than is sometimes assumed. Therefore, this chapter is structured as an extended critique. In particular, I argue against an oversimplification of the history of literacy technologies, using the history of print (and print's relationship to computer technology) as an exemplary case. I

However, the goal of this chapter is to go beyond mere critique to make a series of pragmatic arguments about how history might be used in the study of literacy technologies. Specifically, I argue that historicizing technology complicates our understanding of it, and thereby provides a countermove to the cultural dominant of transparent technology (see chapter 2, this volume). Further, although historicizing technology complicates, it also opens up possibilities for a much-needed theoretical grounding for technology studies. To this end, I suggest, following Vygotsky ( 1966), that to study something historically is to study "phenomena in movement" (quoted in Scribner, 1985, p. 120) and that Vygotsky's historical-genetic method-that is, the historical analysis of movement or change at different systemic levels (Vygotsky, 1978; 1981a)- can be a critical tool in helping us to understand the shape of those technologies that shape our own literate practice.