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Subtle technology and student writers: The ambient influence of technological myths on communicators

, Temple University, United States

Temple University . Awarded


This study investigates the influence of technological myths on the writing processes of nine students in two computer-dependent writing courses: an engineering class and a core humanities course. In the dissertation I introduce the concept “subtle technology,” a theoretical transformation digital technology might undergo that leads to complete dependence on these machines. This transformation occurs when five interdependent traits of digital technology are fully realized: ubiquity, transparency, dependency, interconnectedness, and insubstantiality. I interviewed the students to attempt to identify how, if at all, subtle technology influenced their writing and communication. Subtle technology is an elusive concept, but it can be tangibly discussed through what I call “technomyths,” mythical constructs about technology that have evolved in our culture (and which I define and explain through works of contemporary fiction). During the interviews I asked the students to read short passages of fiction that reflected three technomyths: information overload, the cyborg (as inflected with the myth of technological trumping), and technobureaucracy. We then discussed how these mythical ideas functioned when they wrote in digital environments.

I found that cultural myths about technology—stories built on this transformation from digital to subtle technology—function as ambient noise, complicating and sometimes obstructing students' writing. Awareness of information overload lead students to attempt to avoid controversy on class listserves so as to minimize peer responses; students also responded to the sometimes overwhelming electronic research environment with a “take from the top” strategy. Students were very concerned about the cyborg myth and expressed fears of even figurative connectivity to computers. And the students said the visibility, privacy, and identity issues in a technobureaucracy influenced the decisions they made when they communicated and worked in online environments.

An awareness of subtle technology can help prevent students and teachers from being overwhelmed by the inherently distracting milieu of digital technology. This awareness can be framed around the characteristics of subtle technology: by preventing these five characteristics from being fully realized, compositionists can attempt to prevent in their classrooms the digital dependency that accompanies the transformation to subtle technology.


Warnock, S.J. Subtle technology and student writers: The ambient influence of technological myths on communicators. Ph.D. thesis, Temple University. Retrieved April 17, 2021 from .

This record was imported from ProQuest on October 23, 2013. [Original Record]

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