Watch the Bubble

A version of this piece was published in Kairos: A Journal of Rhetoric, Technology, and Pedagogy in 2012. An earlier version was performed at the 2011 Computers and Writing Conference. The video was made by screen recording a live performance. An audio track and callout bubbles were added to the screen capture later. The version here has been revised using the original screen capture, an edited script, and repositioning of the bubble callouts.

This video brings together a number of applications and windows on screen. The materials are synced with a narration track that traces the author's history with the field of computers and writing. The narration offers a memoir that is straightforward, discussing teaching lessons and experiences. The video also captures multiple windows arranged on screen that include the musical track and online articles that have been published by the author. The last three minutes of the video include live typing.


00:00 The video opens with a window from an image editing program on the screen; the word "highlights" appears above gear-like graphics. The cursor manipulates objects in the window while the narrator speaks: "What happens when you mix memoir with music, video, and words? You get multimedia manifesto. And when you reflect through—as well as about—media composing, you get moments like these, captured on screen. I'm searching for some sound. There's a shared response with the machine."

00:20 The cursor brings forward a web browser window, selects the search field, and types "explosions in the sky." From the search results, the cursor selects a video on the YouTube website by the band Explosions in the Sky. The video loads into the browser window. The cursor adjusts the size of the video window. The narrator continues: "Let's play a YouTube clip. Let's adjust this a little bit. Let's think about how to arrange these pieces. About scale and movement. Focus. Time."

00:38 The cursor moves the window with the YouTube clip to the upper right of the screen. In the video, the band begins to play. Above the clip, appears the name of the band and the song: "Explosions in the Sky—Six Days at the Bottom of the Ocean." The image editing program is again selected, and a menu of color choices appears in a small dialog box. The graphics in the program are resized and rearranged. The narrator continues: "Let's get a feel for the music. For the mood. Let's play with this image, create what we want to say with these materials. Layers, shapes, words, that launch us into memory."

01:00 The narrator continues: "When I was about six I went to the Twelve Gates free school and this was in the '60s. It was a hippie school. The only rule was the teachers couldn't tell you what to do. We wandered downtown, scouring the city. But I soon had to go to public school and I was still just six, and the first thing I did was say 'shit' . . . and had my mouth washed out with soap."

01:25 A callout appears on screen with text overlaid on an image of a bubble: "What would you change about education?" The narrator continues: "My first question is personal. What one thing would you change about education?"

01:40 In the YouTube window, the music picks up in intensity. The Texas flag is visible, despite the dark sepia tones of the video. The narrator continues: "My teaching memories start with 1993, my first time in a computer classroom. I put my PC disk in a Mac and erased my syllabus on the first day. That accident was the warm sun on my face. The response was electric. Do you want to reformat? Just click okay."

02:08 A web browser window is opened on the left half of the screen containing an online article called "Not Maimed but Malted." The cursor clicks through the hypertext essay, moving through different screens. A bubble callout appears, reading: "Tweak first. . . ." The narrator continues: "The second memory weaves together teaching and composing beyond words. We learned to layer ideas with images, sounds, language. We learned to mark up text and talk to servers to write the web. We learned to code to help the web write back. Which leads to an affirmation. Digital composing is comfortable with learning to learn, with technical play, with ephemera, disappearance. . . ." On screen, a bubble callout appears, reading: "Theorize later." The narrator continues: "with tweak first, theorize later. With what we call emergence—that edge where chaos and composing come together as creativity plays out."

02:52 A file system window is brought on screen and the cursor clicks through a series of folders. The folder names are "The organic mechanic / sets his ring tone, / choosing bird chirps— / the peep in the poplar / or, sometime later, / in the inking evening / the distant owl / yopping its / wahoo." In the hypertext essay on the left of the screen, a header reads "The Mixing of Text and Graphics."

03:05 The cursor selects a file in the file system window and drags it into a web browser window. The file contains an article titled "hybrid://literature, cognition, design," which fills the left side of the screen. A callout appears, reading "What have we learned from our first questions?" The narrator continues: "But we still made claims and drew conclusions: 'Our thinking is like a network.' 'The computer will democratize literature, writing, education.' 'This changes everything.' 'This is total disruption.' And it was instantiation of the theories—poststructural networks, fluid texts, shifting authors. We saw The Electronic Word and realized, 'the critical/creation dichotomy automatically breaks down in a digital world.'"

03:35 A callout appears on screen: "What does it mean to tinker?" In the window with the live performance by Explosions in the Sky, the musicians are jamming, the drummer crashing on his kit. The narrator continues: "In the '90s, we were hacking away at the web, trying to make it writable. Which brings us to the do-it-yourself attitude of the digital, the studio or shop class suited for tweaking and tuning materials, for working with hands and minds."

03:51 A new file system window is brought on screen and the cursor selects a file and drags it into the web browser window on the left. An article opens titled "Prosumer Approaches to New Media Composition." The hypertext essay is filled with videos and images; the narrator's face and the faces of others appear in small video windows embedded in the article. The narrator continues: "So my introduction to formalized education was rough. But I still had some wonderful teachers. In second grade, on another first day, Mrs. Buchanon told me, 'stick to your guns' when you think you're right. Looking past the ratty hair and backing the new kid, she showed me that learning is about risk and trust." The live musical performance has nearly fallen silent; only one electric guitar sounds, a single note at a time. The cursor continues to navigate the "Prosumer" article as the narrator describes the piece: "In digital history, this piece on screen is 2003, and this is multimedia taking root. This moment is a response to programs like iMovie and the lowering of technical hurdles. This is the prosumer-push, full throttle."

04:45 Two callouts appear on the right of the screen. The first callout reads: "Can we just talk about. . . ." The second callout reads: ". . . or must we do DIY?" A new web browser window is brought on screen containing a class portfolio created by student Zach Cross; the cursor scrolls through and lingers on a few paragraphs. The narrator continues: "My best class ever was auto shop in high school. My mentor, Erwin Schlaack, taught me to recognize poetry in mechanical things. Life lessons like torque applied to metal bolt, the breaking point, the backing off, the just right moment, which leads me to another question: What should be our teaching philosophy?"

05:05 A callout appears on screen: "What is the teaching philosophy of computers and writing?" The cursor continues to scroll through the student portfolio. The narrator continues: "The digital should be a place for experimentation, a place where you can try something. Who knows what will happen? We all can reflect on and practice creative response. Every project should be a revelation. It's okay not to know how to do something. It's okay to make mistakes."

05:35 Two callouts appear on screen as the cursor continues to scroll through Zach Cross's portfolio. Callout one reads: "It's okay. . . ." Callout two reads: ". . . to make mistakes." The narrator continues: "When I first went to college, I brought my Mexican mesh bag stocked for the beach—Frisbee, sandals. When I took a second crack at a university, a teacher, Mike Fischer, taught me to write about ideas. I thought I'd take on deconstruction. I felt like literature didn't dissolve anything, but generated being through insights and emotions, 'thoughts too deep for tears.'"

06:10 The web browser window with the student portfolio is minimized. A new web browser is brought on screen containing the article, "Yes and Yes-and: Time in the Compshop." A callout bubble appears: "What are the new questions?" The narrator continues: "Then I started teaching with computers and found the bubble. Here, my life memories merge with my recollections of a field. I think of John Slatin, who taught me about texts and codes and working with those we love. We are the lab discipline of the humanities. The place where art, music, film, and story are cast together. Where beliefs are created in response to the material world. 'The river is moving.' Our writing is mixing."

06:45 In the YouTube clip in the upper right of the screen, the live performance of the song is increasing in intensity. A web browser window showing a blog posting is brought on screen, titled "Flying Forward and Back with Each Footfall." The cursor scrolls through a poem in the posting. On screen, a callout appears: "a claim is coming." The narrator continues: "We come to the connotational space still slick with linguistics. But I'm talking about extending the beating in the veins and tracing it all the way through software and symbol and sound and soundboard and keyboard. We find in the connotational space glowing image edge amid desktop under glass. We cast texts and songs and lights and people."

07:15 The cursor scrolls to the bottom of the blog posting and selects a link that says, Add comment. A comment composing window appears. A callout appears: "A claim is coming . . . cast as a question." The narrator continues: "I'm rolling toward the final question of the technopoet: 'Oh . . . Do not ask . . . must we always manifesto?' The question's rhetorical. This moment is now emerging. Should we use this YouTube clip we've found? The question's rhetorical. How could we not? It's a part of this story, the memoir, the performance."

07:50 In the comment composing window, the cursor types text: "Just checking back. I'm thinking that local writerly stuff has gone global now, or just keeps slipping between the global and the local. Like a zoom tool switching our gaze." The narrator continues: "This is the twenty-third take of a live improvisation. Twenty-three takes among hundreds of unsaved instances, coming and going like the folding edge of time. This is me typing into the take. This is you watching. This is me talking over the take. Us listening. Clicking. Moving sound. Beating. Playing with the band. Imagining. Us. Reworking the twenty-third take of a ten-minute moment."

08:25 The live musical performance increases in intensity. The video image zooms in on the comment composing screen, which becomes partially transparent and moves over the YouTube video, the comment text and the musicians filling the screen. The cursor continues to type: "It's still about the prosumer push, the euphoric rush picking its way through membrane. Dance of light, pixelated insight." The narrator continues: "I used to think the prosumer approach was important for teaching. Of course it is. But what I've learned is that the prosumer is not about school. It's about everybody making everything. That means me and you. You don't create the prosumer, you prosume. You don't study digital composing; you perform it. 'Must we always manifesto?' Yes. The question is who will speak and what will we say as we cast our creations into the mix. The question is, what will we say?"

09:15 The live musical performance comes to a crescendo. In the comment composing window the cursor has continued to type, opaque images of the band commingle with words: "Heard through air vibration tools. The tympanic mechanic with hammer and drum . . . . . . . . . . drum drum. heart. ear. lung. This is me and my machine. This is the adumbrating edge where writing becomes writing." The narrator continues: "We will say that words crash and sweep and wave, light speaks, and sounds have shape. Do we write these waves and shapes with our machines? Yes. Do we blow them into being like glass? Yes. Look closely: the surface, still liquid and light, refracts."

09:40 The view on screen zooms out, and the comment composing window shrinks to its original size and becomes more opaque. The band plays intensely on their instruments. The cursor continues to type: "The Mobius moment where cast is cast. Where the bus stops beyond language." The narrator continues: "And when we bring the shimmering thing here before us, we will say to beauty: 'this is truth.' And we will say, 'don't watch your mouth. Watch the bubble.'" The band finishes the live performance of the song. The video ends.

The materials include blog postings and images created by the author. A video clip hosted on YouTube captures a live performance of the song "Six Days at the Bottom of the Ocean" by the band Explosions in the Sky. The song was recorded at the Parish in Austin, Texas on October 31, 2003 and posted to YouTube on March 4, 2006.

The bulk of the materials are screen recordings of websites that display scholarly articles that take up hypertext, the web, multimedia, and digital teaching. These link to moments in the history of the field of computers and writing. There are also materials captured from a student portfolio that show reflections on composing multimedia projects.


Anderson, Daniel. "hybrid://literature, cognition, design." Kairos: A Journal of Rhetoric, Technology, and Pedagogy 3, no. 2 (1998).

Anderson, Daniel. "Not Maimed but Malted: Nodes, Texts, and Graphics in Freshmen Compositions." CWRL: The Electronic Journal for Computer, Writing, Rhetoric, and Literature 1, no. 1 (1994).

Anderson, Daniel. "Prosumer Approaches to New Media Composition: Production and Consumption in Continuum." Kairos: A Journal of Rhetoric, Technology, and Pedagogy 8, no. 1 (2003):

Anderson, Daniel. "Thoughts on Emergence." November 5, 2010,

Anderson, Daniel. "Yes and Yes-and: Time in the Compshop." John Slatin Memorial Issue special issue of Currents in Electronic Literacy, 2009,

Crawford, Matthew B. Shop Class as Soulcraft: An Inquiry into the Value of Work. Harmondsworth, UK: Penguin, 2009.

Cross, Zach. "Final Portfolio." Unpublished student project, 2010.

Explosions in the Sky. "Explosions in the Sky—Six Days at the Bottom of the Ocean." YouTube, uploaded by Herri Capela, March 4, 2006,

Lanham, Richard. The Electronic Word. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1993.

Sawyer, Keith. Group Genius: The Creative Power of Collaboration. New York: Perseus Books Group, 2007.

Sirc, Geoffrey. English Composition as a Happening. Logan: Utah State University Press, 2002.

Slatin, John M. "Hypercard and the Extension of Writing." Computers and Composition 10, no. 1 (November 1992): 109–16. doi:10.1016/S8755-4615(06)80025-3.

Stevens, Wallace. "Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird." Poetry Foundation, February 2, 2020,

Ulmer, Gregory L. Heuretics: The Logic of Invention. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1994.

Wordsworth, William. "Ode. Intimations of Immortality." Accessed February 2, 2020.


Watch the Bubble articulates a teaching philosophy based on mentored engagement with the material world. Human agency, Matthew Crawford suggests, "arises only within concrete limits that are not our making" (64). A metal bolt can only take so much torque, and the limits are best learned through guided experience. These constraints create the conditions for education. The situation and mechanics can vary. The materials of language work well for mentoring. The classroom and computer lab make great spaces for teaching "why certain aspects of mechanical work can't be reduced to rule following" (24). Learning requires wrestling with materials that evokes insights and emotions. Crawford notes that we situate ourselves when we learn this way.

Screen composing brings material engagements to the fore, makes them part of the performed message. Crawford notes that "the computer 'interface' adds another layer of abstraction, because it screens the user also from the human-generated logic of the program running the software" (60). We know computing flows with protocols, ideologies, and politics that often slip beneath the surface of our engagements. At the same time, we can recognize these agencies when we use our screens to reveal the materiality of software. Crawford worries that the interface is designed "to introduce as little psychic friction as possible between the user's intention and its realization" (61). At 02:50 in the video, the cursor clicks through a series of folders that have been named with lines of figurative language, showing how resistance can be added to the interface with creative representation—making poetry.

screenshot of Watch the Bubble video

The interface of the operating system can be used to perform composing

Gregory Ulmer (building upon Julia Kristeva's discussion of chora) outlines an approach to composing that he calls chorography, "a process or movement of invention conducted as a transgression of rules (the burlesque principle) that undermines the plausibility and verisimilitude of classic mimesis, argumentation, judgment, realism" (176). This transgression calls into question classic understandings of writing. Instead, "choral writing is a kind of dreamwork . . . drawing on . . . 'the passage from one sign system to another'" (76). When writing becomes a transgression, representation can work against the grain of sign systems, and then unseen materiality surfaces. The psychic resistance that Crawford seeks is easily felt through this choral composing that creates transgressive movements shaped by, against, and with software.

John Slatin, one of the first scholars to explore "how the computer can extend the concept of writing" (114), once suggested we should get creative with computer scripts. Try a variable name that creates surprise. Smuggle into the code some unseen story. We hesitate, sometimes, with such experiments. "It's riskier and less efficient" (17) Keith Sawyer says of groups trying to produce innovations. College writing instruction, Geoff Sirc reminds us, suffers when it asks students to remake familiar products; instead, we should help writers toward "unique self-expression and a considered feeling for materials" (71). For Sirc, writing instruction has become so rigid that to break free students must produce a "text that's a peculiar blend of drama, risk, and absurdity" (179). Of course, that text will be harder to create (and may fail to be recognized). As Sawyer explains, "the twin sibling of innovation is frequent failure" (55). In spaces where that risk is shared, we experience learning together. The process is like what Sawyer finds in musical performance, where the participants "trust in each other" (35). It's what helps screen composing and video scholarship push past the familiar to discover new knowledge. When that happens, together, we watch the bubble.