Thursday, December 01, 2005

Postcard from Copenhagen

It seems strange to be writing about local California webpages from the vantage point of the computer lab of the IT University of Copenhagen, where I can see out of the computer lab through a two-story glass wall into a six story atrium in which the giant glowing green words "Welcome to DAC 2005" scroll across artfully asymmetrical white rectangular balconies in faux digital typeface. The sound of students dutifully playing ping pong and table soccer echoes out through the otherwise silent volume of the Department of Visual Aesthetics, where I have come to give a paper about Tactical Iraqi.

But I've been thinking a lot lately about the FAQ as a specific kind of web genre, and the way that "Frequently Asked Questions" usually posit an ideal reader who might represent either a level of stupidity or of sophistication alien to any real reader who might find his or her way to an FAQ.

My initial reaction to what I at first considered to be my winner for the World's Stupidest FAQ from a government agency was amusement. Questions like "I don't know what to do" and "I spelled my name wrong on my application" signalled a stereotypical level of cluelessness among applicants for online state licenses in marginalized professions like cosmetologist and security guard in populations unfamiliar with the computerized procedures of the virtual state. But these FAQ's were also directed at "educated" professionals like psychologists and dentists. My guess is that rather than construct an ideal reader, the author of this FAQ looked at the actual frequently asked questions sent via e-mail, and methodically attempted to answer them, sometimes curtly ("No") and sometimes with greater rhetorical sensitivity ("Unfortunately, no.").

I think I wrote my own FAQ about the Virtualpolitik project more as a way to rethink the genre of the book abstract that I was finding inadequate for answering questions about my theoretical underpinnings, because I wanted to imagine a kind of philosophical dialogue about information and knowledge. But now that I am thinking about the term "Virtualpolitik" as a real term with real uses in the real world, I think it will also require some real definition for a less than ideal reader. So look for a modification of my own FAQ as soon as I am back in the states.



Blogger Julia Lupton said...

You've opened up a really interesting area of analysis by pointing to the FAQ as a genre. Inspired by your post, I wrote a little about it on today. (Yes, it includes a brief FAQ for our blog!)

5:39 PM  

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