A Comparison

And why would we want to "stop those crazy things," AKA technology? When defining technophobia, I chose examples primarily from movies and television. These examples not only illustrate technophobia, they are also strongly metaphoric. As George Lakoff and Mark Johnson (1980) point out in Metaphors We Live By, "metaphorical expressions in our language are tied to metaphorical concepts in a systematic way" and as a result, "we can use metaphorical linguistic expressions to study the nature of metaphorical concepts and to gain an understanding of the metaphorical nature of our activities" (p. 7). Seen this way, metaphor is not mere ornamentation, it is the pivotal mental construct that builds meaning for abstract concepts. When analyzed, it is also a window into our motivations or intent. Not surprisingly, there are repeated metaphors used to describe plagiarism and technophobia and some interesting connections between the also metaphoric answers to the problems they (metaphorically) pose.

Plagiarism as Disease

As a subset to the commonly used metaphor about students, resistance, and learning (Paine, 1999), words used to describe plagiarism include epidemic, disease, or infection. Plagiarism "spreads," making it organic in a negative way, in other words, a disease that needs "prevention." Interestingly, what plagiarism attacks is not the academy, classroom, student, or teacher, but the very institution of singular authorship itself, a conceit that has weathered the realities of corporate authorship; collaborative writing, both in and outside the classroom; the contemporary institution of the writer's workshop; and multiple "death of the author" announcements, most notably the one by Roland Barthes (1967). Thoughts about audience, constructed or otherwise also plays a irreplacable role in how writers ... write (Ong, 1975; Ede and Lunsford, 1984). In real life, that singular writer, if claiming complete originality, is actually beholden to every thought, sound, person, song, traffic siren, talking head, book, and web page s/he's ever met. Despite this, the Western world loves its image of the singular author toiling away in his (usually his) garret, a now archaic word that means attic. As diseases go, this one (plagiarism) is especially insidious since it infects and weakens this strongly held belief that writing, even ideas, can be individually created and owned, a fundamental belief in the United States, original home of the franchise. This is not to say that creativity and new ideas cannot exist, but as Howard (1999) points out, new ideas depend on context; they do not spring full-formed, like Athena from Zeus's brow. That context is problematical for singular-author proponents; in practice, it means that professional writers can acknowledge influences and build while student-writers must be far more scrupulous. Originality on their part is suspect.

What is so interesting about this metaphor is that if plagiarism is a disease, then it can be inoculated against. Writing classes and handbooks are the traditional sites for inoculation, but add technology fear to the diagnosis, and something more may be called for, at least it may appear so. Once again, set a machine to fight a machine, and plagiarism detection services like Turnitin promise clean, efficient software that will turn your stacks of papers into a slick, paperless assembly line of grading. Just like clockwork.

Plagiarism as Crime

This is possibly the most common metaphor, especially in informal conversation. After all, if ideas can be owned--and to some extent in the United States, they can--then plagiarism is theft. Theft is a crime. Once that idea is accepted, the natural solution is to call the police, whether they be the classroom teacher, the university's academic integrity council, or a plagiarism detection service. Richard A. Posner (2007) in The Little Book of Plagiarism uses his legal background to analyze plagiarism and finds himself investigating plagiarism as crime in the legal sense, attempting to align the crime metaphor with legal statute. The alignment is flawed in several ways, mainly in the monolithic view of writing that does not acknowledge different rhetorical situations (Bitzer, 1968) such as work for hire or boilerplate. He slides back and forth between genres in his quest for definition, but fails to overtly acknowledge that work for hire, boilerplate, and creative works, whether academic or what is commonly viewed as literature, do not play out the same way when considering what is (or isn't) plagiarism. He comes close at times though, and gives the example of Margaret Truman's popular mystery novels, now informally acknowledged to be ghostwritten. At the time, readers did believe for the most part that the novels were written by Truman, and Posner asks if this was truly theft and concludes that "in the rumored case of Margaret Truman, there is no 'theft,' no involuntary taking" (p. 45). The idea of plagiarism as theft or not-theft then, for Posner and others, is a fundamental basis for the definition of plagiarism.

The Theft Metaphor in Digital Spaces

Of course, when dealing with paper, there is a finite space where writing happens, one that is frozen in time. Authorship is noted on the title page, and except for fraud, is accurately noted. The internet blurs many things though, including this idea of finite, unchanging authorship. Primary in this blurring is time and linking. Time is finally a factor because when a page is accessed matters: today's blog entry may change to fit different circumstances tomorrow. Linking matters because it adds dimensionality: many authors collaborating through linked thoughts build arguments in a similar, yet not identical way to citing. Sometimes called gift culture, this shift (links seen as gifts to readers and the writer being linked) from a finite attribution culture can be seen as theft by some, thus explaining the strange lawsuits by those who see simple links to their site as "stealing" their content rather than citation or reference. A good example of this would be Gatehouse Media's suit against the New York Times over their Boston Globe local site using headlines and ledes in properly attributed links to Gatehouse Media's web site from the NYT. A sure sign of the not web-savvy, Gatehouse disregarded how the links were funneling new readers to their site at no cost to them and defined it as theft. For bloggers and other web writers, being first with new information and sharing it with as many people as possible is a huge motivator. Thus, the theft metaphor from print culture is diffused or even negated within gift culture. Of course, outright fraud exists here too. For instance, if the NYT had used complete posts or entire blogs and let readers assume false authorship, that would be a different matter. Within blogging ranks this is not accepted, and those who take complete content in a misguided belief that "everything on the internet is free" soon find out through comments and postings on other blogs "outing" them that their behavior wins them ridicule (and few followers) in the long run. So, gift culture also supports proper attribution, but in a form that fits the genre: through text and link.

Technophobia: The Added Layer of Fear

So far, writing in digital spaces has been described in human terms--the writing in blogs is embodied, personal, and an extension of a specific person, persona, or group. The metaphor of the internet as a thinking machine without a soul extends the monster/machine metaphors previously mentioned by stripping away the people behind the words and focusing on the mechanism. The soulless machine is easy to fear; even easier to fear is the machine with a soul, which is seen as blind, uncontrollable, and at times malignant. We all fear what we cannot control, and Web 1.0 or 2.0 can be viewed as an unwieldy behemouth that no one person (or nation) can control. Take away the perception of people behind the content and add technophobia, then fear seems more like a reasonable response. A metaphor closely allied to this is the internet as the Wild West. This one in particular easily ties into the plagiarism as crime metaphor since the answer to the wild west and outlaws was the straight-shooting sheriff.

About Fear: Metaphor and Categories

A case could be made that all of the metaphors shown here are connected by a singular fear, that of a lack of control. It is not surprising that writing itself can be seen as as a subversion of control in the schooling process, a connection that Katheen Blake Yancey (2009) makes in her NCTE report, Writing in the 21st Century (link to PDF). Although this is surely a factor, what may be more central to understanding plagiarism/ technophobia fears and the metaphors behind them is the idea proposed by George Lakoff (1990) in Women, Fire and Dangerous Things: What Categories Reveal about the Mind. Within the book, Lakoff uses an extended case study of the emotion anger to analyze what he calls emotion's "extremely complex conceptual structure" (p. 380), and how metaphor and metonymy are used to categorize what may otherwise seem disparate concepts. His painstaking analysis of anger and the concepts grouped around it in shared metaphors parallels how fear of plagiarism and fear of technology connect. Lakoff concludes that "expressions that indicate anger in American English are not a random collection but rather are structured in terms of an elaborate cognitive model that is implicit in the semantics of the language" (p. 408). In other words, Lakoff's anger case study acts as a analysis model for all emotions. Shared fear metaphors for plagiarism and technology indicate that the concepts share a category, and that enables them, when placed together, to heighten fear beyond what may be reasonable. Next: Children of Fear