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The concept of transparency, of looking through vs. looking at, is an important one for studies in composition, disability, and digital media. Introduced by Richard Lanham in his 1993 The Electronic Word, and later capitalized by Jay David Bolter and Richard Grusin (2000), digital media theorists use this transparent/opaque binary to describe computer interfaces and their abilities to play hide-and-seek. When conversing on the telephone, for instance, conversation might become so heated or intense that we forget we’re using an electronic technology, and the phone itself seems to disappear, the person on the other end becoming tangibly real and (tele)present.

Likewise, digital narratives often don this guise of transparency, with media clips and even alphabetically textual narratives transporting us into the realm of the real, into that imaginary space that seems so real. We’re not really battling medieval vampires in the fourth dimension—and yet, we really are. This virtual reality is what media theorist Lev Manovich (2001) refers to as the telepresent.

In the same manner that neurotypicality is constructed, autism, and narratives of what autism should be, further complicate telepresence and transparency for the autistic college student. I have often heard, from teachers and peers alike, that I write too fluidly to have Asperger’s, so I therefore must be curable, or better yet, sophisticatedly quirky. This dichotomous construction of neurotypicality and neurodivergency lends autism to narratives of telepresence, especially within the composition classroom: Manovich defines telepresence as “anti-presence,” a hegemonic ideal for those with communication differences. Rather than create a spectacle out of high-functioning autism, we normalize neurodiversity** and render it wholly transparent.

reading - telepresence