Date of this Version
Contemporary Argumentation and Debate, Vol. 27 (2006), pp. 81-105
Human communities can use collective deliberation to make considered decisions regarding their relationship to technology. Such reflection is particularly warranted, because as sociologist Langdon Winner (1986) observes, "technological artifacts have politics" (p. 19). In other words, choices about technology carry political implications, because patterns of sociality are embedded within technical tools (McMillan and Hyde, 2000). Fortunately, Winner notes, "by far the greatest latitude of choice exists the very first time a particular instrument, system, or technique is introduced" (Winner 1986, p. 29). Winner's insight punctuates the salience and timeliness of this forum exchange, which comes at a moment when the intercollegiate policy debate community is faced with the daunting challenge of understanding precisely how rapid technological change might transform its norms, practices, and even identity as an intellectual endeavor (Edwards, 2006). This essay is oriented to stimulate such reflection in an openended fashion that does not presume or anticipate closure on key inflection points around which community discussion will likely pivot. In theorizing what we term the Digital Debate Archive (DDA) – an online database that archives, tracks, organizes and publishes argumentation presented in tournament contest rounds – it is necessary to consider both possibilities and pitfalls. The general concept of an argument archive is nothing new, as the linear “caselist” record of arguments advanced in contest rounds is now an institution in National Debate Tournament (NDT) and Cross Examination Debate Association (CEDA) circles. However, the possible turn to more ambitious information architecture presents new challenges and new choices. How might near-term choices regarding information architecture and community norms shape future trajectory of the archive? Does the NDT/CEDA community have a real mechanism for facilitating collective discussion and reflective decision-making on this issue? Who will be the gatekeepers determining what content is included and the form it is presented in a DDA? What incentives will debaters have to share their ideas beyond the contest round space? In this essay, we explore these and other questions by considering one specific technology’s implications for architectural choices, argument pedagogy, external audiences, and competition. Our hope is that discussion and debate over these issues will contribute to more reflective, long-run decision-making, not only regarding DDA technology, but also about the debate community's orientation to other technological artifacts.