Digital Rhetorics: Simply Too Complicated a Phenomenon

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Digital rhetorics1 provide a vast suite of generating principles. These principles are difficult to collect into a simple model, much less to name, substantiate, and prioritize. Fortunately, difficulties like these are much of what motivates digital rhetorics scholarship (some of which was reviewed by others in previous entries), and they are also what I find both exciting and challenging about the field. Digital rhetorics often draw on reasonably well-traveled rhetorical theories (Aristotle’s appeals, Burke’s dramatisms, stases, etc.), but they also subject traditional concepts to renewal and reinvention. Collin Brooke’s Lingua Fracta comes to mind as a terrific example of this renewal for the ways it reconceives rhetoric’s five canons in light of new media, but also because it explicitly recognizes ongoing change as inevitable. Thus, it stands to reason that we must refrain from settling too comfortably into static definitions lest we appear monolithic in how we think about digital rhetorics, how we enact them. Where rhetorical principles–new, established, cultural, applied–converge with hypertext, blogging, SMS, sonic mixing, still image and video editing, and more (a comprehensive list remains forever out of reach), distinctive practices emerge, and with them come abundant opportunities and responsibilities for teaching and learning, for rhetorical education concerned with composing across screens. Underscoring circulation, participation, contingency, and immediacy, digital rhetorics shift, intensify, or subside with particular tools, materials, and media. So digital rhetorics, as I think of them, tend to follow a crosshatched pattern, a meshwork similar to the boat wakes Burke noticed in the WWII gallery photograph (see Spread 7): one set of threads responsive to rhetorics, the other responsive to new media, and among them multiple junctures due for exploration.

Yet, considering all that digital rhetorics make possible, the quick sketch above remains an incomplete response to the carnival call: “What does digital rhetoric mean to me?” Perhaps another approach can enter a bit more definitional richness into play. For this, I turn to Googlism.com. Googlism is a playful site (also rather like a para-site) that has been around for almost a decade. Basically, with search terms entered, it draws upon Google’s indexes to retrieve a list of equative phrases (e.g., [search term]is […]) related to one of four designated conditions: who, what, when, or where.  A Googlism for the what of “digital rhetoric” yields this:

  1. digital rhetoric is characterized by many new genres
  2. digital rhetoric is similar to the classical rhetoric of ancient
  3. digital rhetoric is ?rhetoric? that is ?digital
  4. digital rhetoric is would you like a KML file to go with your fine map
  5. digital rhetoric is more of a disciplinary nebula than a field
  6. digital rhetoric is Jeff Rice’s Grammar <A> contending with English A, Grammar B while creating a curricular opening for Grammar PHP
  7. digital rhetoric is at once exciting and troublesome
  8. digital rhetoric is not such a new idea
  9. digital rhetoric is the sattelitization of a lost dog found with an embedded RFID chip
  10. digital rhetoric is capacious: the parlor as Tardis
  11. digital rhetoric is this concept of genres and media
  12. digital rhetoric is to me
  13. digital rhetoric is a Roland Barthes hologram annotating images of his mother and more in a Flickr set called “Almosts”
  14. digital rhetoric is less about technological devices and more about a process or
  15. digital rhetoric is Yancey’s “Composition in a New Key”
  16. digital rhetoric is that it has the potential to completely change or even slightly alter the purpose of discourse
  17. digital rhetoric is a bridging mechanism between digital consumers and producer
  18. digital rhetoric is worthy of greater attention by rhetoric and communication
  19. digital rhetoric is databasic literacy
  20. digital rhetoric is especially important now that so many citizens rely on official websites as sources of information
  21. digital rhetoric is simply too complicated a phenomenon to be able to figure out so swiftly
  22. digital rhetoric is unavailable designs available
  23. digital rhetoric is a course designed to engage online composition and push the edges of theory and practice
  24. digital rhetoric is objects by which I mean units by which I mean things by which I mean nonhumans
  25. digital rhetoric is wasted if those same students aren’t also able to see the relevance of digital rhetoric to their own lives once they leave
  26. digital rhetoric is appearing all the time from scholars in communication
  27. digital rhetoric is about writing ?clearly
  28. digital rhetoric is a book
  29. digital rhetoric is that it is inferior to extended argument
  30. digital rhetoric is especially important now that so many citizens rely on official websites as sources of information

The core list (21 of the items here) comes from “digital rhetoric is” strings appearing in various places on the web. But I’ve also embellished the list with a couple of add-ons of my own. Without cross-referencing Googlism.com, can you guess which ones they are? Which of the statements do you find most useful? Least useful? What “digital rhetoric is” statement would you add? Which one would you place at the top of this list? Why?

[1] I think it is fitting to assign the ‘s’, thus making digital rhetorics plural.

Cross-posted at Earth Wide Moth.

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