My interests in digital rhetoric and networked technologies are relatively new. Growing up, I found no joy in video games. I avoided online chat or messaging systems (sorry AIM). I held onto my flip phone and resisted a number of social media platforms for entirely longer than necessary. To this day, my twitter presence is an embarrassment to digital rhetoricians. Part of this resistance was situational; I grew up in a rural area with limited access to high-speed internet, and many technologies were inaccessible because of cost. In other ways, I was wary of the kinds of interaction and relational practices that social media technologies encouraged.
Yet my understandings and practices of digital rhetoric shifted over time for a number of reasons: first, I grew to understand that there was a closer link between digital technologies and embodied experience than I had initially believed. I am reminded, via Angela Haas, that digital technologies are not too disparate from our fingers, our digits. And for those from marginalized offline communities, digital spaces offered new avenues for community building and activism that were not readily available elsewhere. Second, I learned—through the work of some amazing scholars—that technologies are not neutral or objective artifacts, but systems imbued with ideologies and specific cultural values. My commitments for social justice, then, intertwined and intersected with online activism and understanding how relations of power circulate through digital technologies. Last, digital media permeate most every aspect of our day-to-day lives, so opting out was not really an option.
Over the past few years, I’ve explored these topics in a few ways that were significant to me. I taught courses on Visual Rhetoric and Rhetoric, Technology, and the Internet at the University of Minnesota, which offered a context to learn about the role that digital technologies play in mediating communication, activism, and community-building. Students and I spend a lot of time questioning how social media and digital technology systems allow for new forms of activism while actively surveilling users and creating interfaces that reinforce systemic offline injustices. My dissertation research also builds on these topics: over the past two years, I have worked at a HIV/AIDS nonprofit that focuses on HIV prevention, education, medical case management for young people. Part of my dissertation research involves narrative-based user experience interviews with a group of young people living with HIV to learn more about their processes of finding, trusting, and mobilizing health-related information using mobile and digital technologies, particularly questioning how constructions of desire, HIV stigma, and ability become reinforced and reinscribed through mhealth technology design.
I look forward to learning from the DRC community and am excited to collaborate with scholar/teacher/activists similarly committed to digital rhetoric and social justice. Please feel free to contact me on twitter (@mckinleytgreen) or email (firstname.lastname@example.org)!