A Watson Think-Practice on Digital Embodiment


The below film is in the spirit of and in response to Jacqueline Rhodes’ “think-practice” in “Becoming Utopias: Toward a Queer Rhetoric of Instantiation” as well as Rick Wysocki’s “The World Outside the (Web)Text” think-practice on his editorial work for the Making Future Matters keynote webtext. Wysocki’s think-practice was prompted by questioning “what other ways the body could be made visible in digital rhetorical production or, in my case, digital editorial labor.” He settled on “a snapshot of a becoming” through screenshots and video of his digital editing and composing process even as he recognized the incompleteness of the documentation—a method we adopt here.

Our project, “A Watson Think-Practice on Digital Embodiment,” attempts to document our experiences at the Watson Conference and our editorial labor as we worked to curate and publish reviews of the conference sessions. The think-practice film, created using Adobe Spark, purposely combines our individual footage into a single, linear product to represent the highly collaborative nature of conferencing, in general, and our digital editorial labor, in particular. Ultimately, though this film provides only a small glimpse into such experiences, it is a call for more transparency in labor and in production.

Both this think-practice film and Wysocki’s response essay speak to the question of how can we convey to outside audiences the value of, logic behind, and labor of digital texts? For us, answering this question is not just an attention to embodiment when creating the digital artifact, but attention to embodiment in the gathering of content for the digital artifact. It is both creation and curation.

As much as this project is meant to represent the embodied experience of the conference and editing guest reviews, this think-practice film is only a curated glimpse into our lived experiences. For Whitney, documenting her time at Watson did not come easily and felt fairly unnatural; hence, many of her snapshots represent her view at moments of rest or waiting. While she originally hoped to document primarily through video, the logistics of using a “selfie-stick” for the first time (seen in the footage of her looking confused in the airport) prevented her from doing so. Ultimately, while you don’t see Whitney in this think-practice often, you see glimpses of her labor from her perspective—her view reading emails and articles, waiting for a keynote, writing notes in a session, editing footage together, and co-writing this text.

As Megan McIntyre asks in “I Hate My Voice” for the DRC’s Blog Carnival 14, “How do these kinds of projects, made not just from our words and ideas but also from our voices and faces, change how we understand ourselves as scholars?” There is a risk in putting yourself out there; for Lauren, you do not see how often she was checking the DRC Watson Review sign-up sheet or making sure that the DRC Twitter posts got tweeted and you do not see how long the editing of the reviews and this webtext took because of an awareness that her body would be recorded. Nonetheless, though, through the conference session reviews and our documentation of the conference, we are attempting to provide our own intra-action between an event and its surround  as well as an “experimental, non-traditional method” (Wysocki; Gries; Yergeau) to argue for more visibility in digital, collaborative production and labor.

In some respects, Adobe Spark, the editing software we were forced to settle on, made the collaboration difficult. Another facet of our labor missing from this think-practice video was our search for software that would support collaborative editing by Lauren in Ohio and Whitney in Texas. This points to the ways that the designs and infrastructures of technology provide affordances as well as constraints on digital composing. Using Adobe Spark, we shared a login, but only one of us could be actively editing at any given time. Since we couldn’t be in the space together, there was some dividing up the tasks. However, perhaps in the end this enhanced the collaboration.

“Our” documentation is not just “ours” as each of us had a hand in working with each other’s footage. This results in a melding of our voices, our comments, and our responses from pre-production, post-production, and now in this moment of publication. Wysocki asks, “In what ways might we foreground embodiment and materiality to resist considering a webtext in purely textual terms?” While this text-based explanation of the theoretical underpinnings of the think-practice video somewhat reaffirms webtext-as-text, we purposely limited the text in the video to let you see and, at times, hear our experiences. We would love to hear from readers ideas for foregrounding embodiment and materiality to resist webtext-as-text. Whether here in the comments or in replies to our Facebook posts or tweets, we welcome your responses. Overall, as digital rhetoric scholars who produce webtexts, it’s important to practice explicitly naming the work of digital editing and creation to understand/value it.

About Author

Whitney Lew James

Whitney Lew James is a PhD candidate in rhetoric and composition at Texas Christian University with research interests in translingual pedagogy, digital rhetoric, and disability studies.

Lauren Garskie

Lauren Garskie is a PhD student in the Rhetoric & Writing Program at Bowling Green State University. Her interests include design, literacies, digital rhetoric, and multimodality.

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