Wait, people build their own Internet? This realization and research interest (now, obsession) pulled me into the world of digital rhetoric, as well as the multidisciplinary and complex areas of infrastructure studies and critical media studies. Figuring out what “digital” meant, as well as “rhetoric,” has come along with this research project. While I still can’t give clean, bounded definition to either term, I’ve found that the world of digital rhetoric has provided exciting routes for my research, teaching, and service because of its multiplicity and multivocality. I’ve also found that my interests in Rhetorical Genre Studies (RGS) and technical communication (specifically, human-centered design and advocacy-based community design) intersects with and are enriched by the conversations within digital rhetoric scholarships and at conferences like Computers and Writing.
My current research project centers on communities that build their own Internet infrastructure (out of cables, hacked routers, and antennae) for a variety of pragmatic, artistic, and activist purposes. Alongside these communities that I’m studying, I’m very clumsily attempting to develop my own rudimentary meshnet to practice enacting and implementing the same technology I’m studying. This process has been very frustrating and empathizing. I am currently wading through YouTube videos, Reddit threads, and how-to articles as I problem-solve and problem-cause (all the while, thinking about genre), working to develop a methodology of building and tinkering with the technology and infrastructure paired with analysis. Historically, I haven’t enjoyed this kind of work (I stick to hobbies like running and holding my cats), but I’ve become immersed in the complications and thrill of engaging with technological infrastructure when I’m kind of not supposed to, when it’s really easier and more normal to just hop onto wi-fi and just use infrastructure as it’s been designed by someone else. I’m becoming increasingly interested in participating in research at the intersections of infrastructure design and the ways that it can prioritize, involve, and best serve the communities in which its implemented.
One of the classes I’m currently teaching, a 200-level Writing for Engineers course, is particularly informed by conversations about digital rhetoric and design. As a discipline-specific technical communication course, we spend a lot of time talking about composing, repurposing, and translating the complex to the simple. This semester, we’re experimenting with ways that our deliverables designs can reinforce and promote readability, accessibility, and overall understanding. Additionally, we’re spending time right now talking about the rhetorical nature of multimodal visuals in engineering contexts and the practical and ethical considerations engineers-in-training must consider as they select, modify, and utilize visuals. These conversations have been challenging and enriching so far, and I’m interested in finding ways to continue to incorporate digital rhetoric into this course.
As a Digital Rhetoric Collaborative fellow, I’m already grateful for the conversations I’ve gotten to have about digital rhetoric research and teaching. I’m working on a Blog Carnival call for proposals (stay tuned!) with another brilliant DRC fellow, McKinley Green, this fall, along with getting connected to additional projects to contribute to the DRC and make it even more helpful for digital rhetoric researchers and teachers. I’m looking forward to learning from, listening to, and collaborating with the good people here at the DRC as this year continues.