I still remember the first time I got a Python computer program that I wrote to work. I was auditing an Introduction to Python class in the second year of my PhD at the University of Arizona. While I am in the Rhetoric and Composition program there, I’ve always been fascinated with computer programming and computation, and thus over the span of my PhD, I’ve audited lots of classes in statistics, data science, and programming in Python. In one of these very first classes, I remember the immense joy I felt after hours of painstakingly write code to create very simple text-based visual graphics using a Python library called “turtle”. Using this library, one can define what movements they want their turtle (or their cursor) to make on a virtual canvas. For example, if one wanted to write the letter “I”, one would write instructions in Python to define how they would want their cursor to systematically move and write each individual edge or element that makes up the alphabet “I”. What you see below is a code snippet that does exactly this. Some of lines in this code give directions to move on the screen (like left, right etc.), while others tell it to start or stop writing (like pendown or penup etc.). The output would be a big alphabet “I” on a computer screen.
def drawI(turtle, size):
Even though from the perspective of our highly sophisticated digital landscapes, simply displaying the letter “I” on a computer screen doesn’t seem impressive at all, trust me, the first time you write computer code to do something even as basic as this, your perspective about how digital technologies work will completely change. When I ran this code for the first time and looked in amazement at the existential alphabet “I” staring back at me from the screen, this exercise gave me an approximation of the magic that happens whenever we interact with a computer:
With each input that we give, whether as a keystroke or a voice-command, the computer marshalls up millions of complex layers of computer code to process it and then an output is displayed to us. What a powerful form of rhetoric that mediates almost everything we do in daily life! And how much of its rhetorical-computational mechanisms remain invisible to us! Even right now as you are reading this blog and scrolling through this web-page something akin to this mechanism is happening. Such realizations that I got from learning how to code in Python are what had gotten me extremely interested and excited to study the world of computers, digital technologies, coding, and digital rhetoric.
Fast-forward to the current moment, after several years of experimentation with making coding literacies—particularly Python-based data mining and data visualizations—more accessible to digital rhetoric and writing scholars through holding workshops and creating accessible tutorials in the form of computational notebooks, I am now gearing up to work on my dissertation where I will be studying the impact of emerging large language model technologies (LLMs) or generative artificial intelligence tools (GenAI) like ChatGPT on rhetorical and literacy practices.
Image1: Anuj Gupta piloting a virtual reality data visualization at Howard University’s Hello Black World Exhibition (2023)
At this point in my journey, I’m really excited to be a DRC Fellow as I will get to connect with and serve DRC’s reader base through a range of initiatives that will help us in the fields of digital rhetoric, technical communication, and computers and composition wrestle with the huge wave of Large Language Models (LLMs) that is transforming our digital rhetorical landscapes.
Having taught digital writing in both India and the United States, I also look forward to bringing a transnational perspective to the DRC’s work. As an international student, I have firsthand knowledge of how global inequities shape people’s access to digital resources. My positionality would enable me to contribute to the DRC’s resources in a way that helps teachers across the globe navigate the ongoing LLM crisis in a thoughtful manner. I see my service with the DRC as an opportunity to contribute to the subject of digital rhetoric, increase my own understanding of its uses, and improve the accessibility and inclusion of digital technologies in global academia, especially in the global south. To learn more about my work, please visit my website (here), my Google scholar page (here) or connect with me on Twitter (@mettalrose).