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Computers and Rhetorical Acts

September 23rd, 2009 2 comments

Over the last couple of years, I have become increasingly interested in the types of rhetorical acts that computers can facilitate. Electronic literature, leveraging digital technology to attain the same goals of print literature, is one medium that relies on computers. Videogames, which can simulate how “real and imagined systems work,” is another medium that leverages digital technology to facilitate its rhetorical acts (Bogost 2007). In “Rethinking Web Usability for Web 2.0 and Beyond,” William I. Wolff explains the time when he began to see the connection between web design and writing: “The purpose of the course, it seems to me now (and despite what might have been on the syllabus), was to suggest that designing a Web page was a rhetorical act fraught with real-world implications” (Wolff, Fitzpatrick, Youseff 2009). With this connection in place, I am beginning to understand more and more what it means to be a rhetorician in the digital age.

Before the advent of digital technology, rhetorical acts were greatly restricted by technology: we could speak or we could write with pen and paper. But if we think about putting down visual information or making a presentation, or designing a website, or even drawing a map, we are doing “writerly” things, we’re just using more than one or two different technologies.

First, however, we must overcome the barrier to entry. Not everyone knows Java, Pearl, Python, or Basic. Most of us don’t know html and css, and if we do, we’re not very adept at it. But once we do get a handle on html, or get a hold of Dreamweaver, NVU, or some other similar program, we can be well on our way to engaging in a highly rhetorical act. When we design a document of any kind, we have to make lots of authorial choices, such as what information to include, what information to exclude, how the information is to be arranged, the medium with which we will work, and who sees it. This is not unlike what writers do when they write an essay: they too need to decide what information will work, what information doesn’t, whether the work will be published online for free, or whether it will published in a book, for a fee. When we draw the connection between “traditional” writing and authoring in a virtual environment or website, it’s easy to argue that technology, not content, is the only discernible difference.

Some Themes to Think About

September 22nd, 2009 1 comment

I’ve got two pretty cool themes here, but I like “Pixel” a great deal.

I found this theme, called “Shades of Blue,” and I think it might work out well. While it’s not necessarily emblematic of our blog, I think it looks pretty sharp nonetheless.

shadesofbluetheme

I found another theme, called “Pixel,” which may both fit the bill as being pleasant to the eye and representative of our blog. Pixels, or picture elements, are the “the smallest discrete component of an image or picture on a CRT screen (usually a colored dot),” according to http://wordnetweb.princeton.edu/perl/webwn?s=pixel, which appears to be the most reliable definition I came across.

pixeltheme

Pixels are emblematic of our work because all digital media we talk about are shown on computer screens, which are comprised of picture elements, all the scanned-in readings we read are comprised of picture elements, again, on a screen, and all of the books we’re reading in class that have been written in the last 20 years were once digital documents, also comprised of picture elements. Actually, the more I think about it, the more I liked the idea of “Pixel” being used to symbolize what we do.

Here’ the demo.

Any thoughts?

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Some Thoughts on “Multiliteracies For a Digital Age”

September 16th, 2009 1 comment

Selber presents some some ideas on digital literacy that are thought-provoking. For one, he dislikes the way traditional computer literacy classes are designed. Most computer literacy classes Selber is familiar with (and the one I took at Rowan) are generally similar: They endeavor to teach students how to use basic computer programs such as a word process, a spreadsheet program, and the like, without any thought as to why such programs are constructed in the manner they are. While it is important to be able to use such programs, as many of us know, there is a lot more to know about computers other than how to use a web browser, search engine, and word processor: there are real technical, social, and rhetorical questions to be tackled.

One of the main thrusts of Selber’s book is to urge students to become more rhetorically aware of how technology constructs our interactions with computers. Selber explains: “My view is that students who are critically literate can work against the grain… implicating design cultures, use contexts, institutional forces, and popular representations,” to better understand the rhetorical nature of technical work (pg. 95). By this, Selber means that a “critically literate” student can/should be able to question why a particular program or application was designed in a particular way, investigate the context in which something was designed and released, understand what institutional influences were in play during the artifact’s development, and to question whether popular representations of said artifact are accurate. Selber is posturing this work, in some way, to be a bridge between traditional English/textual studies, and the study of computers– computer programs are a type of text. This is a fruitful approach to studying computers and one in which I am interested.

I am also interested in Selber’s discussion of computers, hypertext lexias to be exact, can be used as writing tools. Selber motions to a powerful example– the Internet itself, as a text. He says: “Anyone who has been overwhelmed by the sheer volume of information on the Internet knows that the metatext– a heavily linked text that connects other texts an their contexts in imaginative and meaningful ways– has become an invaluable online genre…” (pg. 136). So true. If we look at the Internet– the matrix of information– text, images, sounds, all– it is truly the most comprehensive and most poorly organized of all texts. The growing importance of this text makes the development of a digital literacy paramount.

Selber discusses hypertext at length and is successful, I believe, in drawing a correlation between the traditional skills of readers and writers and equating them to what audiences must do to navigate the web.

Like any good progressive scholar, Selber closes with a call to action. He successfully suggests a new approach to designing curricula at the intersection of the humanities and computer science. He privileges an interdisciplinary approach that is both practically grounded and socially aware. It is an approach to curriculum design that is at once akin to English studies but is also separate. Selber finishes stronger than he starts.

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Mindbounce- How a Distributed Network of Writers Can Make a Buck

September 15th, 2009 8 comments

I’ve been on a job search, and have met with limited success. Recently, I stumbled upon a service/job that may be of interest to our class. Craigslist had a posting for a service called Mindbounce, a distributed network of experts who offer writing advice.

mindbouncehp

The video, in the center of the page, explains the mission of Mindbounce. The service is still in Beta form, but it certainly sounds promising, from a business perspective, and a scholarly perspective.

Users can sign in, post their writing, and list how much he or she would be willing to pay someone to look at his or her writing. Users can choose from a list of options indicating how much feedback he or she wants. Maybe a user only wants general advice, or perhaps he or she would like some thorough editing suggestions. Prices range between $0.15 to $6.00. Mentors, the name Mindbounce uses for its tutors/editors, are carefully screened and apparently come from a list of graduate students and professionals. After getting the feedback from the Mentor, the user can rate his or her experience. I am not sure, though, if the user can check a Mentor’s feedback rating and can choose who edits his or her paper.

mindbounceapp

At the bottom of the application page, where one puts the standard information, a block of poorly written text sits. (I tried to upload a good pic of the text here. Doesn’t look like it came out too well.)Would-be “Mentors” are charged with successfully editing this information as part of the application process. After playing around with the text, a couple of times, I decided on rewriting the passage in an order very different from what appeared on the page. I hope my creativity is rewarded.

It’s interesting to see a company attempting to harness the “wisdom of the crowds.” I hope it works. It may be able to provide a revenue stream for struggling graduate students. Check it out.

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Blogging About Blogging (A Review of Jill Rettberg’s Book)

September 9th, 2009 2 comments

I just finished Blogging by Jill Walker Rettberg for my class, Writing For Electronic Communities. The book seems to be written for an academic audience but is written simply enough that anyone can get a great deal out of it. The book is very practical, and much less theoretical than I anticipated. I expected a theory-heavy book focusing on myopic discussion of cultural theorists and technologists whose names most readers wouldn’t recognize. Instead, I got a short, well-written overview of the blogging space, from a historical and technological perspective.

Blogging, Rettberg argues, represents an inversion of the traditional roles audiences play in the delivery of media. While it is easy for many of us who grew up around the web to take the power of blogging for granted, it is important to remember that “[j]ust a few decades ago, our media culture was dominated by a small number of media producers who distributed their publications and broadcasts to large, relatively passive audiences” (pg. 31). Whereas in the past, audiences played a passive role, merely reading a text or watching a film, for instance. Blogging allows people without a printing press or expertise in html coding to create and remake media in increasingly sophisticated way.

Rettberg shows blogging’s place on the arc of communication’s history. She points to Plato’s now infamous damnation of writing, and his opinion that writing is inferior to dialog. She contrasts “well-tended blogs” with the type of writing Plato condemned because of their dialogic nature (pg 36). While many blogs are disbanded or have their comments disabled (for many good-natured reasons, such as an overwhelming glut of comments) the author illustrates cogently how blogs are ideally to be used as a sort of public forum.

The second half of the book– with chapters about social networks, citizen journalism, and the ways in which blogs can be used as narratives– was not nearly as compelling. Maybe it’s just a bias on my part, but I feel that the implications of blogging– the almost Marxist redistribution of power from the landlords (old media producers) to the hands of the proletariat-esque blogger in his or her dorm room is a storyline that was discussed, but was not given nearly enough credit. This paradigm shift in written communication and the inversion of the traditional producer/consumer relationship to that of producer/producer-consumer relationship was the true star of the show, in my estimation. This criticism is just a preference on my part, and should in no way discount the valuable insights Rettberg shares in Blogging.

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