“Machines are an extension of their inventor-creators…”
In this class, we will be moving away from “writing a paper” TO “designing pages.” For many students, this move away from “the paper” is work that they regularly do anyway: they maintain a tumblr page, they are on facebook, they tweet, you post to instagram or pinterest, they post to a blog, they have a vine. They are already digital writers with an audience; they are already designers. The focus on digital rhetorics in this class means that we will interrogate that kind of writing and designing and ask how it works to persuade in 21st century public spheres. We continually ask ourselves: How do digital technologies affect the ways we write, conceptualize, and disseminate ideas? How are audiences impacted and to what ends? What are the identities, practices, and strategies of persuasive techniques in digital contexts? These are questions that students will answer based on the writing/designing that they do in this class, not abstract feelings and opinions about the internet and technology. It’s like Janie tells her best friend in Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God: “you got tuh go there tuh know there.”
In December 2013, J. Elizabeth Clark, a fellow CUNYite, gave a wonderful presentation called “Digital Todays, Digital Tomorrows” at John Jay College. She shared her avid pursuit of scuba diving and then made a bold comparison to schooling, particularly criticizing the ways that writing is currently taught. Clark began by showing images of scuba diving equipment from previous decades, highlighting the ways that new technologies have transformed the experiences of and possibilities for diving. By the 1970s, the buoyancy control devices, pressure gauges, and single hose regulators performed very differently and became the norm, alongside dive computers in the 1980s. While, of course, diving gear from the early 1900s would certainly still work, Clark insisted, rightly so, that she is not inclined to use that gear for diving. In fact, scuba diving has a fascinating history and with each technological advancement, its training has also changed This is not to say that diving is a totally altered experience from its centuries-old beginnings. However, its contemporary technological changes and new iterations have changed what divers do today. It’s unthinkable to imagine otherwise. Clark asked us why so many writing teachers and writing classrooms insist on discarding new technologies in ways that divers, for instance, never would. It would be like diving into a reef in 2014 with 1914 equipment. It’s a compelling argument, one that we will take seriously in this class.
Though new technologies drive the focus of this class, I ask that students remember that technology can’t do ev’rythang. The expression that I use here is quite intentional in its African American cultural meanings. The deliberate, alternative pronunciation is intended to emphasize the impossibility and inanity of false, trumped-up expectations. Technology does not RUN YOU! You run it! It is created and sustained by us to better fulfill some of our needs and goals. Here’s an example. Fantasia’s performance in After Midnight, a Broadway musical that celebrates Duke Ellington and Harlem’s history, is simply amazing. I have always known that girl can sang (this means something different from the more mortal word--- sing), have seen her on American Idol, and have listened to her music, but none of that comes close to experiencing what she does LIVE when she performs Cab Calloway’s “Zaz Zuh Zaz.” There is no video or recording that can capture what Fantasia and Wynton Marsalis’s 17-piece Jazz Orchestra do with sound. On the one hand, they have taken music/aesthetic technologies and made it their own. On the other hand, that talent, culture, sound, and human energy simply defy the reproduction capabilities of current technology. You just have to see it live! You have to be there in body, mind, and spirit and not in front of a screen or with ear phones on your head. So, no, the technology that we work with in this class won’t be able to capture all of the depth of students' image, sound, thought, visions, and desires, but we can certainly work to bring it a little closer to us!
In the early days of the semester, we read and write about a variety of essays about the history and scope of rhetoric. We will watch various lectures and performances online about rhetorical analysis and perform our own rhetorical analyses. As we move into the second half of the semester, we begin digital storytelling projects of our own design. All along that path, we will constantly talk about digital rhetorics as we expand our own digital toolkits. Not only will we leave the class with a youtube channel, collaborative website, written essays, ePortfolio, and access to a host of other social sharing platforms, we think about all of this work within the terms of rhetorical theory.