The micro-blog: Fitting response to rhetorical exigence of virtual, social bonding

Organizations harbor a specific rhetorical context, rhetorical situations based on organizational culture, expectations, norms, processes, rules, and social environment. According to Bitzer (1986) a situation is rhetorical if rhetoric can at least in part mitigate the situation’s exigence by provoking action from the audience. Bitzer assumes the rhetorical situation to be one that is objective and real and calls for rhetorical solution, i.e. the situation precedes the rhetorical response. Vatz (1973), on the other hand, contends that there is no situation before rhetoric gives rise to one, i.e. rhetoric, by making it salient in a particular way, creates a situation. The fundamental difference between these views is the interpretation of rhetoric as a response to reality versus rhetoric as the creator of reality.

At this point, I will introduce an additional view regarding the birth of a rhetorical situation: The availability of a communication technology that by means of being introduced into a community has the potential to give rise to communicative exigences that were non-existent before its introduction. The same technology may or may not be able to provide a fitting response to the newly created exigence. In the latter case, the exigence may remain untended to or even unrealized until a new technology offers itself as a fitting response. In the case of the unrealized exigence, a rhetorical situation might be borne out of the availbility of a tool with the potential to solve its exigence.

More concretely, the deterritorialization occurring in the online or virtual community (Levy, 1997) has given rise to the human need for social bonding to occur in that space. In other words, before the virtual community came into existence, virtual social bonding was not an exigence. The need for virtual social bonding was brought about by the communication technology that allows for virtual communities to form. Global, geographically dispersed organizations operate to a large degree within virtual communities. Technologies, such as email, were able to build bridges between communities but they were not able to combine multiple communities into one on a large scale. Discussion forums were mainly topic/subject based and, thus, restrict membership.

Not until the blog and, especially, the micro-blog did an organization have tools capable of unifying these multiple virtual communities by virtue of providing the means for virtual, social bonding. Especially the many-to-many capability of the micro-blog allows for the spontaneous, uncomplicated formation of social connections across organizational hierarchies, geographical distances, and timezones. It might be the perfect example of a previously unrealized rhetorical exigence brought into public consciousness by the sudden availablitiy of a tool that could mitigate it; hence the incredible success and exponential growth of the micro-blog in the social and professional realms.

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2 thoughts on “The micro-blog: Fitting response to rhetorical exigence of virtual, social bonding”

  1. Great post, Konnie! I’m very interested in this idea. I have a couple of questions though that came to mind while reading your post.

    First, you argue that “The availability of a communication technology that by means of being introduced into a community has the potential to give rise to communicative exigences that were non-existent before its introduction.” I’m curious… could this same argument could be made about, say, the introduction of radio, television, or even Morse code? Or is there something unique about the blog/micro-blog technology? For example, perhaps the introduction of the television merely offered a new way to communicate the same information that newspapers had been fulfilling (i.e., addressed the same exigence). But, in the case you present, blogs/micro-blogs don’t just disseminate information, but create a social bond (therefore, create a new exigence). Thoughts?

    Second, I like your breakdown of rhetorical exigence–including Bitzer’s and Vatz’s positions. But this section also made me wonder about the audience in the rhetorical situation. Bitzer argues there’s a pre-existing situation (including audience). Michael McGee (1975), on the other hand, has argued that an audience is actually created by a text or message, rather than pre-existing it. My question, then, is how do you see the introduction of communication technology impacting the audience? That is, does the introduction of communication technology give rise to a new or different audience as part of giving rise to the communicative exigence?

  2. Emil, yes, exactly – the technologies, the blog and the micro-blog, allow for virtual communities to form and by virtue of that create the human need for social bonding in the same fashion that the village water fountain, by bringing people into the same physical space, create an exigence, in Bitzer’s sense, to change reality to bring about change with rhetoric, to communicate. However, rather than seeing it as a specific rhetorical situation framed by the convergence of certain circumstances (the verbal communication of hunters in a group to coordinate action), I see the need for social bonding, be it in cyberspace or physical space, as a universal rhetorical situation brought about by the gathering of people in joint space because it invites discourse. Communication/rhetoric can remedy the need to bond, it alters reality. In short, deterritorialized individuals who find themselves in a joint space by virtue of being exposed to each other’s rhetoric (not necessarily directed at anyone in particular), experience the exigence to communicate with each other. In that way, the technology that created the space (deterritorialized or not) brought about the exigence to bond socially, something that invites discourse, can be addressed by rhetoric. Taking this a step further, we could add the human needs for existence validation, attention seeking, which invite discourse. (See my research on why people use Twitter at http://konjektures.com/2009/05/03/micro-blogging-motivations-for-extreme-knowledge-sharing-in-the-cloud/)

    Your second question is extremely complex. In the case of the blog/mblog I contend that the audience forms with/around the message. Imagine the village square again where the fountain holds the common draw, creates the community. However, as the day progresses a variety of artists and fruit vendors and tricksters begin competing for the attention of the villagers. You may seek out the painter, I may favour the trickster. Both of us may find satisfaction in watching and, possibly, beginning to engage with the respective audience and the artist. Of course, just as the audience in the village square needs time to participate, the virtual audience needs the technology to participate.

    I’d be very interested to hear your thoughts on these ideas.

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