Brave New World (1): Participatory, Interactive, I-Centered

Although still lacking one official definition, Web 2.0 technologies have conquered the online realm of communication. History has taught us that the conqueror is never quite satisfied with simply conquering. The conqueror reshapes and redefines. The conqueror makes new rules. This process can be a cruel and bloody one at times. But this is where this metaphor has to end. The conquering force was welcomed with open arms by the inhabitants of the old Internet, private citizens and businesses alike. The ground was fertile for the new technologies that allowed for participation of all constituents, for new forms of online social interaction, for making connections, for allowing easy, convenient media content creation and publication, self-expression, information sharing, virtual community-building, and complete content customization. The fact is that most constituents of the new online realm would probably shudder at the thought of life without their customizable, participatory, virtual i-reality. Not only the private sector has embraced the new tools, businesses increasingly make use of Web 2.0 technologies for communication purposes as well. Companies are setting up internal and external blogs to converse with employees and customers. Dell is one such example. The company’s internal corporate blog serves 88,000 employees worldwide. Direct2Dell, the external blog is exploring a completely new way of business-customer interaction by going to great length to keep the conversation marketing free for a very specific purpose, to establish ethos. Completely new forms and platforms of communication have been emerging at the speed of light and many of them appear to have found a sustainable format.

The blog has become the poster child for interactive, participatory Web 2.0 technologies and many theorists of rhetoric have been arguing for the existence of a blog genre. (Welch 2004, Miller 2004) Welch and Miller contend that with the blog the division between public and private discourse has been blurred, destabilized. This constitutes a huge divergence from Aristotelian rhetoric. The emergence of these new forms of communication demands the reexamination of the viability and applicability of traditional rhetorical concepts. How do rhetorical concepts have to be reshaped or redefined in order to serve digital communication? What are the new rules? Are entirely new concepts and theories of rhetoric needed?

Over the next week or so, I will publish parts 2-6 of this series.

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