Brave New World (6): Now What?

This review of the literature, while limited in scope, does point out the general need for continued review and revision of rhetorical concepts based on new constellations of communication afforded by interactive, participatory, customizable Web 2.0 technologies. Careful examination of the rhetorical situation for each emerging new online communication medium is needed to determine applicable rhetorical concepts. Students have to be prepared for operating in the new communication media with adequate pedagogical strategies.

Manovich (2008) outlines the immense and ongoing innovation associated with online social media and their underlying Web 2.0 technologies. Manovich’s 2008 article is recent enough to cover the latest Web 2.0 online communication technologies used by the new online social media to make it relevant for the discussion on adapting or reconfiguring traditional rhetorical concepts to new manners of communication. Manovich’s aggregation and description of the new communication technologies and platforms as manifested in online social media paired with supplied usage statistics emphasizes the growing need for analyses of their rhetorical situation and research into applicable rhetorical theory.

Important for exploring the rhetorical situation and for the examination of applicable rhetorical theory is, as also noted by Warnik, the question of how content is produced. How does the consumer electronics industry who provide the digital cameras, laptops, mobile devices, or other equipment for content creation, or the social media platforms influence this content creation? Conventions and templates are to a large extend determined by professionals or an industry, this could have implications on the canons of arrangement and invention.

Many unanswered questions remain with respect to the impact of a communication technology on the communication itself. Is there a certain make-belief in our minds that we are now free to produce any content we want in any form and shape? I think, yes! While the customizability and ability to create content freely is hailed, and rightfully so, there are rhetorical boundaries set by the devices and platforms we use. I will not type a novel on a Blackberry keyboard, even though, it might be the only input device I have at the time of the revelation of an idea for a novel. The device itself with its particular input and output interfaces influences what I say and how I say it. The success of Twitter has a lot to do with its character limitation because it never leaves one pondering whether one wrote enough. A link copied from somewhere and then’d or budurl’d often suffices to get responses, validation, RTs. The character limitation gives us an out from writing more. It fits into a day full of task multiplicity, in fact, perpetuates it.  It allows us to publish and present ourselves without much effort of time or those (rhetorical) worries that often prevent us from writing that blog post, that letter, that novel.  It is low risk of failure. It might deliver small fixes throughout a day filled with drugery. On the other hand, this limitation also inspires creativity in shaping those 140 characters into artful rhetoric, into creative abreviations, into conciseness, into one-word statements. Is it this limitation that makes the phenomenon Twitter a Perpetuum Mobile?

An epiphany that came out of a conversation I just had is the technology afforded ability to manipulate or fabricate conversations to appear linear while they might not have been at all. While an age-old concept in, say, the courtroom, the ability to do that easily with everyday communication, textual, audio, or video, leaves room for rhetorical considerations.

Similar considerations apply to other tools and platforms, such as social networking sites, blogs, forums, wikis. Furthermore, sites that aggregate the various tools we use to create content or those bridging tools that allow us to post the exact same content to multiple places impose yet another layer of rhetorical complexity. Are we ignoring any rhetorical situation by blasting our content to all possible places or are we creating new ones by engaging others into conversation that way?

Here are some questions, I feel like asking you: Do you feel we getting desensitized to the meaning of words in an environment in which they are so easily tossed about, sent into the cloud that absorbs them so readily? How do we consolidate the ability to create and publish content so easily with concepts of gravitas and ethos? Is the micro-blog a Perpetuum Mobile that creates more energy than it consumes but of a lesser quality?

A huge field for investigation going forward will be the examination of Web 2.0 communication technologies inside of businesses where brand new rhetorical situations have to be recognized and analyzed along with needs to manage knowledge intelligently.

On this topic also see my post “Does technology enable or determine communication?”

(Find the bibliography at


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