Comics and Internet Expression

Text and pictures working in tandem can leave a powerful impression upon readers. This seems to be one of Scott McCloud’s central ideas as he stresses the power of comics. He writes, “And indeed, words and pictures have great powers to tell stories when creators fully exploit them both” (152). I agree that pictures can be used to augment text and vice versa. However, I think it is clear that another method of utilizing graphics, text, and other means of communication not addressed by McCloud has been popularized since the publishing of the author’s work two decades ago. The Internet now provides writers with the tools to integrate many different varieties of material into their work. This has allowed for the emergence of new and diverse writing styles. An examination of a current political issue can serve as a good example of how comics and other Internet sources can be very powerful rhetorical tools. In this case, I will discuss the possibility of a government shutdown that has been circulating amongst news stations and the underlying idea of mutual political blame.

The comic that can be viewed to the right is a classic example of the power of mixing text with pictures. I would classify it as an interdependent use of text and pictures as described by McCloud. In such a comic, McCloud writes that “words and pictures go hand in hand to convey an idea that neither could convey alone” (155). The comic would not make sense in its intended context without both the text and images, but together a powerful effect is created. Both of the characters pictured are portrayed in what I view as a rather unflattering manner, as they both look irritable and relatively uncouth. The words they use are not those you would expect to be exchanged between civilized members of our elected legislative body if you did not know the condition of our political system. Altogether, the comic seems to radiate a powerful feeling of childish discontent that can both amuse the reader and make him or her feel slightly ill at the state of our political affairs.

Journalists, once purveyors of printed text and the occasional black and white photograph, seem to be utilizing the power of the Internet to integrate some of the same qualities found in the comic above while also taking a different approach. Click here to see the Washington Post article to which I will be referring in the rest of this paragraph. The article displays most of the traditional journalistic techniques: it is concise, to the point, and utilizes AP style. However, a very large image sits at the top of the article which the user can change to see other images related to the story. The reader can also display captions that explain the photographs. The approach of the article is certainly not meant to be amusing like the comic discussed above. However, I think the images and text work together to effectively impress upon readers both the seriousness of our government’s financial situation and the state of politics in our nation. Mutual blame is written in the stances and gesticulations of two politicians from opposing parties as displayed in the article’s images. The same theme seems to be clearly presented in the text as well.

Blogs are also being utilized as sources for modern news, and they also use the technology the Internet has made readily available to form effective writing. Click here to see the blog post I will discuss below. The blog utilizes text and an image to present the themes of dysfunctional government and mutual blame. However, it also goes further by giving readers the chance to vote on who would be to blame in the event of a government shutdown and provides them with hyperlinks to read about studies concerning the feelings of the American people about the situation. The blog makes a concerted effort to involve the reader in the issue by providing chances to do further research, participate in the poll, and make their own comments about the issue. The rhetoric in the blog heavily suggests mutual blame, but it allows readers to make their own evaluations.

Comics, journalistic endeavors, and blogs are just a few of the ways that people are now using text in conjunction with images, hyperlinks, videos, and more. I find these developments in the field of writing fascinating, as they provide readers with more inputs through which to glean information. In the case of breaking news such as the possible government shutdown, mutual methods can allow for quick and effective production of competent works.

I am, however, aware of the fact that many are not impressed with expanding multimodal approaches to writing or dislike certain approaches for personal reasons. They may be attached to more traditional writing methods as I sometimes am depending on the situation involved. So, what do you think of the evolving multimodal approaches to writing? Which do you find effective and which do you think we would be better off without?

 

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Reading Engines Evolving

Reading is not the same practice as it once was. More than a decade ago, James Sosnoski predicted that the cultural shift toward computer-assisted reading which was already emerging would increase exponentially. He said, “Future advances in technology are likely to bring us pocket computers with the look and feel of books and to provide for us not only the text but also loads of complementary materials” (161). Sosnoski’s predictions could not have been more accurate; reading engines like tablets are now more popular than ever. In fact, the popularity of modern reading engines has given rise to what some refer to as a tablet war. We are not only using new technologies; we are also arguing over which models are the best. Articles like this one are released to help people guide their purchases. Videos are made for the same purpose. The following video is an example of a typical tablet comparison.

Why does the widespread emergence of tablets matter? Never before has such a small, portable device been capable of giving readers access to eBooks, newspapers, magazines, document files, and the full and nearly boundless content of the internet at the same time. I also think tablets provide us with a new opportunity to experiment with open hypertexts. Eva-Maria Jakobs describes such hypertexts as “‘open to modification and alteration” (362). Much of what is available on tablets can be interacted with by readers. For example, Sosnoski says he likes to insert comments in files sent to him before returning them to the author or editor (162). A tablet is capable of opening the file, allowing comments to be entered, and then returning the document via email. Editing and collaboration have become almost absurdly easy as well due to online applications like Google Docs.

Tablets also make it easy to perform selective reading practices such as skimming, pecking, and filtering as described by Sosnoski (165-168). Text can be enlarged for quicker skimming, it is simple to search for key words to find pertinent sections to read, and the vast number of resources available makes it easy to filter out what one desires to examine more closely. Users also have access to a wide variety of hypertext genres. Jakobs’ description of a hypertext as “an on- or offline accessible, functionally determined subnet of modules with a certain communicative purpose, organized by an overarching thematic idea” (357) fits well with the functional goals of tablets capable of collecting texts which can be read offline or searching for information from a variety of thematic categories online.

In spite of the value of tablets as new purveyors of hypertexts, I wonder what effects the growing popularity of tablets will have on readers. Clearly, texts are becoming more accessible and interactive. Information can be gathered more quickly and searched for helpful content more easily. What advantages remain for the traditional book? As Sosnoski says, “hypertexts are designed for skimmers” (167). I believe there is still value in reading a whole text without consciously trying to filter, skim, and otherwise alter the reading experience for the sake of convenience and efficiency. On a more personal note, I have yet to find the substitute for the feel of a book in my hands or the smell of an old text which has remained untouched for years. Something about traditional books helps me to concentrate. Working at a library during my high school years gave me the distinct impression that many people, especially those old enough to remember what reading was like before the emergence of eReaders and tablets, have the same nostalgic reaction to and liking for traditional, physical texts.

The comparison of new reading engines and traditional texts leads me to ponder the future of reading. Sosnoski thinks that both electronic reading methods and traditional texts will continue to persist since they accomplish different objectives (172). I cannot feel as certain about this. In a few hundred years, I wonder if electronic texts will come to dominate reading practices in the United States. After all, such texts allow for greater interaction and accessibility while having the potential to be much cheaper than traditional texts which require physical materials to create. Will there come a day, perhaps a thousand years from now, when paper books will be found mainly in museums? What will be lost if electronic reading methods become completely dominant? Will we all become dedicated scanners of text who rarely read the whole of any literary work? Only the future will reveal the permanent impact of current trends.

Blogging: A Case Study in New Writing Techniques

New technology creates new platforms for writing. The digital advancements of the last several decades have given rise to the large and powerful phenomenon of blogging. Denis Baron would describe the emergence of blogs as a new technology or “a way of engineering materials in order to accomplish an end” (16). Blogging provides a way for modern writers to express themselves in ways that were previously unavailable. I think that blogs provide an easy way to explore some of the ideas of Denis Baron, Anne Wysocki, and Johndan Johnson-Eilola while assessing the benefits and problems associated with new public writing methods. Each of the following sections represents a way that blogs are changing writing.

 

Structure and Visuals

Wysocki stresses the importance of structure and the inclusion of visual elements in writing. She says, “When you first look at a page or screen, you initially understand its functions and purposes because it follows the visual conventions of a genre” (Wysocki 124). I would argue that blogs are not a genre but a number of genres. Each blog represents a different kind of style designed for a vastly or slightly different purpose. However, one common factor is the hyperlinks and videos often found in blogs. In this way, visuals are representative of Johnson-Eilola’s theory of “massive and ongoing interconnection” (213). Visuals in blogs seem to suggest connections to other texts.

Expansion of Opportunities

Baron suggests says that “the computer has indeed changed the ways some of us do things with words, and the rapid changes in technological development suggest that it will continue to do so in ways we cannot yet foresee” (31). Since Baron’s writing was released, blogs have begun to represent what he suggested. Blogs have allowed people to write at length about whatever subjects they find interesting and have ushered in a new era of intellectual experimentation. This ideal is well expressed in the Ted Talk below.

Intellectual Property

Blogs do an excellent job of emphasizing the efforts of those who are attempting to make the process of obtaining knowledge free in contrast with those who believe that money must be earned in exchange for information (Johnson-Eilola 211). Bloggers often post links to information that they have found free of charge, thus supporting a system that clearly favors the free exchange of knowledge.

Credibility

Baron writes, “When I read newsgroups and electronic discussion lists, I must develop new means for establishing the expertise or authority of a poster” (30). Anyone can write anything on a blog, so credibility is far from assured. Some bloggers have gone to great lengths to appear credible as suggested by the sheer number of guides to generating blog credibility found on the internet. An example of such a guide can be found here.

 

I think that blogs have come to represent some of the advantages of new writing technologies. Visual structures and forms can be breathtaking and rhetorically effective, and people that would otherwise have had no voice are getting the opportunity to express themselves.

However, I worry about a number of issues associated with blogging which have been the main reasons why I have avoided them whenever possible for my entire life. I think that many bloggers do not write well and write about personal topics which are not applicable to most audiences. Intellectual property guidelines are nearly always ignored, and I believe that writers should have the opportunity to get paid or at least get recognition for their work even if texts are interconnected and writers merely string together old ideas in new ways. Also, I do not see how any blog could be considered credible without first checking its sources to establish their merit. For me, blogs are often representative of a writing system which lacks discipline.

Baron would likely suggest that my thoughts about blogs represent the ideas of a modern traditionalist like those who once objected to writing itself (18). What do you think? Is the modern blog representative of a great benefit to modern society or is it often the equivalent of a gossip column? What do you think blogs will develop to be in the future?

 

A Discourse Community of Discourse Communities

I have been cast adrift in a community of communities where rules are designed to examine rules and procedures are designed to establish procedures. After reading Walter Fisher’s “Narration as a Human Communication Paradigm: The Case of Public Moral Argument” and James Porter’s “Intertextuality and the Discourse Community,” I feel that the entirety of my college education has been spent in a discourse community that studies discourse communities and narration styles within them.

The larger academic discourse community of which I have mainly been a part can be viewed as the English Department. Porter defines a discourse community as “a group of individuals bound by a common interest who communicate through approved channels and whose discourse is regulated” (38-39). It seems clear that the English Department is a rather large and generalized discourse community bound by its members’ interest in writing and literature. Relationships within the department are formalized as professors act as instructors who must be treated with respect. Forms of communication that link professors to students and students to students are formalized and found in nearly every course’s syllabus. Many of us are also bound by a widely accepted belief that writing is storytelling in the manner that Fisher describes; we create and study texts based on a large number of inputs while seeking to present good reasons for our thinking (383).

Within the English Department community, however, a large number of other discourse communities exist. For students in the writing option, a number of starkly contrasting courses are offered which differ vastly in the nature of their assignments and their expectations for writers. Each course expects students to communicate in a manner designed for a different, less generalized discourse community; stories are told in different ways and must adhere to different rules. The following sections note the qualities of writing within a few of the different discourse communities I have been involved in within the scope of the English Department in an attempt to illustrate the vastly different expectations of each community.

The Literature Studies Discourse Community:
This writing community is most varied in its expectation; it would be easy to make the argument that each literature professor creates a different discourse community. However, common traits are often shared amongst literature classes. Professors tend to expect academic writing that is relatively concise and backed by citations from texts. Some freedom of form is often allowed, but writing is still usually expected to be formal. Papers are to be written in MLA style and should feature a citations page.

 
The Journalism Discourse Community:
The journalism community favors a form of writing that other discourse communities would consider painfully concise; a great deal of time is spent eliminating unnecessary adjectives from articles. The most valuable sources in the journalism community are not texts but living, breathing human beings. Any source materials from text are usually considered to be of secondary importance. Each news story is expected to conform to one of a small number of templates which limit organizational experimentation. AP style should be used for all stylistic and grammatical configurations.

 
The Technical Writing Discourse Community:
This community is also highly variable and hard to generalize. However, writing is generally expected to be concise and visually attractive to maintain reader interest. Form is often regulated by organizational patterns which have proven to be effective in the past. More research and data is expected to be accumulated for research projects in this discourse community than in any other community in which I have been a part. Citations styles can fluctuate based on the content of each writing project.

 
The Blogging Discourse Community:
Although I am new to blogging, I already see a large difference between this writing community and others. Blogging allows writers to be verbose and does not require a great deal of academic research. There is little regulation as to the form writing takes and the need for citations is very limited.

All of these different discourse communities and more are nestled close to the bosom of their parent discourse community known as the English Department. My immersion in a number of these communities has always left me feeling unsettled, as though my education is not concrete or grounded. I now believe that this feeling is notable for its accuracy; I am not being groomed for a concrete career. Instead, I am being taught how to communicate in a number of different discourse communities. I am being taught how to create narratives tailored to a wide range of audiences and intentions. Hopefully, this will prove to be useful in the years to come.

Rhetorical Complexities

After reading “Rhetorical Situations and Their Constituents” and “IText: Future Directions for Research on the Relationship between Information Technology and Writing,” my reaction is mainly one of awe at the great complexity of rhetorical situations. The study of rhetoric and its uses seems to have reached monolithic proportions, and even the brave efforts of the articles’ various authors seem insufficient to harness the complexities involved. In fact, the articles give me two distinct impressions. The first is that experts in the field of rhetoric often do not agree; this is illustrated by Grant-Davie’s use of sentence starters like “I think” and “I propose” (266) instead of sentence starters designed to exhibit the voice of authority. The second is that the vast nature of rhetorical studies makes it unlikely that research will ever reveal all the secrets of any given rhetorical situation. Geisler and her associated writers intentionally or unintentionally give me this impression when they speak of “the complexity of the meaning-making process, the historical forces that shape interactions with text, and the powerful impact literate interactions in these new electronic environments are having on society” (297).

I believe the compound rhetorical situations described by Grant-Davie provide prime examples of the great and growing complexities of rhetoric. Grant-Davie says that “exigence, rhetor, audience, and constraints can interlace with each other, and the further one delves into the situation the more connections between them are likely to appear” (277). Such rhetoric situations create webs of inputs so vast and tangled that they can be almost impossible to comprehend in their entirety.  This seems to be especially true when these situations are placed in electronic formats packed to bursting with stimuli.

For example, one political campaign ad can contain many forms of communication (speech, written words, music, facial expressions, and more), be disseminated to a vast and highly variable audience, have a large number of different goals and implications, and be subject to a great number of constraints. How could such an ad possibly be analyzed so thoroughly that all the rhetorical factors associated with it could be discovered? Is it likely that all of the professionals analyzing the ad would agree upon its attributes and intentions? To see an ad which demonstrates the character of modern compound rhetorical situations, check out an Obama campaign ad here.

All of the great complexities associated with such ads and the field of rhetoric in general make me feel as though attempts to classify elements of rhetorical situations into neat, box-like categories lead to the formulation of possibly inaccurate assumptions and dangerous simplifications. One example of a classification system that makes me uncomfortable appears when Stanley Fish describes people as either homo seriosus or homo rhetoricus. According to Fish, homo seriosus believes in a central identify and referent reality while homo rhetoricus believes in shifting realites and constructions of the world (127).

A question which I would like myself and others to ponder at length is whether or not the dichotomy that such a description of humans seems to create is consistent with the reality of compound rhetorical situations described by Grant-Davie. Can most people be described as serious man or rhetorical man, or are most humans a hybrid form of both? In my opinion, people are as complex as the rhetorical situations of which they are a part. I think the majority of people could be described as a blend of serious man and rhetorical man as they seek to form some sense of reality but also recognize the persuasive powers of rhetoric and writing. Even scientists regularly utilize rhetoric to argue that their scientific findings are accurate interpretations to help understand our perceived realities or to persuade government and private investors to fund a project. Many would even admit that science is influenced by factors associated with rhetoric. Cezar Ornatowski of San Diego State University has even more to say on the subject of the complex but potentially peaceful blending of science and rhetoric which can be viewed here.