Introductions and Beginnings

This semester marks a fresh start for this course, including a gentle renaming from Digital Rhetoric to Multimodal Rhetoric. When I first taught the class, the idea of digital rhetoric was distinct in some ways from traditional rhetoric, although (as we will see while reading the course textbook on digital rhetoric by Douglas Eyman) it grew directly out of traditional and modern rhetorical scholarship. However, in the first years of the 2020s, something happened to shift the paradigm forward and faster and I no longer feel comfortable drawing a distinction between “rhetoric” and “digital rhetoric.” All rhetoric today is digital or liable to become digital at any moment!

a TikTok logo is displayed on an iPhone

One element of the course remains and is very basic. Most of us are or will become teachers at some point in our lives. We know that almost all if not all of our students will become digitally adept and that using digital tools will come as easily to them, almost, as breathing. However, it is also possible that they will never consider the use of these tools as rhetorical unless we point it out to them. That doesn’t mean they do not employ rhetoric daily: your average TikTok user is more aware of audience than most of us who did not grow up on TikTok could ever be aware of. Getting Instagram likes is a rhetorical act, after all. I am very interested in drawing a line, historically, between older forms of rhetorical communication and those of the present day, which I would consider hybrid and fluid, easily flowing between the digital and the analog. The current state of digital technology has made this easy flow a reality for most people in first world countries, and is even opening up in third world countries–although contestability and control depend a great deal on the conditions of the material world including politics and economics, and even climate change that affects the digital infrastructure.

Many of the modules in this class were begun years ago, but the AI module is brand new, for obvious reasons. AI is not new, but 2022 was a watershed year for AI, and it is all over the news, and in our conversations, and perhaps in your workplace already. There is some doubt as to whether AI belongs in a course on multimodal rhetoric, but I am including it because it certainly impacts any language-centric topic and makes the issue of hybrid rhetoric a lot noisier than it was. While I was finishing the last touches of the course, this article came up discussing a ruling that AI art cannot be copyrighted–a huge victory for writers and artists who are in danger of having their jobs outsourced to ChatGPT.  I am interested to find out what Lawrence Lessig, the author of Remix and founder of Creative Commons, might have to say about AI and copyright.

To complete this post, I’m including a photo from 1977. This is my high school newspaper staff. Bunch of cuties. But look at the machine to the far left on the table. When I saw this a few years ago, I thought, what is a computer printer doing there? Of course, it wasn’t a computer printer. It was an old “ditto maker” machine. Just a reminder of how quickly our present becomes a slice of history and needs to be archived or is in danger of being misunderstood.

2 Replies to “Introductions and Beginnings”

  1. This video makes me more aware of how fast yesterday seems ancient compared to today. It’s only been 46 years—the process the typist had to go through looks so arduous. Yet, 46 years, I guess, is a long time in human years?

  2. Well, when I was in high school everyone was telling us the hot job was data keypunch operator. We did learn to program computers (this was in 1976-77) by typing holes into cards, then run the cards through a machine that connected to a mainframe computer in downtown Chicago (the IBM building). It was tedious work and if you made a mistake you had to start over again. Ten years later, people were beginning to own personal computers in their homes.

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