As a student of rhetoric, I’m familiar with the inherent persuasiveness in nearly all written and oral language performances; I’ve been reading and writing about rhetoric for the past year and a half. Looking at the topic through the lens of new media opened my eyes to even more rhetorical techniques possible in the digital age. Instead of simply referencing other rhetor’s work by name, phrase, or citation, we can literally pull them right into the conversation via embedding. Instead of creating one, flat, linear piece of work in the form of an essay, print article, or book, we create branches of text and ideas. I may start here on this blog, in this word format, but as soon as I hyperlink to another source or embed a Youtube video my reader has the option of clicking through to another segment of information. The Youtube video may instantly pull up related links or the hyperlinked article could have comments at the bottom and push the reader on in a different direction.
There’s no guarantee that they will stick with my piece ’til the end, not unless it’s visually and rhetorically engaging.
My final project itself forced me to consider my rhetorical footprint online in a wholly new way. While I definitely prefer the practice of linear writing (probably because that feels more natural to my artistic sensibilities) I know from personal experience that click through curiosity is deadly and unyielding. With the right combination of thumbnail and headline, I will click through to anything, no matter how invested I am in whatever I’m currently reading.
With the Internet, and with sites like Storify, WordPress, Weebly, and more, we online writers have the chance to create dynamic, multi-faceted rhetorical pieces. We become web designers more than writers–attention to design, detail, and visual composition is just as important as our words, although that importance fluctuates with our target audience. Certainly new and upcoming generations will expect hypertextual pieces that link many different sources together in one work, as opposed to the pre-digital generations who no doubt would rather have all of their information simply displayed on one plate of information.
As Roland Barthes mentions rather dramatically in his “Death of the Author,” there is nothing wholly original in our art and literature anymore–our work is, more often than not, an amalgamation of that which we have previously digested; ground up and pieced together in a new artifact. The cult hit NBC show Community is proof of that, in the extreme. Each episode refers to previous films and TV shows and as the seasons progress it gets increasingly more self-referential, making fun of public opinions that call out writing, acting, and story quirks (or flaws, depending on how much of a fan you are). By season 3, the show had spiraled so far inward that the linear structure completely decomposed. See, Season 2, Episode 21, “Paradigms of Human Memory.”
Rather than marking the end of literature, as Barthes bemoans, I think the Internet opens up possibilities for further creativity. Our stories are not limited to one author and one text, but are now extended to include the event’s entire evolution across all consumers’ experience over time. It includes not just the singular story event, but also it’s audience reception, later references and adaptions, and consumer reappropriation. The Internet animates a single text into a living creature with infinite growth potential.