After analyzing the texts and videos available I have come to one definitive, erudite conclusion: Digital Rhetoric is a term with many variations. These pieces all have different ideas on what digital rhetoric is. Applying the idea of rhetoric to modern modes of communication is logical, but the term allows for a multitude of different options. Rhetoric has been adapted to many different forms of communication. Text, oration, songs, images, videos, and many others have become tools for rhetors. When we take this one step further we see the creation of Digital Rhetoric, the online application of the technique. Rhetoric is something that transcends mediums; it is a tool that constantly iterates in order to remain relevant.
At its core rhetoric is: “the art (techne) of finding out the available means of persuasion” for a given argument (Aristotle On Rhetoric). This definition allows us to take into account the various facets of multimodality. Being able to have control over the various modes (linguistic, aural, visual, spatial, and gestural) allows a rhetor to create supremely rhetorical works. In Digital Rhetoric and media creation we see an emphasis on utilizing every mode:
Linguistic Mode-Refers to the use of language (word choice, delivery, organization, and coherence) to create influential communication. (5)
Visual Mode-Refers to the use of images and other characteristics that readers see (color, layout,style,size, and perspective). (6)
Aural Mode-This mode focuses on sound and the multiple ways of communicating and understanding an aural message (music,sound effects, volume, tone, etc). (8)
Spatial Mode-Refers to the physical arrangement of information created (arrangement, organization, and proximity to other objects). (10)
Gestural Mode-How movement such as body language can make meaning. Further, how interactions can dictate perception (facial expressions, hand gestures, body language, and interaction between people). (12)
Taking into account these facets of modern rhetoric it becomes obvious that current designs focus on much more than the simple organization and style of text (linguistic mode). People are now attempting to use all modes in an effort to achieve Aristotle’s definition of rhetoric. So at its core Digital Rhetoric is what Aristotle claims, but that definition is too simplistic to encompass the various modes inherently associated with the process. Digital Rhetoric today is more aptly described by Douglas Eyman as, “the application of rhetorical theory (as analytic method or heuristic for production) to digital texts and performances” (Eyman). Eyman speaks to this idea of rhetoric as an analytic method further later in his work:
The power of rhetoric, as I see it, is that it can be employed as both analytic method and guide for production of persuasive discourse—and it is both of these capacities that inform my understanding of digital rhetoric. (Eyman)
This ability to analyze through rhetoric provides another interesting fold to the concept. Being able to understand how to influence and persuade allows us to better notice when other media is trying to inform or persuade us. Applying this to the digital world will make for an individual who is able to pull back the curtain on many websites and other forms of digital media and analyze the work for its rhetorical value. That means understanding the media’s audience, purpose, context, and genre.
Take for example the famous Barack Obama election image “Hope”. To an onlooker it is simply Obama’s portrait in red white and blue with the word across the bottom. But if that was the case the image would not be so iconic. This image is extremely rhetorically successful because it understands audience, purpose, context, and genre intimately. The piece feels new, vibrant and young based on the color scheme (visual mode), almost like a piece of street art which appeals to young voters (audience). The idea that Obama is fresh and new is communicated in the boldface word “HOPE” which also signifies the promise of novelty and change (Linguistic Mode) and fits in with the context or political strife in the U.S. at the time. Finally, the piece’s purpose and genre are more straightforward: a piece of election advertising meant to recruit voters. The poster is successful for many reasons; understanding rhetoric allows us to analyze these reasons as a whole and judge the media accordingly.
Writer/designer: a guide to making multimodal projects
By: Arola, Kristin L., and Jennifer Sheppard.
Eyman, D. (2015). Digital rhetoric theory, method, practice. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.
(Image) Count to Ten. https://www.flickr.com/photos/31057088@N02/8083830049.