Where are We Going and What Shall We Take With Us?
No matter how much the deep cognitive space of writing feels free of technology, we know, of course, that it is not. Still, writing seems like anti-technology because it long predates the electronic media that proliferate in our time, but also because its inner workings feel reasonably stable to usat least in relation to the ever-changing functionality of the software tools we use to make meaning.
(Rhetorical question: Will the rhetoricians of the future describe our time as the Age of Inundation?)
It's probably good for us readers and writers that we don't know what lies ahead for comp/rhetoric, because it would likely strike us as some kind of computer gaming if we were around to experience it. What is clear is that the discipline is moving in a direction engineered by technology, media and a psychologic of hyper-specialization but that, so far, is all we know.
(Rhetorical question: Doesn't the history of our discipline oblige us to take a very long view when we imagine the future?)
What we can say, should say, with confidence, is that rhetoric and composition studies provides remarkably well calibrated tools for making meaning with new technologies and mediawhatever they will be. Indeed, the audience-consciousness of rhetoric could be the best archetype we have for human-centered design, which is precisely what so much technology conspicuously lacks.
(Rhetorical question: Could it be that people prefer Google [one search field, 11 links] to Yahoo [three search fields, 234 links] not because it uses superior search algorithms but simply because it communicates more like a person than a computer?)
Kathleen Welch is a realist when she describes the future of composition-rhetoric as "bright and thrilling," although I suspect our ancient discipline will turn out to be far more widely applied than we can at present imagine. As composition drifts from its origins in writing and becomes a truly integrated multimedia practice, we can insist, should insist, that technologies are means to meaning. In other words, technologies and the media they engender are just as much rhetorical problems as engineering challenges, which is to say we rhetors have plenty of relevance ahead.
Who can predict where technical innovation will lead us in the next one hundred years? The only thing we can say for sure is that rhetoric will help us invent meaning when we get there.
Welch, Kathleen. "Compositionality, Rhetoricity, and Electricity: A Partial History of Some Composition and Rhetoric Studies." Enculturation 5.1 (Fall 2003): http://enculturation.net/5_1/welch.html
If you would like to see the relationship between rhetoric and new media demonstrated in a multimedia environment, email for a free CD (MAC ONLY).
Shauf, Michele. "Where are We Going and What Shall We Take With Us?"
Enculturation 5.2 (2004):
Michele Shauf, Communication Arts
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