Enculturation

A Journal of Rhetoric, Writing, and Culture

The Bodies That Push the Buttons Matter: Vernacular Digital Rhetoric as a form of Communicative Agency

Angela J. Aguayo, Southern Illinois University

(Published November 22, 2016)

We enter into the discussion about digital rhetoric from different perspectives. Not just theoretically, ideologically, or in terms of discipline, but in our entry point as practitioners into this culture. Whether it is a commitment to the expanding possibilities of traditional writing practices with digital tools or the growing interest in the rhetoric of coding, understanding digital rhetoric as a form of communicative agency in public culture often requires more than observation and research. It demands a practice and understanding of invention, awareness of construction, and possibilities of circulation that varied forms of digital rhetoric can produce. In this essay, I suggest that digital media production practice could be an important site of knowledge production contributing to our larger understanding of agency, vernacular discourse, and digital rhetoric.

My way into this started in the summer of 2000, I found myself at the University of Texas working towards a Ph.D. in Communication Studies with a focus on rhetoric, media, and social movements. I began taking video production classes because my scholarly reading did not always line up with my activist production experiences. Media production became a way to use theories of communication and rhetoric in the process of political struggle. This meant experimenting with Burkean identification while editing activist street tapes or integrating public sphere theory with my efforts circulating grassroots documentaries. I also found myself in the middle of one of the most significant technical shifts of our time, the move from analog to digital. This shift radically transformed the process of making, manipulating, and circulating information. I would suggest that grounding our shared understanding of digital rhetoric around the analog-digital shift brings into sharper relief the distinction of digital discourse historically and within our respective media practices, and it would also greatly expand the understanding and significance of the field.

Digital rhetoric, as it emerges from my practice in documentary production, is a distinct form of communication, enabled by the advances in technology that allow easy media content creation and circulation because of digitization. This process of digitization involves diverse forms of information, such as text, sound, image, or voice, converted into a single binary code. Information exists in coded signals of zeros and ones, an approximation of the information that it represents. The copy of the initial information exists as digitized code, easily edited, remixed, and shared, partly because of the coded signal and established online networks. This includes official, commercial, and industry discourse but also vernacular forms of communication, stories through the eyes of the common people rather than the politically privileged, economic elites, or media professionals who typically control the spin on public content. Along with such practices of coding and programming, the activities of media production such as digital recording, archiving, editing, sound design, and animation can clarify our understanding of vernacular discourse. The recent democratization of digital tools used for media production, editing, and circulation means that there is a rich culture of vernacular media expression, critical discourse rooted in the cultural margins and circulating through these production practices.

Rhetorical theory can certainly contribute to a better understanding of the circulation of digital discourse. In the Rhetoric of Motives, Kenneth Burke states, “Often we must think of rhetoric not in terms of one particular address, but as a general body of identifications that owe their convincingness much more to trivial repetitions and dull daily reinforcement than to exceptional rhetorical skill” (26). It is in these identifications and repetitions that digital rhetoric circulates and calls together publics (Aguayo, “Paradise Lost” 240-241). Rhetoric, in particular, is situated to understand how a range of digital sites expands the potential for agency that includes capacities for people to bring about outcomes in the world. As Carole Blair emphasizes, rhetorical practice still has material consequences and does things (48).

If “rhetoric” is our defining and common term, as distinct from “digital humanities,” then questions of agency should sit at the core of this inquiry. Exploring digital forms of communication can create an impact on public culture with the potential to challenge and reconfigure the landscape for social change. In these conditions, rhetoric, the art of persuasion and its circulation, is poised to significantly contribute to our understanding of digital rhetoric where other disciplines are primarily occupied with the screen, automation, and other sites of meaning production. In her presentation at the inaugural Indiana Digital Rhetoric Symposium, Crystal VanKooten stated, “We need more carefully designed empirical research on digital composition and expression, on the uses of technologies inside and outside of schools, and on the teaching of digital rhetoric so that our theories and practices can move beyond the anecdotal.” This essay is an effort to contribute to that body of work. Vernacular digital rhetorics have a persuasive force in culture yet to be fully understood.

I will explore the idea of digital rhetoric, vernacular expression, and agency through my experience and observations as a media maker, scholar, and principal creative director of the Rural Civil Rights Project (RCRP). The RCRP is focused on a vernacular approach to digital rhetoric as a form of communicative agency. Agency in this instance functions as the kinetic energy of rhetorical performance (Miller), set in motion by media practice, organizing publics together through collaboration, and circulating discourse through multiple platforms to assert influence and change. First, I want to briefly explore the Rural Civil Rights Project, followed by a few insights on how rhetoric engages with the digital. Next, I will look at digital practices and the historical reconstruction of public history. Finally, I posit digital production practice as an expanding form of public agency. 

The Rural Civil Rights Project

Carbondale is situated in Southern Illinois, a bit of a crossroads for race relations stretching back to the migration of slaves from the South to the North. This counter-history from slavery to civil rights is often invisible in the region and tied to long ago, buried trauma. This small, college town is home to Southern Illinois University and still visibly segregated by race. The African American community exists under similar pressures experienced to another town up the road, Ferguson, Missouri. Most Carbondale residents in the 1970s and a generation removed are not aware of the presence of radical race politics in Carbondale.

The Rural Civil Rights Project is an interdisciplinary humanities project focused on using digital production practice as a means to community engagement. The topical focus of the project is the public history and political struggle for civil rights in Carbondale, a town deeply impacted by the migrations of slavery and a silent, almost forgotten civil rights history. The aim of the project is to uncover undocumented history in the form of recorded oral histories, the preservation of primary documents, the cataloguing of historical events, identifying important landmarks of history and generating feedback from the community that lived through these experiences. It is a public history project generated with a grassroots metadata process. The conditions afforded by the digital production process are then used to engage in the collective (re)construction of local history with the hopes of beginning a productive community dialogue for a more equitable future. 

The project began as an academic question about history, the archive, and public memory. How do radical politics exist in rural communities? This quickly turned into a digital engagement project. I had heard rumors of a local Black Panther Party active in Carbondale around the late 1960s, but it was very difficult to document the organization or the alleged shoot-out with police. Ono and Sloop amplify the call to privilege critical discourse rooted in vernacular expressions of the cultural margins. In doing so, the vernacular discourse opens up the possibilities for new concepts of community and their contingencies to emerge, as well as strengthening the public platform for challenges to the status quo, especially as they play out in the lives of marginalized peoples. After an exhaustive search, I encountered how fragile sparsely documented history is and how easily it could be lost. This encounter informed the early thinking around the Rural Civil Rights Project. To date, this includes many community partners, four documentary shorts, an audio documentary series, a photo collection, a digital archive, and a podcast series in development. 

The beginning of this project was much more modest and began with the community screenings of one hard-to-document film. During a hot July evening in the summer of 2013, I found myself in a church basement where many groups in Carbondale met during civil rights struggles in the 60s. There was a community screening of my 2011 documentary, 778 Bullets. The documentary chronicled the little known shootout between law enforcement and the Carbondale Black Panther Party in November 1970. It was an incredible feat to tell this story and it became a co-collaboration with the community who experienced the shoot-out. 

778 Bullets from Angela Aguayo on Vimeo.

But on that hot evening in July—days after the not guilty verdict in George Zimmerman’s trial for the shooting of Trayvon Martin—a deeply profound and rare public discussion about race emerged in this small community after the screening of the documentary. In the process of discussing the film, the actual act of violence on the screen stood in for a host of invisible and notable infractions concerning race in the local history. Collectively, the audience began to piece together basic information about the shoot-out with live oral testimony by the audience members who witnessed the events, connecting how these stories might be related to other acts of aggressive police violence in Carbondale and across the nation. As Edwin Black observed, “A speech, like a film or a play or a novel, is interpreted through its auditor’s memory of comparable artifacts. Its meaning and effects will pivot on the alignments within the personal history of its audience” (13). The moving images on the screen functioned as synecdoche, standing in the spaces for violence against Black bodies generally and across generations. There was a spontaneous call to action by long time community activist, Ms. Margaret Nesbit, and from this moment forward, the Racial Justice Coalition was born (Duncan). The digital documentary process facilitated an environment of inviting participatory communication processes and group actions that function “to construct imagined communities for the participating agents” (Howard 498). The participatory public solidified around 778 Bullets continues to organize and agitate on behalf of a more inclusive and equitable community in the areas of education, law enforcement, and judicial proceedings. In this instance, vernacular authority comes from the position of these stories and communities as undocumented. The intervention of the Rural Civil Rights Project is about rearticulating the spaces of local history in our community where amnesia about important events has settled in.

778 Bullets- Audience Response from Angela Aguayo on Vimeo.

Vernacular culture can be understood across two axes, located by its marginal content or in the community of the content’s origins (Howard 492-493). The Rural Civil Rights project is about the intersection of undocumented public history, marginalized voices, and digital culture as a way into discussion about contemporary social problems. Documentary production plays an important role in bridging communities through the negotiation of public memory. The work emerging from the Rural Civil Rights Project primarily relies on sound, still, and moving image documentary as a mode of production. The documentary camera has often resided comfortably in places where cultural representation has stepped in for the lack of political voice (Barnouw 51-70; Waugh, xiv). Although there have been moments to the contrary (Ruby 50-52), documentary continues comfortably as a channel of the people’s history and undocumented stories. There are many ways digital technology has further enabled this capacity of documentary as a site of political engagement (Christensen 76).

In Ono and Sloops’ analysis, two characteristics of vernacular discourse emerge: cultural syncretism and pastiche. Syncretism marks the interwoven elements of the discourse as cultural production and protest, a consistent resistance to the status quo that simultaneously affirms community (Ono and Sloop 22). Pastiche refers to process of connecting fragments of culture, reassembled out of context as a way to constitute new effects (23). The Rural Civil Rights Project uses these strategies as the core of its mission of resistance, articulation, collecting fragments and reassembling those fragments from the perspective of the history of the most vulnerable in our community. Speaking of the stories no one will easily talk about through digital production practice becomes an act of resistance. As Calafell and Delgado argue, “vernacular discourse is also always in process, pursuing the aims of creating a community and interrogating the ongoing and also never finished expressions of power and asymmetrical relations between the dominant and the dominated” (7). 

The Rural Civil Rights Project as an interactive, process-focused media project is made possible because of the shift from analog to digital technology, especially in dealing with groups of people who have experienced repeated trauma and invisibility regarding their history. For good reason, in historically marginalized communities, there exists a lack of trust from outsiders and a questioning of motives when people show up with recording equipment (Gubrium and Harper 31). Mobile and compact digital equipment means I can travel where my co-creators feel comfortable and safe. I can show edits in community centers and homes, as well as digitize valuable archives without removing them from the place where they exist in storage closets and basements. In the last 10 years, recording equipment has become smaller, inexpensive, mobile and ubiquitous, mirroring a similar technological shift—50 years earlier—when the first portable sync sound video portapaks hit the streets (Aguayo, “Activist Street Tapes”). What is still exciting to explore is how this shift from analog to digital corresponded to shifts in our practice of public address and political agency, a condition only tentatively explored by scholars.

Digital Rhetoric as Communicative Agency

At the turn of the century, the term “digital” is a complicated yet ubiquitous term evoking more than a media delivery method or site of inquiry but signaling a fundamental shift in how we order, exchange, communicate, and represent information (Meikle 61; Hands 38). The digital is enveloping our world at such a rapid speed that scholars of rhetoric, English, history, sociology, media, and other fields are attempting to understand this growing and unwieldy environment. How each discipline approaches the study of digital media matters, some approaches serving the interests of the discipline for itself, other approaches deepening our understanding of digital culture. As we are living through the adolescence of a growing digital environment, how we study or understand digital media is in flux, evolving with each new tool, application, and mobile device. With this fluctuation brings new opportunities for transforming our understanding of information exchange. 

One approach to understanding digital media is through what scholars in English and communication are calling digital rhetoric. The research stems from the collision of rhetorical theory, computation and a somewhat ambiguous relationship to digital humanities. The study of digital rhetoric can be traced back to early influences such as Richard Lanham’s 1992 “Digital Rhetoric and the Digital Arts.”  Most definitions of digital rhetoric remain vague, focusing on networks and interlockers with an emphasis on persuasion. Although a focus on networks and modalities provides one lens into digital culture in which communication is central, the complexities of this world might require a critical approach to knowledge production. In her book Virtualpolitik, Elizabeth Losh argues for a focus on conventions of new digital genres, rhetoric recorded through digital technology and disseminated via electronic distributed networks, concern with the rhetorical interpretation of computer-generated media as well as rhetorics of coding. 

While digital humanities is a larger umbrella term for areas of research and teaching at the intersection of computing and humanities, I would argue that digital rhetoric is an exploration of this intersection yet deeply committed to agency. Rhetorical agency is the basic capacity of people to bring about outcomes in the world. If rhetoric is the art of informing, persuading, and inspiring action in an audience through communication, agency is a key term, signaling the presence, autonomy, and impacts of persons. Karlyn Khors Campbell argues that agency is a communal and participatory process that can involve a variety of acts from “invention, strategies, authorship, institutional power, identity, practice and subject positions” (i).

Understanding agency as it intersects with participatory media culture is complicated. The actors are multiple, the influence driven by human and mechanical means, and the end product has the potential to circulate on multiple platforms indefinitely. The way agency is networked through these conditions requires an understanding of agency that more closely matches these circumstances of an evolving digital culture. Traditionally understood as engagement between rhetor and audience that includes various dimensions of influence, the concept of agency has undergone steady interrogation (Lundberg and Gunn 94; Greene 189). As Jane Bennett suggests, there is a tendency to give priority to human bodies while tending to overlook things and what they can do (3).

At the end of the creative process, we are often left with a “thing.” While the meaning of photos, films, books, code and records transcend the physical matter that captures them, they are simultaneously artifacts. The significance of rhetoric’s “thingness” is difficult theoretical terrain. Bennett suggests that thing power is “the curious ability of inanimate things to animate, to act, to produce effects dramatic and subtle” (351). While I hesitate to follow Bennett down this path of inanimate objects having comparable agency to humans, I do acknowledge we often undervalue the relationship of the material object to rhetorical interventions, attributing rhetoric to a human subject rather than investigating the potential kinetic energy of the object or actions set in motion. 

In her article “What Can Automation Tell Us About Agency” Carolyn Miller looks at automated grading assessment as a way to think through how agency functions within a digital environment. It is our preoccupation with traditional concepts of agency and the body that move us away from exploring how “symbolic action confronts non-symbolic motion” (1). What is at stake in such confrontations is rhetorical agency (142-145). The mechanical reproduction of images and sound carries with it a kind of automation. The nature of participatory media, the editing and recording, produce media products often circulating in automated networks of information for years and decades, with fragments of the original “thing” living far beyond. Miller offers a concept of agency that takes into account symbolic and non-symbolic action and the potential set in motion by rhetorical action. Agency is understood as:

[T]he kinetic energy of rhetorical performance . . . comparing agency not to the energy of a stone sitting at the top of the cliff but rather to the energy it has as it falls, the energy of motion . . . As the kinetic energy of performance, agency resolves its doubleness, positioned exactly between the agent’s capacity and the effect on an audience. Our task is to understand how the kinetic energy of performance works in writing as well as in speaking  (147)

I would add that our task is also exploring this kinetic energy of agency as it intersects with digital culture. There is quite a range in the digital sites of analysis, from GPS software to sound art to coding, worthy of further exploration as a site of vernacular agency.

The scholarship in digital rhetoric would be greatly enhanced by doing something those in cinema and media studies often fail to prioritize, closing the gap between studies and practice around issues of agency. Digital rhetoric, as suggested by Douglas Eymand, “is perhaps most simply defined as the application of rhetorical theory (as analytic method or heuristic for production) to digital texts and performances.” This prescriptive approach of placing rhetorical theory upon digital texts is problematic for several reasons. First, this is a focus on rhetoric as it serves our understanding of the digital. The disciplines of cinema, media studies, art, design, and computer informatics have been theorizing about the history and practice of digital culture for the last three decades, especially as it interfaces with the creation of art and the publics that emerge around them. Simply putting rhetorical theory onto texts, without acknowledging specific histories and identified theories of digital media, seems to primarily use digital culture to serve rhetorical theory. One critical approach might integrate the research in other disciplines with rhetorical theory to broaden our understanding of digital media with a focus on agency. By integrating rhetorical theory, derived from the oral tradition, with the work in other fields, displacing rhetoric as the primary theoretical terrain to understand digital practices, we can explore what is unique and distinct about the fundamental shift to digital. Additionally, by focusing on agency while utilizing the work from other disciplines, digital rhetoric has the potential to contribute to helping practitioners navigate public engagement.

Digital culture is changing how we record our world and the role these media works play in public life. New creative possibilities exist for citizens to generate distinct forms of public address of the screen, familiar in form to the oral and writing traditions but different in capacity and function (Meikle, 175).  The digital is more than a media delivery method and therefore, I would hesitate to simply define digital rhetoric as the application of rhetorical theory to digital texts and performances. This strategically ignores the distinct rhetorical capacities within digital culture that are not accounted for by rhetorical theory.  One way to understand digital rhetoric—as distinct from digital humanities—is to focus on how one combines multiple methods of persuasion, effective writing, effective speaking, and media practice to present information and inventive ways to bring about outcomes in the world. It is the very nature of digital culture that makes this focus on agency and effects a tangible possibility (Kiewe and Houck 23). 

Although there are some very real examples of digital rhetoric that provide a powerful affront to systematic oppression and exploitation, the technology alone is incapable of sustaining the long-term struggle. Therefore, I would argue that it is not just an investigation of digital rhetoric but how these elements are still essentially a human endeavor: the bodies that push the buttons matter. In the case of the Rural Civil Rights Project and the political intervention of vernacular discourse, it matters which bodies are pushing the buttons. The media work, the artifact left behind, also has a thing-power, a kinetic energy with potential for functioning as an actant in the world, organizing around its own vitality.  

It is the commitment to agency that not only makes the enterprise of digital rhetoric distinct from digital humanities but also what film scholar Jane Gaines so aptly put, makes people want to do something, instead of nothing, about the images on the screen. Doing public history with digital media has been a profound learning experience to help clarify understanding for the capacity of vernacular digital agency in evolving forms in public culture, especially through the development of the Rural Civil Rights Project.  

Historical (Re)construction

The documentation of counter-memory experienced by marginalized people whose histories are largely ignored is delicate terrain that must be carefully navigated. As documentary filmmaker Jean Rouch is often attributed with saying, video making is a means to a shared anthropology. Gathering the initial interviews to elaborate upon the primary historical research about the Black Panther story was difficult. For good reason, there is often a concern about motives for recording historical memory; this kind of distrust runs deep in the Carbondale community. Trust was gained by routinely returning to participant’s homes to share edits on laptops, and sharing project materials in community centers. These were also essential conditions to creating new frameworks for understanding local history and developing trust. The compact and inexpensive digital equipment allowed us to navigate these community needs more effectively. 

For the people who experienced the shootout of November 1970, it was deeply traumatic. Hundreds, possibly thousands, of bullets were fired throughout a multi hour gunfight in the middle of the early morning. Stray bullets were fired into the Black community while many children were sleeping in striking distance. Margaret Nesbit was one of the participants that we sought early on for guidance and information. She significantly influenced our intentions. She was clear about helping us remember that history is important if we connect it to the present. She insisted that members of the production team attend city council meetings and other community events before she agreed, one year later, to grant us an interview about her perspective on the shooting. She permitted us to interview her on one condition. Ms. Nesbit was not interested in talking about history as a way of looking back but as an opportunity to move forward. This was the beginning of our co-collaboration.

Creating a participatory culture invested in collecting, organizing and sharing historical documents began well before the finished documentary was available for view. In the early stages, the production team was simply sharing rare archival materials and a few difficult-to-obtain oral histories with the community, and we were mostly unsure if we had a story. But we were collectively invested in dialogue about rethinking history with the community, one interview and digital scan at a time.  

Pre-production included coordination with public events around this history attempting to generate interest in the documentation of civil rights. Our two-day event on radical activism in Carbondale was incredibly successful and brought important experts to town and hundreds of community members together. The event spanned historical moments surrounding the antiwar movement in May 1969 and the active Civil Rights Movement, punctuated by the Black Panther shoot-out in November 1970. The concept of 788 Bullets and participatory culture grew together. It began with gathering a community, gaining access and consent, including stakeholders, and creating the conditions for public dialogue as a part of the development process of the film itself. 

The early production process of 778 Bullets was so rich with opportunities for community engagement and documenting the Black experience that the documentary quickly expanded into the Rural Civil Rights Project, encouraging new kinds of knowledge production using participatory visual and digital methods.

Digital Production Practice and Agency 

The 11 community screenings of 778 Bullets held over the course of a year have brought together historically disparate communities within the city: public officials have joined the discussion as have campus community members and a growing population of people in the region concerned with issues of race. At this particular historical moment and with the exposure of systemic violence towards Black men and women as well as increasing economic disparity, there is a growing unease about race and a lack of public opportunity for engagement about these issues. There is also a mounting public exigency about race that contributed to the context of so many invited community screenings of the film. The dominant memory of the Black Panther Party would have people believe that the organization was mostly constructed around violence and existed only in major urban cities; 778 Bullets documents a more rural presence of radical politics and the struggle for civil rights. The documentation of this history extends our understanding of the presence of the Black Panthers in places as unlikely as rural Illinois and provides a counter memory of the organization, which was committed to public service and willing to engage in peaceful resolution to violent police engagement. Challenging the politics of representation allows communities a visible point of public articulation, protest, and access to the public historical record that forces a kind of accountability. This involves contributing to the archive and messing with the boundaries of recognized history as critical interruptions (Pezzullo) to business as usual. This culture-making has yielded great traction in the community and galvanized citizens to action.  

In the summer of 2013, the local school district invited us to develop a media empowerment summer camp for at-risk middle school boys in our local community. Our goal was to teach media skills and good learning habits. One of the most powerful aspects of this project was an exercise where students learned about local civil rights and race history from the community. We created Rural Civil Rights Project: Directed By Kids where we had visitors come to the school, and we also shuttled students to local African-American owned business. The clip below represents the significance of this project for these young men. Like many kids, they were uncomfortable presenting themselves formally and requesting an interview with someone they did not know. This project required students to formulate questions they were curious about in regards to race. So the following clip is a moment a few of the boys talk to Rahim, the owner of the only store that sells Black beauty supplies for miles. 

Rural Civil Rights Project: Directed by Kids from Angela Aguayo on Vimeo.

Within communities faced with long-standing, constrained agency, the tools of digital production can enable a necessary response and a kind of credibility for the vernacular discourse. The decades of silence demand an expression of testimony at this historical moment. The digital tools facilitated an environment of intimate testimony, crowd-sourced ideas through documentation and the emotions that emerge from the validation of such a collective experience. Merging the digital capacity of collecting oral histories, unread documents and other materials with participatory methods of production, the process helped solidify a growing community interested in confronting inequity, agitating for social justice, and supporting each other. In my experience, the conditions facilitated an expanding public agency with vernacular discourse worth more expansive exploration.

Conclusion

Digital rhetoric begins not only with digitization of our world, but in how these processes impact the ritual of communication. Digitization not only changed how we communicate, but with whom, directly impacting the private/public distinctions and altering who has control over the means of representation and witnessing (Atton 11). This includes emerging forms of communication such as street tapes, memes, podcasts, hashtags, blogs, mobile photography, and discussion boards enabled by an evolving digital culture. We must interrogate our theoretical gaze, it must be big enough to see how digital rhetoric fits within the oral tradition and where it deviates. 

I have argued that digital media production practice can be an important site of knowledge production contributing to our larger understanding of vernacular digital rhetoric and agency. This can happen in many ways, from using our own practice as context for understanding or through production practices informed by the rhetorical tradition. Especially if there is an interest in understanding how digital forms of communication can create an impact on public culture with the potential to reconfigure the landscape for action, we need a richer understanding of how the invention of digital rhetoric and circulation amounts to doing things in the world with material consequences. 

With a growing interest in digital tools and screens as a form of public address, rhetoric is particularly primed to contribute to the ongoing and multi-disciplinary project of understanding digital discourse. For good or ill, digital rhetoric is the only intellectual study holistically looking at the common features across a range of digital discourses and their impact on public culture. However, the reliance on rhetorical theory as a center also ignores the unique capacity of very different kinds of digital communication, backgrounding the practical ways each digital form might shape the meaning and possibilities for discourse. If the rhetorical center of this research points our theoretical gaze towards a focus on networks and modalities—which is also the strength rhetoric contributes to this discussion—it is imperative to correct this focus by including agency as a central focus and integrating research from other disciplines. 

Understanding both vernacular digital rhetoric and resistance as the efforts of ordinary people to engage in public communication collectively is a means to challenge predominant social formations and institutional logics. It is a project focused on vernacular expression as a site of knowledge production, helping us speak to one another across differences, nation-states, and interests; between communities; and with the goal of creating a better future. Digital communication is the literacy of the emerging generation and grows more ingrained in our world with every new technological innovation. At the same time, there is an emerging documentary commons, where civic-minded citizen with mobile recording devices are using the documentary mode to challenge and exchanges ideas outside the realm of government and the market. It is a way of being in the world that requires the rhetorical strategies of the media and proficiency as producers of content. It necessitates practice, taking chances, recognizing what has worked in the past and careful consideration of how to frame messages. Although the capacity for information exchange may be brief, in some instances only 140 characters, the hypertextual capacity of digital rhetoric to link non-linear information sources as well as facilitate dialogue beyond an isolated speech act has already proven to be a profoundly significant form of public address.

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