Warnick, Welch, and Zappen on Electronic Rhetoric

Again, I read a number of articles (cited below) and was posed relating questions:

Warnick, Barbara. 2005. “Looking to the Future: Electronic Texts and the Deepening Interface.” Technical
Communication Quarterly 14(3), 327-333.

Welch, Kathleen. 1999. “Technologies of Electric Rhetoric.” Electric Rhetoric. Cambridge: MIT Press.

Zappen, James P. “Digital Rhetoric: Toward an Integrated Theory.” Technical Communication Quarterly 14(3), 319-


1. Warnick notes on p. 330 that printcentric criticism’s “tendency to essentialize the work–to view it as an integral finished object–is problematic when we think about electronic textuality.” Do you agree with Warnick’s assertion about printcentric criticism, based on the authors we’ve read this semester? If this assertion isn’t valid, what effect does that have on the rest of her article?

I must concur with Warnick’s view that printcentric criticism’s tendency to view a electronic text as solid, finished object is problematic, particularly considering her mention of the destabilization of the text. Electronic text is at times fleeting and brief and at other times painfully stagnant. It can certainly be the work of one individual but is just as often co-authored. Regardless of how many contributors there are to the text it may be in part or in whole extracted directly or at least inspired or paraphrased (with out citation) from another source. In short, the text is unpredictable – unstable.

Many of the authors, particularly those more contemporary ones, we’ve examined this semester, have discussed the non-linear nature of hypertext and the results of this condition, including readers receiving a different text (not unlike the choose-your-own ending book) with each read, the reader as co-author and participant in the Invention (canon) of the text, and the breaks in unity and integrity of the original text. With this list, I would even include Foucault’s suggestion that the goal of writing is not to make glorious, exalted writing, but rather to make writing that is (or becomes) invisible. With the various designs of electronic text and the conscious decisions readers must make, it is far from invisible. All of these considerations support the notion of electronic text as unpredictable and unstable.

2. What do you think of Manovich’s notion (quoted in Zappen) of a ‘media database…becomes a cultural form in its own right’ (321) and the related notion of ‘rhetorical convergence’ (322)? What are the implications for authorship, collaboration, and the roles technology plays in creating cultural artifacts and knowledge?

Admittedly, I’m struggling a little with how I would define a “cultural form.” However, I will state that a ‘media database’ can be considered a cultural form in the same way that a dictionary can be considered as such. A dictionary is actually a database that has been pre-sorted in a single, specific, linear order. A reader/user can sort a media database in many different ways by any category of the database. In this way, it a unique cultural form representative of how technology changes the way we interpret and use existing forms.

In this way, the example of the media database ties directly into the concept of rhetorical convergence. The reader becomes co-author and participates in the Invention of the database’s content in determining the way in which the data is presented. As Fagerjord suggests (Zappen 322), the condition emphasizes the “…Web author’s choices of topics, arguments, sequences, and words and the reader’s process of selection and semiosis.”

3. Warnick assumes the notion that ‘digitization of media forms and content has changed user perception and experience’ (328), offering her own take and that of others. In what specific ways has it and what are some implications?

In this passage, Warnick is actually drawing on theories of Manovich, who notes (as Warnick cites), that despite the profound influence computerization has had on media forms, what viewers see is very much like what they are used to. The example I gave above – the dictionary and the digital media database – is a fair example of this. A digital dictionary (or other database) is still a database, but it can be sorted alphabetically, by date, by origin, by type, etc. The visual hierarchical nature of Web and computer directories is like the physical organization of putting a file in a folder in a folder. We mentally connect with this virtual representation of a way we might store physical objects and files.

Thus, in keeping with structures and designs familiar to those within our psyche, the way that our perception and experience change is in how we use these representations. I sort the database in various ways depending on my need at that moment. Instead of storing physical documents in files in various drawers in a large file cabinet, I assimilate that in digital directories, which I can also temporarily search in various ways. In this way, a change in our perception and experience is in the freedom we have to not be bound by a single method of searching, organizing, receiving/sending data, communicating, etc.

4. Welch argues that writing courses should become courses in which electric rhetoric is taught. Considering your own experiences as an instructor, professional, or administrator, argue whether or not this new configuration would increase overall rhetorical skills of students, producers and consumers of all texts or not. Give examples to support whichever position you take.

As an instructor, student, and professional (in no particular order), I firmly believe that electronic rhetoric should be taught in writing courses. Admittedly, part of this stems from the unfortunate attitude of “like or not, it’s here; live with it.” More gently, electronic and multimedia writing is a major part of the way we, as a professional and academic society, communicate. With the use of the Internet, email, chat/IM, and electronic document exchange, I would estimate that electronic communication easily surpasses print in the way most academics and professionals present and receive communication.

Premising this opinion with the fact that basic writing tenets are an essential, unchanging foundation, writing for the Web, for IM, for email, and for print are all very different. These are rhetorical, structural, practical differences that should be relayed in writing course. Electronic writing and the rhetoric thereof, is not a genre, since the application of a writing genre can be chosen or not. For example, I can choose not to learn anything about political rhetoric and still be a successful writer and rhetorician. Conversely, electronic writing is such an integral part of contemporary communication, it is an essential skill and knowledge to obtain.

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