The SCOTUS decision on Obamacare and “Immediacy” (and digital rhetoric)

I’ve been reading the blogging carnival entries on digital rhetoric with some interest, hoping I could find a way to make a contribution.  I don’t know if this is really worthy or not, but here it goes:

My 1996 dissertation was called “The Immediacy of Rhetoric” and it was an examination of the impact of emerging and largely digital communication technologies (particularly the Internet, but television and lots of other things fit here too) on the ways rhetorical situations work.  I use the word “immediacy” to suggest the double-edged sword of these kinds of situations.  On the one hand, they have the potential of closeness and even intimacy since so many of the usual filters of message, rhetor, and audience collapse.  On the other hand, immediate situations are also sites of chaos and confusion precisely because of these lack of filters.  That’s the very short-hand/elevator-pitch version.

Two other things I’ll mention.  First, somewhere in The Archeology of Knowledge, Foucault says that when there are disruptive moments in history (I can’t remember the exact quote right now, but I think he and/or his translator even uses the term “rupture”), one of the first things we have to do to make sense of it all is smooth over that rupture with some kind of explanation.  Or something like that.  And one of the hallmarks that signals the end of discourse regarding a disruption in particular and a situation in general is self-reflexivity on the way the situation itself was communicated.  This happens in main stream media all the time.

Second, I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how memory works and the things I’ve read that suggests true multitasking is impossible– that is, we can’t really process two or more tasks at once, but we can shift between multiple tasks very quickly, often in a fraction of a section.  I haven’t worked this out in my own head yet, but I think this is one of the reasons why that even with all of the speed, intimacy, and chaos possible with various immediate and fluid situations, we still ultimately make meaning of a rhetorical event afterwords in the same way we make meaning out of pretty much everything else, and we still need, desire and highly value a point of fixed closure– thus the ongoing role of articles, books, and similarly fixed vessels.  Interaction, exchange, and commentary are all fine and good as part of a process, but we value (in all senses of that word– as a cultural value, an intellectual value, money, etc.) the last and fixed word.

So, the reporting of the Obamacare decision as an example of immediacy:

I found out about the June 28, 2012 decision while driving through West Virginia and Annette told me.  She had found out via her iPhone while doing a reading of Facebook.  So that’s a a simple simple example of how current and future technologies change the potential to interact in rhetorical situations: absent these tools, digital rhetoric/immediate situations aren’t possible.  That might seem just obvious, though maybe not.  I am reminded of a discussion I had with my dissertation advisor about a chapter describing the context of the internet in 1996.  She didn’t think it was necessary because how much could change, really?  After all, there were already 30 million users and Netscape; how much further could this internet thing go?

In any event, tools matter a lot.  Of course, that isn’t necessarily uniquely limited to digital tools since the tools and technology of literacy, writing, printing (followed later by mass distribution technologies like affordable paper), audio recordings, film, video, etc. all have had significant technological/toolish impacts on how rhetorical situations in particular and rhetoric in general works.  Or even is, since rhetoric was classically limited to live speakers.

A lot of humanities and comp/rhet types (academics in general, perhaps) downplay the role of technology in our thinking about how rhetoric (and just about everything else) works, I think because many/most humanities and comp/rhet types understand the theory a whole lot better than they understand the tools (or coding or “computers” in general).  I’ve read lots of stuff in the name of “digital rhetoric” (and don’t get me started with “digital humanities”) where tools and technology are secondary at best, sort of the bottle holding the wine, and technology merely alters the speed and potential proximity of components of a rhetorical situation.  But in terms of both digital rhetoric generally and what I mean by immediacy, that’s the whole point:  the evolving speed and presence potential of new technologies have been in some sense gradual and historic (the way that postal systems and then the telegraph changed communication in the 19th century comes to mind now), and in other ways radically fast (the way we find out about emerging situations/events via social media on ever-connected smart phones).  The tool is not the only thing that matters, but when it comes to contemplating “digital rhetoric” generally or immediacy in particular, it’s critical.  Without contemporary and future-looking computer and media technologies, there’s no “digital” in “digital rhetoric.”

One of the first things that happened when the decision was announced (and that I missed because of being in the car and that I recap here with hindsight and memory) was CNN and FOX screwed it up.  As NPR reported, reporters literally ran with paper out of the Supreme Court so that the results could be digitized– that is, broadcast, posted on the web, sent out as audio (analog in how we hear it though digital in how it is posted)– by rhetors (news outlets) to the audience.  Dennis Baron had a blog post where he argued that this was an intentional misreading of the decision by these media outlets because they were mislead and because “everyone expected” the decision to be overturned.  The media simply reported what they thought they already knew.  But I think the right answer is it was sloppy reporting facilitated/enabled by the speed of immediacy, the lack of any interpretation/mediation of events, and the collision of the analog decision (available to reports first as dead trees text) with the digital world.  The Supreme Court’s decision Obamacare is of course complex, but it is not misleading.  The desire and potential to be the first to report the decision trumped the desire/need to actually be correct.

So again, immediacy is a double-edged sword.  Digital media technologies can break down the boundaries between audience, rhetor, message, and interpretation itself, which has the potential for great intimacy.  We can “be there” during riots in Egypt as part of the “Arab Spring” through not only major news outlets but thousands of participants in social media and video sites.  On the other hand, these immediate situations also have the potential for great chaos and confusion precisely because of the lack of boundaries that define interpretation and expertise.  Again, think of the chaos of the Arab Spring, especially through the filter of media, and the confusion of being flat-out wrong as was the case with the decision on Obamacare.

Speed matters a lot, too.  Clearly that’s what is at work with the misreporting from CNN and FOX.  Sure, this is far from the first time this sort of thing has happened and “scooping” the competition has been the hallmark of journalism dating back to its most yellow days.  But the rapidness/simultaneity that is cause and necessity of digital media makes the speed all the more important.

Very shortly after the reports emerged, the efforts at closure (and to seal the rupture in the narrative) began. It’s an understatement to describe the decision as a surprise.  Shortly after Annette shared the news via her iPhone, I turned on the radio.  All I could find out in the middle of nowhere West Virginia was a conservative talk show, and clearly, the decision was an enormous rupture for these folks.  The fact that Chief Justice John Roberts sided with the liberal minority on the court was inexplicable to the commentators and callers.

But within hours, explanations to close and reconcile the rupture emerged (and they continue, too).  One theory was that Roberts’ decision based not on the commerce clause but on taxation was in reality his effort to give conservatives ammunition in the fall elections, and conservative commentators immediately changed their attack from being about “individual freedom and choice” to “the largest tax in history.”  Quasi-conspiracy theorists suggested that Roberts changed his mind at the last minute, that Justice Anthony Kennedy was pressuring him to switch back, and that this last minute switch is evident in the text from the various decisions.  Another theory suggests that Roberts made his decision in the name of protecting his legacy as Chief Justice in particular and the institution of the Supreme Court in general.  And so on.

Interestingly enough, I have yet to hear a commentator on either the left or the right suggest that Roberts made the decision he made based on his interpretation of the law. Given that a lot of law professors thought the law was constitutional before the decision, perhaps the real answer is that Roberts did his job as a scholar of the law and a judge.  But that account doesn’t explain how a conservative (Republican) judge could possibly side with a liberal (Democrat) policy, which is why I suspect this explanation has been largely discarded.

Neither speed nor the seeking of closure are uniquely digital, though I think they’re altered by the digital in some interesting ways and I think they are inescapable in digital environments.  Even as we celebrate the fluidity of possibilities in digital rhetorical spaces, we crave and value in all senses of those terms the closure, finality, and even authority that comes from “print” (either the old-fashioned paper kind or the electronic new-fashioned kind exemplified by eBooks and electronic journals).

I haven’t thought this all the way through yet (or even partly through), so I’ll refer to two other blog posts I had on this.  First, there’s my reaction to seeing David Weinberger at U of Michigan talking about his latest book, Too Big to Know.  It’s not that I disagreed with Weinberger about the nature of knowledge has changed as a result of the digital age and the internet and such.  That’s all fine and good, but Weinberger hasn’t earned intellectual and actual (e.g., money) capital from his blog; he earned it from his book.  The same goes for folks like Kathleen Fitzpatrick’s book about the future of academic publishing, Doug Eyman and his (hopefully) forthcoming book, Liz Losh and her excellent book, and so on.  Even the prize the U of M Press/Digital Rhetoric Collaborative is based on publishing a book.

I don’t say this to dismiss digital rhetoric; I say this to simply point out that there still must be some unique value to books given that is where most of the scholarship on digital rhetoric has appeared.

Second, as I mention indirectly in this post about Daniel Kahneman, everything we describe about rhetoric (digital or otherwise) is definitionally a memory.  This post– which I’ve been writing off and on for over a week now– is an effort to examine a specific event that I see as demonstrating characteristics of immediacy, but like any other analysis, it takes place in hindsight.  We cannot really think about digital rhetoric as we experience it.

Anyway, a rambling what digital rhetoric means to me.  I’m anxious to get back to reading others’ thoughts on this.


If you're looking for an online grad course in computers and writing….

… I thought I’d throw out the the chance for folks looking for grad school credit and/or a course in computers and writing to sign up for the class I’m scheduled to teach for winter term, English 516: Computers and Writing, Theory and Practice. There’s a description here; anyone really interested can email me at stevendkrause at gmail dot com.

It’s been kind of a weird late fall/early winter around here. EMU students have been traditionally slow to register for winter (what everyone else calls spring) term classes, mostly because even in the best of times, our students need to settle their accounts for fall before they can register for winter, and they often don’t register until right before Christmas or right before the semester starts in early January. But nowadays, the economy in southeast Michigan is in poor shape, and I think that and other things are having an impact.

Right now, it looks to me like my class has enough students to “make,” but I would just as soon run this class full or over-loaded, and it occurred to me that there might be a few folks out there who might either be interested themselves or know someone. I know that EMU graduate students not in the writing program can take the course with the instructor’s permission; I don’t know how it would work for someone not at EMU, but I’m sure we could make it work and it would potentially be a fun/cool experience for one and all.

Anyway, like I said, if you’re interested, let me know.

Computers and Writing 2008 CFP (and other conference thoughts)

I just found out about the call for proposals for the 2008 Computers and Writing conference in Athens, GA. It’s going to be May 21-25, 2008; proposals are due some time between December 3 and January 10.

The theme of the conference is “Open Source as Technology and Concept,” which I might or might not ignore, depending on what I decide to propose. My plan, which may or may not be acted upon ultimately, is to drive down with Steve B. and Bill HD and to bring the golf clubs. Besides many fine courses around Athens, I figure we can play on the way there and/or back. We’ll see how it turns out.

While I am certain (almost) I’m going to C&W this year, it does beg the “how many conferences” question. Originally, I was planning on going to the CCCCs this year, despite having my proposal rejected in a problematic fashion. But without going into any details right now, it is beginning to look like I’m going to a different conference in mid-April, and that has raised the “Is this Conference Necessary?” question for me. I am not quite the jet-setting academic eluded to in this article, but like most folks who are “active scholars,” I still go to a few conferences a year. Of course, at this stage, attending conferences is lot less important than when I was a grad student seeking a job (and needing to have something to put on my CV) or when I was a tenure/promotion-seeking professor. I spent quite a bit of student loan money going to conferences simply because it helped me get a job, and I spent a fair amount of time at whatever conference in order to keep my job. Now? Well, the mileage isn’t quite the same. Actually the mileage is pretty much zero, career-wise.

So, since conferences don’t count for me much anymore, I get to make choices. And I think I’m going to choose Athens and choose to stay home from New Orleans. Though I could easily change my mind.

NCTE Aftertaste

Here’s a 6:18 video of my trip to New York City and the National Council for Teachers of English conference:

This little video is an unusual project for me because it’s very much a mixture of my “official” and my “unofficial” lives. Of course, conferences tend to be spaces where there is inevitably a blending of serious/scholarly things (giving papers, attending sessions, etc.) and not-so-serious/friendly things (cocktails with colleagues in the field, dinners, travel, touring, etc.). Anyway, since our session was about film/video making and writing, I thought I’d give it a shot.

I had a very mixed experience at the conference, frankly. On the one hand, I thought our panel was fantastic– great people, everyone was super-duper prepared, everyone had really interesting projects, everyone was really really smart and cool and all the rest, etc., etc. As I said in my NCTE prelude post, I went into this panel kind of as an accident and as a result of the CSW movie I made. I mean, I didn’t have that much specific interest in making movies, certainly not as a writing teacher. But I came out of this session really jazzed about the possibilities I saw from my fellow presenters, about diving into FinalCut Pro (or Express) and trying my hand at Garage Band, etc.

And I also had excellent “not-so-serious/friendly” activities at the conference. I got to hang out with my former colleague and still fantastic friend Annette S. a bit, I met a new bunch of people, I had a great dinner and great conversation with folks from the computer and writing world, Doug Eyman, Mike Palmquist, and Nick Carbone. Not to mention tourism in New York.

But on the whole, I’ve got to say that NCTE is not really my conference.

First off, we only had about 10 or so people in the audience. Now, normally, that wouldn’t be that big of a deal to me– I mean, let’s face it, that’s kind of par for the course at most conference presentations. But we were a “Featured Presentation,” we had an ideal time slot, and we had a hot topic– or so we thought. The only guess I have as to why the crowd was so small was because NCTE really is mostly about K-12, and those folks just aren’t interested in things like making movies in writing classes.

Second, the facility where this was being held was a problem. The amenities were, um, incomplete. We did a lot of planning via email before this session, and one of the concerns many in the group had was what sort of sound system we would have– or not have. Pete Vandenberg saved us on that score by bringing along a great system. We had assumed all along that we were covered with a projector to show the movies, but it turned out the projector the NCTE folks were prepared to provide was of the overhead variety. Fortunately, we did not have perform our movies; I brought a projector along from school as a plan B. I could go on, though I think this is whiny enough. All I’m saying is that if conferences like the NCTE (or the CCCCs, for that matter) actually want to give opportunities to presenters to talk about technology, they need to provide some basic technology.

But enough complaining. I had fun, I made it home, I’m ready for this coming week. Sort of.

Catching up on a boatload of online readings

I have about 15 tabs open in my browser with things I have been meaning to read and/or blog about. I don’t want to spend a lot of time on this now, so here’s a whole bunch of stuff that might be useful and/or interesting later, mostly in terms of teaching but some scholarship, too:

Shameless self-promotion department: Where Do I List This on My CV 2.0

The new Kairos is out and it features a revised version of an essay/article I wrote originally for CCC Online in 2002, “Where Do I List This on My CV?”Considering the Values of Self-Published Web Sites. The new version here– version 2.0– includes the old version and also some updates.

I had a fine time working with the fine folks at Kairos, especially Mike Edwards and Cheryl Ball. Cheryl asked me a while back if I was interested in this process of revamping the article, and Mike did a great job of leading me through the process. I’m thankful for their advice and help, and I hope that folks out there find this second version interesting and helpful and all the rest.

"School boards: The Internet is safe and we should use it more"

Here’s a great link/reference to cite the next time I am indirectly or directly in a conversation with someone about the dangers of the Internets for K-12 teachers: via boing boing, “School boards: The Internet is safe and we should use it more.” This discusses and links to some other discussions of a study from a group called the National School Board Association (which seems a tad on the conservative side, actually) that basically says that a lot of the things that have been cited over the years by schools for being afraid of the internet is bogus. Here is a link to a PDF version of the report, though I couldn’t find any direct/indirect mention of it on the NSBA web site. Here’s a quote of a quote from boing boing on all this:

In light of these findings, they’re recommending that school districts may want to “explore ways in which they could use social networking for educational purposes” — and reconsider some of their fears. It won’t be the first time educators have feared a new technology, the study warns. “Many schools initially banned or restricted Internet use, only to ease up when the educational value of the Internet became clear. The same is likely to be the case with social networking.

“Safety policies remain important, as does teaching students about online safety and responsible online expression — but student may learn these lesson better while they’re actually using social networking tools.”

A good thing for things like 516, and probably a link to send on to my colleagues in English Education.

Ward Churchill, Academic Publishing, upcoming Kairos article

It’s funny how some of these things link together– or maybe how I make links between them:

While browsing my google reader feed this morning, I came across this article from Inside Higher Ed, “Ward Churchill Fired.” Old news, but basically Churchill was let go by the University of Colorado because (officially, at least) because of what has been called “overwhelming evidence” of scholarly misconduct. When this case was still an issue, I wrote on my blog and on the Inside Higher Ed site that Churchill shouldn’t be fired because of some unpopular views on 9/11. But when it turns out that he was cheating in his scholarship, well, that’s a different story. Still, I think this paragraph sort of sums up my feelings about the whole thing:

The meaning of the Churchill case has been heatedly debated over the past two-plus years. To Churchill and his defenders, he is a victim of politics and of a right wing attack on freedom of thought. To Brown and others at the university, Churchill’s case is not about politics at all about enforcing academic integrity and punishing those who don’t live up to basic rules of research honesty. To many others in academe, the Churchill case has been less clearcut. Many academics have said that they are troubled by both the findings of research misconduct against Churchill and by the reality that his work received intense scrutiny only after his political views drew attention to him.

This article lead me to this interesting blog post by Aaron Barlow on a blog that I will probably add to my feed reading called Free Exchange on Campus. Barlow’s post is trying to parse through the meaning of the Churchill case in complex terms so I won’t try to simplify it here, but I admire his efforts of trying to sort it out.

Anyway, reading Barlow’s post lead me to another post on the Free Exchange on Campus blog that lead me to this, “University Publishing in A Digital Age,” on another site I ought to add to the feed, Ithaka, which is site about promoting “the productive uses of information technologies for the benefit of higher education worldwide.” Here’s the abstract of this piece:

Scholars have a vast range of opportunities to distribute their work, from setting up web pages or blogs, to posting articles to working paper websites or institutional repositories, to including them in peer-reviewed journals or books. In American colleges and universities, access to the internet and World Wide Web is ubiquitous; consequently nearly all intellectual effort results in some form of “publishing�. Yet universities do not treat this function as an important, mission-centric endeavor. The result has been a scholarly publishing industry that many in the university community find to be increasingly out of step with the important values of the academy.

This paper argues that a renewed commitment to publishing in its broadest sense can enable universities to more fully realize the potential global impact of their academic programs, enhance the reputations of their institutions, maintain a strong voice in determining what constitutes important scholarship, and in some cases reduce costs.

I haven’t had a chance to read the full report yet, though I kind of wish it had come out a few weeks/months ago. Forthcoming in Kairos is going to be “Version 2.0” of an article I had originally had published in College Composition and Communication Online,Where Do I list this on my CV? Considering the Value of Self-Published Web Sites.” Had I known about this Ithaka report earlier, some of what’s in the abstract here might have been good to incorporate in this revised article. Oh well; at least my thinking now and in 2002 are in line with some others.

Oh, PS:
Inside Higher Ed had a piece about this Ithaka report, too.

Facebook taking over the world ala Microsoft

Or at least that’s the possible claim in this TechCrunch post, “Could Facebook Become The Next Microsoft?” This is kind of a wonky post about Facebook seems to be going the route of Microsoft in the past and Google in the present in becoming the number one destination on the internet by incorporating all sorts of different applications and the like.

I don’t know much about that, but I do know that Facebook has become more popular in my own house recently: my wife, Annette Wannamaker,
has joined the Facebook party.

And you thought the NYC subway was confusing

Subway Map of Internet Trends

I thought this was pretty cool: Via TechCrunch comes the above subway-styled map of Internet trends. It was developed by a company/group/whatever called Information Architects Japan, and they have several sizes of the image available here. Suitable for a desktop background, IA suggests.

What I think is potentially interesting about this page is that it represents a bunch of sites I know nothing about, so it’ll give me some ideas of stuff to check out sooner than later.