The Increasing Online Presence of Information and Rhetoric

Guest Blogger Ryan Lee ’16

The rising usage of technology in nearly every field of study in academia as well as everyday life has brought forth issues and questions of legality, authenticity, efficiency, and even morality. Certainly, the general field of the humanities has been undergoing such transformations as well as conflicts. To some, the now archaic means of recording information by the physical, written word remains the proper or otherwise stable way of archiving and presenting. However, for other, more progressive scholars and academics, the digitization of information gives way to greater usage of the information because of the ease of access and near ubiquity of its digital copies, thus allowing for the information to be passed on as knowledge to others—scholars and laypeople alike.

Last month, Dr. Bryan Alexander, a Senior Fellow at the National Institute for Technology in Liberal Education, came to present his studies on the fusion of pedagogy and technology, specifically in liberal arts. The LaRose Digital Theater was filled with faculty members and students, many of whom were, unsurprisingly, in Elon’s Communications Department, all with laptops and smartphones out, ready to take digital notes or Tweet. Dr. Alexander had a screen projected of his Twitter account at the start of the presentation as people sitting in the room were mentioning him on their individual accounts. From the start, he exemplified the widespread use of technology in our lives, whether we think about it or not.

He came to present four main points. The first was on the affordance of digitization, or what digitization enables users to do, the second was the public usage and the social interaction created through technology and digitization. Third, he gave us the stages of technological development. Fourth, a term he borrowed from sedimentology, was on imbrication: the constant evolution and development of technology and the sustainable resources which remain constant or relevant through changes. Dr. Alexander was able to focus these points to digital humanities and their relation to the field of humanities, all this from the digital archiving and the transformation of scholarly publications to the impacts on teaching and education. With the ever growing library of resources online, physical copies of books, articles, and scholarly journals are beginning to become unnecessary and even diminishing in monetary value. While some oppose the mass-digitization of texts of recorded information, Dr. Alexander attempted to convey the other side, the benefits of digitization and online editions of texts.

To start, the increased and still rapidly growing online population is attractive and because the information being digitized has the potential to be reached by anyone online, more of the world has access to it. This gives people the opportunity or potential to expand their knowledge or become informed in different fields easily and conveniently. With that, the online existence gives way for discussions. Now that the information is online and simultaneously present in all parts of the world connected to the internet, this information has suddenly seeped into different countries, different regions of the world, and different cultures. This exposure cues the endorsements and defamations by these disparate peoples in accordance to their cultures and lifestyles—going back to their values and perspectives. Immediately, the potential for discussion is made, and not just from one or several schools of thought, but from all that are connected to the internet. The outcomes are endless and unpredictable.

Now, the utility of rhetoric has greatly increased with the rapid digitization and interaction online. The momentum of politics and policy may be increasingly influenced by the online presence of citizens. The immediate interaction and a citizen’s ability to voice an opinion has become much easier. Already petitions can be made and signed online on the White House’s website. With the historically eased means of human interaction, one’s skills in communication and rhetoric must be enhanced. From the smallest statements made on Twitter, to bigger political stances or academic discussions, what is posted online lives online eternally. The poster can be identified by a single post and his/her life can be altered. Understandably, this may seem like a stretch, whether paranoid or simply absurd, but the reality of our online presence is striking and impact it could have on a life is unpredictable. I see many more political and social movements happening through the internet. Social networking was the motor behind the Arab Spring, without such, protests would have been near impossible to organize, especially in such great numbers. The outcome of the Arab Spring, already, is changing the politics in the Middle East and the lives of thousands of people. This will only increase, as more individuals join the online community and more countries are provided such access, the population will grow, the movements will grow, and the results will grow. From the perspective of academia, with the publishing of academic journals online, and subsequent discussions, the innovation, the progress that can be made in theories and pragmatic sciences, in interpretation and history, a new school of scholars will be unveiled.

Rhetoric will become all the more essential to the average people, to the users of the internet. With such a large population online and the possibilities of the numerous social movements, one may be hidden or overpowered by others. A proper education in rhetoric, in traditional discourse and multimedia and visual rhetoric, will become a necessary skill in one’s life online.

1. Would you agree with the power of social networking and online rhetoric? Do you think maybe I am even underestimating the role of social media and the internet in the future of international policy and interaction?

2. Is there a need for greater focus on rhetorical studies? Perhaps even all three ancient arts of discourse.


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