“Since the very concept of media by definition presumes that there are media, plural (for example, differentiated media), and since the digital converges all media into a single state (that is to say digital data), then by definition the concept of media simply disappears. In other words, data is the Great Leveler” (Clemens and Nash).
In their piece “Being and Media: digital ontology after the event of the end of media,” Justin Clemens and Adam Nash discuss their ideas of digital ontology. Clemens and Nash argue that the digital age has unified our media into a single medium, data, and that data is simply modulated into the various forms that we recognize today.
In “Television Assemblages,” Teresa Rizzo speaks on the multiplatform nature of modern television and how it has transformed the television viewer. She calls into question the traditional mass audience of television and uses three modern functions of television as evidence of this shift: “pay per view, search and retrieve, and and upload and share” (Rizzo). Additionally, she analyzes assemblage theory and discusses how it disrupts typical social (and therefore, rhetorical) constructs.
The Emergence of Digital Rhetoric
The emergence of rhetoric in the digital space has disrupted the way we think about rhetoric. In their article, Clemens and Nash argue that instead of having multiple mediums, data has become the one true medium through which we communicate. This is an interesting way to think about rhetoric’s emergence because it shifts our previous conceptions of rhetoric and composition studies.
“For anything to appear in the digital realm—here, in the usual acception of ‘digital media’—it must first be digitised to data, then modulated between storage and display in an endless protocol-based negotiation that both severs any link to the data’s semantic source and creates an ever-growing excess of data weirdly related to, but ontologically distinct from, its originating data source” (Clemens and Nash).
Modern rhetors seem to be torn between two worlds: the print and oratory world of ancient Greece and the digitalized world we live in today. Perhaps, though, the two worlds need not be separated. Digital rhetoric disrupts our perception of rhetoric because it acts as a conglomerate. It allows us to gather and publish everything from Plato’s Phaedrus to YouTube videos. Is it possible that we have trouble defining the parameters of digital rhetoric because we have been “programmed” to think in terms of the binary?
Though it does not directly deal with rhetoric, this video provides a brief summary of the questions and assertions of “digital ontology.”
The idea of the binary is something that has troubled rhetoric for centuries. Plato differentiated between writing and oratory, and even in today’s world we find ourselves separating the “real” and the digital. The problem with this thinking, though, is that it fails to account for the many forms that the digital sphere occupies. Coding, in itself, is composition. It is a form of writing, and it has the power to create various forms of media.
How do these pieces interact?
In her article, Rizzo speaks on today’s multiplatform television and how it transforms the position of the viewer into the position of a user. This thinking can be applied to Clemens’ and Nash’s idea of a digital ontology: much like users interact with services like Netflix and Hulu, modern audiences have the opportunity to interact with rhetoric in the digital sphere. Rhetoric is embodied in the digital, It is no longer confined to the written or spoken word, and instead of simply listening or reading, users navigate through websites and interactive articles that have been rhetorically designed for a modern audience.
Much like multiplatform television, Clemens’ and Nash’s digital ontology blurs the definition between producer, sender, and receiver of content. Clemens and Nash use the example of a Facebook post, asserting that digitization “places the emphasis on a plurality of modulations of the same material. . .” (Clemens and Nash). Digitization skews our ideas of traditional roles and operations within composition, and therefore within rhetoric.
The Assemblage Theory
Like television, the digital is a multiplatform ‘being” that allows for writing, listening, singing, moving… The digital acts as a conglomerate for our previously binary states of thinking, but it does it through 1’s and 0’s (a binary). It is an assemblage.
Thinking of the digital as an assemblage allows us to consider modern rhetoric without having to transform it. There is a tendency to think of rhetoric in a new, reinvented sense when speaking of digital rhetoric, but rhetoric is still fundamentally the same. The canons are still relevant today, and the audience is still at the root of our rhetorical endeavors. Rhetoric has not transformed; rather, its medium has.
Are machines rhetors?
One problem that I’m having with this theory of assemblages is the concept of agency. Are machines rhetors? They process information, and we write for them, but can they study and practice rhetoric?
“These processes also affect how agency operates within an assemblage. Firstly, agency cannot be attributed to any one component or actant, human or non-human but emerges from the association of different parts. ” (Rizzo).
Although data is modulated through machines, I cannot bring myself to assign them agency. Everything that exists digitally was initiated by a human, even if that human simply entered code into a webpage. Instead of thinking of machines as rhetors, I would like to consider them rhetorical interpreters. Clemens and Nash touch briefly on the idea of the digital being performative
Digital rhetoric disrupts our perception of rhetoric because it is an assemblage. This assemblage, if embraced, has the power to distance human thinking from a binary existence and bring it to a more cohesive, cooperative state. Rhetoric as an assemblage is embodied through the digital sphere, and it emerges through modulations of human-generated ideas (code). Although digital rhetoric is an assemblage of media and agents, I believe we cannot jump to the idea of machines as agents; rather, they simply interpret and modulate performances of the human experience.
Clemens, Justin, and Adam Nash. “Being and Media: Digital Ontology after the Event of the End of Media.” The Fibreculture Journal 24. Web. 20 Feb. 2016.
PBS Idea Channel. “Is the Universe A Computer?” YouTube. YouTube, 12 June 2013. Web. 22 Feb. 2016.
Photo: Popescu, Adam. “Coding Is the Must-Have Job Skill of the Future.” Mashable. 30 Apr. 2013. Web. 22 Feb. 2016.
Rizzo, Teresa. “Television Assemblages.” The Fibreculture Journal 24. Web. 21 Feb. 2016.