The key shift between composing for a print environment and composing for a digital environment is the number of “modes” available to aid in the storytelling. Modes are different forms of expression: linguistic, visual, aural, spatial, and gestural. In the discipline of English, we are most familiar with the linguistic, the selection, arrangement, and delivery of words. I like to say to be a new media writer you need to be a jack of all trades and a master of one. For most of us, writing will be our “master trade.” The trick in new media writing is not relying solely, or too much, on our strongest and most comfortable form of expression.
While writing may be our strength, it may not always be the most effective mode. As the cliché goes, “A picture tells a thousand words.” Visuals can give viewers a more immediate understanding of a concept or situation. In addition, visual choices regarding size and color drives a viewer’s attention and shapes their understanding/perception of the message. Visual choices, not just linguistic choices, are a part of every paper we compose. For example, academic papers should look a particular way. We would not use pink Comic Sans for a font choice.
In conjunction with the visual is the spatial. Appearance and function often work together. The spatial mode involves the arrangement of a piece and how people move about it. This movement can be how someone opens and consumes a brochure, how we navigate a website, or even how we sit in a classroom. The rhetoric of place is a fascinating area of study if you are into architecture, landscaping, or urban design. However, in this class, we will mostly look at layout and navigation. When we move from a print environment to a web environment, the spatial mode also expands, as web texts are not isolated — they can easily connect to other texts via hyperlinks.
Another change as we enter the digital environment is the introduction of sound. Instead of reading an interview, we can hear an interview. As a standalone mode, sound allows stories to become more portable. I can listen to a podcast while I drive and do household chores. As a supplementary element, it brings personality/culture to the individuals and places featured. We can use music as a new way to express tone: this is serious, this is relaxing, etc. This can get us into trouble at times if the music we have chosen is not appropriate to the situation or editorializes the content in negative manner.
The final mode is the one that we will employ least in this class, the gestural. Unless you are delivering a monologue via your webcam, this won’t be a factor. The gestural is the way our bodies communicate: our expressions, our hand gestures, our posture, etc. If you are wondering an emoji could be counted as a gesture (I was), the answer is yes. At least, some scholars are arguing that they be considered as such. In this way, the gestural may find its way into your social media posts.
As you can see, we can express ourselves in many ways and can constructive meaning, at times, without even realizing it. In this class, we will be utilizing multiple modes whenever we construct a text. Our focus will not be on the technical aspects of page layout or audio editing; it will be on making good choices to create an effective, cohesive text where all the elements are appropriately selected and arranged.
For a more in-depth explanation of the five modes discussed, see: https://www.amazon.com/Writer-Designer-Making-Multimodal-Projects/dp/1457600455