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
Though we brainstorm, labor, arrange, and perfect, our texts are not finished when we hit publish. Instead, we are throwing our words and images to the world in hopes that they will live beyond our hard drives, memory cards, and web space. Like our children, when the leave the house, our control fades. We may have created the initial shape, but the world will permeate their structures and alter the perspective we instilled. Excluding the murky world of copyright law, how do we feel about this?
For the Make Cycle #2, the #clmooc community used remix to reciprocate “with generosity and gratitude.” I intended to select quotes from other blog posts and Tweets to overlay with #silentsunday images, as I enjoy the interplay of image and text. However, when I looked at the images, I realized I could make a (mostly) visual remix.
I created this image solely to express gratitude to those who shared weekly snapshots from their life. Together, these snapshots create a new, imaginative world, richer for each perspective contributed. In general, I have enjoyed the tapestries people have woven using other people’s work to express what they found meaningful.
The why is key in remixing. The topic of plagiarism was trending last week due to Melania Trump taking words and structures from Michelle Obama’s 2008 speech to use in her own. It was not a purposeful remix to pay homage to the great work Michelle has done as first lady. Instead, it was speech that missed a step in the writing process.
The reaction to Melania’s speech and the various concerns and questions #clmooc raised regarding remix/plagiarism/ownership indicates it is a discussion that would be fruitful in a writing class. I am visualizing breaking up a class into groups to each analyze a different text to determine whether or not it is a remix protected under fair use or a plagiarized text with no artistic merit. They will then defend their standpoint.
Key questions from other blog posts:
“What does it mean to “own” something composed we’ve composed? If we are remixing someone’s composition, then where does that ownership begin and end? Does it matter? (If not, why is intellectual property law such a booming field?) Is ownership in the intention or act of communicating? In the product?” (Karen LaBonte)
“If I use someone else’s words for a remix, am I a writer or remixer? Is it writing if the words are not my own? (I prefer: composer)…. If the writer asks the remixer to stop/halt/remove, does the remixer have an obligation to do so? (legal, moral, etc.)” (Kevin Hodgson)
One of the featured assignments in my dissertation was the Remix Video. The Remix best illustrates what it means to be a new media writer. We gather, we curate, we link, we comment, and we create. Our social media identities are remixes of shares, posts, retweets, likes, etc. As we move forward in our digital era, we are leaving behind the myth of the self-contained author, who extracts brilliance from his own mind in isolation.
As Thomas Rickert in his book Ambient Rhetoric explains:
“The writer writing is not so much in the middle as extended into the very dynamics of ambience. The ‘writer’ writing cannot be understood as a discrete, individualized entity bounded by skin and self-image, wielding external tools and thoughts (which, by being external, can ‘alienate’ us), for in writing we can entwine ourselves with the accouterment of writing—pen, paper, keyboard, typewriter, computer, books, ideas, sounds, furniture, food, beverage, interruption, serendipity, the things dotting the local environment and the environment itself, the larger infrastructure, other people, even our own bodies—and lose ourselves in this immersion. Ideas emerge in the complexity of interaction beyond our individual control, since the ambient situation worlds us. We contribute, of course, but as catalyst and site of disclosure, not as sole producer and controller.”
What he is saying is that when we write and create we are synthesizing a collection of influences to respond to a certain rhetoric situation. Essentially we are remixing.
Remix and Fair Use
Now how do you deal with copyright in a world of remix? I imagine copyright lawyers will always wrangle with this issue. However, as of now, Fair Use offers new media writers a good deal of protection, especially in educational settings.
There are many great resources online discussing what the four statutory factors of Fair Use are, such as this one from University of Minnesota Library: https://www.lib.umn.edu/copyright/fairuse. Our remixes will most likely contain commentary and criticism of published media clips/shows. We won’t be stealing the main argument or heart of another work or taking a large portion of the original. All the clips we take will be transformed into our own creation. Hence, what we do will fall under the umbrella of Fair Use.