Academic scholars have drawn from various influences to understand the role selection and arrangement play in new media writing, such as Marcel Duchamp’s Green Box, Walter Benjamin’s Flaneur, and William Burrough’s cut up method. Geoffrey Sirc uses Duchamp’s Green Box collection of personal notes as inspiration to imagine “a compelling medium and genre with which to re-arrange textual materials–both original and appropriated– in order to have those materials speak the student’s own voice and concerns, allowing them to come up with something obscure, perhaps, yet promising illumination” (“Box Logic” 113). However, such things no longer need to be imagined. The idea of choosing and placing a variety of materials based on personal association is one of the most common uses of sites like Tumblr and Pinterest. The only difference is, unlike Duchamp’s box, these repositories are linked to a network of other boxes. How many high school seniors have a Pinterest board labeled “College,” where all their future goals, visions, and desires are stored, from possible majors to dorm room layouts? Like Benjamin’s vision of the modern flaneur, individuals online leisurely stroll through Pinterest boards and Tumblr and Twitter feeds that beacon like storefront windows. However, unlike the modern flaneur, there is often little reflection on what these collected cultural artifacts say or mean.
So what do we do with these fragmented materials? Jeff Rice draws from Burrough’s use of the cut up method to demonstrate how writers can appropriate material and use it in their own writing. Burrough’s work brings both a commentary on the oppressiveness of copyright and an approach to using juxtapositions and collections as a mode of invention:
It is experimental in the sense of being something to do. Right here write now. Not something to talk and argue about.
Greek philosophers assumed logically that an object twice as heavy as another object would fall twice as fast. It did not occur to them to push the two objects off the table and see how they fall. Cut the words and see how they fall. Shakespeare Rimbaud live in their words. Cut the word lines and you will hear their voices. (Burroughs)
Within Burrough’s cut-up method, individuals are writing with a sense of play in order to discover. They are learning through the experience of cutting up and assembling. Too often students think of learning as something that happens prior to writing. Using cut up and collecting methods to invent and understanding how juxtapositions or a collection of texts create meaning is another specific literacy skill needed to navigate and create rhetorically in new media ecologies.
Fair Use: The Modern Day Cut Up Method
The mastery of remix is using clipped pieces to create a different meaning than they had in their original form. The Daily Show does this when they cut up and remix news clips. The cut up and juxtaposition of clips tells a different story than the ones originally aired in newscasts. Usually it is to show the ineptitude of a news station, the hypocrisy of a politician, or the illogical viewpoint of a special interest group. This is why it is considered a transformative use.
Often when we add music to videos we are not thinking of a transformative use. We put romantic ballads over wedding videos and sad songs over photo montage tributes. Now, what if you had a wedding video juxtaposed with the song Papa Roach “Scars”? The song and the wedding video would mean something different together than they would apart. This is what a good remix does.
In my own example, I juxtapose clips of the TV show Community with videos from Delta College’s marketing department. I used the program WeVideo, which I loved until they began charging to upload videos to Youtube. So I won’t be doing my fine tuning in WeVideo, but starting again in Adobe Premiere. I wanted to create a video where I say nothing and let the edits tell the story. Here is the rough cut: https://www.wevideo.com/hub/#media/ci/257660886
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.
In the past decade we have seen the emergence of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, and Snapchat, which have reshaped the way we communicate and find information online.We’ve had to adapt and learn new programs in order to find friends, network, and get information. As new software, devices, Apps, cloud editors, and websites emerge, we must be able to find, test, and judge these new programs and tools to improve our productivity, entertainment options, and creative possibilities. This is just what we are doing for our first formal assignment in my New Media Writing class, the Technology Review.
In order to prep my students, I have made my own review of Superhero Workout and fell a little bit in love with Adobe Voice. Through Ipad screenshots, I was able to quickly make a little video to accompany my review. I do think I need some family shots of me working out with my tiny superheroes to add more character to the review, but I need to find us a set of matching superhero capes first.
The number one rule of App selection is know thyself — how do you like to work, study, cook, read, etc. Apps should augment your lifestyle and productions, in short make it easier to be the awesome person you were meant to be. As a working mom, I find it difficult to make time to go to the gym. I discovered, though, that I can do workouts with my children if there is a novelty involved. We each have our own stability ball and often roll around the floor trying to imitate the moves on Youtube workout videos. So when I stumbled upon the app Superhero Workout, I thought it could be another workout we could do as a family.
What initially drew me to the App was the name, as my son is an avid fan of The Justice League and dressed as Batman over Halloween. I initially thought I would be fighting crime, ala Wonder Women style, but I later read on the website that the premise is this: “Earth is under threat of invasion. You are pilot of the AEGIS One battlesuit, our last line of defence. Your workout isn’t just about keeping in shape – it’s about saving the world [sic].” The misspelling of the word “defense” does make me question the app designers’ attention to detail. Still, I hoped it would entertain me enough to minimize the agony of jumping jacks, mountain climbers, and other moves designed to torture my body.
For $4.99, it delivers some level of novelty, though not as much as I would like. It delivers the “super-hero” feel through overlaying standard exercise animations with an audio storyline. However, when you are panting through high knee jogs, it is hard to follow along with the mission details. The app designers, though, did a decent job coordinating the plot with the exercise sequence. For instance, when you are defeating whatever enemy is upon you in the story, you are also doing boxing moves. When it is nearing the end of the 25-minute workout, the mission shouts words of encouragement, asking that you not give up. Still, I find standard workout music (think Rocky soundtrack) is a better motivator than imagining I am “clearing out spores.”
While I did not have high expectations for the camera tracking feature, as this is an Ipad app not an Xbox Kinect game, the workout design made tracking even more difficult. For the standard workout, you needed to be able to use a wall, a chair, and stairs. Unless I constantly repositioned the IPad, and subsequently missed a few reps of the workout, some of my moves wouldn’t be tracked. This wasn’t a big issue for me, though, as I was doing the workout moves with a five year old and three year old at times, so I had already discounted the possibility of accurate rep and calorie count. Still, I think the tracking feature is a nice one to include in a fitness application. Tracking works well as a motivator. You feel watched in a way that you do not when you are going through a workout DVD. It’s not the same social pressure as not keeping up in a face-to-face physical fitness class, but it is something.
However, I did like that the game has set up a series of short workouts to choose from in addition to their “missions.” Times vary from 7-11 minutes, so you can do a quick general workout or several target area workouts. The mission workouts range from 16-25 minutes. My children could not keep up physically or mentally with a workout that long. Midway through our second mission workout, as we began jumping jack squats, my three year old stopped and said she couldn’t go on because she “lost her powers.” Later in the workout, amazed that I was still doing the moves, my five year old chanted, “Mama’s a superhero! Mama’s a superhero!” I found this to be the most motivating moment of the workout, as honestly, nothing makes me feel less superhero-like than a push up. The best part for our little family is the workouts that end with the Superman move, where you lay on the floor and simultaneously hold up your arms and legs, probably because this is the most superhero-like move.
Overall, this app motivated me to do exercise moves that I usually avoid. I like it doesn’t make me do a lot of repetitions of one move but constantly changes, usually switching moves every 30-60 seconds. This keeps me from getting bored or giving up when there is a move I particularly hate, such as burpees. I also like that there are 20 different missions and 46 different achievements you can obtain. It makes it as much a game as a workout. If I were to improve upon this game, I would add some graphical interludes during the missions instead of having it simply be an audio story. This would help orient me in the mission and make the experience more immersive. Something for Six to Start, the game designers, to consider as they work on their next game/exercise app.
1. Choose your layout wisely. In general, the more you can customize the layout to your content the better. Stock layouts, especially ones with graphics, tend to shout “amateur”! You want readers to view you as a serious blogger.
Also, for most of our blogs, writing is the focus. Because we are showcasing our voice/knowledge/perspective/wit via text, text should be prominent our layouts. The text box should be given more than half the screen.
2. Consider how individuals read online. Reading online, due to backlit screens, is more difficult than reading a hard copy, print text. Try to avoid long paragraphs. Insert white space between paragraphs and add visual elements when you can. If you are writing a long blog post, consider subheads. Be conscious of the fact that many readers skim content online.
Also, take pity on your reader’s eyes. Use at least a 12-point font. Don’t choose a decorative text for the body (cursive fonts are especially difficult to read). Generally, a sans serif (without legs) font is recommended, such as Arial. Avoid putting a light text on a dark background.
3. Add a profile description and picture. Whenever a new person follows me on Twitter, I always look at their profile description and picture. If they sound interesting, I will then check out their Twitter feed. If they don’t, I quickly forget about them. The same goes for when someone subscribes to my blogs. Names also matter quite a bit. When I changed my Twitter handle from niestermika to theNMwriter, within a day I had a dozen new followers. Until I become a celebrity, the name “niestermika” isn’t going to generate much interest.
4. Take advantage of the medium. On your blog, take advantage of the ability to link, insert images, and embed videos. On Twitter, take advantage of how hashtags will make you visible in a search and attract viewers who are Tweeting on the same subject matter. You should add tags to your blog posts for the same reason.
For my Composition I classes, my students are working on technology autobiographies about the role technology plays or has played in their life. It’s a modification of the assignment designed by Richard Selfe, which I hope will yield more interesting results than those in Writing: A Manual for the Digital Age. I have faith in my students. To aid them in this process, I wrote my own technology autobiography, which centers around the purchase of my first computer.
This is a little more low-tech and mono-modal than I like being in this blog, but it isn’t fair to bring in other, shinier tools in a model essay. Though I am more than a little in love with a screencast version of this assignment I discovered on Youtube:
Okay, here is my textual version of the assignment:
The Return on my IBM Stock
My parents rarely buy anything full price– in fact, I credit all my mathematical skills to the bargain shopping days of my youth. I can quickly calculate percentages off and understand how to calculate what size product is the best value when a coupon variable is added. My family never went to Disney World or even to the movie theater. Our vacations were as value packed as our grocery shopping carts. We took educational tours of the country in our Ecoline Van, back in the days of 99 cent gas — taking in the Rocky Mountains, Yellowstone National Park, Gettysburg, Washington, D.C., etc. This is why when my dad brought home an IBM computer — I knew it was because he believed in its value.
Computers were still rare commodities, straight out of sci-fi fantasy books in the late 80s , early 90s. Instead of the vivid blue graphical interface of today’s Microsoft Windows (version 17 or whatever), our IBM ran through DOS prompt commands. At the age of 10 I was typing out elaborate lines of code to eek out line drawings and shapes that were reminiscent of Spirograph creations, and I loved every minute. As the youngest child in my family, I had been waiting years to be given a command prompt. During high school, I used the computer to practice my typing skills and to type my first research paper, which was on martial arts, a love I can probably tie to hours of playing the clunky, pixelated fantasy game Shogun.
My parents never reaped the rewards from the computer. Their technological prowess peaked with the VCR and even then their knowledge was limited. To this day, I am the one that programs their cell phones and accesses information from the Internet for them. My father, who operates high-tech farm machinery, cannot master home electronics.
Still, it was money not wasted. Like few children of my generation, I had the opportunity to grow up with computers and, therefore, had a natural affinity for them. The very first computer I bought at age 19 cost $3,000, more money than many of my friends at the time spent on their first vehicles. I built my first website on this computer, discovered alternative music before Napster became illegal, typed the first of pages of the novel which would later become my master’s thesis in fiction writing, and kept in touch with friends via email (there was no Facebook at the time). A few years later, I would built my own computer from scratch with the help of some computer engineering friends. It made me feel like a feminist to construct and operate technology as well as my male counterparts.
The most important skill I learned from my technological endeavors is discovery through play. I became a graphic designer mostly through hands-on, trial and error training — much like those early days of writing code under a dos prompt. I remember the first week of my internship at a newspaper, trying to figure out the logic of QuarkXpress. In my interview, I said I could do page layouts. However, my only experience was with a much simpler program. Someone in the classifieds department took pity on me and gave me a few pride-saving tips. Three years later I was the periodicals editor at a liberal arts college, overseeing all the publications and running my own freelance graphic design business on the side.
Even after I abandoned graphic design to become a graduate student in English, I still found value in my technical skills. As I moved from my master’s in fiction writing to my doctorate in rhetoric, I found myself continuously drawn to new media ecologies. I became fascinated by cultural ramifications of search engine algorithms, the phenomenon of “going viral,” and the potential for online activism. These explorations of the relationship between composition, rhetoric, and technology are what gave me an edge when it came to job applications. It also led to the completion of my Ph.D.
For me, few dollars have ever been as well spent as those that went towards my first computers. When my father brought that IBM home, he knew computers would be a significant part of the future. However, he couldn’t have foreseen how significant they would be in my future in particular.
Here’s the questions I have so far. Please comment with suggestions if think an additional question needs to be added. I’m basing these off of the Norton Handbook’s defining of the rhetorical situation:
- What do you want to do with your Twitter feed and blog. Entertain? Inform? Persuade? Self promote? Make money? Write to learn? Gain professional development?
- How do you want to be perceived? Authoritative? Relatable? Witty? Well-read?
- What do you want your audience to do, think, or feel? How will they use what you tell them or share with them? What kind of response do you want? How can you elicit it?
- What is your audience’s background—their education and life experiences?
- What’s your relationship with your audience, and how does it affect your language and tone?
- How can you best appeal to your audience?
- What’s the appropriate look for your rhetorical situation? Should your blog design/profile picture look serious? Whimsical? Personal?
- How can you make best use of the mediums? (For example: What can be visual? What hashtags are relevant? Where can you add links?)
- How does the genre dictate your design style and writing choices? (For example: You should have shorter paragraphs and more white space when writing online)
We begin our new media writing journey with blogging and Tweeting, where success hinges upon on our ability to develop a distinct voice, to identify our audience, and to network. For example, there are thousands of cooking and lifestyle blogs online. To standout you need a unique lens, a fresh perspective, humor, or an innovative approach. Consider one of the most successful examples of a cooking and lifestyle blog, Pioneer Woman, which led to a show on the Food Network. She capitalized on the fact that she lives a lifestyle that most of us can only imagine on a large cattle ranch in Oklahoma. It has humor, tradition, and cowboys. Of course, not all of us are willing to market ourselves and our lives in that much detail.
“In Confessions, I post photos of cows, horses, and my four weird children…as well as frequent shots of my husband wearing chaps” – The Pioneer Woman
Blogging begins by asking what it is you have to offer your audience. Could you deliver informed and educated cultural commentary, a humorous take on everyday life, a skill you can teach others, etc.? Examine successful blogs that fall into the same category as yours (technology how-to, parenting, pop culture) — what makes them standout in the crowd? Next, we learn about your potential audience through Twitter, Facebook, and Pinterest — discovering what they (moms, gamers, fans) are most likely to retweet, share, or pin.
Like the Pioneer Woman, who left big city life to become a rural homemaker, new media writers are also on a journey. We are operating in a constantly evolving medium. As soon as we learn one application, we must transfer our knowledge to another. I am here to document these journeys. That is what I have to offer my audience. My lens is my academic training, which helps me understand the distributed agency that exists within online writing. We are dependent on our technology and on our network of viewers. To be successful, I not only have to be witty, creative, and informed, I need to have a readership that can put my advice into practice, offer commentary, and spread the word.