Digital Rhetoric Behind & Beyond the Screen

Attending this workshop at the RSA Summer Institute 2017 was an amazing experience where I made connections with colleagues and got to work on some really interesting projects. Below you will find the group projects I worked on with Yunye Yu and Jason Jarvis during the Digital Rhetoric Behind & Beyond the Screen workshop.

Herman B Wells Library | Picture by  Vmenkov

Herman B Wells Library | Picture by Vmenkov

One of the tasks from the Digital Rhetorics Behind & Beyond the Screen Seminar was to create a soundscape of the Herman B Wells Library. Working with Yunye Yu from Georgia State University and Jason Jarvis from Loyola Marymout University, we created the below soundscape.

We also did work with physical computing using an Arduino uno. For our physical computing, we attempted to regulate the sound of the library with a device that made a sound if the library noise level got too high or too low. Physical computing is a litany of trial and error, so we were unable to complete our project. However, we were able to get the sound sensor to actually work and give a readout.

How does sound regulate bodies?

Our projects have attempted to examine the relationship between the expected and actual use of the space, or, in Foucauldian terms, the disciplinary nature of the library. We’ve done this through both our physical computing device as well as our soundscape. Our physical computing device enhances the disciplinary nature of the library by providing a buzzer whenever the volume in the space is over the threshold for a sustained amount of time, thus encouraging persons in the space to regulate their own volume. In this way, we are exploring the ways in which sound regulates bodies as sonic discipline. Conversely, our soundscape shows the conflict between intended use by including sounds such as books being taken from the shelf, leafed through, and closed. The body of knowledge available in the library is represented by a traditional Iranian song, representative of the Silk Road and the harmonious combination of multiple cultures’ instruments. This music sonically represents the substantial Inner Asian texts available at the Herman B. Wells Library. In contrast to these more “traditional” sounds of the library, we included some disruptive anti-social sounds. Sounds of the modern world such as cell phones vibrating and video game noises, as well as the more analog noises of human bodies eating, talking, and sleeping in the library. These sounds represent the disruption of the discipline and the intended use of the library space. Here, human bodies and technology provide a sort of sonic disruption to the disciplinary nature of a quiet library space.

From the RSA Institute Program Description:

Digital Rhetoric Behind & Beyond the Screen

Seminar Leaders:

Jim Brown, Rutgers University-Camden
Casey Boyle, University of Texas at Austin
Steph Ceraso, University of Virginia

From smart homes to smart cities, digital processes now underlie our everyday lives in ways that are difficult to see. While the computer screen has long served as a way to understand the demarcation between digital and non-digital, online and offline, we have entered a situation in which the line is fuzzier than ever. In response, this seminar asks: What does the rhetorician do now that digital rhetorics can no longer be confined to screens? The proposition for this seminar is that digital rhetoric now extends beyond our traditional avenues of inquiry and underlies areas we once thought to be non-digital. New scholarship demonstrates that “digital rhetoric” is no longer easily locatable as it now pervades discussions of hardware, software, physical & ubiquitous computing, digital audio, haptic interfaces, wearable devices, and even the general infrastructural shifts brought about by communication technology. These new foci open up difficult questions for rhetoric, ethics, and politics. Given these tectonic shifts, how do techniques of persuasion, communication, control, and resistance function in these new technological environs? If digital technology is no longer seen as a mere tool but rather as an ambient condition, which rhetorical strategies should we now amplify and which shall we allow to fade? The time is now for examining digital rhetorics as a set of practices that include screens but persist behind and reach beyond them.

The seminar will explore concerns for this expanded digital rhetoric through a mix of theory and practice. We will pair scholarship in digital rhetoric and adjacent fields (e.g., media studies, infrastructure theory, sonic studies) with practice in a series of hands-on exercises. In combining a conception of the “technological” as both theory and practice, we propose and respond to questions about emerging methodologies, shifting disciplinarity, and fluctuating ethics that an expanded digital rhetoric poses for academics working in an age of ambient technology.

Seminar participants will examine a shared reading list through discussion and group annotation, engage in a series of hands-on activities (activities which may include: prototyping with Arduinos and Raspberry Pis, creating ad hoc networks, and field recording/sonic design), and workshop individual projects. Ultimately, the seminar offers an opportunity for its participants to accelerate individual projects as well as to help sketch out an itinerary for advancing digital rhetorical theory and practice.

Tentative Readings will include selections by: David Rieder, Keller Easterling, Seb Franklin, Rob Kitchin, Isabel Pedersen, Salome Voegelin,Yuk Hui, Tony Sampson, Sara Hendren, Jonathan Sterne, Brandon LaBelle, Laura Marks, Heidi Rae Cooley, Finn Brunton & Helen Nissenbaum, Jason Farman, and Elizabeth Losh.