Navigating the digital world

To the college-aged student, it can be difficult to imagine an education and upbringing without projectors, laptops, and Google. The way in which students learn, interact, and communicate today is almost entirely digital. This “digital literacy” and “visual rhetoric” come second nature to us. Scrolling, clicking, and downloading do not strike us as things to be learned, they are just things we do daily. However, as writers, one of the most important concepts to understand and constantly refer to is audience consideration. Just because we know how to create websites, upload videos, and share photo albums digitally does not mean our target audience does. Mary E. Hock’s “Understanding Visual Rhetoric in Digital Writing Environments” addresses this phenomenon and interdisciplinary disconnect. She discusses how we have transitioned from print to digital writing realms and how they differ, as well as relate, as modes of communication.

Hock focuses mainly on the characteristics unique to the rhetoric of digital writing spaces: audience stance (interactivity), transparency (connection to traditional writing), and hybridity (visuals plus verbal) (2003, p. 632). “New technologies simply require new definitions of what we consider writing” summarizes Hock’s thesis (2003, p. 630). Online writing allows for reader comments, hyperlinking to additional sources, sharing of articles, and multimedia display of content. Like a physical book, a blog can also communicate eloquent language, but in an interactive and user-generated manner. These modern characteristics (audience stance, transparency, and hybridity) help to outline society’s new definitions and perceptions of writing, rhetoric, and communication.

Hock is not the first to define and distinguish what visual rhetoric looks like in the digital world. However, her article is exceptional in the fact that she also points out the similarities between printed and digital rhetoric. Highlighting their connections helps to bridge the gap between how audiences interact and digest both writing forms. She considers digital, visual rhetoric to be a hybrid space. By using familiar elements, or “conventions”, typical in printed works (typography, spacing, margins, consistent color, organization), audiences can learn the digital nuances while maintaining some familiarity along the way. Hock’s notes this technique eloquently: “colors, visual metaphors, and graphical repetitions . . . guide us through a meditation about our own perceptions, expectations, and attitudes regarding the visual in relation to text” (2003, p. 638). This allows for older audiences to learn how to navigate digital spaces, as well as allows for gradual progression into even more modern digital media. Hock’s article hits the key concerns and trends we should all be taking note of in this digital era.

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