Blog 11: Rhetoric in the blogosphere

Blog 11: Rhetoric in the blogosphere

This entry follows Richard Toye’s conversation on the footprints of rhetoric in our modern world. As we have discussed in class, it is hard to unsee the works of rhetoric once you’ve obtained the vocabulary and frameworks to examine the everyday events, tools, and interactions in our lives. The purpose of the second assignment in this course, the rhetorical analysis of a digital technology or internet communications, serves to augment that experience.

It is easy to normalize the tools we use on a daily basis such that they become (in a sense) invisible to us. For instance, we don’t necessarily pay attention to the colors of the menus and tool bar on our word-processing software when we compose in them. Also, we tend not to focus too much on the font style, size, spacing, and paragraphing when writing papers.

These are instances that demonstrate the pervasiveness of rhetoric in writing technology. There are reasons––rhetorical reasons––for why these designs are made to fade into the background of the activity of writing. One reason, as we might guess, is to increase productivity. With the menus and tool bars being less intrusive to the writing process, writers may focus their attention on the writing itself––not the other texts and shapes surrounding the writing. This would presumably allow the writer to write more or better. This functional appeal is rhetorical at its best because it serves to enhance user experience (think pathos) and thus making them want to use them more often (or choose one word-processing software over another).

Some examples I have drawn from the blogging (used to be a writing-intensive activity) world are these:

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Composing dashboards and spaces are becoming more “distraction-free” so bloggers can be (arguably) more creative using the open canvas they are served by their respective blogging platforms.

And that is just one among the countless examples where rhetorical decisions play crucial roles in the design and uses of technology. More importantly, culture and context underlie all of these rhetorical decisions. For examples, we can see how design evolves from time to time based on people’s expectation and preferences, as seen below.


You may also read the interesting article on the evolution of blogging on HubSpot.

As you analyze the technology you’ve chosen for your second assignment. Consider the various facets of the rhetorical situation and rhetorical appeals, if you are using them, as you examine how your selected technology is built, used, and marketed.

For purposes of discussion, I pose these questions:

  • Toye asks his readers to perform a rhetorical analysis of his book at the end of the conclusion section. What do you think he hopes to find?
  • How might you compare rhetorical analysis to other forms of analysis, such as psychological and behavioral analyses, physical examination, social studies, etc.?

Toye, Richard. Rhetoric: A very short introduction. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press. [Chapters 4 & conclusion]

Blog 10: Rhetorical toolkit for analysis

Blog 10: Rhetorical toolkit for analysis

Having studied rhetoric from the perspectives of Writing Studies and technical communication, it is rather refreshing to read what a historian like Richard Toye thinks of rhetorical theory. Although Toye has done a decent job presenting the basic elements of rhetoric, I would opt for a different presentation order.

The foundational knowledge of rhetoric––with respect to oratory––begins with the types (branches) of speech: forensic, epideictic, and deliberative. The next most important element of rhetoric would be the five canons: invention, arrangement, style, memory, and delivery.

Toyes then goes into explicating the three appeals: logos, ethos, and pathos. While the Aristotelian triangle is famous among classical rhetoricians, I think it is important that students learn about the rhetorical situation first.

Credited to Lloyd Bitzer, the rhetorical situation is a heuristic for understanding any given communicative moments that require rhetorical decisions. A rhetorical situation includes the following: Author/stance, audience, message, purpose, medium, genre, design, and context. The particulars of a situation help a rhetorician to understand the strategies or methods one employs to resolve a given challenge.

A simpler version of the rhetorical situation is sometimes presented as the rhetorical triangle, which focuses on the author, audience, and purpose.

The branches of speech, five canons, three appeals, rhetorical situation, and the rhetorical triangle make up the basic package of rhetorical toolkit, which can be used to perform simply rhetorical analysis on texts (broadly defined).

What I appreciate about Toye’s presentation, though, is the coverage of visual rhetoric. Although it is becoming common that rhetoric texts now commonly tip their hats to visual communication, it is important to note that some rhetorical elements are more applicable in visual situations that others. For instance, the branches of speech cannot be ported directly into visual analysis. Most of the five canons might be used to analyze visual design. The rhetorical appeals and rhetorical situation are the two methods that can be more effortlessly applied to visual rhetorical analysis.

For the purposes of discussion, I ask:

  • Which of the above “methods” do you find most useful for a rhetorical analysis?
  • Why are some methods privileged over the others?

Toye, Richard. Rhetoric: A very short introduction. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press. [Chapters 2 & 3]

Blog 9: Rhetoric as classical education

Blog 9: Rhetoric as classical education

One of the most intriguing things I have learned from studying rhetoric is its influence on our education systems. We seldom reflect on histories that lead to the development of current educational ideologies, structures, and approaches. Through rhetoric, we can get a glimpse of how and why certain disciplines endured while others were replaced by new disciplines in the passage of time.

As a historian, Richard Toye opens his book with a discussion of typical public assumption of rhetoric, but he quickly moves into discussing (in Chapter 1) how rhetoric underlies the founding of a liberal education system in the classical Greek and then Roman eras.

In the period after Aristotle’s death, rhetorical study became an increasingly essential part of upper class young men’s education. Their studies would include the progymnasmata–a series of basic rhetorical exercises–as well more advanced forms of practice and explorations of theory. (p.15)

Toye shows how rhetoric went dimmed in the Dark Ages and was revived in the Renaissance as one of the three parts in a “Trivium” curriculum (the other two parts were grammar and logic). Came Enlightenment and Revolution periods, rhetoric was classified as classical learning and “was at the centre of the humanist education” (p.23). Enlightenment shaped “the way that rhetoric was delivered and received” (p.24).

The next big turn in rhetorical education did not come until the 18th century, when the printing press popularized mass literacy, and mass media became a focus for rhetoricians.

Today, we associate rhetoric mainly to political speeches and public policies (rightfully given the origin of rhetoric in demagogy). However, like the medieval times, we have lost focus of its uses and purposes since the majority only thinks of rhetoric as flattery or pandering to specific audiences.

At many times and in many places, rhetoric has been seen as a complete system of education, sufficient to prepare rulers for the task of governing–it has also been highly controversial, seen by some as a technique by which the unscrupulous can deceive the masses. (p.31)

As scholars we should investigate how rhetoric fits in our everyday lives, and how might we go about leveraging on the classical knowledge that has guided humanity through civilizations. For discussion, I pose these questions:

  • Why should we bother to study rhetoric today, anyway?
  • What are some instances of rhetoric you see in your everyday life? What makes them stand out to you?
  • Toye says, “Rhetoric cannot be conceived purely in terms of text and language, separate from the technical means by which it is conveyed to listeners and readers” (p.4). How have these “technical means” evolved over the past few decades, and what impacts did/do they have on the ways we persuade others?

Toye, Richard (2013). Rhetoric: A very short introduction. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press. [Introduction & Chapter 1]

Blog 8: Social sharing and online piracy

Blog 8: Social sharing and online piracy

In his last sprint, Johnny Ryan turns to the social and political effects the new web has in our increasingly globalized society. Ryan focuses on how the social internet encourages mass collaboration (which we discussed in our last class session), and how that leads to new openings in the ways we create, contain, and share knowledge and ideas. Ryan has covered the problems in social sharing over the web, particular piracy, due to the lack of regulations in the early phase of peer-to-peer sharing.

I believe many of us have been a participant in online piracy, either through sharing content without appropriate permission, or downloading or viewing content that are shared illegally. This phenomenon is native to internet culture. As Ryan points out, it is more difficult for similar piracy to happen with non-digital content, such as books, scripts, and other physical creative work. Digital works, such as music, are easy victims of online piracy.

I have been interested in the implications of online piracy to the entertainment business. From what I can observe, the music and show business have had to change their models in order to cope with the culture of online sharing. Take for example the recording industry that Ryan has highlighted in his book– how it shifted from a physical distribution model to a digital, online format. According to Ryan, YouTube and iTunes are deconstructing the sales models of artists and their recording company. The need to shift to a social sharing sales method is necessary for the survival of business, since not many consumers are willing to spend big bucks on physical albums anymore.

That leads to considerations of co-advertising, native advertising, and targeted commercials on social platforms. For those who are interested in these new revenue generating methods, I recommend doing a project to investigate the impacts of the web on specific businesses.

Also of interests to those who want to read more on peer-to-peer sharing, I recommend one of our faculty’s book: Logie, John (2006). Peers, pirates, persuasion: Rhetoric in the peer-to-peer debates. Anderson, SC: Parlor Press.

My discussion questions for this class session are:

  • How should we handle piracy issues? Are current methods efficient or justifiable?
  • What are the benefits of peer sharing in the education context?


Ryan, J. (2010). A history of the internet and the digital future. London, UK: Reaktion Books. [Phase 3: 11, 12, & 13]

Blog 7: From the internet to the web

Blog 7: From the internet to the web

The focus of phase 2 is truly on how the internet as a technological invention becomes a social artifact, used to facilitate everyday information exchange and interpersonal interactions. Ryan discusses in chapters 8, 9, and 10 the rise of the World Wide Web as a celebrated brain child of early internet evangelists. What I really enjoyed reading was chapter 10, where Ryan narrates the rise of mass collaboration on the web.

Many internet studies scholars focus on the use of the internet (here I use “internet” and “the web” interchangeably) for sharing and co-creation of information. Ryan mentions in chapter 10 that the rise of the social web has encouraged–and in many ways formalized–user-generated content. Some call this phenomenon the “2.0” of the internet. Whereas web 1.0 is usually referred to as a read-online platform, web 2.0 enables users to participate in the production process of information.

Media scholar Henry Jenkins calls this a participatory culture on the internet.

Jenkins asserts that the internet is a marketplace of ideas; no ones everything, but everyone knows something– so together users can help one another learn by contributing to a common repository of knowledge.

While it is fair that anyone should be able to contribute to online content, Ryan shows that there are processes in place to help ensure the accuracy, credibility, and usefulness of information generated by the average user. These processes–such as peer review–are borrowed from professional (academic) practices that trace back to as far as the 1600s, when the first academic journal was founded.

However, what’s different between print knowledge and information on the web is that the latter is “plastic” (in Ryan’s word). It means that online content tends to change to adapt to the needs to its user. Information are becoming just-in-time and best for the given context rather than a static form of texts carved into stoned monuments. Particularly important is that information can also be personalized for these contextual needs.

This brings me to my discussion questions:

  • In what forms do peer critiques manifest online?
  • What are the restrictions of the current web in terms of peer production of knowledge and information personalization?

Ryan, J. (2010). A history of the internet and the digital future. London, UK: Reaktion Books. [Phase 2: 8, 9, & 10]

Blog 6: Pal around the internet

Blog 6: Pal around the internet

In many ways our class discussion on Monday fits nicely into Johnny Ryan’s phase 2 chapters, especially chapter 6 on internet communities. Not to be exaggerated, but the history of the internet has left a legacy of free spirit and hacking. As Ryan points out, the “phone phreaks” community that grow out of the phone network has bled into the early internet community as well.

The internet encourages congregation of like-minded individuals to form communities that are based around interest rather than geographical location. I think many of us can testify to that by reflecting on how we have used the internet to locate those who share similar hobbies, skills sets or practices, values, and personal ideologies. Think social networks like Facebook and Myspace, and dating or match-making sites like Tinder and Grindr. Of course. there are also other formats that these communities exit within to allow for the exchange of information, ideas, and mere interactions.

This makes me question Ryan’s notion of virtual intimacy. I am curious to find out what we think as constituting intimacy or closeness online. These days, we are constantly negotiating the ethics and acceptable practices for interacting with others online. While this notion may be more easily conceived in terms personal relationships–such as family or partners or friends–it gets complicated when we are dealing with others on a professional level (like our superiors, teachers, or potential employers).

To that end, I ask the following questions for our class discussion:

  • How do we measure/understand virtual intimacy? Are there cultural variables that we need to take into considerations?
  • How has online interpersonal interactions affected the way we live, learn, play, and work today?

Ryan, J. (2010). A history of the internet and the digital future. London, UK: Reaktion Books. [Phase 2: 5, 6, & 7]

Blog 5: Centrifugal internet

Blog 5: Centrifugal internet

Johnny Ryan’s A History of the Internet and the Digital Future definitely gives us a fresh perspective to the development of the internet compared to Blum’s narrative. A researcher and journalist, Ryan highlights the core concepts of the early internet and what makes it revolutionary.

In Phase 1, Ryan explains that the initial concept for packet switching did come from the need to build a communications system to withstand nuclear attack. The discussion then turns to the advent of communication between computers, which sprang from a group of graduate students who used a collaborative process to create the network.

A term that caught my attention was the “centrifugal”-ness of the internet. Upon a quick look-up on Google, centrifugal means fleeing from the center. In physics, centrifugal “force” is usually used to describe the inertia an object gains while circling a central point, which gives the object the tendency to fly outward rather than following the curve path. I use quotation marks around the term “force” because it is not a real force. The tendency for the object in movement to fly out of its orbit is due to the object’s inertia rather than an actual pull exerted onto the moving object.

Thinking about this “force” in terms of the internet, Ryan observes that the big idea in the internet is the absence of the central gravity. The internet was an idea invented to be decentralized with multiple nodes and links to form networks, and networks of networks. The absence of centralized control allows the networks to survive when come under attack. You can read more about Ryan’s explanation here.


Furthermore, this distributedness thrives on user-driven content creation and management such that no one authorized management governs the whole operation of the internet. On the flip side of the coin, this also means that every user of the internet has a stake on the security of the internet. I look forward to discussing this notion of user involvement in our class this week. For that, my questions are:

  • As thought experiment, imagine the internet as a centralized network; what would have been different compared to our internet culture today?
  • What’s the role of computer games in the history of history development?

Ryan, J. (2010). A history of the internet and the digital future. London, UK: Reaktion Books. [Phase 1: 1, 2, 3, 4]