Tag Archives: publishing

Visual Rhetoric: The Frustrating Frontier

Hansens_final_logBig shocking announcement: I’m a Star Trek nerd. I know, I know… I carried that secret so well for so many years, you can be excused for not knowing until I decided to let on just now.

All kinds of arguments can be made about why pre-teen me attached himself so firmly to Star Trek (specifically The Next Generation): maybe it was accessible morality plays and overlays of real world issues (like all good sci fi); perhaps I appreciated the role models of strong, thoughtful, responsible men when I  lacked a positive father figure; Trek certainly offered escapism from middle school unpopularity. All of those arguments would be valid, but for a child growing up on the cusp of the tech revolution, I also liked the shiny high-tech world the Enterprise crew inhabited. I of course liked high-profile devices like phasers, photon torpedoes, and tricorders, but also ranking highly amongst those devices was the PADD (personal access display device). I think it was easy and compelling to see the power of having access to a computer in the palm of your hand.

Move forward two decades and we have the realization of the PADD in the form of the iPad (that had to factor at least marginally in the naming choice, right?) and other tablet media devices. I’ll skip past the “magical” and “revolutionary” Apple product intro talking points – we can suffice with the fact that these are great, versatile devices that have opened up avenues of access and media saturation far broader than we could have imagined when they were non-functioning slabs of plastic on our television screens in 1990.

Yet these devices aren’t perfect. Perhaps we’re still in the phase of initial remediation Delagrange details in Chapter 2 of Technologies of Wonder, because I’m pretty sure that the Enterprise crew never had to deal with issues of media compatibility, non-supported file formats, and locked-in, low-functionality mobile versions of websites that were the only option for PADD access. We want our iPads to be universally functional stand-ins for books, full-OS desktops/laptops, and television, but we have to get by right now knowing that most things will work really well, but that we’ll also encounter the occasional website or service that just can’t translate to the tablet experience. It is then that we become acutely aware of the mode and its effect on the media we are trying to consume.

Delagrange notes the problems we may be experiencing right now as we realign our interactions and expectations of media:

With all media, but particularly with new media, the viewer experiences an oscillation between immediacy, the sense of immersion in or “liveness” of the medium, and hypermediacy, the ways in which the medium calls attention to its mediation . . . for most people, immediacy—a transparently “real” experience of a medium that erases the frame and appears to provide unmediated access to its content—is the over-arching desire of new media, and the desire of their users. (27)

And a bit later:

Hypermediacy, on the other hand, which calls attention to its mediation through the accumulative effect of stacking, layering, linking, juxtaposing, and other visual, verbal, and aural strategies, would seem to resist a unified perspective, offering a multiplicity of points of view on every screen … hypermediacy only reminds users of the immediacy they desire. If this is the unstated goal of remediation—a “new, improved” way to inhabit the same old unexamined Cartesian spaces and relations of knowledge and power—it is little wonder that conventional, conservative, transparent practices of “appropriate” academic discourse tend to reassert themselves in new media spaces. (27)

When the effect of this remediation kicks in fully, we’re reminded that we’ve not chosen the “real” thing. This reminder carries with it all the thoughts new media doesn’t want us to think – frustrations that content doesn’t “just work,” belief that the mode being used is amateurish or underdeveloped, or half-hearted plans to revisit the content in its optimized mode later – all of which risk translating into a negative reader judgment regarding the author(s) and their work.

Delagrange notes that this type of remediation struggle has occurred in preceding format expansions such as painting-to-photography, stage-to-film, radio-to-TV. I’m acutely aware that in these moments there were doomsayers that history looked badly upon once the shift was fully realized and it was clear the world had kept on spinning, so I won’t proclaim the sky is falling. I will note, however, that this shift is objectively different and may therefore produce different results. These medium shifts that precede were generally 1:1, content in one ubiquitous format moving to another eventually ubiquitous format. This shift from all of the above to new media is multi-channel. We have dozens of different options for consuming any single type of media, including the academy’s ongoing discussion. One app will work with a handful of streams, but not another handful of other sources. Content providers or device manufacturers, through business arrangements or self-promotion, choose to actively preclude certain providers’ streams altogether. On top of that, hardware in use is in varying degrees of compatibility. I can’t really use an iPad 1 anymore because Apple has stopped updating its OS and the apps I use to consume media streams are increasingly less compatible with the older, slower, less-capable iOS 5x. In a fundamental way, this fractured pressure to consume different streams, in different spaces, and on different devices will stand as a barrier to hypermedia unifying to monolithic, ubiquitous standard for quite some time, and perhaps indefinitely. This is a disincentive to publish in new media. We’re familiar with the channels we’ve been using for so long, and we can’t unify between one or even a small handful of channels, so the new media alternative is inherently more fragmented.

I’d like to think that in the unseen moments of Star Trek, we see Worf snarling and hurling his decrepit and barely functioning iPADD 35 across his quarters because the app he used to fill out his routine security briefings has crashed one too many times. His dark mood will continue into the turbolift to the bridge, where a smug Riker will sing the virtues of his iPADD 37S, and where Data will innocently (and therefore annoyingly to Worf) outline the virtues of the most recent build of Android OS.  Maybe that’s why Worf is always in such a dour state.

Visual Rhetoric: Before you can deconstruct

Several years back, when I was just beginning to start my graduate career, I had one of my favorite conversations ever with Scott Russell, the coordinator of the Marian E. Wright Writing Center. I had started tutoring there not too long before, and while I can’t remember for the life of me how we got there (one can rarely remember the beginning of conversations with Scott – usually you’re left staggering with yet another sobering readjustment of your understanding of The Way Things Are), I can recall this was when I realized the perfect storm that is academic momentum: in order to change academia, you have to prove yourself to academia, and in order to prove yourself to academia, you must play long enough by academia’s rules that when you have finally achieved enough power and privilege to critique the structure, you are less likely to do so because you’ll be tearing at the very foundation of your own authority. Thus begets and sustains the revolving door of firebrands being tempered into the same tools that maintain the system they set out to tackle. A few strays make it through with their convictions intact, but they are now too few to institute the radical sweeping change they once thought themselves on the cusp of. The cycle repeats.

I started my reading of Delagrange linearly with chapter 1, and was quickly reminded of this conversation above. While there is a handful of “non-traditional” publications that offer limited resistance, Delagrange’s point stands: “Unadorned text, written in plain style and organized in a way that can readily be outlined, has long been the paradigm for scholarly performances and it has been presumed to fit all ‘legitimate’ academic scholarship. Legitimacy, however, is a conservative, hereditary principle that protects the interests of those who claim it” (10). Sound familiar?

The reason we continue to see the visual mode of Text On A Page perpetuate – even to the point where most online only publications still release their editions formatted to look like a physically printed volume in order to appease the academy’s expectations as defined by The Way Things Are (something else Delagrange notes). The catch here is that I’m willing to bet there’s a lot more appetite for this change to take hold buried beneath the surface in everyone who’s playing by the rules, but we’re all waiting on each other to flinch first.

Anyone who makes it far into the academy realizes quickly that significant scholarly inquiry is defined not by the window dressing, but by the substance of the ideas and discussion created. It’s just a matter of time before the academy changes to stop the privileging of black ink on off-white paper, right? We’re all waiting for that change to take hold. While we wait for the winds to change, however, we’ll just submit our next publication to a traditional outlet. Just this time, so we can add it to our C.V. without having to be defensive. Next time we’ll try another more “unconventional” outlet.

I’m still at a point where I haven’t been published (except for a book review), but I can see that pressure at work on my future, and I can see how easily this publication cold war with the academy will stretch out. Thank you Scott – and damn you, Scott – for helping me achieve so pragmatic a POV so early. I’ll do what I can to help tear down the wall.

Just lemme get something published in a traditional journal first.