Blog 6: Digital Rhetoric (Humans of NY)

To be completely honest, I was and still am a bit unclear as to what exactly constitutes as digital rhetoric. However, from what I can gather, it’s creating an argument or a message using technology and digital media. Here’s hoping this is at least somewhat right, because based off of that assumption I’ve selected what I consider to be a super compelling piece of digital rhetoric: the Instagram account Humans of New York.

While the account itself isn’t rhetoric, it’s the images and captioned stories that make up the account which I find to be both compelling and intriguing. You can find the account complete with dozens of photos and captioned stories hereI think this account and how it provides insight into the human psyche works for a number of reasons. For starters, it greatly utilizes the visual aspect. Even without the caption, each photo tells a story, and all of the pictures are clear, vibrant and captivating. Moving on to what I find to be most compelling, the captions, each captioned picture provides a simple quote from the person being photographed, but that simple quote says so much more than the words written. Whether it be a little girl expressing how she “Wants to be a fairy” so her and her friend can “fly around together,” or an old man’s recounting of his beloved wife who passed away, both the pictures and captions expose the raw emotions of each individual.

I think this account is so captivating and moving because it perfectly depicts the complexity of the human species. It’s clear from both the emotions reflected in the photos and the stories behind the stories being told in each caption, that there is so much more to each of these people than what they’re concretely speaking or presenting to the world. The account itself seems to be making the argument that as humans, we often think we might know someone. We might look at an individual and assume one thing, or we might hear something about them and think something else. However, until you take the time to sit and attempt to have genuine conversation with someone (as the person running the account does), you can’t possibly understand who they are or where they’re coming from. You need to hear their stories, and their stories behind their stories to get a better understanding of how an individual became the person they are. Looking and assuming won’t allow you to uncover their layers, but asking them to tell you something just might.

Rebecca Soverinsky

Rebecca is a Junior (please send help for her mental state in accepting this and a walker for her aging body) studying Communications at the University of Michigan. She believes award show season is the best season (shout out to E! News) and is always willing to take on a challenge or learn something new- as long as there is Nutella involved. She hopes to learn as much as she can from the Sweetland Minor in Writing, and she's excited to see what's in store.

3 thoughts to “Blog 6: Digital Rhetoric (Humans of NY)”

  1. Hi Becca,

    I completely agree – I think HONY is an excellent example of digital rhetoric. It certainly primarily employs written rhetoric, but I can’t imagine what half of the stories would be like without the visual component his outstanding photography adds to them. Even when it’s a straightforward portrait, it’s helpful to add a face to the stranger-than-fiction stories he posts daily, but the account’s rhetoric is surely at its best when he posts pictures that add a new dimension to each story, such as obscuring the faces of those who’s stories read best anonymously. The rhetoric question that, to me, has always surrounded this account is how the photographer himself elicits these stories from strangers on the street. His aural rhetoric must be insane to create the stories he does from chance encounters in NY. Great post; I can’t imagine there’s many people out there who have internet access and haven’t come across HONY yet, but if there are, I certainly hope your post helps to spread awareness.


  2. Hi Becca,
    Humans of New York is one of my favorite instagram accounts. It does such a nice job of telling someone’s personal story in very few words. The instagram account offers a glimpse into someone’s life, and I think that’s why it’s so compelling. The stories, though sometimes told in as few as a sentence or two, say so much about humanity and can broaden the audience to issues they hadn’t been familiar with. I think storytelling in this way is a great means of connecting an audience to an issue because it gives the audience a personal connection. In this way, digital rhetoric like HONY can really have an impact on social change.

  3. I really love the photos, and I absolutely agree that they humanize the people in New York. You could never give the same effect with only words. Their body language, facial expression, background, what they’re doing tells the audience so much. The pictures also makes it feel like you’re there in person to see the snapshot being taken.

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