The Diag Preacher Yelled at Me and other Multimodal Stories

UMMA Screening of the NY Philharmonic

Last Tuesday night, while I was walking back to my apartment, I happened to catch a video screening. Normally I wouldn’t pay too much attention, but you don’t get many chances to watch an orchestra play on the side of a building. I later learned that the U of M’s Museum of Modern Art has been doing a bunch of nightly screenings on the side of the building, and I had caught the beginning of a live performance of the N.Y. Philharmonic playing “Mahler’s 5th Symphony”. I’m not going to pretend I’m a classical music fan. I didn’t even know Mahler was on his 1st symphony. That said, the novelty of the whole situation made me take notice, and trying to view the screening as a multimodal text only made it more interesting.

For one, outside of an introductory screen with expository text, there was barely any use of the linguistic mode. I always consider language, both written and verbal, as the primary means of communication. However, this performance was naturally dominated by an aural mode. Watching artists perform also was a very different aural experience for me, as I consume almost all of my music through headphones. Part of the effect was that the performers body language (gestural mode) was easily conveyed, and that energy got through to me as a viewer. Finally, the choice of screening this performance on side of the UMMA (spatial mode) was an effective way of reaching an audience that normally might not engage with classical music, such as myself.

Guy Preaching on the Diag

Anyone who has been on campus an appreciable amount of time knows that the Diag is not just home to clubs and fundraisers, but also some very impassioned doomsayers. The preacher I saw today didn’t have a giant sign telling me I was living a life of sin, so in my book he wasn’t that bad, and today he actually had a small crowd. I wasn’t sure if they were there out of curiosity (I definitely caught a friend filming on his phone and laughing), or if they really resonated with the whole fire and brimstone thing. Say what you will about this guy, but he was a solid orator. Obviously his speech was firmly in the linguistic mode, but his body language (gestural mode) and intonation (aural mode) are what made him effective. The Bible in his hand was also a strong visual indicator to cement his position of preaching salvation. I also shouldn’t have been all that surprised that he had a crowd, considering the sheer volume of people that move through the Diag every day. His choice of location (spatial mode) was definitely effective, in that even a lousy fisherman can be successful in a river teeming with fish. I wasn’t really looking to be caught though.

Me at the Gym

I’ll preface by saying that overgeneralizations are a logical fallacy, and never apply to everyone. Now that that’s out of the way, let me say that anyone that tells you that they aren’t self-conscious at the gym is definitely lying. I’m not saying that my every waking moment in the CCRB is spent thinking about what other people are thinking of me. However, I do think that the gym is a venue in which comparing yourself with others is inevitable. It’s almost too easy to look over and see what weight the other guy’s pushing, then look at what you’re pushing, and then do some mental math. In light of that, the way I conduct myself at the gym can be viewed as a multimodal performance. The visual mode of what I choose to wear immediately springs to mind (I didn’t wear tanks until a year into working out). Interacting with other gym-goers (“hey can I work in with you?, “How many more sets do you got?”) falls under the linguistic mode. Multiple choices play into the spatial mode. Which room do I do my push-ups in? Do I face a mirror or not? Where should I stand in-between sets? If you’ve ever done a deadlift, or maybe are a fan of loud grunting while curling, then you know that the sound you make in the gym is another variable. The gestural mode is particularly important in between sets. I don’t try and lie down and stare at the ceiling, but rather stay a little tense, tapping my hands to my music, maintaining the upmost focus as I sit on my butt for 2-4 minutes (really depends on how interesting my phone is).

 

Interestingly, all three of my multimodal examples ended up being variations of a performance, though only the Philharmonic was forthright about it. Even though so much of our day-today communication is dominated by the words and speech, only the Diag preacher relied heavily on the linguistic mode. I was also surprised at the consistent role of the gestural mode. Body language so often flies under the radar, but it is undeniable integral to effective communication. Lastly, it’s funny to think about how many elements of our lives are texts. Something as simple as going to the gym fits under the paradigm. There’s really no escaping English class.

Key Lime Pie and Other Multimodal Communications

As I go about my day, I almost never think about the ways in which I communicate with others around me. That’s not to say I don’t think about the communications themselves; I could mull over things I say, and things that have been said to me, for days. However, I can say that, outside of class, I have almost never contemplated whether texts in my personal life use any of the five modes of communication, and why. After spending a few days doing just that, and being a lot more analytical of the things going on around me, here are some things I noticed.

The most traditional text I encountered was the novel Beloved by Toni Morrison. I had read this last year and recently decided to pick it up again. Initially, I would’ve said there isn’t much complexity here—it is just words on a page. That is true to an extent. Beloved, like many books, relies heavily on the linguistic mode. Morrison crafted every word, divided them into paragraphs, and further divided the book into three parts. She gave distinct voices to three narrators, so distinct that you can sense a narration shift simply from tone, and little else. With words Morrison made choice after linguistic choice. This all served to build and deliver the story of a former slave woman and the past that clings to her.

But as I took a closer look, those weren’t just linguistic choices like I had initially assumed. Towards the end, especially, Morrison begins playing with the spatial mode that she uses. At the beginning of one chapter she italicizes and centers a piece of the text, almost arbitrarily. The reader is left to wonder if it is an old poem or song, a memory, or simply a noteworthy paragraph. Later, Morrison again shifts the spacing and indentation style, drawing attention to a specific section. This use of spatial mode allowed Morrison to tweak which sentences readers paid attention to the most. I realized that even more traditional texts often use a variety of modes, even if you have to dig a little to find them.

During this mini experiment, I watched one of my favorite comedy specials for probably the tenth time. Hassan Minhaj: Homecoming King, which is ready to be binge-watched by all of you on Netflix, was by far the most encompassing of my texts. I found all five modes present in Minhaj’s special. By nature, a comedy special or any other performance involves the linguistic mode (he talked for an hour), the gestural mode (he has a very specific body language and expressions that shift as his story does), and the aural mode (there was entrance music, and a carefully curated tone to his show). I could speak to those three alone for days, as I find his performance so wonderful. However, the aspects of Minhaj’s show that really stood out to me, and the ones I will be diving into, were the spatial and visual mode.

Minhaj uses a really unique visual tool for his special that I hadn’t seen before, which is that he played back crucial moments that he was talking about on the screen behind him as animations. So when he talked about riding his bike to prom, dressed in a full suit peddling down the street of his quiet neighborhood, the viewers saw that animated on stage. It made me connect to his story, picture it, and feel the impact Minhaj surely wanted. He also organized his hour on stage in such a way that it gave maximum impact, which I would argue is use of the spatial mode. He worked to build a bond with the audience, got them invested in the story he was weaving, and timed the ending of his bits so that things never got too heavy. Working with the spatial mode is perhaps the foundation of any comedy show, as it is all about timing (aka good organization of your thoughts). By adjusting the modes to fit his story, Minhaj created a really unique and memorable show. It goes to show that there are boundless ways to use modes, such as Minhaj uses the visual mode.

My final, and favorite, mode of communication from this week was a key lime pie from my mom. Before this assignment I would never consider a delicious pie a text to be examined, but now I’ve reconsidered. My mom came to visit me this weekend, and, without asking me or being prompted, brought me my favorite pie from my favorite bakery back home. I would argue that this was a form of communication that made use of the gestural mode—it was an interaction between two people. If my mom had just handed me a pie, or had appeared uninterested when she handed it to me, it would’ve had a much different impact, and been less meaningful. Instead, she made the choice to keep the pie in a bag until she gave it to me so it was a total surprise. When she made it into my house and did give me the pie, she had an I-have-a-surprise-and-you couldn’t-possibly-guess-what-it-is kind of facial expression. That, coupled with her shift in body language from normal to excited, told me that what she was giving me was an expression of thoughtfulness, and I appreciated it all the more.

The world’s best key lime pie that my roommates and I have definitely ~not~ been eating right out of the container.

Looking back, it seems there is almost no end to the various texts in our lives, as defined by Writer/Designer, but it is the modes that are used for such communications that set them apart.

Multimodal Communication for Creators

I used to love making presentations, Prezi presentations in particular. My first was for an assignment analyzing a lyrical poem about broken love and how to mourn it. I went picture by picture, each “screen” dictating a certain poetic quality (allegories, metaphors, sonnet rhyme, AABBAA ABA etc.) I conveyed the linguistic mode, capturing all information that needed to be written and spoken to the class for the purposes of the five-minute-long presentation. In the scope of each small screen, the class only saw the important parts of the subjects I needed to cover for the English class assignment. Prezi takes advantage of the spatial mode; the fact that I can move from slide to slide wherever I please gives me freedom in how I want to set up movement throughout the presentation. The “travelling” from one screen to the next seemed completely random. But at the end, I zoomed out, and the shape of a large broken heart came into view, constructed by each of the content “slides” deliberately arranged so. Not only did the words involved relate to the subject at hand, but the design scheme itself embodied the theme I wanted to make clear in my project.

Multimodal calls in a variety of ways to express an idea, and this is apparent in all corners of the world, not just in the “designated” creative spaces. In the end, it is people you communicate to, pitch an idea to win their favor. There’s no one right way to do that through expression; in the same line of thinking, there’s no one wrong way either.

 

 

Business cards are often multimodal. Everyone, from the potential recruiter to the U-M Alumni Association cares about how polished your professional card looks, because a successful one speaks to your professional image. It conveys the linguistic aspect because it gives all the important information: name, title, notable positions, year, contact info, website links, etc. It tells the receiver of the card who the card’s subject is from a single few concise lines. Moreover, the visual mode plays a large role. The design must be good, eye-catching, and clean. Majorly, it shouldn’t be overcrowded that it distracts them from the actual information given. I noticed the professional layout of the Alumni Association’s cards, as well as many of the professional designs online, and my own card. They’re all different; the Alumni Association’s speaks to the University of Michigan’s brand name, the cards I found online went for geometrically-pleasing simplicity. Mine, more on the artistic side, went for black and white.

 

I lived in Hong Kong over the summer, where I got to live within the hot, crowded city bustle of subways, buses, and people walking over crossways in morning commutes. People struggled to get through gateways of the subways, pushing and shoving themselves, no “standing in line” etiquette involved, all to save a matter of a couple of seconds. The photo I included is a picture is a couple sitting next to each other on a crowded subway. The lady is looking at her phone, while the man beside her is studying diligently some piece of board or mechanism, presumably with some interesting text or other detail on it. He peers over to her, and yet she barely pays attention to him. By the visual mode, it’s a likely assumption that they are a couple. The telling details of her looking at a phone and him studying some appliance is also visual description. By the gestural mode, their differing facial expressions, hers of uninterested and his of inquisitive, tell of their general dynamic as a pair, as well as the greater trend of electronics stealing people’s attention whenever there’s a free moment or not. I see this apparent in the many people surrounding, all of whom are equally absorbed in their devices. The spatial mode plays a role in the entire Hong Kong city environment, and thus the proximity that the picture finds the couple in.

 

My last example, Taylor Swift’s “Look What You Made Me Do” music video, incorporates all five types of modes. Her music video tells a story, where she makes fun of all of the people who’ve ever trashed her in media back. She incorporates all the stories, including that of of her ex-boyfriend and her revealed pen name on a gravestone, representing how that image she portrayed is now dead. She parodies other celebrities who’ve she’s come into conflict with, subtly pointing out the awards they lack that she holds claim to in ways that are visually extravagant and flashy. In these instances and more, she makes commentary on each of these, including parodying herself in all the various innocent and pure images that she’s ever played in her earlier years as an artist. Moreover, there is linguistic mode where she consistently uses analogies and colorful words to describe each of these stories. “Tilted stage”, “I don’t like your kingdom keys / They once belonged to me”, “You ask me for a place to sleep / Locked me out and threw a feast” all have a lyrical quality that plays on her storytelling ability to say something that is musically catchy. Woven into this is the aural mode, where, given that the video features a song, the background music substantiates the words that she says. Moreover, there is deliberate haunted quality to the first 30 seconds of the music video, where the story begins in a gravestone, contributing to the overall video image. Throughout, the gestural and spatial modes are represented well with the dancing segments, “I couldn’t care less” facial expressions she and the others present hold, where she pretends to take on each of the horrid images that the media has created of her.

Multimodal expression creates limitless avenues for greater communication, depending on the method used and the audience targeted. Overall, it is very much up to the writer, the artist, or creator to choose their way wisely with what modes they wish to explore and combine, so that they may convey their messages in the best way possible to their viewers.

TED Talks and other Multi Modes of Communication

In searching for examples of multimodality around me, I wanted to hone in on what people don’t often consider texts for the purpose of this assignment. Whether it be a financial spreadsheet or a grocery store receipt, we often overlook how those texts are formatted visually, spatially, linguistically and aurally or gesturally if presented that way. Over the last few days, I noticed a few examples of texts that requested further understanding into why the elements of that texts are arranged as such. In this assignment, I contrast the the grocery store receipt and the romantic comedy, compare the vintage circus sign and the modern billboard advertisement, and discuss why Ted Talks are effective.

 

The Grocery Store Receipt vs. Romantic Comedy
Date noticed: Sept. 22, 2017

These two are examples of texts that are vastly different in rhetorical situation. The grocery store receipt is a series of tightly arranged lines containing an item and a price. The linguistic goals are to inform the grocery shopper of factual information of what was purchase. Aural and gestural modes of communication are absent. Visually, a receipt is just black text overlaid on a narrow white strip of thin paper. It relies heavily on the linguistic mode to serve the purpose of its existence. Spatially, it is not designed for the shopper to marvel at it’s beauty but rather to save paper thus the tightly spaced lines. In contrast, the romantic comedy movie serves an entirely different rhetorical situation and thus differs in audience, situation, and purpose. The romantic comedy, or rom-com, comes through the visual format to tell a story about two people who are somehow emotionally attached. Within the film, the blocking of the characters composes the spatial element of that format. The audience reacts to certain scenes and shots based on the characters gestures among other elements. The script, the words spoken by actors, comprises the linguistic mode of communication. Aural and gestural modes are conveyed through the acting, which attempts to mimic realism. Therefore, the two texts are different in nearly every characteristic of their existence.

 

Vintage Cotton Candy Sign and the Modern Fanta Billboard Advertisement
Date thought of: Sept. 23, 2017

 

After watching a tv show (American Horror Story; Freak Show), I noticed the font of a vintage circus sign and found myself comparing it to a modern billboard sign. Both texts had similar rhetorical situations: an image of a product with visually appealing colors and design with the purpose of attracting and maybe informing customers of that food/beverage product. Both offer visually and spatially pleasing information to look at; the colors, the arrangement of the imagery relative to the framing. The visual mode is the appropriate approach when trying to sell a product to consumers and these signs attempt to entice customers through attractive imagery lacking the linguistic mode. Both images are not filled with information, they are meant to be simple to look at with a hope of planting the thought of that product in the consumer’s mind.

 

 

TED Talks
Date realized: Sept. 24th, 2017


I was able to find one example of a ‘text’ that use all five modes of communication (linguistic, aural, visual, spatial, gestural). The TED, as it was called in its first appearance in 1984, began as an event where the two founders could demo items such as the compact disc and 3D graphics for an audience. The brand lost money and failed to excite audiences until they began to use other members to share their stories. Attracting speakers that were scientists, philosophers, musicians, business leaders, and more became an effective way to capture the attention of curious, open-minded audiences. The company officially became a non-profit organization in 2001 designing the brand that we see today in 2017: seeking the most interesting people on Earth and letting them communicate their passion.

Over the last fifteen years, what had transformed into TED Talks had accumulated interest and had become an established platform for interesting people to share ideas worth spreading. If you were a psychologist with something that needed to be publicly known, your goal was to become a TED speaker. Even today, it’s easy to get swept away with the over 1400 existing TED talks one can find on the internet. But what makes their videos so effective in capturing audiences and delivering important messages?

The purpose of TED Talks are to share ideas worth spreading, yet when looking closer at the structure of their presentations, they utilize each of the communication modes to entertain their audience as much as possible. Aside from the speakers use relatable topics such as happiness, knowledge, ethics, food, or psychology, they tap into the best qualities of every form of communication to deliver the most enjoyable experience possible.

The first mode of communication utilized is the visual mode. By pairing the speakers words with visual depictions of the content, they are strengthening their argument and drawing focus to something interesting outside of their own voice. Rather than just say Mickey Mantle was the best Yankees baseball player, they will show a picture in tandem to give a face to the name. There is small gray area where visual information adds value to a presentation rather than distracting, confusing, or even irritating the audience. The the slide decks are clean and empty of any words that would require the viewer to deter their attention from the speaker. Yet the pictures also effectively complement the speaker’s words to enhance the viewer’s experience. The successful TED speaker maximizes the benefits of visual storytelling to improve their own presentation.

The speakers also employ aural channels of communication to create an interesting dialogue that maintains the audience’s curiosity throughout the talk. Captivating speakers employ verbal patterns, strategies and rhetoric that are intended to be effective. By fluctuating their voice tone, volume and pitch, their incorporating variety into their presentation that is far more enjoyable than monotonous fact reporting. They put emphasis on certain words that attune the audience to the message they are communicating. We can infer the speakers are not reading off scripts or memorizing their lines from their conversational approach..

Even the titles of their presentation impact whether viewers will choose to listen. Personally, I would sooner click on a video titled “How Great Leaders Inspire Action” (Simon Sinek) over a presentation titled “Learning from Leadership’s Missing Manual” (Fields Wicker-Miurin). The linguistic techniques used by speakers matter immensely. Word choices is all too important in these videos as they tend to be the first impression on a viewer in those first ten seconds. The successful speakers are forward with their content, making short but intriguing claims such as “On a given day, studies show that you may be lied to anywhere from 10 to 200 times” (How to Spot a Liar, Pamela Meyer) before diving into an explanation. At a TED Conference, the speaker has only eighteen minutes to share their story. Therefore, any moment they spend validating a claim is wasted time and will bore the audience. Linguistic choices made by speakers have the power to enrapture an audience or lull it to sleep.

The reason viewers watch TED Talks rather than just read about the findings of a study or theory online is because of the public speaking element. Each of the speakers convey a stage presence that’s noticeably charismatic. They use their hands in a way that opens the audience to trusting them. And it is the use of these nonverbal communication techniques that drive the success of TED Talks. Unlike your high school public speaking class, nobody is pacing or making untimely, awkward gestures. TED speakers speak to everyone in the audience with eye contact that sweeps the entire audience. Often, they smile to communicate confidence and intelligence. Their gestures are warm, displaying approachability, and openness. Never has there been a successful, motivational speaker that has had poor posture or arms folded at the chest. They utilize specific to gestures that assist in their ethos and pathos. And we as the audience subconsciously open up to a speaker that gestures to their openness.

TED talks also utilize the spatial mode of communicating in a unique way that written texts cannot compare. Through video editing, TED manipulates the way audiences view the speakers and their presentations. In any given TED Talk on the internet, the viewer will notice that it’s not just one long take of someone speaking. The video interchanges between various camera angles, jumping from the speaker to a shot of their powerpoint. Dramatic points are further enhanced through close up shots of their face. Moments of explanation are sometimes paired with a shot that pans over the audience. The constant variety of how we view the TED Talk is an example of how their utilizing spatial modes of communicating their presentations.

Because of the way TED has been able to engage their audiences in every available form of communication, they have risen to the pinnacle of public speaking, idea sharing, and unique storytelling.

Multimodal Texts are All Around Us!

Text is all around us. It comes different forms, shapes, and sizes. Furthermore, the way we interpret it is highly dependent on the mode it comes in. Throughout the past few days, I collected a few modes of text that particularly stood out to me. The five texts I decided to analyze were my planner, an image of Florence, a banner, a Spotify commercial, and a Gossip Girl Episode. Each mode of text shared similarities and differences. It was interesting to notice the different ways each mode conveyed their messages and how different types of communication affected the message.

Of the written texts I documented, they were conveyed in only linguistic, visual, and spatial modes. It would not be possible for a gestural or aural mode to be conveyed since the text was written and not being presented verbally or physically. The written texts that I paid attention to were my planner and a banner.

https://thekoolchicken.files.wordpress.com/2015/06/img_3337.jpg

The planner conveyed the linguistic mode by stating what tasks needed to be done by certain dates. The language in my planner was basic and specific to me, as I am the only individual that will be reading my planner. It conveyed the visual mode through the colorful and floral patterns on each page of the planner. The spatial mode accounted for how the planner was broken up into days of the week and months of year. This is important for organization of the planner, since it will not be useful otherwise.

https://ictd2016.files.wordpress.com/2016/04/umsi-logo-copy.png

The banner conveyed the linguistic mode as well by stating the School of Information at University of Michigan with the block M. I knew it was a University of Michigan school because of the block M. I saw this banner near the Diag while walking to class. The linguistic mode accounted for the words on the banner which were meant for the audience of whoever may walk by the banner. The banner’s linguistic mode conveys that a school of information exists at U-M. The visual and spatial mode aid in how the banner looks and how it is organized. The words have a simple, easy to read font and are organized to be read quickly.

http://www.bajes.us/blog_legacy/euro/legacy.jpg

I stumbled upon this image when I was researching Florence, Italy for a trip I am taking with my friend this year. This image conveys gestural, visual, and spatial modes of communication. The couple in the image is enjoying a glass of wine, as shown by the smiles on their faces. This conveys the visual mode of communication. Since the two are gesturing to clink their glasses, the gestural mode is used here as well. It portrays a relationship, friendly or romantic. Lastly, the spatial mode is accounted since the two are sitting at a table looking over Florence. The two subjects are close to one another in the image conveying familiarity once again with each other.

https://static.stereogum.com/uploads/2017/07/Spotify-new-logo-Monthly-Playlist-Indie-Underground-Aaron-McMillan-980x420-1500073222.jpg

The next multimodal text I came across was a Spotify commercial when I was studying. The commercial was for Target, promoting a new children’s clothing line. The two modes of communication presented in this jingle were linguistic and aural. The linguistic mode accounted for the words that were stated during the commercial. This conveyed what the product was and the length of the promotion for the product. The aural mode of communication accounted for the song and music playing during the commercial, and it described the inflection in their voices.

https://img-www.tf-cdn.com/show/2/gossip-girl.jpeg?_v=20150910113539&fit=crop&crop=faces%20top&w=1200&h=630

The last multimodal form of communication I documented was an episode of Gossip Girl. This episode conveyed all five modes of communication through various scenes. I will focus on one scene from the episode I watched (Season 2, Episode 10) for analytical purposes. When Jenny, a teenager trying to be emancipated from her father, goes to meet with a lawyer, she displays multiple modes of communication. The papers that the lawyer gives her account for the linguistic mode. These papers convey the terms of emancipation. The inflection and tone of the lawyer’s voice conveys the aural and linguistic mode. The hand movements and gestures Jenny does display the gestural mode. Additionally, the visual mode is displayed through the characters’ outfits and hairstyles which convey opulence. Lastly, the spatial mode is portrayed through the seating arrangements in the lawyer’s room illustrate that the lawyer has authority over Jenny.

Throughout each piece, I noticed that none of the texts had one single mode of communication that was present. In the written texts, visual, spatial, and linguistic were present. In the image, it was just visual, spatial, and gestural. On the contrary, in the Spotify commercial, only linguistic and aural were present. Lastly in the Gossip Girl episode, all modes of communication were present. It is interesting to see how different texts can convey different messages through different modes of communication. Aural modes of communication were only present in non-written texts, i.e. texts were the communication was said out loud to another individual or on a commercial. Overall, the multimodality of communication is present all around. From now on, I will start to take notice.

Multimodality Across Texts—CONTENT WARNING: Street Harassment

This weekend I listened to a few episodes of the podcast This American Life. I experienced the linguistic and aural components, but anyone who ventured to their website would be introduced to visual, gestural, and spacial components as well. While listening, I focused the way that the storytellers were guiding my reactions with the help of aural components. Background sounds, stretches of music, and simple tones were very significant aspects of my experience.

The president of the environmental fraternity that I am a part of sent this email this weekend. The email is organized and easy to follow, the survey and form stick out in blue, and the tone conveys warmth. I think that this is one example of an effective email that uses visual, spacial, and linguistic components.

I read a chapter of The Social Construction of Drug Scares by Craig Reinarman. Reinarman organized each page formally so it blends into the background and the reader is able to focus on the text. As is common in formal papers, the linguistic, visual, spacial modes to organized the information.

 

I also went on twitter this weekend. I spent time looking at how people express themselves differently. Some give life updates, some share their political standing, but I am particularly interested in a project I talked a friend of mine into doing. Every time she experiences a sexist act in her life she tweets about it. On Saturday she was harassed by a group of men two feet behind her on the sidewalk—this is the tweet. She used linguistic, spacial, and visual components in the tweet to better convey her message. The colon and the line separation between the two clauses explains how the linguistic elements should be read and shadow her tone.

I watched A Nation of Scofflaws, a film about the prohibition era, for one of my classes this week. It is the only source that I found that used all five modes of communication.

I am surprised that only one of my sources used all five modes and that I only selected texts that were (at least partially) linguistic. These texts feel easier to capture, but also in many ways leave out the artistic and visual aspects of my life. I spent a lot of time this weekend looking at the ways that artists divide images across canvases in multi-panel paintings. Yet, until now I didn’t think to include those searches in this post.

Juxtaposed against one another, the podcast and the tweet displayed the most differences. Listening to voices through the hour-long format of the podcast was a very different experience than reading the short but powerful tweet. Both used linguistic components. Additionally, the podcast also included aural components, while the tweet was visual and spacial.

From Textbooks to Thank-You Notes: Describing Multimodality in Everyday Texts

After perusing the Writer/Designer guide to making multimodal projects, I began to view the world around me through a different lens. Rather than simply accept the information presented to me as I progressed through my day, I started to study the various components of these texts, analyzing them to understand the modes at work within them.

While waiting in-line at Starbucks, I observed my first multimodal text, a bag of Starbucks French Roast coffee. The text includes a few modes of communication:

  • Linguistic
  • Visual
  • Spatial

Linguistically, the text uses simple, straightforward language that emphasizes the fact that it is a Starbucks-brand of French roast instant coffee. The author chooses to include wording, “100% Arabica,” that is intended to persuade audiences of the coffee’s quality. The visual mode for this text includes the prominent Starbucks logo, as well as an image of a dark cup of coffee set against a purple background containing a fleur-de-lis symbolizing that the coffee is a French roast. I thought that this design was particularly appealing since it subtly yet effectively conveys the notion of a sophisticated European coffee. Lastly, the spatial mode accounts for the central arrangement of the coffee cup image and the placement of the text directly above and below the image to strengthen its appeal.

I recognized my second instance of multimodal text immediately upon entering the Ross School of Business to meet a friend. The text, an informational kiosk, contains several modes of communication:

  • Gestural
  • Spatial
  • Visual
  • Linguistic

The gestural mode of this text includes several different features–such as “Ross Campus Maps”–that can be accessed through physically touching one of the kiosk buttons. These buttons are used to improve navigation within the text. Spatially, the text is organized efficiently and places the most critical information in the center, with more periphery information on the top and bottom of the text. As my eye was instantly drawn to the center of the kiosk, this arrangement is effective at presenting its content. In terms of its visual mode, the text features several distinct colors and fonts that serve to organize and separate different types of information. In contrast, the linguistic mode of this text contains eloquent wording regarding a General Motors corporate presentation, yet simple phrasing of less critical information, showing that the text has multiple audiences it is attempting to reach.

The third example of multimodal text that I noticed came in the form of a chart in the textbook for one of my political science courses. The text has the following modes of communication:

  • Visual
  • Spatial
  • Linguistic

Visually, this text is defined by a bar graph emphasizing the difference in response rates for emails to state legislators. Although the graph is effective, I take some issue with it because it contains only two bars, which shows that it is not entirely necessary and that the information it is conveying may be expressed more efficiently through words. The spatial mode accounts for the prominent placement of text describing the “Difference between the Response Rates” and the arrangement of the graph’s source directly below it to illustrate its empirical support. Lastly, the linguistic mode involves direct, concise language that is a strong fit with the unadorned design of the graph itself.

While opening a gift from one of my family friends, I observed my fourth multimodal text, a thank-you note from my parent’s godson Nate. The text contains four modes of communication:

  • Spatial
  • Visual
  • Linguistic
  • Gestural

The text’s spatial mode accounts for the central placement of text within the thank-you note, and this arrangement at the top of the middle of the page makes the information easy to locate and comprehend. I had slight issue with this spatial decision since it leaves space at the bottom of the text and makes it appear unbalanced, though this is understandable given that Nate is only ten years old. Visually, the text is defined by a myriad of vibrant colors on the thank-you note that allows this text to separate itself from other, similar thank-you notes. The linguistic mode of the text includes its usage of simple, focused language to succinctly relate its message. In terms of its gestural mode, this text is defined by having its audience open-and-close it physically, a feature that enables the text to effectively blend transition between linguistic and visual modes of communication.

From these everyday examples of multimodal texts, I noticed that each text contained visual, spatial, and linguistic modes of communication. Among these modes, I observed that, spatially, most texts chose to center their most critical information to make it more readily accessible. Additionally, I observed that, linguistically, these texts largely relied on direct, concise wording to appeal to their audiences. I found these strategies to be wholly effective, and I aim to implement them in my first experiment.

A Professor, A Friend, and Dancing Mormons: Examples of Multimodality in a Handful of Texts

Multimodality in Everyday Texts

            These days, I find that my consumption of texts is at an all-time high; between my varied and hefty course-load and my slight addiction to social media and creative digital content, there is rarely a time of day that I am not interacting with multi-modal texts (I don’t know if I’m necessarily proud of this, but it’s true nonetheless). Below are some of the texts that I interacted with this past week.

 

Professor Wagner’s Musical Theatre History- Lyrics Lecture

  • Visual
  • Linguistic
  • Gestural
  • Aural
  • Spatial

The original chair of the Musical Theatre Department, Professor Brent Wagner, has since retired as leader of the group, but has continued to teach a couple of his original courses- one of them being Musical Theatre History (truly one of the best classes I have ever taken folks, let me tell you). Last Tuesday we continued our lecture of lyrics, focusing mostly on the work of the legendary Irving Berlin. We first discussed the lyrics to songs, such as “How Deep is the Ocean” and “Always,” printed on a sheet of paper which are traditionally written in poem-like lines based on their phrasing and rhythm (linguistic/spatial). Then we went through to identify the important words by speaking them aloud, in and out of rhythm (linguistic). After a close lyric analysis, Professor Wagner passed out sheet music for another song by Irving Berlin, “Play a Simple Melody,” and headed to the piano; we all sight read the music to his accompaniment to better analyze the significance of and relationship between the lyric, melody and harmony (aural/visual). For the songs we did not sing, we listened to popular recordings (i.e. Ella Fitzgerald’s version of “Remember” which gets me every time). Professor Wagner highlighted important musical elements with a conductors’ hand (gestural).

 

Letter from a Friend

  • Linguistic
  • Visual

One of my close friends from home sent me a thank you letter along with a collection of her published photography that I purchased. The front of the card featured a generic spring-colored floral wreath and a matching calligraphy “thank you!,” which was accompanied by a scribbled note on the bottom (linguistic/visual). The inside included the second verse of one of our all time favorite jams, “212” by Azealia Banks, in my friend’s iconic handwriting- all capital letters (linguistic/visual). I would post a picture of the inside, but those who know the song can agree that it is not entirely appropriate for the blog (but man does it slap)!

BOOK OF MORMON National Tour

  • Linguistic
  • Aural
  • Visual
  • Spatial
  • Gestural

Our department was lucky enough to get offered comp tickets to the National Tour of the musical BOOK OF MORMON that performed in Toledo, Ohio this past week. Not only would I never pass up the opportunity for a free show but I was also part of the 1% of people in my community that had not yet seen the Tony Award winning hit, so I snagged a ticket. The crude yet comedic show featured all the aspects of a multi-modal project- from the Playbill to the pristine nametags on each Mormon, the men belting A’s to the extremely heightened physicality of each goofy character (linguistic/aural/visual/spatial/gestural).

 

Facebook Post/Habitat for Humanity Fundraiser

  • Aural
  • Visual
  • Gestural
  • Spatial
  • Linguistic

After the ruthless natural disasters that have hit southern North America, many people have turned to social media to spread awareness and to encourage donating to aid the thousands of people affected. Just this evening I came across the post of a friend who has friends and family who’s homes have been devastated by Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico. He shared his family’s story, stories of his own experiences in Puerto Rico this summer, and statistics that highlighted the poverty in Puerto Rico within a written post [not pictured] (linguistic). At the bottom of the post was a video of him singing a beautiful, call-to-action ballad called “If You’re Out There” by John Legend (aural/gestural/visual). Attached below the video, you were given the option to donate to a fundraiser for Habitat for Humanity in Puerto Rico with the simple click of a button (spatial/gestural).

 

It is interesting that three of my four examples used all five of the modes of communication. It may be due to their relationship to the arts/performing arts. Regardless, I find that each of these texts exists, or existed, in a unique situation. In the case of the “lecture,” the multi-modal aspects made the ideas and theory easier to learn and comprehend (Professor Wagner caters to an audience of performers quite well, knowing that this style of academic analysis goes hand in hand with aural and gestural modes in much of the work we do). In my opinion, the Facebook post would not have caught as much attention if not for the unique combination of video and post; the arrangement of the “one-click” donating beneath the video is also a very effective way to encourage an audience to take action, rather than just become aware. As for the musical, I expect nothing less than five modes from a performance of that caliber; the theatre is meant to entertain and communicate, and productions like the BOOK OF MORMON do so with grand spectacle and a certain flair. It’s interesting to compare the simplicity of the letter from my friend; it is just as effective as it provides the audience (me) with personalized gratitude which, in this case, doesn’t require many modes. In short, each of the choices made by these authors was strong and purposeful in the context of each rhetorical situation.

Analyzing Modes of Communication in Everyday Texts

While reading the Writer/Designer textbook I was challenged to pay particular attention to the unique ways in which information is been presented to me, in order to compare and contrast how different texts use modes to communicate ideas. Sitting in class, I looked at the different ways in which teachers display their lessons. Scrolling through Facebook, I looked at the different mediums in which I learned about the latest news from friends, family members, and even businesses. I even spent more time analyzing videos, fliers, and stickers on computers.

The first text that I noticed was chapter from my Writer/Designer that I had just finished reading. It is formatted as a textbook, with visual aids throughout the paragraphs. Throughout the chapter I noticed these modes being used:

  • Spatial
  • Linguistic
  • Visual

I’ve attached an example of a visual aid used within the chapter to describe the topic of multimodality. The spatial mode accounts for how the authors arranged the text, using a circular visual aid on the right, with accompanying text on the left. This decision makes me believe that the authors wanted to describe the aid first, giving insight on what it is depicting since a reader usually looks from the left to the right. The linguistic mode accounts for the author’s word choice that is relatively basic and informal, which is indicative of the broad audience of those attempting to better their writing skills in an educational manner. The visual mode accounts for the images chosen to represent information, which in this case is bright and colorful, looking to draw and retain the reader’s attention.

I continued to look at texts other than my textbook in the same manner. On a Facebook page called Jewlish, a media source for both modern and traditional Jewish recipes and food-related news, I watched a video on how to make Apple Challah because of the recent High Holiday, Rosh Hashanah. While watching the video, found at https://www.facebook.com/sojewlish/videos/856792114478285/ , I noticed these modes being used:

  • Spatial
  • Visual
  • Linguistic
  • Aural
  • Gestural

The spatial mode accounts for how the bowls, spoons, and ingredients are arranged throughout the video, in a visually appealing and neat manner. The visual mode accounts for the black background, gray table, and clear bowls that are used in order to not distract the viewer from the actual food. The linguistic mode is less prevalent with this medium and is only used to allow the viewer to read the ingredients and amount being used for the recipe. The aural mode accounts for the background music that is light and fun, as well as the exclusion of sounds that would be made if someone were actually cooking. The gestural mode, in this case, is the hand motions of the actor making the food uses throughout his cooking, that are precise and professional.

In an online flier for the Mass Meeting for an entrepreneurial club on campus, called InnovateUM, I noticed several modes being used, despite its simplicity:

  • Spatial
  • Visual
  • Linguistic

The spatial mode is seen with the arrangement of the words in order to draw attention to the club name and the reason for the flier, the mass meeting. I think this decision of arrangement is used because if the reader is interested in the club and going to the mass meeting, then they will read on to see the date, time, and place of the event. The visual mode accounts for the color choice, using maize and blue as a homage to the University of Michigan, and the choice of using a gear and lightbulb in order to represent innovation, the basis of the club. Although there are only a few words on the online flier, they fit into the linguistic mode and show a precise use of language.

Over the weekend I read a review article for a product, called SafeSound Personal Alarm, I was looking into buying. The alarm acts as a substitution for pepper spray in states that it is illegal to carry. The article gives a personal account from a user as well as facts on the product and can be read here. I noticed these modes throughout the reading:

  • Spatial
  • Visual
  • Linguistic

The author of the article, in my opinion, had little consideration for the spatial arrangement of the information. Text and pictures, as well as hyperlinks to other pages were crowded throughout the webpage, making it hard to read as there were many distractions. This was a problem for me with the visuals on the page too, which were important to include because they showed the product, but too large which also distracted me from other information. The linguistic aspect was a series of choices that led to a more informal tone, even when presenting facts, which I thought was important in order to appeal to the audience of mostly women looking to purchase a product to put their minds at ease from attackers.

While scrolling through Facebook and stalking friends of friends this weekend, I came across my a picture my sister’s friend from high school posted. It was of her and her husband on their wedding day. In the picture I noticed these modes at work:

  • Visual
  • Spatial
  • Gestural
  • Linguistic

As a picture, the visual mode is indicative of most of the information being presented. Even though she did not write, “I just got married,” that is the news that is brought to light. From a spatial and gestural perspectives, the arrangement of them as a couple and how they are interacting with each other, shows their love for each other. At first glance, I didn’t notice a linguistic aspect to the picture, but after further examination, I realized that the signage in the background gives key information of the place, Buffalo. In addition, the watermark in the bottom right corner shows the viewer who the photographer is.

Looking comparatively at each mode used to convey information, I noticed that there was much crossover between what the perceived genres are and the modes used. For example, every text includes visual, spatial, and linguistic modes regardless if it is a video, photograph, textbook, article, or flier. It was just the extent of the use of the mode that differed. The only modes that were unique were aural, that was only included in the video from Jewlish, and gestural, that was seen whenever people were physically involved such as the cook from Jewlish and the man and woman in their wedding photos. However often each mode appeared, they all gave further insight on the subject they were attempting to explain.