Unexpected Avenues of Multimodality

“What Are Multimodal Projects” inspired me to discover new and surprising forms of multimodality in my everyday life. This week, I took the term “text” loosely when defining a multimodal project and challenged myself to find the most unexpected multimodal texts possible. In my search, I emphasized texts that combined all five modes of communication: linguistic, visual, aural, spatial, and gestural.

A lecture in my Astronomy class served as the first multimodal text. Alone, the lecture slides provide visual, linguistic, and spatial information about assorted astronomers and their contributions to the study of the stars. Photos help to visually represent formulas and historical events, while words further clarify information. However, with some slides only communicating visually, and others having sparse or vague language, it is difficult to piece together a complete picture of the topic.

Above, slides from Mateusz Ruszkowski’s “Newtonian Gravity” lecture, 9/13/2018

However, experiencing the lecture in person fills this gap by adding the gestural and aural modes provided by the professor. He elaborates on the subject through speech and physically demonstrates the size and relative distance of astronomical objects through gesture. This struck me as an excellent example of multimodality, and a reminder never to skip this particular class.

The next multimodal text I discovered appeared in the form of a silly situation: conspiracy theory party prep. My house threw a party centered around the Avril Lavigne clone conspiracy theory and put up some decorations in the process.

Above, an Avril Lavigne-themed party decoration (photo by me)

I would argue that even party decorations can be considered multimodal. This display employs linguistic, visual, and spatial modes of communication to mimic a classic conspiracy trope (a cluttered bulletin board full of newspaper clippings, yarn, and photographs). Spatial information is especially important here: the chaotic appearance of the images adds a manic energy to the piece, and the yarn and tape lead the eye to make connections between photos. This multimodal project also included an aural aspect: the party’s playlist was punctuated by Avril Lavigne songs to really hammer the theme home.

I found it difficult to escape multimodal texts, even when I was trying my hardest not to think about schoolwork. In a failed attempt to procrastinate, I headed to Tumblr, where I discovered the following post:

Above, an image posted to Tumblr by @pics-that-make-you-go-hmm and a comment by @toddhowardfunkopop.

Aside from being filled with cursed energy, this image also struck me as being part of a multimodal text. Using linguistic, spatial, and visual modes, the post expresses the disturbing nature of the photo using language consistent with Gen Z comedy. The comment helps to expose the multimodality of the picture itself: the linguistic information of the timestamp seems to contradict the poor image quality and odd content of the visual. Just like this post, multimodality haunts my every waking thought.

In my investigation, the dominance of the visual mode stuck out as a link between the three examples. Linguistic and spatial information also contributed to their multimodality; however, images seemed to carry the most important information in all three instances. I discovered aural and gestural modes in some unexpected places (my professor dropping various objects on the ground to demonstrate gravity, assorted Avril Lavigne songs). Overall, this experiment showed me the versatility and effectiveness of multimodal projects in communicating diverse sets of information. I’m not sure I’ll ever get them, or “Sk8r Boi,” out of my head.