In Elizabeth Clark’s “The Digital Imperative: Making the Case for a 21st-Century Pedagogy”, five novel benefits of digital rhetoric are outlined: interactivity, collaboration, ownership, authority, and malleability. Across these areas, digital rhetoric arguably offers more than physically written rhetoric (and this is why everything is moving towards a digital form). Upon reading this, two words came to mind: google docs. The cloud service serves as a compelling piece of evidence for Clark’s theory, as it demonstrates pretty much every benefit she outlined:
Interactivity – Google docs, although not quite as interactive as the vanilla Microsoft products, still offers a variety of different interactive choices, from font size to spacing. Manipulation of text and pictures is pretty easy in google docs, and the user interface is extremely easy to use.
Collaboration – This is one of google docs biggest selling points. Multiple people can work on the same document at the same time. This is significantly easier than trying to have two people take notes on the same sheet of paper.
Ownership – Through the digital nature of google docs, the owner of a document can establish clear ownership (through timestamps) and view it from multiple locations digitally as well as physically if printed.
Authority – You can control who has access to a document, and also whether they can edit the document. (see below)
Malleability – Unlike most physically written documents, the content in google documents can be changed instantly. You can delete content in seconds, and copy-paste other content easily. Unlike a type-writer, no change is permanent.
Therefore, I completely agree with her notion that the move towards digital rhetoric is both exciting and beneficial. One thing that Clark didn’t highlight extensively is the downside to digital rhetoric. In my mind, the two biggest issues are privacy and volatility:
Privacy – Although digital security has evolved significantly over time, there will always be flaws in security systems and there will always be people smart enough to take advantage of them. I remember listening to an NPR story (which I can’t remember in enough detail to find via google) in which one man described how online hackers “doxxed” him and ruined his life. The guy had a very unique twitter handle (unfortunately I’m fuzzy on the details), that was sought after by lots of people online. After refusing to sell his twitter handle, hackers decided to take it by force, and hacked the guy’s email, facebook, flickr, and twitter. They published all of his personal information and deleted all of his stored pictures/videos/projects. Without physical copies, the digital rhetoric that guy published online would be gone forever.
Volatility – The malleability of digital rhetoric can also be a negative effect. Many important documents (passports, court documents, FBI files) are kept in print because there is a permanence to physically written rhetoric. Even though some online platforms time-stamp changes made to rhetoric, it can often be hard to tell whether or not a piece of digital rhetoric has been manipulated recently.
In conclusion, I completely agree with the “21st-Century Pedagogy” that Clark describes, and google docs illustrates why. However, I think there will always be a place for physical rhetoric because the privacy and volatility concerns associated with digital rhetoric will probably continue to exist for a long time.