Pushing Past the Traditional Timeline

Timelines have a relatively negative connotation compared to other, more multimodal forms of genres. They usually simply present information to the audience with informational purposes and a broad audience in mind, boring the students tasked with memorizing and analyzing them. But timelines are misunderstood. There is a story of humans being told behind all of those dates and events that every human can relate to. Having such a powerful idea at its core, means timelines deserve a more exciting, purposeful structure.

As I went about crafting my own timeline of the history of misinformation and fake news I constantly reflected to see if a story was being told. While the issue of fake news has gained more attention in light of recent events these past few years, I wanted to present larger themes about misinformation that have been constants over the course of centuries, showing how foundational this issue really is. As I went about studying the methods other timelines use to present information, comparing effective and boring timelines, my outlook on what a timeline could be changed. Here’s what I gathered:

  • Explain the meaning more than the events: Where a timeline has the opportunity to push past what is expected of it and become something offering a larger message is in the analysis of the events it has put in chronological order. A brief explanation of what occurred on the date is necessary to give educated and uneducated readers an even playing field, but the majority of the text on the page should be about offering insights into what these dates mean, and how they connect. Fleshing out larger themes of humanity is how we can make timelines relevant to the challenges we face today. When there is little to no analysis of the dates listed the timeline loses a major opportunity, instead becoming a backdrop for other more specific sources. Two of the articles I examined, both of which I would consider timelines, offered completely different academic experiences because of differing levels of analysis. “The Long and Brutal History of Fake News” didn’t have the traditional appearance of a timeline, instead taking article form, but delivered an incredible recount by jumping through the centuries, stopping to connect past and future dates. This allowed the author to make an argument about the sequence of events instead of just sharing what has happened with the reader. “American History Timeline” acts as a more traditional timeline, covering events over the past millennium. What the reader wants to walk away from it with is constrained by the page and their prior knowledge.

https://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2016/12/fake-news-history-long-violent-214535

http://www.datesandevents.org/events-timelines/14-american-history-timeline.htm

  • Separate the dates and events from any analysis: It’s worth noting that sometimes the reader is not looking for a sizable analysis of the dates or events given and instead opens up a timeline to just find a specific date. Consequently, a visually appealing and viewer-friendly timeline makes the dates/events the backbone of the text. The reader’s eyes should bounce from date to date, only diving into the subsequent analysis accompanying each date if they care to. In this way “American History timeline” outperforms “The Long and Brutal History of Fake News” as the latter makes it difficult for the reader to find the events/dates being highlighted. This also makes transitions easier to follow as when dates are separated by literal space on the page and not hiding within paragraphs, the reader can follow the story and make those crucial connections.

 

  • Make it multimodal: A large complaint of timelines, especially from young students, is that they are boring and hard to read. Adding images and videos can enhance the timeline experience. It not only adds color and structure to a bland, simple design, but it offers a visual for the story being told. The audience, who may have a difficult time picturing what a certain historical figure looked like or what a location looked like hundreds of years ago now has an image to build their imagined story off of. The interactive “United States History” timeline from World Digital Library exemplifies the power of adding images. The site gives users the ability to move back and forth between events, moving out of the traditional line format. In this way the user is moving through time, following patterns, mentally picturing history unfold.

https://www.wdl.org/en/sets/us-history/timeline/#2

All of these realizations about how to make an effective, unique timeline come back to the idea that a timeline is a story. Luckily we love hearing stories s0 there is no reason why a timeline should fail at gaining and maintaining the attention of a reader. Timeline creators just need to push past the traditional expectation of a long, straight line with a sequence of dates branching off to be successful. Timelines need to be dynamic because we utilize them for dynamic reasons. We open them up to tell the story of how we got here, find connections across centuries, and gather conclusions about ourselves. Since there is literally a history of everything, there can be a timeline for everything. It’s up to the creators of these timelines to continue to challenge the status quo on what a timeline should look like and tell a story which connects the larger recurring themes, moving forward and backward through time. In this way, as I found with the history of misinformation, it’s a circle more than a line.

 

    VS. Image result for bad timeline VS. 

source: https://venngage.com/blog/timeline-template/

source: https://www.fastcompany.com/1673264/an-epic-timeline-of-breaking-bads-wardrobe-colors

source: https://www.theodysseyonline.com/flint-michigan-water-crisis-timeline-how-all-started

Maps and Flyers

Most students’ experience in english and writing courses is constrained to one form of assignment: the essay. Yet, as so eloquently put in the first chapter, “What are Multimodal Projects?” of Writer/Designer: A Guide to Making Multimodal Projects, the forms of argument and writing we encounter on a daily basis extend far past purely text. The chapter highlights the five main modes of communication – linguistic (written or spoken text), visual (images), aural (sounds), gestural (movement), and spatial (the physical arrangement), and opens the perspective of the reader into understanding how common combinations of these modes are, and the consequent effects certain combinations have on transferring meaning to an audience. We were tasked to search for examples of these multimodal texts as we went about our daily routines. In short, the task came naturally.

 

Currently all around campus clubs have posted flyers attempting to create interest and expand membership. These flyers obviously make use of the linguistic mode with the name of the club and short description often included, but it’s the visual and spatial modes which are most crucial in making a successful flyer. The spatial mode is arguably what makes students walking by actually stop and give the flyer a genuine read. If it is arranged in an appealing, clear way, students are more likely to want to look at it more closely. This goes the same for the visual mode. Bright colors and interesting, relevant images lead to success. The two flyers below diverge in this area. While the Michigan Affordability & Advocacy Coalition uses no color or images creating a bland look, the Ski & Snowboard team bursts with color corresponding with the energy of the club.

Another multimodal project I came across that also relies on the linguistic, visual, and spatial modes is the map of the United States on the wall of my apartment. The linguistic mode is crucial in defining the detail of any project, and that is evident in this map, as it includes hundreds of cities and regions which would be left blank without text. Without the linguistic mode, it would just be a geographic region hopefully the audience is familiar with. The visual mode helps separate the states from each other and the surrounding countries, making it clear the map is about the United States. It also makes the map easier to read. The spatial mode, the way the map is arranged, is the main determinant of what the audience should focus on. Students see hundreds of maps during the school year so they begin to identify certain arrangement characteristics with certain types of maps. It’s interesting that despite presenting completely different topics, flyers and maps both depend on the linguistic, visual, and spatial modes, perhaps, because those modes, when combined, are most effective at presenting information to an audience.

The last multimodal project I came across that was worthy of further dissection was a powerpoint presentation in my earth science class. This powerpoint included all five modes of communication. The linguistic mode was probably the most important in presenting students new, detailed information about a difficult subject matter. The visual mode, which included fun images, made the powerpoint more appealing to an audience who may think the subject matter is boring. Also in the visual mode were graphs and charts which put the information into a real world context. The aural mode was captured in a video that played to start the presentation, along with the tone of voice of the teacher reading each slide. The gestural mode was seen in the way the professor moved around the classroom, using hand gestures to build ideas. Finally, the spatial mode was seen in the arrangement of the presentation, again, highlighting the idea that the way the presentation looked affected the way the students received the information. A powerpoint may be the most common multimodal project students come across. I think the fact that the most common method of teaching includes all five modes of communication demonstrates the power and possibilities that come with communicating in a variety of ways.

 

https://umich.instructure.com/courses/234150/files/folder/Lecture%20slides?preview=8350093

(Link to Powerpoint)

 

The multimodal projects noted above were things I encountered throughout my daily routine but previously never had stopped to examine the many modes in which they present an idea. These examples were not the only I came across (magazines, youtube videos, newspapers, pictures, textbooks) but I think they adequately serve in pushing the narrative that we experience all five modes of communication everyday and through mediums we often overlook. Recognizing the combinations of these modes and what certain combinations accomplish is a formative step in learning to employ them to our own benefit as writers. It’s clear now that successful writers use more than just words to write.

The Multimodal Journey in Advertising

The concept of multimodal communication—conveying messages through multiple modes of communication, such as visual, linguistic, spatial, aural, and gestural modes—stands as fundamental to a comprehensive text that interacts with readers who hold many differentiated identities. Despite the prevalence of multimodal communication, many of our decisions in creating multimodal text are unintentional (Arola et al. 3).

Multimodal communication operates in complex manners that can connect with all five senses despite the process not always being visible to the reader. For instance, examine the features of the advertisement below, a 1.7-metre-tall banner placed on a board on central campus grounds, which I decided to analyse. Despite the numerous modes present throughout the text, I did not initially consider these whilst making the advertisement.

Figure A. A highly visual advertisement with minimal linguistic modes present. Several call-to-actions exist (Casual Gaming Club.org website hyperlink and discord.gg/casualgamingclub group chat hyperlink) to redirect readers to more linguistic modes containing further information about the subject.

When I initially drafted this advertisement, I drew my intentions toward implementing a highly visual mode of communication. What this example particularly conveys, though, is that some modes may surface and showcase their visibility much more than others—in this case, the visual mode is highly present. Although one could argue that most comprehensive forms of texts contain multiple modes compromising with each other simultaneously to puzzle-piece together a panoramic message, often one mode will outweigh others in their presence throughout the text.

In this marketing material, we can scrutinise the elements found in each mode and their effects on readers. Examine the spatial mode of the content: we can easily absorb what takes up roughly three-quarters of the text, which is the visual imagery that also contains the gestural mode of the person’s pose. The entire imagery allows for  multiple interpretations of the content, implemented originally to connect with the reader’s sense of humour and feelings.

‘What a peculiar poster. This individual is positioned in a strange manner. I wonder what this is advertising? Casual Gaming Club. This organisation looks informal, they seem to have a… unique sense of humour—it kind of looks like that they embody a ‘meme culture’? I kind of want to meet this guy, he looks peculiar. Is the rest of the organisation’s members like this too? Maybe I would enjoy seeing what the organisation is like and meeting some people. I could go to the website to see when the next event is, maybe it’ll be fun.’

Multimodal text functions in strange, yet complex ways, ultimately instilling readers to create a journey for themselves to embark on. With so many different literary ingredients infusing into a single concoction of meaning, the mixture of content challenges, and thus encourages readers to paint a clear definition themselves of the message that the abstract text conveys. Although not all planned journeys by the writer can go as planned once the text is shared, some deviations from the structured path allow for creative opportunities for the reader to imagine something beyond the scope of the writer’s originality. This allows for a collaborative moment for the reader to unknowingly work with the writer to complete the multimodal text with the reader’s own interpretations.

Part of this journey is also observing the intertwining interactions between modes that complement what the reader sees initially. For instance, after the imagery attracts the reader to focus on the advertisement, the reader will be in search of more information, scanning peripheral content in hopes of alleviating his/her desire for a comprehensible solution. The text reading ‘Casual Gaming Club.org’ is then the next piece of information the reader views to direct a conclusion to the reader’s information search. By fluidly connecting the visual text to point the reader toward the linguistic mode, this simultaneous interaction activates the reader’s ability to link the emotions and opinions extracted from the visual mode to the detailed call-to-action linguistic mode of the organisation’s name, and finally the website landing page shown below. In terms of spatial mode, the placement of the visual mode over the linguistic mode encourages the reader to understand the content top-to-bottom order as intended, leading them from the highly visual mode-based advertisement to the more informational, linguistic mode-based website.

Figure B. Website landing page from the advertisement. With more linguistic modes present on the website, interested students should be able to find more information beyond simply a vague image from the initial banner.

And, despite the lack of an intentional aural mode, the reader’s imagination can act as the catalyst to create their own modes. Maybe the reader recognises the backdrop of the first example’s imagery (which displays a local, Chinese tea café on campus) and then invents ideas of how that environment sounds or feels: bustling conversations, the buzzing of the AC and its cool, breezy breath on the reader’s arms whilst holding a cold, cup of tea. Perhaps the reader even knows the individual on the banner, and then imagines interacting with the individual, or perhaps even reading the linguistic mode vicariously through this person’s tone, pitch, and accent of voice.

What if one doesn’t know any information about the text? Everyone’s identities come into play when interpreting text. For instance, the reader might assume the person’s identity as a male gender and an East Asian ethnicity. All these assumptions may then lead up to biases or stereotypes that affect the reader’s interpretation and drive the text in different directions. Therefore, an important rule of thumb is to always take into account the different identities that any reader could hold in understanding the text.

Taking into account the importance of modes beyond linguistic representations, as I continue my writing experimentation for my papers, understanding the intrinsic value of all modes is highly important. Particularly when I am trying to connect and empathise with my readers, providing multiple access points for the reader to grasp the text is vital. With this in mind, I may consider supplementing my heavily linguistic text with more visuals.

 

Works Cited

Arola, Kristen L., et al. Writer/Designer: Guide to Making Multimodal Projects. Bedford/St. Martins, 2018.

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.