digital media: why think?

From The Mechanical Bride, McLuhan, 1967 (1951″>caption id=”” align=”alignleft” width=”299″] From The Mechanical Bride, McLuhan, 1967The Mechanical Bride haunts the interwebs.Both texts myopically focus on readers as bored passive consumers and writers as lackeys to the market. While they both cover (rather than question”>/caption]I just looked over two texts from Rutledge for possible use in digital writing and rhetoric courses, and came away disappointed. Saddened. Without anything good to say. Both books give an unintentionally clear look into the cold heart of darkness that is written mass media. Neither delivers what they suggest they will. Both have a distinctive ordour of journalism-as-marketing-the-brand shaping both the texts themselves and the advice they present as understanding.Writing and Editing for Digital Media is misnamed. Its emphasis is on writing and editing for digital marketing.Digital Innovations for Mass Communications has a similar problem in the title: There aren’t any real innovations in the book so much as continuations of the what McLuan critiqued in the 1940s. The Mechanical Bride haunts the interwebs.Both texts myopically focus on readers as bored passive consumers and writers as lackeys to the market. While they both cover changes in media distribution, they do so superficially, and without concern for semiotic changes in affordances, rhetorical function or situation. They build their work on the purported commonalities: this web thing – it’s not that different when you get right down to it, and Good Writing is Universally Good Writing, as it was codified, variously, by StrunkNWhite, Orwell, and Confucius. Their own directive is poorly worded, oddly aligning “a person writing” with “the principles are”: “Whether a person is writing a news story, novel, letter to the editor, or advertising copy, the principles of good writing are the same.” (Writing for Digital Media, 1.)  Gertrude Stein is just below the surface:

Whether a person is writing. A news story novel, letter, to the editor or advertising. Copy the principles of good writing. The same.

Not far off from How To Write.

In keeping with the easy emphasis on The Universal, the text gives the typical (copy and pasted) lists of Advice (active! verbs!). What seems new are tricks of how to generate heads using Wordle, and how to lace up stories with words planted for SEO. But the goal of the advice betrays the mindset of a marketeer, c 1955: Drugstore shelf space and the cover photo used to be the magic for selling pulp; today, keywords are the new currency.

noindent”>You lace up your text, not to create a better article, and not to inform your readers, but to up the article’d search hits. The writers of this text are even chary of suggesting the search-engine optimized article is going to be read: the aim is not reading or any universal but to “further the likelihood of your pages coming up in searches.” Of course, works need to be found, (Morville at findablity.org, now retired, and Ambient Findability) but the aim in lacing up in search terms is to spoof Google into a first-page listing – and readers into clicking the ads.

As for readers: Here’s Digital Innovations’s simplistic sense of audience as content consumer motivated by desire: bored, superficial, but thrifty.

noindent”>And here is the obligatory nod to convergence culture – the very idea that makes both these texts untenable. Digital Innovations gives a nod to Henry Jenkins’s, keeping the focus on his head-shot rather than his ideas:

noindent”>But with the next paragraph, they change the direction, away from Jenkins’s emphasis on the activity of the consumer driven by unnamable desire and towards the institutionalized presentation within museums.

noindent”>This is less a remix of Jenkins than a selective appropriation. Jenkins’s focuses on pro-sumer agency with “A whole range of new technologies enable consumers to archive, annotate, appropriate, and recirculate media content and in the process, these technologies have altered the ways that consumers interact with core institutions of government, education, and commerce.” But there’s nothing like the institute of a museum to say Hands Off the Content! Stay behind the velvet rope, children. These artifacts are fragile. They need to be handled by the professionals.

noindent”>Digital rhetoric is at cross-purposes with these examples of digital marketing-journalism. So where are these two texts useful? In courses that look at how the print market is driven. In courses engaged in media archaeology. In courses looking at digital rhetoric in order to question what is being presented as mainstream values. In courses that aim at authorizing the digital reader, that aim at giving the digital reader some agency other than consumption.