The Apple Tablet: Implications for Rhetoric and Composition

(continuing my train of thought from my last post, where I made some educated guesses about what the coming Apple Tablet might look like and what it might do…)

And what does this mean for writing teachers? Not much any time soon. Nope. But it does portend a future where multimedia forms of writing and reading edge closer to their rightful place as a constant presence in our social, cultural, and political lives. Ubiquitous capture. Easy distribution. And that’s a pretty scary eventuality (or mind-numbingly dull, depending on your perspective) for us to deal with.

But what happens between capture and distribution? That’s what’s going to end up mattering the most. In a world of increasing media (over)saturation, it’s going to be rhetoric that becomes the valuable commodity. Some rhetorical way of reading. Some rhetorical strategies for getting read or finding an audience.

And ideas of audience will have to change again, too. Take television for instance. Broadcast television meant you had a huge audience. Only tens of thousands of viewers meant you were headed to cancellation. Fast. Then cable television. Audiences, in many circumstances, splintered. Shows could survive on audiences considered “niche”. Now internet television means that shows can survive on very, very small audiences, and there might be thousands of shows.

Something similar is already happening with the Internet. I’m thinking about blogs and YouTube and Facebook. People produce content for these sorts of sites with merely dozens of people in mind. Family baby pictures. A Rhet-Comp blog. A dinner-party this weekend. Wedding videos. In many cases the distinction between “audience” and “friends” is becoming less and less apparent.

Why? Because the technology is cheaper, easier to understand, and more of a regular presence in our lives. Phones with video and still imaging tech. Even onboard editing apps are starting to emerge. And then quick, easy upload to social sites.

We’re a long way from this sort of things being considered “common,” though. Sure, but it’s coming. Not everyone will want to contribute content to the vast expanse of media we inhabit. But plenty do. And more will. I know, right, “the attention economy”?

So what’s the currency of this economy? Rhetoric. Rhetorical reading, rhetorical reflection, rhetorical critique, rhetorical production, rhetorical listening.

And questions of: Audience. Authorship. Intellectual Property. Access.

You could argue that any technological development galvanizes these conversations. I’d agree. I just think that Apple, as a company, as been pushing these conversations as much as anyone. Google. YouTube. CreativeCommons. Blogger and Wikipedia. Flickr. These companies are all doing it too. But none of them are hardware-centric entities.

Apple is.

Why is this important?

Click on this image to visit its source site.It’s the screens, man. The screens are the terminus. That liminal plane between us and our content. Screens define the interface. The way we read. The way we write. The way we edit and produce content. They way we communicate with each other. The way we learn and research. The ways we entertain ourselves. Some of the ways we shop. Some of the ways we fight for what we believe in. Some of the ways we work on campains. The way we define our online selves. There’s always a screen.

And it’s quite possible that Apple is about to make a big impact on what exactly that means, and how screens might start to operate differently in our lives. To travel with us in new ways. To deliver information to us in new ways. To allow us to read and write new sorts of texts in new situations. To read and produce texts with a much different sense of timing and urgency.

Maybe this is a little over the top. Maybe not. The iMac changed the ways we think about computers. The iPhone changed the ways phones operate in our lives. To the extent, even, that it doesn’t make all that much sense to call it a phone. This Apple tablet might have a big, big impact.

I’m excited.

This article has 3 Comments

  1. I don’t think this is too much over the top. I like the paradox: BIG changes with the latest writing technology and, at the same time NOTHING changes at all. Banality has long been on the rhetor’s heals, no? Only with evolving variations of production and circulation, with a more rapid proliferation of always-on digital streams, banality is perhaps more conspicuously lurking (maybe this is why those in the parlor don’t spend their entire lives there. Everyone goes home besides our friends–sort of intriguing in this context to think of “friend” as meaning “more durably attentive”).

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