Reflection Piece – I’d like you to connect now all that you’ve learned in this class to your own work, be it as a teacher, as a scholar, as a professional writer/technical communicator. How do these new ways of thinking about the visual influence:
- How you see information being understood by your audience?
- How you approach the invention portion of your projects?
- The relationships between the visual and other modes (linguistic, auditory, kinetic, etc.)?
As a scholar, considering the visual influence is important in order to conceptualize information in new ways in the digital age. Burdick et al (2012) argue that the modern role of digital humanists is to democratize information that was once only available to the privileged elite. In order to do so, scholars need to take advantage of the affordances of technology to find creative ways to curate, organize, and transmit ideas. As Lemke (1998) points out, informatic literacy—the understanding of how to retrieve information—is vital in the digital age. He says that without those skills, “future citizens will be as disempowered as those who today cannot write, read, or use a library” (p. 79). As a scholar, making design choices to facilitate the audience’s ability to navigate information is an ethical obligation. Digital media has provided almost unlimited modal affordances to craft realities (Kress and Van Leeuwen, 1996); understanding of design principles and visual rhetoric theories is necessary in order to navigate the vast landscape of digital media.
This class has given me a deeper understanding of how the underlying structure of visuals and design communicate meaning, not just the explicit images. I have taken a visual rhetoric class at the undergraduate level, but the focus was on images, not visuals (a distinction I now understand is very important to note!). The structure of a piece is the way that a rhetor communicates his/her position to the audience. That includes the modalities used, the interactivity allowed, the design choices made, and the content. I now appreciate that the content is only a piece of the overall meaning of a work.
The underlying, less obvious structures related to reaction GIFs (my class project) is essential to drawing conclusions about their rhetorical functions. I’ve expressed some frustration over the semester about how their meaning is highly contextual, and it’s difficult to come to overarching conclusions about them. But I think that talking about the context of where they appear and their modal affordances has really helped ground my arguments. On a purely visual basis, there are a million meanings; each image is associated with different cultural understandings, and it’s impossible to account for all of those. Considering the modal affordances, site structure, and ethos of Gawker Media are much more manageable and useful frames to discuss reaction GIFs.
Because GIFs have been growing in popularity over the last few years, it’s important to understand their rhetorical function as a scholar who studies digital humanities. There are definitely “right” and “wrong” ways to use GIFs (the House of Representatives is famously bad at it). Understanding the “right” ways to use them is essential to establishing ethos. GIFs are a fun, relatable way to relay information, and I hope that my work from this class helps to highlight a unique, under-studied way to relate to audiences.
Here’s to the end of the semester and a great class!!
(I’d be a hypocrite if I didn’t have at least one GIF in here)