Rhetoric to Digital Rhetoric

Rhetoric is a word that has no hard definition. By that, I mean whatever scholar is cited for answers in the discipline of rhetoric favors a different interpretation. In the early days of rhetoric, it was seen as a tool to overcome tyranny and promote democracy. Aristotle defined it as the study of the available means of persuasion in any situation. Other rhetors believed rhetoric to be a way to alter reality, or to uncover absolute truths. However, I’ve learned one important thing in my college experience thus far: they are all right, and they are all wrong.

Rhetoric is all of these things together, and this fact makes rhetoric extremely unique; it is subjective to the highest degree. The definition that gets closest to the root of what rhetoric is, would therefore, be one that analyzes scholarship, and in turn, synthesizes it. Through personal study, my explanation of rhetoric is: the study and act of using various media to seek and present truth as it is discovered subjectively, by the rhetor, who is a universal character not determined solely by talent, or training.

A mouthful, I know!

This definition, along with all the others, supplies varying implications for writing, discourse, and communication in their entirety (because that’s basically the form rhetoric takes!). It places the importance of decision-making in the lap of the writer. Should it be an essay? A poem? A blog?  How should it be said? What do I believe about it? What do I question? What font, tone, color scheme…would work best? All of these personal choices define a piece of rhetoric.

Almost all of the ideas surrounding rhetoric were produced before I was born, and we all know in the past few decades, that communication has expanded and evolved in a big way. Computers, smartphones, internet, World Wide Web, apps, and social media, now, run the world! Literally! Therefore, since I’m not that old, the scope of rhetoric has expanded and evolved as well. The role rhetoric plays in this digital environment comes from online magazines, articles, news reports, click-bait, and even pop-ups and banner ads.

As a society, we are bombarded with this stuff day in and day out, and that deluge has major effects on our lives and interactions. Instead of communicating through writing, or face-to-face conversation, we tweet, post, Instagram, and Snapchat to stay connected. Because of this, new rules of communication have formed. Text talk, emojis, and hashtags are a few examples of this.

To me, digital rhetoric describes this evolution; it describes the new forms of communication that we use in this day and age. Everything in the digital environment is shortened for the sake of time and conciseness. It has become impersonal where people who communicate digitally worry less about emotion and sentiment, especially when it comes to other people’s emotions and sentiments. Digital rhetoric means that messages are transmitted in different forms than in the past. People today understand the message in a picture with just a few words typed over it. We even created a new word for it: meme. We can find layers of meaning in sponsored ads that scroll down our news feeds.

Digital rhetoric also implies the quickness of the digital environment. Information is obtained at the speed of light..or the internet connection. This effects our patience because when information, answers, and news are literally at our fingertips, we want them NOW, and we don’t want to look to hard or far to find them.

Digital rhetoric is quite simply a whole new world of rapid, unlimited communication.


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