Carnegie, Teena A. M. “Interface as Exordium: The Rhetoric of Interactivity.” Computers and Composition 26 3 (2009): 164-73. Print.


In this article, I outline how the interface of new media functions rhetorically as an exordium to engage users and to dispose them to persuasion. The modular, networked, and interactive nature of new media requires an interface: a central place of interaction for the technological, human, social, and cultural aspects of new media. I propose that the interface functions rhetorically through three modes of interactivity, including multi-directionality, manipulability, and presence. By understanding these modes of interactivity and how they function to create various degrees of interaction and engagement, we can begin to develop the analytic tools needed to increase critical awareness of the interface. A rhetorical understanding of the interface enables us and our students to see that the shape and design of the interface is not natural and inevitable. The design of the interface is a design of human experience and, as such, the interface becomes a locus of power. The modes of interactivity it deploys are capable of enabling empowerment and enacting rhetorical patterns of control.

  • C. begins by highlighting how Manovich (2002) defaced rhetoric by denigrating its influence on account of new media.
  • Exordium – a Ciceronian term defined as “a rhetorical means for ensuring that the audience becomes and remains susceptible to persuasion” (165).  According to C. the exordium in a new media context is the interface. . . in other words, the interface serves as the introduction to any particular text and as such must exert a persuasive force to ensure further user engagement (165).  C. claims that the interface serves as exordium by performing three functions: multi-directionality, manipulability, and presence (165).
  • What is an interface?  “a means or place of interaction” or “a meeting point or common ground between two parties, systems, or disciplines” (ibid.).  In new media the symbolic elements of the interface are the text and graphics or GUI.
  • C. complicates the idea that the interface should be “user-centered, task-oriented, and invisible” because this perspective leads to uncritical design choices.  Instead C. takes the opinion on Selfe & Selfe by arguing that the interface should be foregrounded as a means to draw readers in.  C. draws attention to the pedagogical implications of paying close attention to the rhetoric of the interface.  She notes, “how can teachers and students of writing talk about the interface so that they can see the rhetorical implications that interfaces may have?  What questions do we need to ask to bring the rhetoric of the interface into full view?” (166).
  • According to C., the rhetorical qualities of the interface are rooted in interactivity.  The fact that users can often manipulate different aspects/components of the interface make it the rhetorical scene wherein users engage new media in computer mediated environments.  Because high levels of interactivity produce high levels of engagement, interfaces are the rhetorical elements of CMC.
  • The interactivity of multi-directionality:  multi-directionality describes the ways that users of CMC can travel in various “directions” across nodes of virtual networks.  So, multi-directionality inherently involves moving users through intertextual experiences.  This multi-directional interactivity extends beyond user navigation to include the circulation of messages throughout the CMC world (167).
  • The interactivity of manipulability:  manipulability means that an object in a digital space can be “dematerialized,” provisioned, and redeployed (remixed) through various forms of computer alteration.  In other words, manipulability is the rip/mix/burn in Reid/Lessig’s work.  This also takes the form of various technologies designed to allow users to customize their browsing/reading/writing experiences in digital environments – customization (168).  The highest level of interactive manipubility takes the form of user-generated content – sites like Wikipedia and YouTube provide this ability.
  • The interactivity of presence:  according to C., “presence” is the result of “the integration of system attributes with user perceptions” (169).  Said differently, this is the way that various (often social) communication technologies intersect with user cognition and perception to create social lifeworlds or the impression of user presence in an immaterial environment (169).  So, platforms like Facebook and twitter allow users to integrate new media and the self in the coconstruction of a shared but infinitely unique and customizable digital universe.
  • C. rejects the analogic relation between exordium = introduction and instead argues for understanding exordium as the “warp of a web” or the interface – a place that is ever-present in new media composition.  The interface encourages interactivity which cultivates feelings of empowerment in the user.  This empowerment creates acceptance or operates rhetorically to allow the reader “buy” the interactivity of the interface (171).
  • To get at the interface as an object of our pedagogy C. recommends that we ask questions about the nature of interactivity the interface solicits.

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