Porter, James E.  “Rhetoric in (as) a Digital Economy.”  in Rhetorics and Technologies : New Directions in Writing and Communication. Ed. Stuart Selber. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 2010. Print.

  • P. begins by noting that the digital economy of Web 2.0 should signal a paradigmatic shift in how we understand writing and rhetoric.  Relying on Anderson’s The Long Tail and Surowiecki’s The Wisdom of Crowds, P. argues that long-tail economics dictates that the rhetorical design and distribution of “tailored” information to small groups is the future of economic production (an idea Zuboff argued as early as 1998/2002).  Put plainly, P. argues that “developments in network-based technology – particularly the emergence and success of “the networked information economy” and of Web 2.0 social networking – will dramatically change rhetoric theory and the practice of writing” (173).  Again, the presence of modular information/products/experiences reconfigures the rhetorical scene.
  • Method:  P. will use Burke’s dramatic criticism (specifically the scene-act perspective) to consider how the act of writing and composing is being affected by the scene of composition in the contemporary world.  In the end of the essay he shifts to the scene-agent perspective to see who is excluded and exploited in this emergent scene [1. My 2011CCCC presentation alludes to exploitation in this sense via IP regimes in the networked information economy.].
  • Trajectory:  1) discussion of economics as a key component to rhetorical theory; 2) digital economics and social networking as important sites of consideration for rhetoric and writing; 3) a recognition of the participatory nature of Web 2.0 in rhetorical interactions; and 4) a consideration of the “darker side of social networking and of economic systems based on user-generated content” (174).
  • By looking at the economics of rhetoric, P. claims he is considering how “rhetorical contexts themselves rely on an economic system of exchange” (174).  This means exchange of all forms – not just exchanges of value (so, various forms of social capital, $ capital, cultural capital, etc. . . what of Bourdieu?  Ah, he’s on 176).  In other words, what motivates an individual (invention) to produce and distribute writing/speech (delivery)?  What economic incentive (or value) is there to exchange?  These other, non-monetary forms of exchange are the engine that drives the “Web 2.0 dynamic” (and Porter considers them secret – 176).
  • P. relies heavily on Benkler to talk about the social production of knowledge (or social production based on gift exchange economies toward the creation of an information commons) in his section on Long Tail economics (178-81).
  • P. points out how folksonomic tagging systems allow for groupthink (the wisdom of the crowd) as a way to circumvent the authority of experts in considering complex social problems.  Finally, P. turns to the “Teachers for a New Era” project at MSU as an example of how social networking solves complex social problems by letting users decide what information is valuable and creating a system that allows users to work with that information more efficiently.
  • In considering the “darker side” of social knowledge production P. focuses in on issues of access and labor.
  • Re: access – despite acknowledging that issues of computer access pose a real problem for getting everyone “logged-on,” P. fails to consider whether IP regulation is a hindrance to access for folks wanting to build knowledge collaboratively in a social gift economy (186).
  • Re: Labor – P. here nails the problem of corporate cooptation of user-generated, social knowledge production.  He goes on to point out that social collaboration doesn’t generate revenue internally but externally through various forms of capitalization in publicity, promotion, consultation, education, etc. (188).
  • Valuable acknowledgement of the information economy:  “Writers in the digital milieu encounter an economic exchange system that is different from that of print.  Capital resides not so much in the original texts you produce, but rather in your ability to deliver and circulate texts in ways that make them accessible and useful to others and in your ability to collaborate with others, to share files, to co-create meaning in social spaces” (188).
  • P. points out that the expert/novice dichotomy that permeates TC is as old as rhetoric itself in the distinction between rhetor/writer and audience.  In the information economy it might be a better idea to chuck the experts out the window and instead focus on user-centered, user-generated design (think Linux, Wikipedia, etc.).
  • What do you need to work in this economy?

  • Delivery again takes its place in the rhetorical canons because of the distributed, modular nature of information production in the social exchange, postindustrial economy (191).


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