The Art of Rhetoric
Posted by Jennifer Smoot
There has been many a conversation throughout my time so far in the MSPTC program about Rhetoric and its purpose in today’s world of Professional and Technical Communications. Some of my former classmates would like to see the topic, or at least some of the textbooks, tossed off the nearest cliff. I cannot deny that I have had those feelings once or twice myself. In fact, I had to laugh in agreement at this definition of rhetorical analysis: “This category is, by necessity, only a loose grouping of related types of work that share a common goal: complicating common-sense understandings of technologies by analyzing them from a variety of rhetorical perspectives that demonstrate their immersion in social and rhetorical processes” (Spilka, 2010, pg. 92, emphasis added) Finally, the combination of our readings this week along with some more modern day examples shows me how rhetorical theory can add value to companies, especially through the use of social media.
In particular, the discussion of the music industry not understanding the value of social media and embracing it instead of fighting it, is really what made it all sink in: “Instead of actions that disenfranchised their customer base (some of the largest numbers of downloaders and sharers were made up of music fanatics), the music industry should have been rejoicing that their distribution, production, and packaging expenses became almost nonexistent!” (Qualman, 2011, pg. 153). I remember vividly when this topic was a hot button (pre-iTunes). I also remember being very willing to pay for songs but I was tired of buying whole albums when I only liked one or two songs, which was one of the major benefits I saw of downloading the songs (along with being able to add them to an MP3 player pre iPod). Since iTunes has come along with the ability to pay per song, I will say my own personal music purchases have dramatically increased. I continue to be so confused by some musicians still resisting this new modern format. I am PAYING for songs and buying more than I ever had before. If I am doing that, aren’t a lot of other people be doing the same thing? Aren’t musician’s songs only becoming more popular through this version of social media and therefore their revenues going up? Seems logical to me but as Qualman points out “. . . the real reason they didn’t embrace the model is that they didn’t understand it” (pg. 153).
Hence the need for Rhetorical Analysis. If the rhetoric of technology were more prolific early on, and had been able to show through research and theory the value of this transformation in how we purchase music, the music industry may have started listening sooner. Now, rhetorical theory for social media can be invaluable. From understanding the why, when and how of social media usage, companies can maximize the effect of how they use it in their business models. Social media is such a study of psychology and technology combined, the opportunities for rhetorical study of this booming technology are booming, adding value not only to the companies utilizing the theories but also to the profession of rhetoric for technology, in particular for “Technical communicators, who are by their nature intrigued by new rhetorical possibilities . . .” (Spilka, 2010, pg. 85).
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