Twitter and Classical Rhetoric?

Once again,  I found myself puzzled and intrigued by the weekly readings. In particular, I focused on David Clark’s (2009) Shaped and Shaping Tools (2010, Spilka).  Let it be noted by all that I am giving it my best to be academic and objective when it comes to reconsidering modern technology and social networking sites such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram because it seems like the audience isn’t interested in my disdain.  In fact, many of my peers are calling me out because I’m a 28 year old technical communications student going to graduate school exclusively online but all I can seem to do is bash technology.  I assure all of you, if going to school traditionally, face to face were a realistic option for me, you bet that’s what I’d be doing.  I don’t enjoy the online learning experience as much as others, but I also can’t fathom drawing my degree out over the course of several years.  Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but I’m desperate to be finished and doing it online in a year works best for my life.  So, do I particularly like online schooling?  No, not particularly.  Am I grateful for this particular mode of technology?  Yes, very particularly.

But, alas, I digress.  Go figure.

Let’s talk about David Clark and his approach to the rhetoric of technology.  Specifically, Clark discusses Twitter at length.  I remember the first time I learned about Twitter.  It was around 2010 and I was watching sports highlights or the news maybe at the bar where I worked at the time.  I remember seeing a Twitter username, or “handle”, and something like a status update along with a hashtag for something.  My friend Chris and I were puzzled, and talked about the fact that we had no idea what that was all about.  I kept asking people, “What’s the deal with the pound sign on everything these days?”  At the time, I was 22 years old, so I was out of touch back then, too.  Clark, later in the chapter, goes on to use Twitter and classical rhetoric in the same paragraph.  He begins with “classical rhetoric as a means to argue that the ancients saw technologies as arts in which the end was the civic good to be produced by the product, not the design and making of the product” )p. 93).  I take this to mean that, even according to the classic rhetors of ancient times, Twitter could certainly be considered among creating rhetoric and art.  Of course, I have a serious problem with this when you compare Twitter feeds among the great epics and poetry of good ol’ yesteryear, but then I tried to think about it in another way.

One thing I have noticed about Twitter that makes it really quite unique compared to anything else is the fact that it makes celebrities and public figures so much more accessible to the public, fans, and followers.  Never before has the general public been able to instantly know what was on the mind of their favorite actor, comedian, or even the president.  It’s a second-by-second update of the people we look up to the most.  It allows artists and fans to interact with one another as though they were “everyday” friends.  I’ve learned by listening to the radio that a lot of singers these days have “fan armies” that identify themselves as  being mega-fanatics of that celebrity (i.e. Justin Bieber’s “Beliebers,” Taylor Swift’s “Swifties,” and Beyonce’s “Beyhive” (yikes, y’all)).  When I was a kid, I just “really loved” Hanson and the Spice Girls.  There wasn’t a name for it.

That made me think.  Maybe to the younger generation, Twitter is going to be their classification of rhetoric.  In hundreds of years from now, I suppose anthropologists will be looking back at our history and seeing Twitter as how people were documenting their lives.  And perhaps in the future rhetoric and technology will be even more mind-numbing and pervasive than now.  I remember writing a fan letter to Jonathan Taylor Thomas in elementary school and I got a signed postcard back from him.  (Swoon).  Maybe getting a tweet back from your idol is today’s version of receiving mass-produced autographed fanmail.



Spilka, Rachel. (2010). Digital literacy for technical communication. “Information design: From authoring text to architecting virtual space. Taylor & Francis Group. New York, NY.

About mollynolte

MSTPC grad student scheduled to graduate in May 2017. Lover of the outdoors, my dogs, autumn, yoga, and travel.

Posted on October 2, 2016, in Social Media. Bookmark the permalink. 8 Comments.

  1. I found it unusual that Clark used anthropology to compare our social progression of communicating. I agree with tiir view on celebrity accessibility on Twitter. However, I still prefer the handwritten postcard or note, which is something I can keep and cherish. A tweet may be archived, but it’s not something I can tuck in my memory box and share with my child or friends later. I was intrigued with understanding the rhetorical design of Twitter and how it plays a role with unsdwrstanding future technology for tech communicators.

  2. “Maybe getting a tweet back from your idol is today’s version of receiving mass-produced autographed fanmail.”

    It absolutely is. I know people who’ve had their entire year made because somebody they idolize re-Tweeted something of theirs, or responded directly to it. I don’t have a Twitter myself, but I get it. If you Tweet something and somebody you respect re-Tweets it, that person is basically saying they agree with your view or personally like whatever it is you posted.

    Imagine if in elementary school, you sent JTT a drawing, and then he went on TV and showed it off to everyone and said how much he liked it. It would feel pretty good, right? You’ve been personally acknowledged and validated by somebody you idolize. In fact, I think it might be a better feeling than getting a postcard from your TV crush. (I can relate to the postcard, though. My personal fifth grade hero was Melissa Joan Hart–I got a letter “from” her, and it sent me over the moon.)

    I think Twitter will hold many challenges for technical communicators moving forward. It’s already being used as a customer assistance channel for many companies (mine included), so I don’t think it’s a huge leap to suggest that it might become a “help” channel. Imagine having to answer a customer’s technical question in 140 characters or fewer. And do it within minutes, because that’s how quickly customers expect responses from companies on Twitter. Nobody is better suited than a technical communicator, who is well practiced in writing concisely.

    • You have such a succinct way of writing.

      P.S. Just the thought of JTT loving something I drew for him. OMG SWOON.

  3. I love this article. You kind of remind me of my husband (a younger, female version) because he shares your disdain for technology and social media. He really gets offended if someone is staring at their phone while with a group of people – even if it’s not HIS group of people. He will instantly cast judgement and consider that person rude. So, if we’re ever talking about what we’re going to do this weekend, and I pull out my phone to check the weather forecast, I have to be very clear that I’m not dissing him for Facebook.

    I also love your relation of Twitter to the classical rhetors. The ancient rhetors had students and followers who literally had to follow them. They had to be gifted in public speaking, not simply casting a few sentences into cyberspace.

    Finally, my son was over-the-top excited when his band was “followed” on Twitter by American Rejects. I have to admit that’s cool. They never retweeted or commented as far as I know, though. But I agree with you that Twitter brings the celebrities closer to us. I am a doubter, however. I always wonder if that Tweet really came from the celebrity, or their spokesperson/publicist. My sister used to make Facebook posts and Tweets on behalf of a famous person as part of her job. My son’s band hired a guy in Nashville to handle a lot of their social media – however, they did a lot of it themselves. In fact – one of the band members married a girl from Australia because of their social media contact. Which brings about another social media concern – people can be, say, do anything and the majority of readers will not know who is really behind the words.

  4. You are sort of amazing, you know. I completely agree with you, at least about the lack of understanding of Twitter and other social networking sites. I love how you’ve delved into the idea of rhetoric and anthropology. There are so many posts, gifs, tweets, Snaps, and memes about what our descendants will think of us hundreds of years from now as they dig through our digital bones and fossils.

    I also tend to instinctively see the curtain behind social media. Celebrities flock to social media to connect with fans and stay relevant, but as someone in the technical communication field who also has social media manager friends knows that there’s often too many hands between a Tweet and a particular personality. This does make the rise of video blogging more important. With Periscope, Facebook Live and other streaming apps, you are one step closer to your idol.

    Working for companies, some that have terrible reputations and no real online presence, it’s things like this, working with Twitter and other sites to build and repair reputations. The issue becomes doing your job while also making sure to convey a sense of pride and honesty.

  5. I love the conversation happening here and almost wish we had more Twitter readings on the calendar! But I do know the course is doing its job when you start your post with this statement, “I found myself puzzled and intrigued by the weekly readings.” 😉

    I think I’ve mentioned this before but I’m so glad I joined Twitter BEFORE celebrities took over. I’ll forever blame Ashton Kutcher and Oprah for that. Although now I think it is cool for the reasons mentioned already–connecting with fans, seeing behind the curtain, etc. Originally though I liked these everyday interactions, or what some scholars call “ambient awareness” amongst everyday people. I can’t tell you how much I prefer Twitter to FB because for these reasons!

  6. I hope you don’t feel attacked by any of my previous comments about your view on technology or social media, I respect your point of view and would not judge you based on your technological preferences. That said, I think your ability to take a step back from your personal opinions and look more objectively at social media (in this case Twitter) and its potential uses or benefits is admirable!

    As you said and most of the other commenters confirmed, I agree that Twitter has been predominantly a means by which to connect with those who would typically be “out of reach” to the everyday person. While this is primarily used for communicating with celebrities, there is also a very large presence of businesses on Twitter which use it to quickly respond to feedback regarding their company or products. In addition to all the other ways Twitter differs from the more “full-service” social media sites, this is fairly unique to Twitter because of its availability and that it is such a public mode of communication. Words used in tweets can be searched in a way that is just not possible (or practical) on sites like Facebook, allowing companies to see what consumers are saying even if a hashtag is not used or they do not tag the company in a Tweet. I think utilizing this aspect and responding to both negative and positive feedback is a very smart move. While getting a response from a celebrity is exhilarating and makes you feel connected to someone you have never met (and likely never will), a response from a company regarding your experience (whether negative or positive) helps you feel heard and valued by that organization. That is a very important part of customer/user satisfaction and those businesses that utilize that connection with their consumers are helping to build an ethos and improve their image immensely.

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