Audience Absence/Presence

Audience Absence/Presence

The issues raised by Plato’s Phaedrus struck a chord with me because Plato’s defended the interactive nature of the dialectic and seemed to discount the written form as inferior (for a variety of reasons including ruining your memory and engendering a loss of presence).  An earlier post for today’s readings revealed the irony of the fact that we would never know Plato’s position if he had not written it down.

It seems that there is a return to a privileging of audience awareness in writing for digital media.  This notion of audience awareness connects to last week’s Wired article, “Clive Thomson on the New Literacy,” that cites Lunsford’s Stanford study and the fact that her “students were remarkably adept at what rhetoricians call kairos—assessing their audience and adapting their tone and technique to best get their point across. (She states that ) the modern world of online writing, particularly in chat and on discussion threads, is conversational and public, which makes it closer to the Greek tradition of argument than the asynchronous letter and essay writing of 50 years ago.”  After reviewing Lunsford’s study on her website I was particularly interested in her question to fifth year Stanford students: “Could you describe a situation in your current occupation/graduate program in which, as a writer or speaker, you have had to negotiate diversity? How aware are you of the different needs of a diverse audience of readers or listeners? As a writer, how much do you think about diversity?” What struck me about Lunsford’s comments and survey is that audience awareness is changing in new media.  I am curious about the role that audience awareness plays in digital compositions compared to traditional forms. Does the fact that a digital audience is largely invisible change the nature of the writing? What is the difference between Plato’s art of dialectic and the kairos that Lunsford believes is prevalent in contemporary student writing?  I think the presence or absence of an audience is definitely a factor in answering this question.

Reid’s chapter, “The Evolution of Writing” introduces the Derridean take on the loss of presence in writing mentioned in Plato’s Phaedrus.  In some sense all language is devoid of presence because the sign is split into a signifier and signified, just as all writing that is not spoken loses the interactive presence of the author.  Words on a page in a book cannot interact with their users but serial novels published online can interact.  Perhaps the loss of audience presence can be mediated by a running commentary that follows a text posted online?  Just exactly how interactive is this process? Ong explores this question further stating, “Whereas in oral communication the source (speaker) and the recipient (hearer) are necessarily present to one another, writing distances the source of the communication (the writer) from the recipient (the reader), both in time and in space”.  Perhaps new media is helping to flatten the distance between speaker/listener and writer/reader.   According to last week’s Michael Wesch’s youtube video, Web 2.0…The Machine is Using Us, in youtube narratives involve immediate online dialogue offering a neverending stream of audience participation.  How will this all impact writing pedagogy? 

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