I find I’m a bit torn about the implications I see built around the idea of “composition” expanding to include “new media” elements such as video, audio, graphics, animation, database systems, and computer language programming. Richard Miller even gives the example of someone who is “composing the web.” I agree that the possibilities around all of these elements can generate a tremendous amount of excitement. And they should certainly be relevant and motivating for students. But I will argue that one fundamental core aspect may be lost, and that certain other visionary ideals may be practically unobtainable.
I’m not sure about this leap from “writing in an age of digital media” to composing all elements of digital media. I won’t say that there is not an evolutionary rhetorical connection and progression, or even that the act of writing cannot encompass all of these elements (as in scripting for film, video, games, and new media. But scripting is not an end “product”). But I do believe the leap is quantum in nature and that if we, as teachers, try to make that leap without having first facilitated a basis of competence in the rhetorical, formal, and stylistic form of regular old writing (i.e. sentences making a discourse that contributes to critical thinking) that this writing ability is not going to otherwise somehow come through being able to include audio or video in one’s product (ne essay).
Secondly, the excitement about new media has been with us for quite some time. There’s nothing new about new media other than that the tools are becoming more refined and powerful, and access to them is becoming easier. But the web has also spawned a growth in text-based communication. In other words (my premise): writing *for* new media has grown greatly in its importance. But this, to me, does not directly translate into writing *with* new media. Shooting and editing video is not writing. Animation is not writing. Scripting is coding, not writing. Using a blogging or website building application is not writing.
But perhaps we want to change the definition of what composition means (I sometimes see inferences to musical composition). So in that case, the composer would be “creator” instead of “writer,” and that is what we would be teaching. But this seems to me to be what used to be called multi-media and is now referred to as new media—we would be teaching new media, not writing for new media.
I used to program in Flash, one of the main programming languages for animation on the web. It’s a very powerful platform and has the ability to do “data visualization,” that is, building sophisticated interactive charts and graphs. But you have to be a pretty hard core programmer to do this. In the world of web programming there is the idea of mash-ups where developers with programming skills can mix—or you can call it composing if you like—disparate elements from disparate sources across the web—video, data, graphics, animation, and so on. Artists are often drawn to this interactive medium because of its visual nature. Writing certainly can and does play an important part in this, but there is, to my mind, a big difference between the parts and the whole. *Writing* composition is not *everything* composition. It’s great to become involved with all of it as an aspect of creative learning. But I think there should be a caution to not confuse one for the other.