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.

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One comment on “

  1. Richard,

    You have eloquently summarized many of my concerns about the push to transform composition/writing classrooms into “production studios,” as Daniel Anderson discusses in the article “The Low Bridge to High Benefits: Entry-Level Multimedia,
    Literacies, and Motivation” [Composition and Computers 25 (2008) 40-60]. I’ll be interested to revisit this conversation after this week’s readings.

    I’ve been looking at the ways in which media theory first came/and continues to influence literary and critical cultural theory–particularly as those theories came to be applied to theories of textuality and literacy/reading. In some ways it seems “inevitable” that the borrowing of theories of reception, production and all the degrees of interfacing between text, reader, and world that can come in betweeen would lead to a convergence of practical application, or in this case, a blending of multimedia “composing” with reading and writing courses. My husband and I talk about this all the time because he is a graphic designer/video and sound editor/production artist by “profession” and also agrees that the perpetual learning curve required to manipulate software tools well would necessarily detract significantly from instruction focused on how to write. I think the point you’re getting at is that although a person putting together a film might visualize a rough cut of an entire scene in his/her mind when writing or revising dialogue or voice over, this amounts to screenwriting (a longstanding discipline), which is a particular genre of composing. As Richard Miller points out, many folks are imagining a complete blending of past/present/future disciplinary boundaries where a person might conceivably submit a script for a film or a play in a writing class, but again, plenty of this is already going on in creative writing courses and or film courses. I tend to feel as though required composition (from FYC down through basic skills) should focus exclusively on honing critical analytical literacy skills, primarily because so many other classes already exist to facilitate a complex exploration of multimedia or software-driven production (especially at the vocational, community college, and continuing education levels which offer training FAR cheaper–and I would even argue far more comprehensive in some cases because of the extent to which the courses focus exclusively on learning the technologies). In some ways, the motivation behind Comp’s efforts to conflate itself with media-related areas of study can seem like a thinly veiled attempt to boost English Dept. enrollments by colonizing the purview of other believed to be more “hot” or popular majors. I often wonder about the ethos radiating from much of Comp scholarship, which seems to suggest that our field has a monopoly on critical education. I do definitely see the need to link critical thinking/reading/writing with the use of emerging technological tools and with the new (not solely linear or type-driven) ways of communicating that the digital age has engendered, but it seems strange that if one of the main goals of integrating new media work with Comp/writing is to augment it by lending the more critical/socio-cultural/material eye for textuality that Comp supposedly has (although I would argue that all serious media courses provide comparable theoretical grounding, much of which was borrowed from Media Studies originally after all) then wouldn’t transforming the writing class into a production studio create similar situations to those Comp is purportedly trying to alleviate (e.g. too much focus on producing rather than critiquing texts)?

    The jury’s still out for me on this one, but I am keenly following the argument

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