"Location and modality are inextricably linked to the rhetorical triangle. They're not separate chapters or components to what we should teach; they are inherently part of every rhetorical situation, especially within global and online contexts. Think global, compose local."
It is no longer enough to teach ethos, pathos, logos, and kairos, the rhetorical triangle, and principles of persuasion and argumentation and research in composition. Because of the speed and flexibility of new media, we must also get students to think about where they're sending their communications. And, where might other people forward that information? Will the information be then taken out of context? Could the context change? Can we predict that change?
"What if my audience includes a businessperson in Hong Kong as well as a colleague at that same multinational company in Sweden? Will the same content work for both readers?"
The likelihood that our work will be reused, remixed, creatively reproduced, etc. is high. Consider modality. A piece of writing in print should not be formatted or organized the same way if read on a computer, on a tablet, or on a mobile device. I'd better use a lot more subtitles and shorter sentences if I expect my audience will be in a tube in London or on a rickshaw in India. What if my audience includes a businessperson in Hong Kong as well as a colleague at that same multinational company in Sweden? Will the same content work for both readers? Should I use graphical information to provide clarity to complex information where words may not? These are now important considerations to make in composition in addition to technical communication. We should consider location and modality in addition to reader, writer, and text because writing situations are often cross-cultural, cross-modal, and cross-temporal.
In the last 15 or so years ethics, which started off as a separate chapter at the end of technical communication textbooks, is now an integrated component to every aspect of communication. Ethics is part of every chapter. The same shift is and should happen with intercultural communication, in particular as location and modality impact reader, writer, and text. They're not separate chapters or components to what we should teach; they are inherently part of every rhetorical situation, especially within global and online contexts. Think global, compose local.
When you buy a new product and can't intuitively figure out some process that product is supposed to do, whether it's installing or putting it together or accomplishing something specific, do you head to the manual? Some users might. Increasingly, many of us go to YouTube or search for the problem and solution directly. We want to hear and see how others have tackled the problem. Others, anywhere, have likely had the same problem, and we want to apply their experience to our local contexts and situations. Effective communication includes resolving problems, and doing so quickly and readily, perhaps precisely because many products and processes and the products and processes surrounding them are so complex. I just bought something and I want to use it now, not read everything about it, necessarily. How do I unclog the little needle in the top of my Keurig so that I can have a cup of coffee this morning before I go to work in an hour? I really need coffee, now. What's the easiest way to maximize the map screen on my new truck's GPS, because right now it's half on the radio station and half on the map, and what I really need is more map, because I need to find out where that person on Craigslist said her house is so I get there, now, before someone else picks up that free scrap wood. I need to repair the fence before my dogs escape, tonight. These are specific questions I've asked in the last few weeks, and of course there are larger more complex questions we ask all the time. We want answers, and we need them quickly, amidst all the information glut surrounding the answers. Sometimes we have time to find them in journal articles or in books in libraries. Sometimes we need them while in a vehicle or in a faculty meeting.
The location and the medium are critical to connecting us to needed information.
Here's an example that may resonate with many Kairos readers. I've been working on developing a study abroad program at my university. I have had a lot of trouble getting it going, for a number of reasons. I want something more integrated than what I call the "cultural tourism" model. My approach has been to find ways to use technology to bridge gaps that cost students and faculty time and money, gaps or perhaps friction points which keep them from choosing to study abroad. So, we've made an app that can connect students abroad in picture, text, sound, and video. We call it the connect-exchange app; sounds like Facebook, of course. But in addition to spending time face to face we can approximate such exchange through the use of specific connecting technologies. Sure, it's not the same, but it can be effective, in situations where time and distance and money otherwise doesn't allow any connection or communication. What our students find most important when using these technologies is sharing basic similarities and differences to contextualize their cultural values. These trees grow everywhere here. I like to eat this kind of food. It's dark here now, and I'm heading home riding this kind of bicycle. We need tools that offer the location and medium, or perspectives on location and perspectives on the how, in addition to bridging content. The context is important when working to communicate effectively across time and space.
Location and modality are inextricably linked to the rhetorical triangle. They're both rooted in intercultural communication challenges, digital divide difficulties, and potential friction points that limit and afford effective communication opportunities. A friction point, which many of the authors in the Computers and Composition special issue volume 38(Part B) wrote about, is anything that can slow information in a communication exchange. At the same time, if wielded, if attacked, if explored and perfected, because the medium and the message is the message, a friction point can be hypermediated, challenged, and revamped to speed up or enable effective communication, eventually, as well.