Response to Eric’s comment and stuff friends expressed online (with New Media, of course)…


Afternoon conversation with friends

Well, crap, now you’re expecting me to think and stuff. I think New Media do remediate social skills in some ways, much the way tools can increase reach or torque. You still have to have the skills and be able to imagine what you want to accomplish, but you can apply the skills better and easier with more opportunities to exercise imagination.

For example, I think an introvert with empathy can express social skills better through new media because it takes less social energy to employ said skills. Also, the opportunity to take time to formulate and edit thoughts and ideas before publishing them takes some stress away (unless you are paralyzed by perfectionism). Combine those things with the fact that even a quiet person can design a message loud enough to be “heard” in new media, it’s no surprise that contemplative people are drawn to it and are doing wonderfully creative things, as well as discovering a social side they didn’t know they had before.

A person lacking in empathy might still struggle with the more social aspects of new media because, like any tools, they can only do so much. Until there is a spellcheck sort of feature that warns us about insensitive wording or lack of emotional appeal/connection that will remain a limiting factor. Assuming, of course, the goal is to build connections or increase awareness or bring together folks with common interests. If the goal is pissing people off, trolls will have as much or more success with social media as the rest of us.

That said, some who struggle with empathy or connection benefit from new media, too, because of the opportunity to formulate and edit the message and to communicate with such a variety of tools in combination…prose-poetry-audio-visual-representational-abstract-bitmap-vector and on and on. Who wouldn’t benefit from that? New Media can be a lot more inclusive. (Setting aside for the moment the fact that there is a learning curve and a financial block. So, if everyone has free public access to New Media and lessons on how to start using it, it can be more inclusive than anything which came before.)



New Media and Old Social Skills


Cyberpunk Librarian, photo by Cindi Trainor
from The Backroad Librarian: Generation Next

I am on a project committee with folks who have varying degrees of skill with social media. Varying from no experience to a little bit of experience, that is. When I realized that the subcommittee tasked with creating and maintaining a Facebook page promoting the project either had no interest in it, or did not know what to do with it, I offered to contribute. I am not a social media professional, but I can manage a page, and relate to people (sometimes) and learn more as I go. Since I began contributing a few weeks ago, I’ve brought up our page likes, post reach, and engagement. Engagement went up 3000% the first week I started posting. So something’s working now.

It’s not my intention to criticize anyone or to pretend I know all about using new media. These are observations on what seems to be working now, why I think it’s working, and how we can get even better. Looking back on the recent changes on our Facebook page, I can see how they relate to the principles of “stickiness” (sticks in the memory) we talked about in class. Simple. Unexpected (remarkable in some way). Concrete. Credible. Emotional appeal. Story. more Story.

I really think the principles of plain old social skills are what improved our page. I risk sounding naive for saying that, but there are direct parallels between genuine social skills and the S.U.C.C.E.S.S. principles of stickiness. Before, photos were often posted with no description to tell readers what they were looking at and why it might be relevant. They are CONCRETE elements but they needed CREDIBLE information and a STORY to go along with them. That would allow an audience to trust the source and find something they can relate to EMOTIONALLY. Posting photos with no other information leaves the readers in the dark, as if you started talking to them without introducing yourself and expected them to be interested in you without asking them anything about their own interests. But transferring a general social awareness to social media makes it work so much better.

One example of that is the week of the Boston Marathon. Elsewhere on Facebook, there were sad stories reminding us not to forget the victims. Instead of jumping on that bandwagon, I decided to honor the first woman to run in the Boston Marathon, back in the 1960s, with a photo of her running and a SIMPLE STORY explaining its relevance. This tied in well with our page because our founder, Sadie Kent, was also something of a woman pioneer in her day. It turned out that quite a few (relative to previous images) people liked that UNEXPECTED positive post about the marathon. To build on that interest, I posted a few photos and links about the library in the 1960s throughout that week. They were relatively popular, too. I found some photos online, not from our archives, to post, also. I corresponded with the man who took them. He was happy to let us use his photos and links to his blog. I met him in person, too, to hear some more of his stories. This led to some of his audience liking our page and some of ours liking his blog. Just from the courtesy of expressing my interest in and asking to use his photos, and talking to him about related subjects.

338 people saw that post, which is not bad for a page with only 226 likes so far (up from less than 100 a few weeks ago). You can see that simplicity might be the hardest concept for me to stick to. I may have overshared on details, if not in this post, probably in some others.

In a similar manner, I reached out to other pages and people who might be interested in our content, like the Cape River Heritage museum, the Cape Public Library, my friends who are interested in the history of Cape or who attended Southeast. I’ve shared content from Cape River Heritage Museum’s page, generating more interest in their page and bringing some of their readers to ours. It’s a classic win-win.

My favorite story of building relationships with social media is that of my friend who was preparing a talk on Mark Twain when he learned that Kent Special Collections has two letters by Samuel Clemens to his good friend, Judge Jacob Burroughs of Cape Girardeau. I introduced him to our Special Collections Librarian, who found the letters in an unmarked box after some searching. Randy was thrilled and he gave the library a nod during his talk. He told his audience about the events we have planned next Fall. So we promoted him and he promotes us and people who share common interests find out where they can get their history fix. Social is the important part of social media. It just doesn’t work as well without that element.

My goals are: build our page audience, develop relationships across campus and in the community, generate interest in the library’s history, and promote our current services and next Fall’s events. Other committee members share those goals and weill be posting as the page, as well. Unless we dance around the library in tight skirts and 5″ heels, our content is not likely to go viral, but maybe I/we can make it sticky enough to build up some good will toward the library and greater awareness of what we have to offer. I certainly appreciate the place a lot more since we started this project. It looks like the principles of S.U.C.C.E.S.S. will help a lot with that. And maybe photos like the one at the top, from


Creating Art with Art

mobius strip

Picture of a Trefoil knot as a Mobius strip built out of puzzle pieces produced by Tom Longtin.

 Gah, I think Brooke is saying something really interesting here, but I can’t be sure because the terms he uses must have been defined in more detail in an earlier chapter. I’ll come back to that one later.

The intro to The New Media Reader is delightfully twisty. Now that humans are using more complex technology — like computers and software — to create art, the author speculates on whether the makers of that technology are not also artists. Well duh, we kind of already know that engineers are artists, no? And artists have always pushed the boundaries of technology use farther and farther — even way back when using mineral pigments to draw on cave walls. But the twisty idea of using technology-that-is-art to make art is still really appealing in a Mobius strip kind of way. And new media allow us to create on a grander scale, in infinitely more complex ways. 

The familiar Escher drawing below is how I visualize an artist making art with someone else’s art/technology. And the image below that might partially illustrate how New Media can advance (and complicate) that process.




Back when memes were memes, and not images with pithy quotes on Facebook, it seems that ideas flowed rather freely between artist and scientists (Manovich 15):

To prove the existence of historical parallelism, The New
Media Reader positions next to each of the key texts by
modern artists that articulate certain ideas those key texts
by modern computer [scientists artists] that articulate similar ideas
in relation to software and hardware design. Thus we find
next to each other a story by Jorge Luis Borges (1941)
and an article by Vannevar Bush (1945) which both
contain the idea of a massive branching structure as a better
way to organize data and to represent human experience.

It would be interesting to know exactly how those ideas flowed — direct communication (letters or actual conversations), indirect (reading of others’ works), or a more subtle flow of memes throughout the culture. For instance, I wonder if the branching structure mentioned above was a move away from straight-line representations, a move which happened in many fields around the same time?

Apropos of nothing, it seems likely that the branching structures were a precursor to the mind maps which are common now. (Mentioned in Mind maps add circularity and reflexivity to branching representations.

The idea of  using art to create art relates (in my head, anyway) to this passage from Brooke (p. 140):

This means that with the flexibility brought by digitization,
there occurs a displacement of the framing function of media
interfaces back on to the body from which they themselves originally sprung.

If I understand it correctly, this suggests that a certain reflexivity is required. Almost anything we do can benefit from some reflexivity, the examined life and all that. To fully understand what it going on with visual rhetoric in new media it looks like we have to consider at least 3 levels: 1) the actual rhetoric, the words and images, 2) the interfaces or media used to create the piece and to interact with it, and 3) the perspectives from which we come and that the interface creates for us.

I wish we had a few weeks to spend on these topics surrounding New Media, because we are just barely skimming the surface here.

Aptitudes for the Conceptual Age




I love the expressions, “deeply processed” and “elaborately rehearsed” because they describe so well what makes information stick in our memories, what we do when we study something carefully or are deeply interested in something. We think carefully about it, consider it from different angles, ask questions about it, compare to other things like it. Whether “it” is a text, an infographic, visual art, a piece of music, a recipe for beef bourguignon, if we deeply process and elaborately rehearse it, it will become part of our repertoire for a very long time.

I’m fascinated by our brains’ memory processes because until the last few years, I had an excellent memory. I think that was part of why my IQ tested at 141 and my SAT scores were 690 verbal and 700 math (back in 1986), probably not unlike a lot of people in our class. The older I get, the more complicated life becomes, and the more type 1 diabetes affects my mental processes, the harder it is to focus and remember things. My friend Lorri studies the brain and tells me I’m lucky I started out with so much juice, especially because I’m a visual-spacial thinker with strong logical-sequential skills. She has an excellent point.

Back to stickiness, I miss the days when remembering and focusing were easier, so I’m very interested in ways to make things stick. I use some design elements at home on my desk, although I did not think of them as “design” until taking this class. Stacks of related papers keep current projects in sight (alignment and proximity). Colored Post-Its quickly identify important information in the stacks and where to find it (contrast). More colored Post-Its identify important dates in my calendar, adding contrast to the easy-to-interpret repetition of the calendar design. Pens, pencils and scissors are held in a chipped coffee cup so I don’t lose them under the stacks of papers (alignment, proximity). And so on, lending a bit of order to the entropy of my office. I’m trying to wrestle my various class projects into a similarly-designed orderly chaos. That is a work in progress.

6 variables of Stickiness, from Universal Principles of Design, Revised and Updated: 125 Ways to Enhance Usability, Influence Perception, Increase Appeal, Make Better Design Decisions, and Teach through Design by Jill Butler, Kritina Holden, William Lidwell:

  • profound, but succinct (is that possible?)
  • concrete is better than abstract
  • element of surprise
  • ideas based on credible sources or common sense (not, I would add, the kind of common sense we see so often on the internet, not the “truthy” things; when in doubt, find a credible source to back-up common sense)
  • appeal to emotion (pathos)
  • story, story, story!

These variables made me think of the author, Daniel Pink, because in A Whole New Mind, he discusses aptitudes of people with a certain kind of mind, people who will thrive in the post-Information Age world, the Conceptual Age. They are often called right-brain thinkers. These aptitudes are: design, story, symphony, empathy, play, and meaning. Imagine my happiness when I found a visual representation of Pink’s book by another of my favorites, Austin Kleon:


As we move farther into the Conceptual Age, the right-brain aptitudes of meaning, story, empathy, symphony, play, and design will become more and more important, as explained in Pink’s book. I think the six variables of memorable design are closely related to those aptitudes. And it’s no wonder. According to Dr. Roger Sperry’s research on the brain’s hemispheres, while the left brain stores information in short-term memory, the right brain is responsible for long-term memory storage. This could explain why the variables for stickiness contain elements appealing to both sides, but predominantly to the right.

One element, profundity, is all about meaning. The element of surprise appeals to playfulness. Eliciting emotion requires empathy and cooperativeness (symphony). Emotion can also be elicited with insensitivity and opposition, but that approach does not increase understanding or create positive memories, so I would argue that those tactics are less effective. The last element, story, is also one of the aptitudes Pink argues will be so important. Humans are story-telling animals so it stands to reason that we remember ideas better when they are part of an interrelated narrative, giving meaning and context to those ideas.

As for left-brain characteristics, the variables include concreteness and logic (credibility and “common sense”), both predominantly the domain of the left hemisphere.


There is so much more to say on the related topics of memory, sticky ideas, the aptitudes of right- and left-brainers, and the role of design in the Conceptual Age, but I am over the word-limit. In the interest of mercy on readers, I’ll stop here.

Note to self

In which I discuss some observations and stuff I learned from the graphics for the March 25 class.

The “How to Walk on Ice” infographic was the impetus for a discussion several weeks ago on a friend’s Facebook page. A few people commented that they walked with a forward lean like the penguin when they were drunk and, therefore, the safest way for humans to walk on ice must be to be drunk. There’s some logic for ya. Obviously, it’s a noteworthy graphic. And who doesn’t want to be compared to a cute little penguin?
Note to self: cute sells.

The brain network made to look like a bus route map was an interesting way to display information. I couldn’t read it onscreen because enlarging made it too pixelated.
Note to self: use vector graphics.

The Heritage Foundation graphic makes their point well. So well, in fact, that few people stop to consider who they are, what their agenda might be, or if their portrayal of national debt is an accurate one. They are a conservative think tank, so clearly will publish things they believe will support of the conservative agenda. There are many who would argue that national debt does not work the way personal debt does, and so this is a spurious comparison.
Note to self: preserve integrity and dependability by avoiding spurious comparisons.

The immigration graphic also makes its point well. It is fairly straightforward in that it does not offer interpretation of the process, only a flowchart demonstrating how complicated it can be and how large or small are the odds of getting a green card for the various paths. As the information comes from the Dept. of State, it is likely to be accurate.
Note to self: straightforward sells AND maintains your integrity/dependability.

The football graphic just pisses me off because no one is asking where Johnny Researcher’s cut is. Why should undergraduate football players be paid any more than undergraduate researchers? Both bring more students to the school. Football gets an inordinate amount of attention and money, as the graphic demonstrates.
Note to self: grrrrrr!

The sexual violence graphic  clearly makes the valid point that only a small percentage of men are perpetrators. A larger percentage are victims, with a small portion of the victims also becoming perpetrators. The largest percentage are bystanders. But bystanders in what way? Are they witnesses who do nothing to stop the crime? Or are they not present when it happens? Are they supportive of the victims they know? Or do they pretend it’s not a big deal and there’s nothing they can do? Fortunately there is a link for more information where I hope these questions will be answered.
Note to self: sparking enough interest to get people to click on a link or use a QR code is a plus.

The graphic I want to use this time came from an Edward Tufte forum ( in which Austin Kleon ( posted this excerpt from Scott McCloud’s book, Making Comics ( It applies not only to comics, but also to design choices when it comes to building any kind of visual narrative.


I also really like this mind-map Kleon did about the connections he sees between comics and information design. So many ideas packed into one illustration! It’s like a page from a Lynda Barry book. 🙂

Kleon mind map

I have C.R.A.P. to say so far…

I am having a hard time deciding what I have to say about this week’s readings, but only because I don’t know whether to go theoretical with Trimbur’s article or to be practical with Williams’ book.

Williams is going to be useful, as I haven’t had any design classes. Being more aware of how designers use contrast, repetition, alignment, and proximity when creating pages may change the way I look at pages from now on. I hope that I won’t forget to also stay aware of content.

Design, so far, has just been something I read a little about on my own. I used to think it was all fluff, until I realized that design can also be about living consciously. That is, being aware of not only the aesthetics, but also the function and sustainability of every material thing in one’s world. Learning to think of aesthetics as functional also helped changed my mind about design. Working in a windowless space with colorless paint peeling off the walls under too-bright fluorescent lights makes me think that aesthetics could actually influence human health, for better or worse.

Trimbur touches on those ideas in “Delivering the Message.” This was a fascinating look at the impact of visual context on text, and how the message can actually change when you take an article or essay out of its context, away from the other text and images on the same page, and study it in isolation.

The part I found most interesting was the paragraph on page 268 which begins, “The complicated relationship between reading and seeing text and image raises…”. Williams raises some questions, but refers us to other texts for the answers (or more discussion, anyway). We have a book by Kress in the library, and I requested Graphic Design in America: A visual language history through Mobius so I can read more on Giovannini’s ideas about “hyperactive” pages encouraging browsing rather than reading. Lack of in-depth reading is a sad state of affairs, but I am as guilty as most people of sometimes skimming online articles, rather than really reading, and sometimes I stop after the first page so I can move on to the latest facebook quiz a “friend” just completed. I hope Giovannini includes a discussion about how individuals find their own reading paths to negotiate a page. Knowing more about that would be helpful when designing a page I want people to pay attention to.

For now, what I have found that gets real attention is simply engaging with people online. That’s not really part of this course, I guess, but it seems crucial to building a readership and having good online discussions. I learned this accidentally because I was blogging with a group of people a few years ago. We became friends, about 100 of us, by reading and commenting on one another’s blogs. About 30 of us meet in Philadelphia every summer now for some face-to-face time and margaritas. The first time I attended it was more like a reunion with best friends than a first-time meeting. Writing had let us get to know one another from the inside out.

But back to visual rhetoric, design, typography, and C.R.A.P., I still don’t know what I want to say.

The following simple graphic is a lot like how I feel when I try to read online. After just an hour, I might have 10 tabs open to articles I think I’ll go back and finish later. I rarely finish them.

Dana Carvey illustrates presidential rhetorical style…

Some comments, on “Presidential Rhetoric’s Visual Turn” (2000) by Keith Erickson, in Visual Rhetoric: A reader in communication and American culture.

True or false? “Although occasionally disdained by critics, fetching images nonetheless rhetorically influence the public’s acceptance of political fantasies insofar as they suppress reliance upon logic and collaborative evidence, and visually stress dominant and underlying ideological themes” means that politicians use performance fragments to blow smoke up the public’s collective ass. Oops, I meant they use performance fragments to divert our attention from the logic, or lack thereof, of their political positions and from the evidence of their real focus, including laws they have promoted or vetoed, acts they have supported, etc.

This comes as no surprise. I wonder if this article was intended for a freshman or sophomore class in rhetoric. Not that it is bad, the points are clearly made, and plenty of evidence is used. These are ideas which are crucial to critical thinking in a visual-digital age. They just aren’t new ideas to anyone who has taken a few years of college classes.

The point about political fantasy is a good one. For example, President Bill Clinton took on the label “Clinton the Environmentalist” after his July 4, 1996 release of a bald eagle named “Freedom,” despite his mixed environmental record (

I wonder why the author calls the instances of presidential photo ops and sound bites “performance fragments”? It’s true that each instance mentioned was brief, but to call it a fragment suggests that there was more to the performance. I’d like to know what the “more” is, in his opinion. To suggest that the entire presidency is a performance is a little too cynical, even for me.

One last bit about this piece…before reading this article, I hadn’t seen(or heard) the word “prudent” so many times since Dana Carvey did impressions of GW Bush. For your visually rhetorical pleasure, here is Dana Carvey doing impressions of presidential styles in a 3 1/2 minute clip from Conan. His impressions could also serve as visual rhetoric themselves, in that some of them make a point about presidential rhetorical styles, foibles, and flaws. One example of style is GHW Bush’s use of “evil-doers” versus Barack Obama’s “those who wish to do us harm.” Carvey’s send-up makes some valid points. Aannnnd…then it turns into a discussion of Ronald Reagan and actor Jimmy Stewart using “F-bombs,” something that was definitely not part of either of their rhetorical styles.

And Dana Carvey as Church Lady. The look says it all.


World-making: When art tries to make life follow suit…

A discussion of Morris and Sloop’s article, ” What Lips These Lips Have Kissed: Refiguring the politics of queer public kissing” (2006).

Good philosophers define their terms. I’m annoyed by Morris and Sloop in their article about queer public kissing because they don’t do much of that. I don’t mean words that we could look up in the dictionary to understand, of course. I mean terms used in a specific way within a discipline. Defining their terms would only take a few sentences in most cases. Then we wouldn’t have to speculate about what exactly they mean to say. We could move on to the real heart of the discussion.

One example is “queer world-making.” What do we mean by world-making, and what would a queer world look like? The concept of world-making is used in fiction, religion, ethics, and other disciplines. I think the authors owe it to themselves to explain a bit about how they are using the terms, how they understand the concepts. That is, unless they don’t care what their readers get out of the piece. I assume they mean “changing the world to become more accepting of queerness,” but I don’t like assuming. I want to know exactly what they mean to say.

In the notes, they do discuss their use of kairos, so they get credit for that. It’s odd that they used kairos early on, but left us to wonder how they intend to use it in the article until note #47. Sigh.

Also, they spend at least a paragraph at the beginning of each section telling us what they are about to tell us, what they are going to argue or prove. That’s great, but then they don’t always accomplish what they so confidently said they would. I don’t discount their experience, or even disagree with their positions, I just wish they would do a better job of presenting their arguments. This is a difficult topic, though, it would be hard to present well because of all the emotion it carries with it.

A word about the kissing… because that’s the subject, right? Everything we do can be interpreted within our cultural framework, agreed. To follow their logic all the way to it’s conclusion, though, seems to suggest that hetero-kissing serves to shore up the status quo and further oppress LGBTQ couples. I don’t want to do that, so should I refrain from kissing my boyfriend in public? I don’t think this is what the authors intended. I wish Morris and Sloop had included a few words about the limits of their argument. If we don’t discuss the limitations of our argument against heteronormativity, someone on Fox News will pick it up and announce that we want to oppress opposite sex couples.

Once I processed my annoyance and tried to read the article without being sidetracked by the annoyances, it did get better. I’ll try to be more positive in my next post.

I’ve been having a discussion on facebook for a few days about the idea that public kissing is a performance; and more specifically that hetero-kissing is a heteronormative act. It starts like this:

Fucking rhetoric…every time my boyfriend kisses me now, I say, “stop that, you’re being heteronormative!” One commenter thought that could be reverse discrimination. To alleviate that situation, he volunteered for some subversive hetero-kissing. I responded that from my point of view, there is no reverse discrimination going on now, so that would be a false premise leading to the false conclusion that hetero-kissing is subversive and therefore he is part of “the loyal opposition.” Nice try, though. Love that guy!

Since we’re all about gay in this reading, I thought I’d include a Dolce and Gabbana ad. There are quite a few D&G ads using gay imagery. Go D&G! I was surprised to find some Doritos ads which use gay innuendo. Apparently they have stirred up a little controversy, too. You’d think more companies would use LGBT imagery since it seems guaranteed to get attention in one way or another. I hope Cheerios follows up their multi-racial family ads with multi-orientation family ads, not for the attention so much as for the progress toward a more accepting media environment for all orientations. There I go, world-making and all. Sometimes, it would be nice if life would imitate art. Or follow suit, when art tries to be inclusive. Or follow suits like these…

“Cicero Would Have Been a Blogger”

Ok, I’m already geeked about visual rhetoric because, among other things, one of the textbooks (Olson, p. xxii) contains a reference to one of my favorite anthropologists, Clifford Geertz and his “Centers, Kings, and Charisma” in Culture and Its Creators. Any text or person who quotes an anthropologist is on the right track, as far as I’m concerned, because social scientists like Geertz were and are all about thick description. Thick description, a term coined by Geertz, is exactly what Longinus was talking about in ancient Greece when he said to his pupils, “Weight, grandeur, and energy in writing are very largely produced…by the use of images…you seem to see what you describe and bring it vividly before the eyes of your audience.” By describing cultural scenes in great detail, Geertz and other anthropologists hoped to gain a better understanding of the culture they were studying and to share that understanding with readers. The visual, of course, is a huge part of that (although not the only part).

The title of this post comes from the forward of the Olson textbook, in which Bruce Gronbeck writes that delivery (actio) was one of the canons of classical rhetoric. “Delivery” being the visual: speaking or acting out a scene. So… rhetoric has always had a visual component. We’re not breaking new ground here, but we have new technologies. Gronbeck wrote, “Cicero circulated speeches that he never delivered just to empower his ideas, much like a blogger today distributes diatribes and calls-to-action.” Not all blogging is about diatribes and calls to action, but I agree with Gronberg that Cicero probably would have been a blogger. (Like my friends outside of class who are reading this. Maybe.)

The editors of Visual Rhetoric: A reader in communication and American culture spend a great deal of time in the preface and introduction trying to convince us that the visual is central to communication, to culture, to pretty much everything. The visual certainly is ubiquitous – television, signs, posters, billboards, web pages, displays of all kinds. It is an important way that we communicate and transmit culture, but it is not the only way. Just as music professors argue that music is fundamental to culture, and history professors argue that history is the foundation of culture so too, it seems, do visual rhetoricians believe that “visual rhetoric affects the whole range of our activities in public life.” Clearly (no pun intended) the visual is a large part of the way we communicate, inform, and persuade, but I’m leery of the tunnel vision we can have after spending a lot of time studying one particular branch of knowledge or other. 

So, I’m curious, what ways do you think visual rhetoric, or visual messages, transmit culture?