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Clicking, tapping, swiping: these are the ubiquitous physical gestures of online interaction for billions of humans on phones, laptops, tablets, and an expanding menagerie of other devices. By clicking we like, share, agree, buy, and follow. We activate buttons on toolbars, navigate folders, and select options in drop-down menus. These clicks are our baseline digital rhetorical activity. They are how we make choices; that is, where we choose to click is our fundamental online deliberative action. I term this process “distributed deliberation” as a reference to the broader concept of distributed cognition coined by the cognitive scientist Edwin Hutchins. With that in mind I ask, in addition to ourselves choosing where to move the mouse and click, who/what else participates in our deliberations? As we know, across digital media ecologies and especially in search engines, social media, streaming video, and shopping sites, the choices with which we are presented are customized for us by search and recommendation engines.
We could not navigate the web without these algorithmic tools. However, we do not know precisely how those systems work, what data is collected about our activities, how it is analyzed, or what is done with the results. We do know, however, that several of the world’s largest corporations have business models built upon our continuing to click on something (on anything, really). I will discuss these devices, algorithms, and media infrastructures as rhetorical actors with whom we negotiate our experience of digital media ecologies. I will also explore how these negotiations might lead to expanding our capacities for deliberation as both individuals and as participants in assemblages of user populations.
Alex Reid is an associate professor of English and director of Writing Across the Curriculum at the University at Buffalo. He teaches courses in professional-technical communication, digital rhetoric, media theory, and writing pedagogy. His research combines digital rhetoric, media theory, posthumanism, new materialism, and digital humanities to investigate how emerging media shape and are shaped by rhetorical practice. He is the author of The Two Virtuals: New Media and Composition and co-editor of Design Discourse: Composing and Revising Professional Writing Programs. His articles appear in journals such as Kairos, Enculturation, and Computers and Composition as well as multiple edited collections. His work can be found at profalexreid.com.
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