RHE 330C, 43780, Digital Self and Rhetoric
Are social media sites designed to pull you in whether you want to be a part of them or not? Would you believe the notion that no one is not on Facebook? Well, do you remember when you went to that concert and the people in front of you were taking a selfie? It turns out you were unknowingly in the background of those, which ended up on Facebook. So, since we can’t avoid being drawn into certain digital spaces, what can we do when this inevitably happens? What’s the big deal?
A new course at UT, “Digital Self and Rhetoric,” taught by Professor Casey Boyle, aims to explore how we develop, present, and manage our identities in digital spaces. Professor Boyle joined the UT Rhetoric and Writing faculty just this fall. He is very much enjoying his return to UT as a professor, having received his undergrad degree here before pursuing his masters and doctorate degrees elsewhere. Professor Boyle’s interests within Rhetoric include trying to understand how media affects the way that we communicate and create communities.
What makes this course a Rhetoric rather than a English course? Is anyone else confused in terms of what the difference is? According to Professor Boyle, Rhetoric allows for a public engagement and is often considered the art of persuasion, but he also emphasizes that Rhetoric is about creating possibilities for people based on how we present information.
Since this course focuses on understanding identities in digital space, we need to ask, what exactly encompasses this “digital space”? Professor Boyle explains that this may be difficult to define because we are never entirely sure. There is a public side of digital space, which we generally understand, including anything from Facebook to e-mails we send. Then there is also a private side of digital space, and we can only speculate about what this covers, possibly including information that the government has collected on us using surveillance tactics.
Now that we have an idea of what this digital space may encompass, why is the way that we present our selves in it so important? Did you know that when you apply for a job, the first thing an employer might do is google you? Do you know what’s out there on you? Say you decided to run for Senator. Well, one of those people at that concert you went to ten years ago is reminiscing through old pictures, when they notice you in the background, having recently seen your face on the news. They also notice that you seem to be holding a bong. This person might just decide to share this photo again, this time with even more people than before, and the consequences could be dire to your upcoming election. We’ve all seen it happen in the news from politicians to Miss Americas. The underlying message here is that our identities in digital space may open or close possibilities for us.
So how can we use media to better present ourselves and habituate good practices in order to open possibilities? Professor Boyle plans to delve into this sort of informal training during his course by connecting classical rhetorical concept of ethos with our electronic media of today. Students will focus on how to find, understand, and shape digital identities, by looking at case studies, involving their own experiences in digital media, and looking at the changing media sources themselves, which are constantly evolving and therefore changing the ways our identities are formed and interpreted in them. This course is relevant to every student, since we are all increasingly affected by our digital identities in the world today, and since this has the ability to give or take away opportunities. So why not take this opportunity and learn how to develop your best digital self?