The world has always been in the middle of things, in unruly and practical conversation, full of action and structured by a startling array of actants and of networking and unequal collectives.
 —Donna Haraway (2004b, p.77)

We begin this text fully aware of being in the "middle of things," and of the continued calls from composition scholars to "pay attention” to our technological middle-of-thingness. In considering that need, we want to also examine an underconsidered educational scene of composition theory and practice: family as our first and ongoing composition classroom. In this classroom, and as Techno-velcro to Techno-memoria will show, we take a wider view of "student.” Students come in all ages and are located in and outside of traditional classrooms. Our expansion of classroom to include family interactions is a recognition of the family and everyday family life as an important place for learning how to negotiate communication technologies and to practice multimodality. In this piece, we consider the techno-velcro rhetorical family and the pedagogies based on that family.


Part of the impetus of our scholarship is a 2009 College Composition and Communication article in which Cynthia Selfe invited scholars and teachers to "pay attention to, and come to value, the multiple ways in which students compose and communicate meaning” (p. 642). For Selfe, ignoring or censoring students from composing and analyzing a variety of semiotic modes is a disservice to students. She recommends that

[y]oung people need to know that their role as rhetorical agents is open, not artificially foreclosed by the limits of their teachers’ imaginations. They need a full quiver of semiotic modes from which to select, [and] role models who can teach them to think critically about a range of communication tools, and multiple ways of reaching their audience. They do not need teachers who insist on one tool or one way. (p. 645)

We agree with Selfe that there is value in composing in a number of semiotic modes besides alphabetic text. In addition, we believe that it is important to build on what students already know about these modes. To be "rhetorical agents,” students must be empowered not only with a full repertoire of modes—not just aural or visual, but with an awareness of the burgeoning bag of rhetorical tricks, tropes, and modes that they have already internalized and learned in their first rhetoric and composition classroom: their families.


We believe that the lifelong negotiations we make (and continue to make) amid our families are the roots of our rhetorical and composing lives. These rhetorical negotiations are not necessarily as violent or reliant on one semiotic mode as Selfe’s quiver metaphor suggests. In using an archery metaphor, it’s as if there is one mode for one target in a rhetorical situation. Instead, as in all rhetorical situations, we use a variety of modes simultaneously for targeting or persuading multiple audiences. We velcro modes, technologies, and rhetorical tactics together and pull them apart for re-assembly. We are techno-velcro rhetors.


Our assumption is that we become rhetorically sophisticated and adept at using techno-velcro rhetorics through critical and active interactions with our families and that our families are themselves critical and active learners in this process. We follow Gunther Kress’s (2010) astute observation that "Teaching and learning are communication: they are reciprocal aspects of one relation” (p. 174). For instance, a young woman seeks out a quiet room far from the noisy nexus of a party that she wants to ask permission to attend. She makes sure that her cell-phone conversation with her parents occurs far from the party’s noise. She may adjust her tactic for asking permission to attend by using meiosis, or understatement—"Some friends will be there” instead of hyperbole—"EVERYone will be there,” showing rhetorical savvy. She has figured out the appropriate language for persuasion with this authority based on her past experiences with this authority. She has also demonstrated her facility with multimodal rhetoric, by making sure she is in a quiet place while making her call. 


The audience or parents being persuaded by this young woman’s rhetorical moves, as she may tacitly understand, are also rhetorical agents. Meiosis, for instance, might be countered with a parent’s use of occultatio, or making a point by passing quickly over it—"I know I don’t need to tell you how much I trust you.” A parent might even counter with a request for the number of a landline—a retrograde, though ethos-heavy technology—for the party’s location. After all, a cell-phone can accidentally turn off, or reception might be sketchy in a particular area. The landline, then, becomes a rhetorical tactic of authority and surveillance. In this techno-velcro rhetorical family, the parent is critically and actively learning how to negotiate the rhetorical moves of his/her progeny. The parent is a techno-savvy multimodal rhetor listening to the background, emphasizing that he/she knows the daughter can be trusted, and is using landline technology to extend and secure some degree of parental surveillance.  


We’ve also come to understand that our growing dependence on communication technologies for staying in touch with family—for velcroing our relationships together—is creating a new sort of family: the afterimage family. Instead of families whose relationships involve live presence, meatspace, or physical interaction between members, the communication technologies we use (especially new media technologies) emphasize images and virtuality. As Lisa Nakamura (2002) commented, the afterimage

is the product of a vision rearranged and deranged by the virtual light of virtual things and people...stable images of identity are replaced by afterimages. When we look at cyberspace we see a phantasm that says more about our fantasies and structures of desires than it says about the "reality" to which it is compared by the term virtual reality. (p. 12)

This means a visit with Grandma may not necessarily be embodied in anything but digital imagery—whether this be aural/oral or verbal text, visual images, or combinations of both. An afterimage family is a family whose identities, interactions, and sensations are guided by the sensations and memories generated through technological encounters and stylings.


Techno-velcro to Techno-memoria is a reminder for composition teachers to pay attention to the "middle of things” that students bring to composition classes. It is a reminder that students are already rhetorically savvy, experienced actors in complex networks of techno-velcro-rhetorical relationships. Even though they may not be aware of their rhetorical abilities, students are always already pulling together and tearing apart strategies and technologies in order to interact successfully with their families. Students are not and have never been, as Richard E. Miller (1998) argued, "absolutely anonymous, deracinated, ahistorical, malleable, infinitely penetrable being[s]” (p. 16). Techno-velcro to Techno-memoria moves from rhetorical theories and terms to practice and techno-rhetorical awareness through memories of students using their family experiences. Techno-velcro to Techno-memoria is a call, Skype, email, text, and even a hand crank for remembering that students arrive in our classrooms with a full complement of techno-velcro rhetorical strategies.