The photo that saved my daughter's life.

Rhetorical Support

As my title suggests, when I first began reflecting on my family's story, I could only think of it in terms of providing the internet some good press. This is how our story was packaged and dispensed across mainstream and internet news outlets (and it still gets some attention—Reader's Digest Canada ran the story in June of 2010—almost two full years later). Given that the Web 2.0 honeymoon is pretty much over (both in the mainstream and in academia), I felt the ol' internets could use some good press.

When I say that the honeymoon is over, I am thinking of three primary assaults on Web 2.0/social media/the ol' internets. First, there is the Foucault/Hardt and Negri inspired work of theorists such as David Golumbia (in The Cultural Logic of Computation) or Alexander Galloway and Eugene Thacker (in The Exploit). These theorists position network technologies as radically extending and diffusing forms of hierarchy and control and thus further entrench capitalist and conservative values. Rather than producing democracy, such diffusion and entrenching actually hinder the possibility for resistance. Second, there is the work of Nicholas Carr (2008), who intelligently extends the early hyperbolic rantings of Andrew Keen. Summarized bluntly, Carr argues that the internet makes us stupider by eroding attention span and overwhelming memory. Third, there is the work of Jean M. Twenge and W. Keith Campbell, William Deresiewicz, and others on the internet's amplification of narcissism, particularly among young adults. I believe such critical work is important; all three remind us that the internet is not a ubiquitous good. While I think my story suggests a response to all three of these dispositions, I by and large will limit myself in this work to confronting the third (though I will address Carr briefly; given the sophistication of their work, I will not attempt a direct response at Golumbia, Galloway, or Thacker here). I will urge rhetoric and composition scholars (a we) to take an investment in determining how these new technologies will determine us (a should).

My thesis might be reduced to the following: Because social media technologies expose and facilitate intersubjective relationships, we should invest ourselves in fostering relationships, rather than with persuading audiences or constructing knowledges. This means encouraging participation rather than merely encouraging knowing, thinking, or even—as many theories of new media do—producing.