Writing and Remediation

Remediation's relevance for teachers of writing in webbed environments or otherwise is to be found in its insistence on the logic of remediation as a figuration of writing's future development. The book doesn't address at any great length the ways that writing functions as media, but the implications are there nevertheless. Here is some prophesying of my own, for what it's worth.

The logic of remediation holds that both new and older media reanimate each other as innovations take hold. Based on that logic, we might expect then that writing will borrow, refashion, and repurpose that media, whether the writing is displayed digitally or in print. As a printed text, Remediation itself remediates hypertext. In part because of the better technology for rendering graphics, printed documents increasingly incorporate visual material. Bolter and Grusin note also how print publications have come to emulate web pages in terms of layout and visual design, not to mention content (just as, by the same token, web pages remediate printed text).

Writing teachers have recognized the value of publishing student writing electronically. Doing so brings added exigency to issues of audience and forces student writers to consider not only how their writing will be received by their teacher or immediate peers, but by others outside of the classroom. Writing for a broader audience reinforces the idea that we write to be read not in the insular and artificial space mapped by the teacher-student relationship, but in the human barnyard, where new risks force closer scrutiny of the rhetorical situation.

As this remediation of digital technologies continues, writing will increasingly involve mastery of complementary forms of visual and (even) aural communication. Students will need to be taught how to produce interactive media like CD-ROMs, web pages, exhibits, poster sessions, and other forms where writing plays a central role. It is increasingly likely that students will be asked to produce this kind of writing while they're in college, not just after they become professionals. (Or actually much earlier. My four-year-old twins, Meagan and Matthew, have already begun work on 3D modeling using Disney's Magic Artist 3D.) As these forms gain in currency and are replicated in popular media, there will be no escaping the desire among students to emulate them. In the next ten years, I see a convergence of the visual and verbal to such an extent that writing teachers will need to develop theoretical paradigms and protocols for addressing the rhetorical dimensions of not simply writing, but multimedia writing. The rhetorical tradition is rich and flexible enough to undergird that effort so that we don't lose sight of the purposes for writing and communication generally. But much of that reclamation of rhetoric in light of writing's remediation remains to be articulated. We will continue to see greater attention in composition scholarship to the relevance of rhetorical theory for multimedia writing. For example, in spite of its sometimes comical overemphasis on body posturing, the lessons of the elocutionary movement may resurface again in the guise of web style guides. Or the convergence of word and image in the classical conception of the phantasm may seem especially relevant for understanding image maps, morphing, and tweening (as hard as that might be to imagine).

As writing remediates other media, we will also see unintended by-products and new pedagogical concerns emerge, many of which already press themselves on our consciousness. Writing teachers now manage electronic mailings lists, MOOs, chats, threaded discussion lists, and various other forms of asynchronous communication software. Email itself is likely to become more sophisticated as the presentation forms of the WWW and the possibilities of HTML email manifest themselves in the user's inbox. Students increasingly incorporate visual material into their writing but need to learn how to use that visual material to complement and advance arguments and convey information. Writing teachers will need to teach students to interpret visual material, which functions every bit as rhetorically as writing. It's not the case that simply practicing seeing can improve writing (or even perception). Students will need to learn the terminology and conceptual strategies for talking and writing about what they see, whatever media deliver it to them, just as we need to teach them terminology and conceptual strategies for talking about and analyzing what they read. Neither reading nor perceiving teaches writing by itself. The proliferation of writing across a range of readily available media means that writers now need to know how to see, read, and write more than ever.

As writing teachers, we find ourselves under enormous pressure to master a broader range of communication technologies, which places even greater stress on the already demanding responsibility of teaching writing. Of course, some of that pressure has been felt by everyone in our culture with the growth of the Internet and the proliferation of email and electronic commerce. Books like Remediation certainly are much needed as we struggle on. Bolter and Grusin have clearly and convincingly shown how media evolve. The next step will be to understand why, and with what consequence.

Works Cited