Classical Rhetoric Up In Smoke: Cool Persuasion, Digital Ethos, and Online Advocacy

by Mark D. Pepper | Utah Valley University

  • Young Man Surrounded by Diplomas with Text 'Credentials: You Know They're Overrated
  • Anime Toy with Text 'Just Go Ahead and Read the Thesis
  • Population Sign for a City Called Cool with Text 'Warning: Some Parts of this Text are Cooler Than Others

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  • They are the H1 tags of the academic world.
  • They fear no hyperlink and bravely surf the associative seas of the intertubes.
  • There are only 10 types of people in the world: those who understand binary and those who don't. Kairos readers get that joke.
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  • Their good taste in journals also extends into good taste in movies, books, and film. Which ones? Which ever ones you're thinking of at this moment.
Burning Cigarette


This is not a webtext about smoking. This webtext has no agenda to stop you from smoking. Even though a great deal of image and text will be spent discussing the website of an anti-smoking organization, this webtext isn't really even about them. The concern here is what happens when the classical means of persuasion meet the cool tactics of a digital interface and take a beating in the process.

The Thesis!

You Could Be Anywhere. Thank You For Choosing to be HereThe digital interface has obviously altered the means of available persuasion in public life. With its multimodality, the digital interface makes possible persuasive aesthetics and organizations that are simply not possible on the printed page. These "new" possibilities are, of course, never entirely unreliant on the past. For example, one persuasive method offered by the digital interface relies heavily on the long-standing, cross-cultural notion of cool. The problem with cool, however, is that the concept doesn't easily lend itself to persuasion—at least not by any traditional notions of how to move people to action. Thus, digital interface cool might even be called a method of anti-persuasion–persuasion (something corporate marketers figured out a long time ago). Logic, emotion, credibility: these old-fashioned notions of persuasion take a back seat to the mere attention given to an interface itself. A person, organization, or institution can make their digital interface and prose style flatter the audience's attention with the primary goal of creating a cool place to inhabit. This sense of a cool place is not only the main goal; a site can bank on coolness as the best bet at persuasion towards their goals. If this use of cool is truly an available and successful method of persuasion, digital rhetors must question what effects these tactics have on more careful, in-depth, and reasoned discourse. Further, the success of digital cool (if it even works) raises the question of whether or not reasoned and nuanced discouse itself can be (or should be) made cool.

That's it in a nutshell. But hang out awhile.

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