Digital Rhetorics: All done

Had my Digital Rhetorics presentation and exam yesterday with the rest of the group. We each did a presentation on the YourStories project which we had developed as common project.

The YourStories is meant to be a collective Mystory – an OurStory – a development of the term introduced by Internet theorist Greg Ulmer. It was part of the frame of the OurStory assignment that it had to be seeking social commitment from its readers or users. But that was just about all the limitations that we had to work with.

So we ended up with an idea connected to the Roskilde Festival, the biggest rock festival in Scandinavia. Each year, the festival seeks to combine new digital media to new effects, and each year, they also have a humanitarian theme to raise awareness and funds for a certain cause (last year it was anti-slavery).

So we sought to combine these two with the YourStories – a website where festival goers could send in text messages and images from their mobile phones to share their experiences at the festival. But not just that. Each of the four days at the festival had its own emotional theme – love, passion, courage and trust – to match four different humanitarian organisations. So that each day, a new dynamic collage was created with the images and impressions of that day. With each contribution, the sender donated a small amount to the cause, and received in turn a random message from one of the other contributors – shuffled through the automation of the website system itself without any direct human intentionality.

We even did a mockups of the website and a nice storyboard of how it was meant to work (NB: 8.2 mb .pdf file!) (oh, and the lovely people posing on the storyboard images are Lars and Pernille from my group).

Based on this design, we wrote a synopsis on which to base our presentation on the rhetorical elements of the YourStories project. I talked about how the YourStories was to function as a socially engaged community, raising awareness through the pathos of shared experience. And how the ethos of such a project is very fragile due to the important role played by the machine. Can you allow a machine to present the contributions of thousands of people without any human moral censorship? As one of the theorists says:

“Technologies don’t care, technologies can’t care, technologies can’t be made to care”
(Robert Silverstone)

This spreads the ethos of the project out to the individual contributors who have no way of editing the contributions of others than themselves. This raises interesting ethical questions of other processes that use this sort of random patterning with little or no human intentionality. Such as Google, Ten by Ten, Jamie Zawinski’s Web Collage, Chris Lightfoot’s Driftnet or the “43” web sites.

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