Still rolling over in my head the great conversation we had in class this week in my Composing Identities graduate seminar. Now that the class is well underway I want to do some reflecting on it here in the next few weeks, particularly as it connects to the book project. This week we were talking about agency and technology, but rather than use the lens of rhetorical affordances we focused on the emotional and social responses and uses people make of digital technology in communicating. The most productive piece for the class (as it has been for me) was a chapter from Mirca Madianou and Daniel Miller’s 2012 book Migration and New Media. We read the chapter on “Polymedia.” Madianou and Miller, define polymedia as focusing “less on the affordances of each particular medium and more on how users exploit the contrasts between media as an integrated environment in order to meet their relationship and emotional needs” (p 128). In other words, in a moment when, if you have a smart phone for example, you can easily and quickly choose a variety of ways to communicate a message (texting, Instagram, Twitter, phone call even) the choice becomes shaped less by the material affordances of the technology and more by considerations of sociality, emotion, and power. “Polymedia is not a range of technical potentials, it is a series of cultural genres or emotional registers that make these contrasts into significant differences in communication by exploiting them for various tasks within relationships” (p. 148).
To think about sociality is to consider how relationships are coordinated and sustained. Such relationships are formed within what the conventions of what Madianou and Miller call the “cultural genres of sociality,” which include the roles and expectations within relationships that are shaped by culture. For example, a mother is both someone in a personal relationship with an individual child, as well as someone acting within and shaped by the cultural genres of the role of “motherhood.” To think about polymedia literacy practices within the context of sociality is to consider how the medium and mode, as well as the message, will be read within the context of the particular relationship. The chapter provided us with a great theoretical lens for conversation and the conversation took off in great explorations of how technology mediates, facilitates, and also frustrates both relationships and literacy practices. Everyone in the class particularly liked the way the ideas of polymedia helped them think through the connections between emotion as an embodied response and as a social response and disposition. People made excellent connections to our previous discussions of rhetorical agency and emotion and cognition. I’m still tumbling these ideas over for myself and eager to see where the others in the class take them next week. More on the seminar to come soon…..