Rhetoric Beyond the Digital/Physical Divide: The Internet and Digital and Physical Hybridity

TR Number
Journal Title
Journal ISSN
Volume Title
Virginia Tech

In this dissertation, I report findings from three case studies of rhetoric about the internet based on a rhetorical theory of the internet as physical and digital hybrid. I understand digital and physical hybridity as connections between physical and digital objects enabled by the internet that trouble a delineation between digital and physical space. I begin my study by tracing the history of the internet and its relationship with materiality. While the vastness of the internet is not something that can be readily understood, it is something that spreads across space and time, resulting in effects that demand rhetorical response. I describe rhetorics of purification as rhetorical responses to the internet that isolate physical and digital objects and ascribe to these objects different qualities. These rhetorics can be productive in rendering the internet and its effects salient within different discourses, but they can also be limiting in terms of aspects of the internet that they elide. To situate my work, I review literature in the field focused specifically on the emergence of digital rhetoric and its theories, methods, and objects of inquiry. I describe a primary method of rhetorical analysis for locating rhetorical strategies used to account for internet technology in different discourses, with supplementary methods including distant reading and interface analysis. In the first case study, I consider a social media app that leveraged smartphone geolocation technology to situate anonymous online discourse within physical locations and analyze responses to the service and posts on the app. In the second case study, I consider legal decisions in the United States focusing on the rhetorical moves that make internet interactions matter within the context of internet surveillance and privacy rights. In the final case study, I consider online-only writing courses and the impact of online platforms on pedagogy through a procedural interface analysis. In conclusion, I focus on the relevance of these studies to ongoing conversations in digital rhetoric concerning social media, internet privacy, and pedagogy.

Rhetoric, Writing, Technical Communication, Digital Rhetoric, Internet