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Everyday Digital Rhetoric: A Response

The term “digital storytelling” is often used to describe the mediation of personal stories online (Smith and Watson 71), which is particularly apt when it comes to the carefully curated versions of self seen in social media.  Any user of social media has, sometimes subtly and sometimes obviously, altered his or her self on social networking sites, whether it’s untagging photos, retweeting from well-known feeds, or participating in specific subreddits. The clear impact of this self-censoring is a misrepresentation of the self, to the point where the self represented can appear so entirely different that it portrays an uncanny and bizarrely idyllic constant. It can feel like a live-posted holiday card—the happy highlights and nothing else. On the other end, people who post ups as well as downs can be viewed as whiny, attention-seeking, or overdramatic. While there are various effects to “oversharing” as well as the well-noted negative impacts of consistent social media use, the curation of self material is often viewed as a negative. From extremes like catfishing to the more typical cliché of using older pictures on your dating profile, self-curation is considered narcissistic, manipulative, and sometimes even criminal. Clearly, authenticity can be entirely crafted (Smith and Watson 75), but self-curation of the online self is simply a more visible version of the same rhetorical practices people have exercised for ages. Online curation may even help facilitate user’s understanding of their rhetorical situation. The instantaneous nature of feedback on social media can help its users better understand the particulars of a given audience—what is appropriate, expected, appreciated, interesting, or worthwhile can all be gleaned by likes, shares, retweets, comments, and upvotes. If something is posted and it does not garner attention quickly or at all, the social media user can assume either the message is inappropriate to the audience, or perhaps not posted at an ideal time for the audience’s viewing.   Additionally, by playing with and participating in communities in a particular social media, users gain knowledge of the specific media’s limitations and strengths. Popular YouTube channels, Instagram accounts, Twitter feeds, and more all use their media wisely and purposely. However, this can be taken to the extremes of blatant pandering, sometimes with very negative implications. An awareness of rhetoric plays heavily into the success of many self-curation efforts, which simply acts to create a more rhetorically conscious online population.

About betsybrey

Betsy Brey (BA and MA, University of Minnesota Duluth) is a PhD candidate specializing in game studies at the University of Waterloo department of English Language and Literature. Her research focuses on the narratological impacts of game mechanics. In particular, she researches mechanics and storytelling in metagames, virtual reality, and role-playing games. She works with the IMMERSe research network and The Games Institute, where her research has been funded with a Mitacs partnership. She is also the Editor-in-Chief for FirstPersonScholar.


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