Drawing inspiration from the work of Andrea Lunsford and Lisa Ede, this presentation questions what relevance the concept of “audience” holds in light of participatory media, as well as what relevance the term “text” holds with respect to the shifting dynamics of web design. For example, an emerging practice among web developers is to employ multi-variate design testing: users are randomly directed toward one of many possible designs of a web-page and the developers track user activity to evaluate which design is most effective. Moreover, this process is increasingly automated, meaning users might never see the “real” version of a website. What happens when the interface itself is no longer a stable rhetorical site and instead responds dynamically to the usage patterns of its audience? Can “audience” and “text” still be useful terms when websites are able to adapt their content and design to the browsing habits of potential readers? In response to these questions, this presentation speculates on how composition theory and pedagogy can reflect on the fundamental terms used in rhetorical analysis, how these terms can be repurposed when texts shape themselves in response to their readers, and how this serves as a generative opportunity to critically read the present and reread the past.
Presented at Computers and Writing, Pullman, WA, June 2014