My Mind is My Oyster

Carr’s point on the mechanical clock is enlightening. His short passage on page 43 has helped me understand the impact of tools and devices in my life. Carr argues that the qualities of technology have a profound effect on our way of thinking: in the way we see ourselves. The power to change the state of one’s mind is a power worth having. In understanding how devices in my life may shape me, I can make better decisions to mold my mind as I see fit. Just as Carr says technology is an effort to shape the world around us, I find it inadvertently shapes ourselves.

The qualities of technology quietly impart a change on our mental state. Take for example the tools that measure time. The precise, constant ticking of the mechanical clock is sequential. It is logical. The mechanical clock has a mathematical focus as it tells time with numbers while dividing time in halves and quarters. The result of technological qualities is an educational effect on the user: an emphasis on understanding sequences, on action relative to time, and on seeing the flow of time as physical movement. This leads to a change in how the user of the clock thinks. Technology has a different effect even within the same concept or task it attends to. A mechanical clock gives quite the different concepts and lessons to the user than a digital watch does. There is no visual aid to see the quarters and halves of time, or to see the ticking of the hands on a digital watch. It is a simplification of time. On the other hand, one must read a mechanical clock by being aware of the positioning of the hands and seeing physical movement. But a digital clock is simply lights. It is essentially like looking at a still television or a screen-saver on a computer.

How does technology facilitate changes in my mental state? What impact does Twitter have on my way of thinking over time? Some notable qualities of Twitter: the main page is covered in pictures with tweets from celebrities, and significant institutions. Information is conveyed in short blurbs of 140 characters. That is not an abundance of space to make a serious case for any argument or claim. The most prominent aspect of Twitter: the space limitation, causes the user to condense complex ideas. Perhaps, in some cases, Twitter causes us to forget how to form complex thoughts and processes. When I look at tweets from Donald Trump, I see broad sweeping exclamations that are inherently baseless: there is no in depth explanation or linking of external texts/resources. Context is forgotten, ignored, or left a complete mystery. In a Nordstrom Tweet it is nigh-impossible to understand the motives of Trump, unless the tweet is taken at face value: even then different perceptions arise. Use of Twitter causes change to one’s mental qualities and values. Twitter values speed of information discharge and absorption. It leads to a mental value that baseless claims or exclamations are acceptable or even desirable. It causes context to become obsolete and absent in information and communication. Technology affects the mental state of us all. Our choices of technological use have profound and far reaching effects that we struggle to perceive. I look to the future with a greater awareness of how the devices in my life may impact my thought process and mental state. I will take the utmost care of my oyster!


Class, Wed, 2/15

Media Feeds

Upcoming Work

Carr, The Shallows

In groups: Read and talk about the passages from Carr that each of you tweeted about. Pick one that you’d like to discuss with the whole class. Remember that you have a response to Carr due tomorrow. See if you can identify a moment in his book that might spark some writing!

To Do

  1. Thurs, 2/16, 10:00 am: Post your first response to Carr to this site.
  2. Fri, 2/17, class: Read and write a brief comment on the posts from each member of your group. You’ll discuss each other’s writing in class.
  3. Fri, 2/17, 11:59 pm: Make at least two posts to our media feeds.
  4. Mon, 2/20, class: Read as much of Carr as you can. Also read Fenton and Lee to p.9. Think about how you might use their advice in your writing for this course.

Groups and Comments

In order to give you a chance to see what some of the other people in this class are doing as writers, I’d like you to work as part of a six-person group.

Every Thursday I’d like you to read and write some comments on the work posted by the other five members of your group. These comments don’t need to be long—50 words or so will usually be fine. You might quickly note something you admire about a piece, or a point on which you disagree, or another text (or other passage in the text we’re all reading) that seems relevant.

The real point is for you to have read and thought about the other posts, since I would like to spend about half of our classes on Fridays discussing your work as writers. This will make sure you’re ready to do so.

Here are the groups:

Group 1

  • Jake B
  • Amanda D
  • Melinda G
  • Will K
  • Nicole M
  • Mackenzie S

Group 2

  • Jay B
  • Ellie D
  • Allison H
  • Peter K
  • Ashley M
  • Brittany W

Group 3

  • Alex C
  • Isabella D
  • Devon I
  • James K
  • Molly O
  • Sam W

Group 4

  • Graham C
  • Katie F
  • Elyssa I
  • jessica L
  • Sara R
  • Hannah W


Writing: First Response to Carr

Nicholas Carr

Please read the first six chapters (up to p. 114) of Nicholas Carr’s The Shallows. Then write a brief response  (say, about 400 words or so) in which you connect you relate some aspect of your own experiences as a user of the internet and social media to what Carr has to say.

I have one hint and one requirement:

  • The hint: Don’t try to respond to the broad sweep of Carr’s argument. Pick a particular point that he makes that you feel you can respond to in a specific, detailed, and compelling (perhaps unexpected) way. You may want to begin with the passage you tweeted for class on Wed, 2/15. Remember that you are one of 24 people responding to this text. You want to say something different from the other 23.
  • The requirement: You must include a hyperlink to another text in your response. I am asking you to draw on your experiences in responding to Carr, but those experiences involving interacting with other texts. I want you to link, meaningfully, to at least one of them.

A note on style: I’m asking for your response to Carr. So you should feel free to write in a personal and informal voice. At the same time, though, I expect you to be professional: to show that you’ve read Carr closely, to carefully edit your prose, and to submit your writing on time.

I will also ask you to read and comment on the responses posted by five of your classmates. We’ll talk more about how I’d like you to do so in class on Wednesday, but you should plan now set aside about an hour on Tbursday for this work.


Please post your response to this site by Thurs, 2/16, at 10:00 AM. Use Carr and your Group as your categories, and come up with at least three good tags for your post.

Class, Mon, 2/13

Media Feeds

In groups: Review our course feeds on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Pick one post that you’d like to talk about with the larger class—that either makes a interesting point about the issues we’ve been discussing, or makes an effective use of the platform.

Lakoff on Trump on Twitter

George Lakoff. 2017. A Taxonomy of Trump Tweets.

Writing: First Response to Carr

Questions About Course

To Do

  1. Wed, 2/15, class: Read Carr to p. 114. Before class, tweet one passage from the book you’d like us to discuss. Note the page you’re quoting, and remember to use #e397dr. Please also read Fenton and Lee to p. 9. Note any ways their advice might help you with writing your first response to Carr.
  2. Thurs, 2/16, 10:00 am: Post your first response to Carr to this site.
  3. Fri, 2/17, class: Read and write a brief comment on the posts from each member of your group. You’ll discuss each other’s writing in class.

Class, Wed, 2/08

Twitter, live-tweeting, media usage


Complete your User Profile. Add your Public Display name, photo, and a brief blurb.

Twitter: Live-Tweeting This Class

  • Quotation
  • Question
  • Comment
  • Link
  • Response/Retweet


Other Social Media Feeds

  • Facebook: Respond or start a new conversation
  • Instagram: Think “digital”, “rhetoric”, “writing”. What images comes to mind?

Media Usage Journal

Individually: Review the list you made yesterday. See if you can mark the items on it with the following tags:

  • Screen vs. Paper
  • Reader vs. Writer
  • Screen Device: Laptop, tablet, phone, projection screen, etc.
  • Paper device: Book, magazine, notebook, loose-leaf, etc.
  • Screen platforms: Facebook, Twitter, Word, Sakai/Canvas, WordPress, etc.

An example: My media usage journal for 2/07


In groups of four or five: Compare your annotated lists. See if you can create a group table that documents your collective media usage. Try to note:

  • Number of times individuals used screen or paper
  • Number of times as reader or writer
  • Duration: What platforms/devices did individuals spend most time with?

What observations do you want to make based on this data? What seems most salient? Most idiosyncratic? Email me a group document with your data and comments.

To Do

  1. Fri, 2/10: No class! But submit at least two posts related to this class to Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram.
  2. Mon, 2/13, class: Read through the course materials on this site. I’ll plan to spend some time responding to your questions and comments. Also read the prologue and first three chapters of Nicholas Carr’s The Shallows (pp.1–57). Your first writing for this course, a response to the first six chapters, will be due Thurs, 2/16, at 10:00 AM.
  3. Continue reading Carr to page 114.

Class, Mon, 2/06

Goals, affordances, screen culture, accounts to set up

Goals of This Course

Practical: How can we use the affordances of the web as writers?

Affordance: The qualities or properties of an object that define its possible uses or make clear how it can or should be used.

The design and architecture of environments enable certain types of interaction to occur. Round tables with chairs make chatting with someone easier than classroom-style seating. Even though students can twist around and talk to the person behind them, a typical classroom is designed to encourage everyone to face the teacher. . . . Understanding the affordances of a particular technology or space is important because it sheds light on what people can leverage or resist in achieving their goals. For example, the affordances of a thick window allow people to see each other without being able to hear each other. To communicate in spite of the window, they may pantomime, hold up signs with written messages, or break the glass. The window’s affordances don’t predict how people will communicate, but they do shape the situation nonetheless.

 ~danah boyd, It’s Complicated (Yale UP, 2013), pp. 10–11

I introduced the term affordance to design in my book, “The Psychology of Everyday Things”. The concept has caught on, but not always with true understanding. Part of the blame lies with me: I should have used the term “perceived affordance,” for in design, we care much more about what the user perceives than what is actually true. What the designer cares about is whether the user perceives that some action is possible (or in the case of perceived non-affordances, not possible).

~Donald Norman, “Affordances and Design

Critical: How can we understand the screen culture we are now all part of?


Libby Balaker, “Frederick Douglass Opens Twitter Account from Beyond the Grave to Troll President Trump”.  One Hot Mess, Feb 1, 2017.

To Do

Please do immediately:

  • Create a WordPress account. Fill out your user profile. Select a name that will identify you to the other members of this class. (First name and initial usually work.) I will also need your user ID (email) to make you a contributor to this site.
  • Create a Twitter account. Again, select a name that will identify you to the rest of us. Follow me at @joeharris_ud.
  • Create an Instagram account. Select a name that will identify you.
  • Go to the Facebook page for E397: Digital Rhetorics. Send a request to join.
  1. Wed, 2/08, class: Media Usage Journal: Please try to list each time you interact, as either a writer or reader, with paper or screen tomorrow (Tues, 2/08). Class notes, homework, books, articles, Facebook, Twitter, text messages, Instagram, Snapchat, YouTube, Netflix, broadcast TV—whatever. You don’t have to describe what you were doing at any length. Just keep a running count: “texted friend”, “took notes in psych”, “watched Colbert on YouTube”, etc. Bring your list with you to class. We’ll work with them.
  2. Fri, 2/10: No class! But submit at least one post related to this class to Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram.
  3. Mon, 2/13, class: Read through the course materials on this site. I’ll plan to spend some time responding to your questions and comments. Also read the prologue and first three chapters of Nicholas Carr’s The Shallows (pp.1–57). Your first writing for this course, a response to the first six chapters, will be due Thurs, 2/16, at 10:00 AM.

Bring a laptop with you to all of our classes!