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!