Writing in a Digital Age (Museum Exhibit Idea)

Last week, digital artists Shannon McMullen and Fabian Winkler delivered the last lecture of the 2010 Hutton Series at Purdue.  Their artwork is highly interactive—turning traditional art-viewers into art-participants.  They encourage this kind of interaction by grappling with the way we move and interact within different environments.  How do we move within specific spaces?  Why?  What makes us act?  What turns us from observers into active participants?

Inspired by their work, I’ve developed a very rough idea for a museum exhibit on, “Writing in a Digital Age.”  In my dreams, this exhibit would be housed in a larger Museum of Rhetoric & Composition; Writing Studies; and/or the Humanities.  It would be far too challenging to share design ideas for an entire museum in this small reflection space, so instead, I’ll share some preliminary ideas for an exhibit that encourages participants to grapple with what it means to write in our current digital age.  Here are some features of my dream exhibit:

Exhibit:  Writing in a Digital Age

  • Twitter Feed—As participants enter the exhibit, they see a large white wall with a projection of Twitter updates related to the exhibit itself.  A small explanatory paragraph tells them how to tweet about the exhibit (i.e. what @ feed reply to send updates to).  As participants move through the exhibit, they see other signs like this that invite them to make responses to specific exhibit conceptions/experiences on the Twitter Exhibit Feed.  Those responses are—through Twitter—projected onto the exhibit projection wall.
  • What is rhetoric?
    • This portion of the exhibit takes participants through example rhetorical analyses using video lectures, conversations, discussions, and meetings (from real college classrooms, coffeehouse conversations, business meetings, etc.).  People nationwide can submit videos to this exhibit online and participants can select which ones they’d like to watch from the archives.  Curators can highlight the ones they think are most informed or helpful for understanding rhetorical analysis.
    • How rhetoric works:  Participants view rhetorical devices-in-action via video demonstrations.  On a large screen, press a term (i.e. repetition, synecdoche, silence) and see a video example of how the term can be used to affect audiences.
    • Participants are then thrown into the world of rhetorical analysis.  They are asked to respond briefly in writing to specific rhetorical arguments like advertisements, slogans, speeches, editorials, essays, and bits of literature.  Responses can be:
      • Analyze the argument’s rhetoric—what devices does it use to deliver its message?
      • How did the argument affect you?  Did it make you feel a certain way?  Did it make you want to take a particular action?

      These responses are then “attached” to the specific rhetorical arguments, viewable by all participants at the end of viewing and responding to the arguments themselves.

  • Collaborative Composition
    • Collaborative writing:  Participants would use Google Docs to write collaboratively.  Have folders with specific writing projects in them.  Participants will open a project and add to the doc.
      • Folders might have working projects on:
        • Editorials on different political issues (might encourage satire)
        • Literacy Narrative of National Conceptions:  obesity, family, driving, vacation, work, raising children
        • Letter to the President
        • Literary analysis (choose a book)
        • Book review
        • Restaurant review
    • Collaborative Design:  A collaborative space where participants build visual arguments.
      • What is a visual argument?  Takes participants through example visual analyses using prof video lectures and class discussions (from real college classrooms, coffeehouse conversations, business meetings, etc.).  People nationwide can submit videos to this exhibit online and participants can select which ones they’d like to watch from the archives.  Curators can highlight the ones they think are most informed or helpful for understanding visual analysis.
      • The Elements of Design:  Here, participants could learn the elements of design through play (i.e. contrast, repetition, alignment, proximity, etc.).
      • Collaborative Design:  After learning about visual argument, participants could build visuals together in a way similar to the collaborative writing portion of the exhibit.
  • Writing Without Desks
    • This portion of the exhibit begins with an explanation of current research in multimodal composition.  It explains the importance of verbal, oral, aural, visceral, physical, and emotional communication in the process of writing.  It also explains the diversity of writing processes across the nation by asking participants to think critically about how different spaces change their writing process.
    • These spaces might be historical:  They could begin by walking one-on-one and performing verbal argument like in Ancient Greece.  Next, they could sit in stiff row-seats and write on personal chalkboards like in the 18th century classroom.  They could also move into pencil and paper writing of the 20th century.
    • Last, they could enter a more 21st century space that encourages writers to use any and all resources that work for them.  This space would include:  yoga mats, couches, pillows, whiteboards, great lighting, computers, iPads, and peer workshop options (find each other options—sign in on computer and see who wants to give feedback?).

  • Facebook Me: In this portion of the exhibit, participants log-in to their Facebook accounts and then walk through a tunnel that projects different portions of their FB page.  Each portion allows participants to interact.  Here are some of those portions:
    • You:  Over the Years–shows FB pics in chronological order.  Asks participants to write a blog-like response (can include pics) or record a video response to seeing their pics.  Those responses are shared on a big screen in the museum exhibit.  To spur response, we would list questions like:  Which picture do you feel represents you best?  Why?
    • What’s Your Status?:  This portion of the FB exhibit lists all of the participants’ status updates in chronological order.  Participants are then asked to categorize each update based on its topic or intended effect (i.e. get feedback on an emotion/struggle; gossip about celebs; share new life experience; debate politics).  These categories would be pre-set, but would also offer an “other” option so that participants could add other categories.
    • What my FB page doesn’t tell you:  This prompt would occur at the very end of the tunnel.  Participants can write a sentence or two about what FB does not allow them to say/represent about themselves.

Participants would, of course, need to walk through the FB tunnel individually.  Once one person is done, the next could log-in and enter.  As individuals exit, their responses to the different prompts throughout the tunnel are projected onto large screens—collective and visible to all exhibit participants.  This is a very visceral way to demonstrate the opportunities and limitations that exist within just one digital space.  It also offers research into the ways people use FB—especially status updates.

About taylo206

I am an Assistant Professor of Composition, Rhetoric and Professional Writing at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio.
This entry was posted in Public Rhetorics, Teaching Approaches, Writing Exercises. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Writing in a Digital Age (Museum Exhibit Idea)

  1. J. H. Adams says:

    That’s a pretty kooky idea, Katie: a museum exhibit to a non-physical artifact. Normally I associate museums with objects, not ideas, though I guess that since the root word of museum is “Muse,” your vision is oddly appropriate, perhaps more so than most actual museums are. I like it.

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