Friday, August 21, 2009

RTB Likes Validity — Hates the Hegemony of Print Culture

I finally have some time to respond to the second issue that in my mind arose from Week 1, the idea of multi-modal data and its "published" representation.

To understand my position(s), it might be helpful to look at a post I made last year about an article by Marc Prensky concerning a shift in media culture and the rise of a new concept of literacy. Just as the affordances of an emerging print culture (permitting people to generate, store and retrieve ideas as needed across time efficiently and accurately, affording the development of complex ideas) displaced the dominant oral culture of the ancients (Remember, Socrates was a vehement opponent of the emerging print culture, calling it "inhuman"), so new media, with their ability to fuse orality, performance and text to convey meaning in ways a print culture simply cannot, are poised to supplant that print culture, naysayers notwithstanding. Which brings me to two thoughts:

  • Given where we stand, it puzzles me that discourse analysis (at least what we've seen and discussed so far) concentrates on such a small sliver of the meaning we convey as to render it hollow. Communication ("speech" or "illocutionary" acts in the broadest sense), has always been multi-modal, as communication is not exclusively fact, go out and find an article that discusses the various components of communication, and most will spring from or reflect Mehrabian's (1971) "7%-38%-55% Rule"...only 7% of the meaning we convey is linguistic...38% comes from paralanguage, and 55% comes from non-verbal communication. Yet, DA/CA privileges linguistic speech acts as data, with some token aspects of paralanguage. Does it occur to anyone that this might cause one to unwittingly produce an analysis akin to Horace Miner's Nacirema? My mind goes back to one of the earliest cases of "deconstruction experts" in the courtroom (of course, I can't remember the name of the case now, does it ring a bell to anyone?). Someone was accused of an intentional criminal act, and the prosecution hung their case on the dialog transcript from a video, and had the defense let that go, it likely would have been an open-and-shut case. The defense, however, hung their case on a frame-by-frame deconstruction of the paralanguage and non-verbal communication, which was in their representation diametrically opposed to the sense the prosecution was trying to establish via the dialogue. The defendant was acquitted. I can think of a million "faux pas" that could occur in intercultural analyses if non-verbal communication was not taken into account. I don't know whether to blame the hubris of a logocentric Western society, the slow-grinding wheels of "les vieux dinosaurs" of academia, or my own impatience for not letting Trena "get to that" later on in the semester. I guess I'll know before long, won't I?

  • But (perhaps) more to the point: for a discipline that places high value on the analysis of 'naturally occurring' language use, you would think that there would be an equally high value placed on conveying that information in a 'natural' or 'contextualized' way, especially given the affordances of new media. That having been said...have you looked at the Jeffersonian notation system? Could anything be more de-contextualized than rendering the intricacies of speech acts via text and an arbitrary set of signifiers for which one must acquire a taste? Now, in her defense, if I were operating in an academy that was the paragon of print culture, and the technologies of another/emergent literacy were not available to me, I would have done the same thing...what else could I do? I cannot blame Gail Jefferson. But we know better. We have known for some time that this kind of reduction strips communication of the system of references and repetitions between the three modes, as well as intermodal discourse indicators that we rely on when "reading" a conversation. We have the means to fix it...we can display video, play audio, and mount text simultaneously, with any one of the modes serving as gloss for the other (although it makes the most sense for the marginalia to be textual). We have infinite storage and a society (and, mirabile dictu, administrators) willing to embrace a switch to digital scholarship. We as scholars are the ones standing in our own way, and I find that lamentable.

Mehrabian, A. (1971). Silent messages. Wadsworth, Belmont, California.