Porter, “Recovering Delivery”

Porter, James E. “Recovering Delivery for Digital Rhetoric and Human-Computer Interaction.”

Because the rhetorical canon of delivery has been associated with the oral/aural and the bodily aspects of speech (i.e. voice and gesture), it has often been seen as irrelevant to written discourse. Porter, however, seeks to reclaim the canon of delivery in light of digital technologies: “Understanding how the range of digital delivery choices influences the production, design, and reception of writing is essential to the rhetorical art of writing in the digital age” (2).

First, he offers a historical understanding of delivery. Early conceptions of delivery fall along two lines of thinking: “(1) emphasizing the role of the body in rhetorical action, and (2) stressing the importance of emotional impact” (3).  Delivery’s focus on emotional forces of oration, coupled with the body, also attaches delivery to the character or ethos of the speaker. In light of technological shifts from oral to print technologies, Porter notes that the new forms of delivery “changed knowledge itself; it changed the parameters, procedures, and locus for what constituted religious truth and scientific knowledge; it changed who had the right to create, promote, and distribute knowledge, giving power to a wider range of voices” (4-5). In this way, Porter provides a way to understand written discourse as a matter of delivery.

More broadly, Porter defines Rhetoric in terms of techne: “techne requires both an abstract knowledge (e.g., of material and of form) and a procedural knowledge (e.g., of application and technique). In short, it requires both theoretical understanding and practical know-how working in tandem” (5). By fashion Rhetoric as techne, Porter is able to note that the creation of discourse involves the writer/designer to know the procedures and practical know-how to achieve a desired effect upon an audience: a knowledge of means of delivery, how they work, and how to reach audiences.

Porter, passingly, also offers a way to understand the canon of memory. Briefly, he mentions that a reclaimed sense of memory would include aspects of recovery/restoration and preservation, ensuring long-term survivability and access (7).

The central argument of Porter’s piece is his heuristic of digital delivery in five, interlaced components:

Body/Identity: “concerning online representations of body, gestures, voice, dress, and image, and question of identity and performance and online representations of race, class, gender, sexual orientation, and ethnicity” (2).

In an interesting move, Porter connects body to identity: “’The body’ includes a number of features related to your identity…These bodily features are significantly intertwined with your ethos as a speaker” (8). However, Porter further notes that the body does not disappear in the virtual space, but is rather remediated, constructed differently. For example, through an avatar, a user can create a bodily representation of self, “one that may or may not correspond to my lifeworld self,…but one that has virtual bodily existence” (8). The blurred line between the lifeworld self/body and the digitally represented body/identity fits within frameworks of post-human approaches to technology. Porter connects the virtual representations of the body with the cyborg: “a hybrid metaphor that challenges the human-machine distinction and questions conventional body boundaries and notions of the writer as purely human. A posthumanist approach explores cyborgian hybridity, the connectedness between human-machine” (10). In the study of writing, “the machines we use to write and speak are closely merged with our flesh-and-blood bodies” (10).

Distribution/Circulation: “concerning the technological publishing options for reproducing distributing, and circulating digital information” (2).

Porter makes an important distinction between circulation and distribution: Digital Distribution “refers to rhetorical decisions about the mode of presenting discourse in online situations.” Circulation “is a related term that pertains to how that message might be recycled in digital space” (11). As Porter writes, “you can design your discourse to achieve a high degree of circulation, or you can design it to limit circulation, depending on your wishes” (11). The neglect of delivery has often simultaneously neglected circulation: writing teacher thus equate the activity of composing with writing itself (Trimbur); in other words, not thinking in terms of techne. For example, school writing assignments typically begin with genre; however “in the realm of professional writing, assignments usually do not begin with genre; they are most likely to start with considerations of client/audience needs” (12). Succinctly, Porter writes, “in the digital realm, online writers need to become rhetorically smart distributors as much as producers  of discourse” (13).

Access/Accessibility: “concerning questions about audience connectedness to Internet-based information” (2).

When people are limited access to certain spaces, they are also limited access to information and public debates and cultural knowledge “vital to their health and well-being and necessary for their participation as citizens” (13). Porter makes a distinction between access and accessibility. Access refers to “whether a person has the necessary hardware, software, and network connectivity in order to use the internet.” Accessibility “refers to the level of connectedness of one particular group of persons—those with disabilities. Accessibility should be treated as a key rhetorical principle pertaining to audience” (14). Porter writes that when creating discourse, accessibility allow s us to consider how audiences are or are not able to both consume and produce information; design should meet people “where they live and with tools that are available to them, in order to provide support for those people to enable their increased access” (15).

Interaction: “concerning the range and types of engagement (between people, between people and information) encouraged or allowed by digital designs” (2).

A discussion of interaction includes (1) a discussion of the interfaces that allow for engagement with digital environments, and (2) a discussion of how humans engage other humans should computer-mediated spaces (16). In other words, a considering of interaction asks how design features allow users to interact with the information provided as well as others within the space. As Porter writes, it is not enough to merely give users access to information or able to use such information, but more important is providing a structure that allows users to become writers, co-producers, “when the distinction between audience and writer blurs” (17).

Economics: “concerning copyright, ownership and control of information, fair use, authorship, and the politics of information policy” (2).

Porter focuses much of attention unique economies of writing, particularly because it often does not involve monetary compensation for content. Rather, in what he refers to as a gift-exchange economy, writers are motivated to share and circulate writing for “reciprocal rights”: “it’s not pay per use, but rather open and free exchange, for the mutual benefit of all. It’s a community model that has worked, and worked well” (21). In a gift-exchange economy, content is shared to be re-used in a knowledge-building enterprise: writers “share information and resources of value to the community. You post information helpful to others with the hope (or expectation) that you will receive useful information in return” (21). Such a model of exchange is supported by digital technologies—particularly because users are able to access content more easily and interact and manipulate such content more easily. For plagiarism and copyright, such an exchange model is counterintuitive.


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