by Mary Kate Reilly
During our last class when Prof. McCamley asked us about the kinds of writing we do, I readily included emailing, commenting, posting, tweeting and even texting as a type of rhetoric I engage in. Though digital writing could certainly be seen as trivial, I listed it right alongside deductive and analytical academic writing because, in some cases, electronic formats promote brevity. Breaking ideas down to their basic elements can, at times, be essential to effective communication; a limited format like a tweet or text demands a true understanding of the essence of one’s position.
This clip of Louis CK on Conan made me consider the stark negatives that accompany our society’s ever-increasing engagement with electronic communication. The philosophical comedian argues that smartphones and social media have an adverse effect on the human condition, an effect that dilutes rhetoric and erodes essential aspects of communication. The video in its entirety is awesome and thought-provoking, but I’m only discussing the first minute or so. If you don’t feel like watching the whole thing, skip ahead for the Sparknotes version:
Louis C.K. argues that by engaging in in-person verbal meanness, school-age children learn empathy and humanity by viewing the sadness and pain of those they hurt. When cruelty is broadcast from behind a keyboard or cellphone, a child loses the ability to be a firsthand witness to the suffering are capable of causing. They don’t gain tolerance and goodness. They realize that cruelty is easy when there are no visible/audible consequences and perpetuate those harmful behaviors.
When those who would be students of rhetoric communicate in a way that excludes emotion, how can authentic pathos be developed? I think that that true understanding of human feelings and reactions, the ways in which to relate to and move an audience, will diminish as our lives become centered around exchanging text with others rather than exchanging spoken words.