Digital Writing: The Rhetorical Action of Experience Project


Digital writing has opened up rhetorical actions that were previously hindered by previous genres of writing. In analyzing the social networking site, Experience Project, I have found that one of the main rhetorical actions that digital writing enables is anonymity. The ability to act without an identity allows for unrestricted expression, as well as (seemingly) consequence-free actions. As a result of this digital tool, people are able to willingly express their ideas, even if these ideas are radical or animated. Through the combination of digital writing and the profound access people have to the internet, anonymity enables people to blog, pose questions, and discuss with others to indirectly evolve a complex, diverse community.

Experience Project: A Community for Discussion and Self-Expression is a young social networking site that was created in 2007, and (as of December 5, 2011) houses a total 12,388,363 shared "experiences." Its digital locale and tools for expression and discussion make it an effective site for personal therapy as well as social expansion. The sites main sections encourage group formation, personal story-telling, confessions, and questioning and answering (Q&A). In addition to these main implements, the site also allows users to blog, discuss moods, find and listen to music, and even analyze their dreams. However, the site is not only restricted to personal stories and discussion as a means for therapy; it also allows users to discuss any topic, like sports, cooking, etc. The focus of this wiki will be to examine how each of the main sections enable rhetorical actions, such as anonymity. I will then discuss how this anonymity enables rhetorical actions, such as community building.

"The Bread and Butter"

Site Layout
The site has an inviting contrast of colors with various shades of light and dark blue against the whiter colors. It has a simple layout with a couple different tabs corresponding to the many different activities users can partake in including: Experience Groups, Stories, Confessions, Q&A, People, and More. The top of the page is headed by a dark blue colored bar, which serves as the shortcut center to said activities. In the top right corner there are 3 objects: an open letter, a person/figure, and a speech bubble which tells the user if they have new messages, friend requests, or notifications (respectively). Most internet users would likely believe that this site has a closely related layout and color contrast that has. This might serve the purpose to make the site feel inviting to the users but also maintains the users' privacy when other people see what they are doing on the computer. For example, EPuser says, “This site I like because….. it is keeping me from going to other sites and having to hide my computer every time someone comes in the room." This is interesting, because it seems that the site is using familiarity to invoke anonymity. By mimicking a familiar, successful site that many people use, the user feels they can express themselves without the curious eyes of others watching them. Since digital writing is such an integral part of modern society, this is something that other genres of writing do not enable. For example, writing in a diary exemplifies an object which holds secrets unbeknown to others (which may then lead others to try and invade their privacy and cripple the anonymity provided). Whereas having a familiar site layout can lead others to believe that the site is public, thus providing the anonymity that digital writing is such an important part of.

Experience Groups and Stories
One of the most important aspects of the site is the experience groups and the stories that result from them. This section allows users to do a variety of things; they can create a group based on any topic (no matter how trivial or personal) or they can join the many groups that others have created. Once the user is in a group, they can read stories in which people relate to the groups topic, or they can also post their own genre of stories. The site does have a stories section where users can see what are the most popular, top rated, most recent, and most commented on stories, or they can just follow stories from their group through the "Groups" page. For example, one group is title "I am Afraid of Cancer." Under the title the description states: "Read true personal stories, chat and get advice, support and help from a group of people who all say 'I am Afraid of Cancer.' And (at the moment) one of the top stories is title "Scared to Death" which details a young mothers potential encounter with cancer. Being able to discuss emotional, life-changing topics is an important facet of community building which, itself, enables a support system which users can explore and branch out, allowing them to network with new people and new stories; this could even lead to the user joining another, similar group.

This section of the site enables the users to make “confessions” and discuss a particular subject matter. These can be posted under a certain genre of confession such as Love confessions, other confessions, venting confessions, etc. Users have a few ways to discuss the matters of the confession with the author by either commenting or selecting one of the predetermined reactions: "you rock, teehee, I understand, sorry (hugs), and wow, just wow." And it also records what the most popular, most commented, and most recent confessions are. Commenting and reacting are an integral part of digital writing, which has enabled social expansion, or the growth and development of the community as a result of the various ways in which users interact (like blogging, forum discussion, etc.). This social expansion has occurred not only because people can say something and be heard, but also because they can say something and (almost immediately) discuss the topic with other people. One random confession was just simply, "I hate being alone!!" Although only three comments resulted they still served to help the person. One stated "We're all here, on the other side of your computer" and the other said Get yourself up. Get yourself out. Get yourself living :-)." The purpose of the confession section is not only to "get something off of their chest," but also to help them (in this case) with the grief and anxiety associated with being alone. By confessing the user feels that he/she has relieved information to a large audience of people, yet maintained the anonymity that hinders such actions. Confessions follow a simple equation; anonymity begets confession, which begets therapeutic discussion, which enables community building based that is not necessarily seen in genres other than the digital genre.

Questions and Answers
The last activity users can interact in is the Questions and Answers (Q&A) section. It is also like the confessions section in that there is a section for users to view the most recent, top rated, and most answered questions. The Q&A lets people ask and answer each others questions concerning any arbitrary topic. Authors of the question, as well as any other user, can then like comments and even comment on the comment. Each of these questions is also linked back to a specific group or topic; so (for example) there is a Health and Wellness Q&A section which stores all of the questions linked back to the issue. There seem to be many questions concerning sexual dysfunction, which is a topic that is not generally discussed face-to-face, especially between strangers. For example one of the questions was "Am I the only one with sexual dysfunction?" which is not appropriate conversation in public, and is even difficult to discuss with people close, like friends. By taking out the "face-to-face factor," the site (as well as most digital media) has created a satisfactory degree of anonymity required for discussing such uncommon topics. Discussing personal topics is an attractive feature of digital writing, which has breached the boundaries of what is appropriate to discuss, and whom to discuss it with.

The Rhetorical Action of Anonymity and the Perception of Security

Users on EP have explained that they feel they can express almost anything on the site, as long is it remains anonymous. It seems that many users feel safe expressing themselves and discussing moments in their life, because there are different groups, stories, and confessions dedicated to extreme topics like suicide, self-harm, sexual dysfunction, and depression. Unfortunately, discussing topics like these make users of the site especially venerable to internet "trolls." Trolls are a form of internet user that seek to make fun of people in forums, discussions and blogs, often specially targeting these extreme topics. This kind of activity was virtually unheard of in other genres of writing; digital writing, which usually accompanies ease of access and expression, has rhetorically enabled the self-amusement of trolls by allowing them to degrade others. It is unfortunate that the very anonymity that (digital writing) allows for people to express themselves and socially diversify, is the same anonymity that is used as a tool for others to bully and degrade.

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