The Rhetoric of Code
When working to persuade an audience, one assumes to mostly wrestle with whatever’s rendered on the other side of the code. The archaic mess of symbols tucked under the rug of GitHub files is kept cleanly from view—or especially interest—from the community I work with, because the rhetoric of the rendered site seems to be what counts most, the public face with the most agency. For example, as I continue to construct my site for Filipinx-American spaces, I begin to lean more heavily toward the Fil-Am community in terms of their needs and how the website could possibly contribute to meeting those needs. The process is a loop wherein I present the current manifestation of the site to community members with an assumption toward their needs, and their feedback corrects those assumptions, sending me back to the rebuilding of the site. The feedback loop continues (on and on, it seems, at this stage of the semester). None of them care for how I manipulate code, nor do I think to persuade them of my hefty inelegant patchwork of code adopted from several online spaces.
This last week, however, I’d been introduced to the rhetoricity of code, adding yet another layer to community work and the persuasive complexity within digital literacy.
At this year’s Conference on College Composition and Communication, Dr. Kevin Brock’s presentation “Treating Code as a Persuasive Argument” drew attention away from the often emphasized instrumental power of code toward its rhetorical capacity. Exploring a user’s proposal on Ruby Rails to improve code logic’s efficiency in determining a default layout, Brock revealed how the discourse of the proposal’s reception illuminated code’s ability to perform, measure against existing code, measure in terms of readability, measure in potential to bring further code improvements, and demonstrate potential applicability to other pages. The prioritized elements of code logic and representation point to the particular values of a digital discourse, one that may inform the persuasiveness and argument underlying any proposed code.
Fortunately for now, crafting a persuasive set of code is beyond my skill set. Admittedly, I’m not so discriminant in finding and adopting a code as long as it renders something decipherable and functional on the other end. Despite this, I can appreciate Dr. Brock’s insights into the rhetoricity of code which sheds light on the engagement of programmers and communities behind the scenes as another complex discourse that digital literacy grapples with. It also brought to my attention the idea of how adoption of certain codes for particular functions could culturally rewrite the code’s original use in the community, consequently helping to disperse a re-appropriated version. An example of this could be the innocent use of codes traditionally (and originally) used for listing as a new means for paragraph indenting. In these ways, code evolves as any other language, though with functionality seemingly dictating the values and hence direction of its evolution (for now, and put in extremely simplified terms).
In a sense, with digital composing, I realize I don’t just work with the community that drives my content. Especially with a public repository on platforms like Github, I could also potentially be engaging with the coding community.