Gail E. Hawisher professor , University of Illinois, Department of English. e-post: hawisher@uiuc.edu

Anders FagerjordRhetorical Convergence: Earlier Media Influence on Web Media FormOslo: Unipub 2003

Connections Across the Web

In the tradition of Jay David Bolter and Richard Grusin in their 1999 book Remediation, Anders Fagerjord in Rhetorical Convergence presents a critical framework through which to explore the many changes that occur when media texts move to the electronic screens of computers. Fagerjord aims to construct a theoretical framework by analyzing particular genres and examples that inhabit the Web. In so doing, he thoughtfully examines the emergence of various media forms as they migrate and are transformed through electronic publication. Fagerjord divides his thesis into nine essays, with each essay taking on a different problem, in an effort to help readers understand how they might conceptualize multimediated texts and the many different rhetorical forms they assume on today’s Web.

The nine essays consist of an introductory chapter in which Fagerjord lays out his theory on the axes of rhetorical convergence, followed by four essays, each presenting a case study to illustrate a theory of rhetorical convergence. In explaining his organization, Fagerjord points out that his opening essay would ideally take the form of a home page – although a «longish» home page – with the other chapters then linked to this home page. After probing, in the next four essays, notions related to the synthesis of all media, rhetorical convergence as demonstrated through news web sites such as VG Nett and CNN.com, the promise of semiotic theory for Web analysis, and the qualities of linearity and multicursality in web texts, Fagerjord turns seriously to the use of the visual on the Web. Essays 6 through 8, «Interactive Graphics,» «Presenting Photographs,» and «Combining Video and Writing» all concern themselves with images and their increasingly ubiquitous presence on the Web. The final chapter, «Quests and Worlds,» then moves to a consideration of games and the Web or what Fagerjord calls «the most successful form of digital entertainment» (p. 327). All nine essays address major questions associated with multimodal composition by presenting detailed analyses of certain recurrent examples of web site design. Taken together, the essays provide an overarching argument for understanding the Web and make a major contribution to the field of digital media studies.

A major strength of the thesis is in the detailed analysis Fagerjord brings to his study, which is well illustrated in the final chapter on computer games. Here, for example, Fagerjord admits that since games are so readily available on the Web it makes sense that features of gaming have made their way into web texts. According to him, some web texts occupy «a borderland» between games and other kinds of texts. Using the National Geographic site and the media text, «Go West Across America with Lewis and Clark,» Fagerjord convincingly demonstrates the presence of game-like chbutoraracteristics that mark this site. Replete with an abundance of images, the web story presents its viewers with a series of episodes, each including a dilemma that must be solved. Viewers click on a menu to select their choices. Another site, this time from PBS, gives viewers a web text entitled «You’re the General,» in which choices must be made to successfully win an American Civil War battle. Viewers’ answers are presented along with the choices that the historical persona made, thus combining the genres of gaming and historical account. Still another site, this time a history site from BBC, opens up by presenting viewers with a panoramic view of models of a Viking Longhouse, resembling in their presentation the computer game Myst. According to Fagerjord, however, these spaces tell us little until they are annotated, that is, until a text box appears in which the scenery is explained and the longhouse described.

From these examples and others, Fagerjord thus traces connections between web documentaries and computer games, categorizing some as «border texts» (p. 345), which exhibit features of both genres. That some web texts, with their plethora of photographs, graphics, video, music, and speech often tend to belong to different genres all at once supports Fagerjord’s theory of rhetorical convergence. In other words, today we are able to observe this theory of convergence in action, that is, a theory which argues that «the mixing of traits from different genre or media into new in-between positions» (p. 347) marks the media texts of the Web. In the future, I would argue, the convergence will be less discernible although no less critical to understanding the development of web media texts. As Bertram Bruce and Maureen Hogan argue, the more technology and its different manifestations are absorbed into everyday practices, the less we tend to see it – «the embedding of the technology in the matrix of our lives makes it invisible.» (p. 270)

Throughout his thesis, Fagerjord moves successfully between a careful analysis of such texts and the need for general observations that work to build his conceptual framework. Ultimately, his thesis is an interdisciplinary inquiry, relying on such diverse theories and theorists as those populating the work of rhetorical studies, journalism, narrative theory, semiotics, poststructuralism, graphical presentation, usability theory, technology studies, broadcast media, linguistics and new media theory, just to mention some of the areas into which Fagerjord ventures. Although his major thrust is to develop a typology for web design, along the way he makes a number of crucial conceptual distinctions between ways of implementing and combining media elements, and, in so doing, offers a broad theoretical framework for analysis of web-texts and lines for further inquiry. Perhaps Fagerjord’s single most important achievement is to have given us a more systematic and elaborated account of the different textual media that constitute the Web. In short, Rhetorical Convergence: Earlier Media Influence on Web Media Form makes a major contribution to current thinking about the Web as a publication and design

venue for many different kinds of media texts which – given the rapidity of technological change – will continue to evolve in unpredictable ways.