Meaning Maker

“The computer program has no real understanding of the user’s input” (Bogost 11).

Writing regarding the Rogerian psychologist program “Eliza,” Ian Bogost makes the point that the computer itself cannot really understand the input of the user, but can only process the input and respond based on procedural rules that the programmer has set up in the system. Although it is clear that a computer program has limits to its functionality as a result of its design, this question of “meaning,” I believe, is critical to the discussion of the relative persuasiveness of computer-produced rhetoric.

“Wherever there is meaning there is persuasion” (Bogost quoting Kenneth Burke, 21). If this statement is inversely true, then in order for a piece of digital rhetoric to be meaningful, it has to be persuasive. That persuasiveness is (according to Bogost), a consequence of the process written into the program and the effectiveness of its expression. I would extrapolate further and propose that “meaning” is also created in the interaction between the user and the program, and that the interaction follows the procedure of the designer and is constrained by their authorship of “potential events” (Bogost 64). In other words, meaning is not inherent to the actual physical technology and the efficacy of the program can be limited by the foresight of the designer.

The design or process that is crafted by the program creates a space in which a discourse is possible and obviously intended. The interface of the digital media allows for new ways to interact with information. In addition, the programs are able (by their processes) to articulate that information successfully to the user. Working as a medium for the purposes of the creator, computer-generated rhetoric is a powerful tool in producing avenues of meaning and understanding that are no longer chained to geographical locations or limited by physicality. Transcending the boundaries of all the forms it utilizes (i.e. text, image, film, sound, etc.), the computer program can be undeniably persuasive in its ability to communicate meaning.

One thought on “Meaning Maker

  1. I’m not sure the inverse of the statement “Wherever there is meaning there is persuasion” is true. It’s a one-way syllogism. I think digital rhetoric can be meaningful even if it isn’t persuasive—or even when it fails totally.

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