Books digital rhetoric

book publishing in a time of pandemics

I’m reviewing the copyedited version of my book manuscript (still well on pace for a Jan 2022 publication), and I’m thinking of adding a paragraph like the one below, either to the preface or introduction. Probably the preface since that bit has a more personal register. Basically it’s about the fact that the book was written before the pandemic. I know my readers understand the pace of academic publishing, but social distancing was such a dramatic experience and digital media was a big part of it.

All texts are written to be read in future situations that we can try to anticipate but obviously can never know. This is especially true for scholarly monographs about emerging digital media, such as this one. Early in March 2020, having made a few final edits, I pressed send on an email with this manuscript attached. A week later, in response to the spread of COVID-19, my university, along with others across the country, moved to socially-distanced working conditions and fully-online instruction. Basically, as faculty and students, we were all working from home. As many of us in academia experienced, this included using video conferencing, course management systems, social media, and related technologies. Indeed, social distancing meant arranging for much of our lives through digital technologies. These technological changes may have been the least of our worries, but they were significant nonetheless. As I write this now in July 2021, here in New York, many of the social restrictions of the past fifteen months have been lifted and my university plans to return to on-campus life next semester. In terms of this book, I believe that the intensification of our digital lives created by our months of social distancing has brought into sharper focus its major topics: our participation with digital media ecologies in making judgments (for good or bad); our partnership with personal digital devices in shaping our capacities for attending to the world; our negotiations as scholars with technological and academic assemblages; and our pedagogical experiments as parts of digital collectives with our students and colleagues. In short, though this text does not address the pandemic, the digital experiences of social distancing address themselves to the matters I discuss (or at least they did for me as I reread the manuscript in its final stages of preparation).

In the face of all the stuff we’ve been through since March 2020, this concern of mine is a minor thing, but it’s my book and if I’m not going to be concerned then who is, right? Don’t answer that question! It is just that, especially for the academic audience of this book, I think remote teaching/working and social distancing in general have likely shifted their experience and orientation toward digital media, and not necessarily in ways that are easy to describe or predict.

If anything, for myself, I’d say I am more ambivalent about the shape of our digital media ecologies. I am also ambivalent about this paragraph.

Is it possible to be intensely ambivalent?

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