[An] early blogger is more likely reading those writers whose work engages her interests, and those writers then become part of the early blogger’s habitus, so that as the early blogger’s work is influenced and shaped by those writers she’s reading (in terms of topic, tone, and presentation among other rhetorical elements)
In examining the small corpus of writers, patterns of rhetorical practices emerge that reveal writers’ explicit and implicit knowledge of how the network’s connections and participants interact. Briefly, though, we should consider the manner by which these writers were able to come into the network. That is, a blogger doesn’t set up her site, post an entry, and begin to receive comments and in-bound links from readers without some work. Participating as a networked writer requires material connection-building that is reminiscent of the Burkean parlor (Burke, 1941) and Bruno Latour’s first source of uncertainty (Latour, 2005). The Burkean parlor is often used as a metaphor for what an outsider does in order to enter an existing group. The parlor is a place where people gather and have conversations; the outsider must first listen carefully—as the discussion is too heated for any of the contributors to stop and fill in the newcomer—before inserting himself into the dialogue. Bloggers, in order to construct an audience, must first do an amount of listening, or reading, to get a sense of their potential reading community. This process of “getting a sense” is most likely an implicit move, one that does not involve an early blogger actively looking to see what other writers are doing in order to emulate or replicate their work. Instead, an early blogger is more likely reading those writers whose work engages her interests, and those writers then become part of the early blogger’s habitus, so that as the early blogger’s work is influenced and shaped by those writers she’s reading (in terms of topic, tone, and presentation among other rhetorical elements). In addition to becoming fluent in the conversation, however, the early blogger must also begin to contribute—not in posts of her own, but instead by leaving responses on others’ posts, and in so doing, leaving a link back to her own site. We can liken this process to Latour’s (2005) first source of uncertainty, which challenged the notion that sociologists can study existing groups, as what defines those groups (e.g. individuals, institutions) is in constant flux. Instead, the first source of uncertainty suggests that instead we study the traces that the chosen individuals or institutions leave behind. As the early blogger enters the conversation and begins to leave comments and links back to her own blog, she is both leaving traces of her existence within the group (and traces of the group) and changing the group itself.
Used with permission by Nicole Lee.
“Out of the Loop,” a cartoon by Nicole Lee (2007), illustrates how a writer who has not constructed a group with traces of his own will not find purchase with an audience, either because he has not listened long enough to the existing conversation to understand how his idea should be presented rhetorically, or because he has not left traces of himself in the network through which other writers visit his space regularly enough to care about what he’s writing.
Here, UberGeek posts to his blog, but diffusion of his idea does not occur until cybergurl re-contextualizes it in her own space. "Re-contextualizing," in this sense, refers both to the re-framing of the idea in a new venue with a different audience and to the way that cybergurl may have rhetorically situated UberGeek’s ideas. For unknown reasons, cybergurl’s audience is more apt to take up UberGeek’s idea than UberGeek’s own audience—if he even has readers. Understanding those unknown reasons is part of understanding network literacy. Clearly, cybergurl simply might have a larger audience than UberGeek, and this might account for her 158 comments and his 0. But how is cybergurl cultivating her substantial audience? The successful mom bloggers of our study corpus exhibit rhetorical moves that account for cybergurl’s network literate practices .
Storytelling:The first and arguably the most important of these literate practices is narrativity. This does not mean that every discrete entry tells a story in and of itself, though many times this is the case. In “Five Plus One Equals Eight,” Kelly of Mocha Momma recounted a conversation she had while driving with several of her colleagues (who are various public school administrators and teachers). Kelly expressed disgust that many of her 8th grade students were unable to list the eight parts of speech. The other passengers in the car fell silent because, Kelly realized, that they too were unable to remember all eight. “Me: ‘WHAT? What are you guys DOING? You don’t believe me?’ From the backseat: ‘Ssshhh. Shut up, Kelly. We’re counting’” (Kelly, 2007 February 2). Though this entry is less than three-hundred words long, it includes all the necessary narrative components. She sets the scene and introduces the characters or participants and their motivations and then describes the conflict, using detail and dialogue. The entry is essentially a short story or vignette, with the all-important resolution (or punchline) at the end: the principal didn’t know that interjections were a part of speech—she didn’t know what interjections were at all.
Use of Personal Information: The current colloquialisms TMI (Too Much Information) and “overshare” might also characterize this rhetorical strategy that involves writers disclosing features of their lives that would otherwise be considered unmentionable. On March 27, 2007 Izzy of IzzyMom posted an anecdote about taking her 21-month old son, “P,” to the local library for story time. He was unable to sit still as the librarian read the book, though, and ended up playing hide and seek under a display table, distracting the other children from the story. Izzy moved in to scoop her son up.
After much under-the-table wrangling to grab a giggly and very wiggly P, I finally managed to get a hold of him and as I tried to hold onto him and stand up at the same time, my postpartum stress-incontinence reared it’s [sic] ugly little head and I peed my fricken pants a teeny bit. Crap.
Luckily, her accident was not noticeable to the other library patrons. The extent of her disaster, though, may be less shocking than the fact that Izzy then returned home to write openly about a conventionally unmentionable issue. Alice Bradley, who writes finslippy, used her blog to chronicle her experience with Effexor, an anti-depressant (2005, October 4), as well as to describe the interaction that ensued when her four-year old son asked her what a tampon was for (2005, October 5). Jennifer Mattern of Breed ‘em and Weep wrote extensively about her family’s financial insolvency (2007, April 12).
Humor and Hyperbole: Another pattern that emerges in the entries of these writers is the frequent use of humor and/or hyperbole. While this category might appear to overlap with the previous (personal information or “overshare”) because the examples we offer here also include reference to normally publicly-inappropriate topics, the difference exists in the fictional nature of the hyperbolic passages. For instance, Marsha of sweatpantsmom explained a run-in she had with another mom in the grocery store. The other mom told Marsha she looked as though she’d gained some weight. Marsha wrote:
In a perfect world, the homeless man who I'd seen lingering outside the store would have chosen that moment to stumble in and take a nice long pee on her size-0 tracksuit while simultaneously coughing up phlegm onto her fake designer purse. (2006, April 24)
Marsha then described how, at the time, she was unable to find an appropriate response to the other mother’s insensitivity. The above excerpt illustrates the nature of such over-the-top elements that these writers periodically include; the homeless man discharging his bodily fluids onto the offending mother strikes readers as severe, but some readers might sympathize with the insult Marsha felt and find the fantasy response fitting. Either way, the toilet-variety wit of Marsha’s “perfect world” is both unexpected and excessive. Similarly, Mattern (2007, January 26) posted about her husband, using fantastic exaggeration:
Everything about Canadians is pure and clean as sparkling glacial rivers and fine beer. Canadians absorb all things consumed, with no messy waste products. If my husband has a heavy meal, it merely evaporates from his sweet-smelling Canadian skin and forms beautiful maple-leaf-shaped clouds in the sky.
Mattern’s satire of her husband’s untainted body is funny mostly in its outlandish untruth (clearly, all humans, including, Mr. Mattern, produce waste—not maple-leaf shaped clouds); however, also humorous is the implicit parody of the Canadian stereotype.
Direct Address: Another generic form these writers use is the entry structured as a letter. Sometimes the letter is to a child, such as Mattern’s April 16, 2007 post, titled “Slippery Stuff.” In it, Mattern addressed her daughter, “Dear Sophie Bean,” whose sixth birthday was approaching, and used the letter to explain how six-year-olds have difficulty understanding time and money, and that moms say “ridiculous” things:
I would prefer you avoid Jerry Springer and Montel if at all possible. Therapy, I can take. Springer and Montel, not so much.
You are on the verge of six. I am ridiculous, to write like this. I know this. I am a ridiculous human being. (Mattern, 2007, April 16)
Liz of Mom 101 posted a vindictive letter “To the bitch in the hotel yesterday morning…” in which Liz lectured the woman on the rudeness and insensitivity she displayed when Liz and her young daughter came into the hotel restaurant to eat breakfast (Liz, 2006, November 18). An interesting point about these entries of direct address, however, is that rarely, if ever, is the addressee actually a reader. Regardless, the direct address gives those who do read the distinct impression of having the writer’s confidence; that is, the direct address creates a sense of trust between the writer and reader. Another irony follows in that the blog is, essentially, a public forum, where this constructed trust is granted to any reader who happens by.
Dialogue: Often the entries will be composed exclusively of dialogue, in screenplay style, sometimes interspersed with commentary and blocking. Kelly of Mocha Momma showed readers how her mother and grandmother talk about Kelly, knowing she is within earshot:
“Mom: “I’m pretty sure that those same pair of socks have been there since I moved in here a few weeks ago.”
Granny: “Is that right?” She wasn’t addressing me, either. They were having a conversation about my housekeeping skills right in front of me. Instantly, I was 12 years old again. How do they do that? (Kelly, 2006, September 21)
Izzy also used dialogue to show her daughter’s reaction to “Wacky Packages,” stickers that parody packaging (i.e. “Kids Cursin” instead of “Kids’ Cuisine”; “Crust” instead of “Crest”). After TQ saw the sticker spoof of Pilsbury’s Breadsticks—“Deadsticks” which showed a picture of a grieving Pilsbury Doughboy cradling a limp breadstick with Xs for eyes—TQ became upset.
Me: What? What, honey? Why are you crying?
TQ: This makes me saaaaaaad. *tears pouring down face*
Me: Oh, baby it’s just a joke. They’re making fun of advertising and products and stuff. The doughboy and breadsticks aren’t really hurt.
TQ: *sobbing* But I like happy things. This is saaaad… *more sobbing* (2007, March 19)
Lists: Often entries are bulleted or numbered lists of items or ideas. Sometimes the lists offer a hodge-podge of topics and links; other times the lists are focused and include extensive commentary. One example came from Marsha, who participated in a virtual baby shower for the several mom bloggers who were getting near the end of their pregnancies. The virtual baby shower consisted of bloggers listing the least useful advice (or “assvice”) they’d been given as expectant mothers. Marsha instead listed 5 pieces of advice that she wishes she would have been given, such as “3. Really, spending 5 hours boiling nipples and sterilizing nipples is a bit much,” and “5. Babies don’t need nightstands.” Liz of Mom 101 happened to be one of the expectant mothers for whom the virtual baby shower honored, and she listed the reasons why virtual showers are better than “real” ones:
1. You can stay in your sweatpants
2. No f*cking diaper cakes
3. No presents required
4. You don't have to sit around for three hours while I open 67 receiving blankets and pretend to be excited about a six-pack of socks from Old Navy
5. No ribbons will be worn on anyone's head
6. Who cares if you don't know anyone there
7. No embarrassing games
8. Get as drunk as you want (Liz, 2007, April 28)
Other Practices: Some rhetorical strategies our writers exhibited need little explanation or example, but are important nonetheless. Frequently the writers provided direct links to other writers or to outside sites, usually in reference to something they are either responding to or posting about. It is common for them to have posted pictures of their children and themselves, often using an external image host like Flickr (http://flickr.com) or Photobucket (http://photobucket.com). Also, these writers often assigned pseudonyms or used initials to refer to those people they wrote about—their children, husbands, friends, etc.