Rhetoric on the Internet:
The Screen as Rhetorical Space

A Summary



Lesley Smith (New Century College) discussed the function and interpretation of links. Sharing Stephen Johnson's comment in Interface Culture, she noted that links are "the first significant new form of punctuation to emerge in centuries" and that reading and writing hypertext requires a new grammar and syntax of linking. As such, then, a link is considered not a static event but a "system of meaning." Drawing on her background in film, Smith compared linking to cutting film: what began as a navigational shortcut--that is, cutting out boring bits of film to link narrative highlights--was quickly recognized as a way of adding ýcomplex meaning to the film, allowing the film maker to ýmanipulate time and emotion. So, too, the link, initially a navigational tool, has become a place in which meanings ýadhere and inhere. These links, Smith observed, have become, like the cut, so transparent, so much ýpart of the status quo of the medium,ţ that viewers do not consider that their placement is not natural but constructed.

Considering what Nicholas Burbules called the "link event," (the click, the shift, and the new page), Smith characterized ways in which links, both within a site and across sites, create meaningful associations. Links perform one of two basic functions: navigational and content-building. The navigational links are the more straightforward; they move you to major sections within a site or to an obviously related external site. Content-building links, on the other hand, are qualitatively different in that they seem to sit more dramatically at the center of a web of associate links, working at different levels of meaning. The links fall into two basic groups, the authority-conferringand the "authority-seeking." In setting up authority-conferring links, the author, based on her position as authority, sanctions the links in some way. Smith gave the example of her links to sites that provide good resources about visual/verbal design on the web; her authority as teacher has, in effect, sanctioned these links. Authority-seeking links act like citations to other sources in a print-based discussion and serve the purpose of supporting the authorÝs argument. Smith noted that ýwe pull authority from an external site into our work.ţ

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