Rhetoric and its Meaning Over Time

Gerard A. Hauser defines this term as such, “Rhetoric, as an area of study, is concerned with how humans use symbols, especially language, to reach agreement that permits coordinated effort of some sort,” but what did it mean before and how has it changed? In this modern rendition Hauser paints it as a more positive word with a meaning that entails teamwork, inclusion of new media, and naming it an area of study. Going back a little further in history to 1950 Kenneth Burke gives us a more negative connotation to the word when he displays rhetoric as a sort of seductress, “The use of words by human agents to form attitudes or to induce actions in other human agents.”

The definition of rhetoric really depends on the time period, perspective of the writer, and other cultural and social factors at the time. Hauser chooses to show the word as positive due to the fact that a new birth of technology began to arise at the time he labeled rhetoric as quoted above. While for someone like Burke his definition might be more negative because 1950 was a rough time including spikes in Jim Crow style laws, international tension, and more public displays of political corruption.

The Ambiguity of Tech

     During a presidential address in the year of 1985, Dr. Melvin Kranzberg delivered what would later become his six laws. While 1985 does not compare to today’s use of technology and its influence, the speech still set a president about technological determinism. In his presentation Kranzberg denies the idea of technological voluntarism and aims to show how it does not hold up due to its failure to show a wide array of options. Kranzberg argues that technological voluntarism confines the subscriber to a narrow corridor (in reference to Lynn White Jr.’s open door metaphor) and that technology has much broader horizons.

     In what would become Kranzberg’s first law he states, “Technology is neither good nor bad; nor is it neutral.” To further disprove the door metaphor Kranzberg uses this law to show how technological advances and interactions in society through technology have a much greater impact outside of just technological devices. This ambiguous nature of technology shows how the use of tech and its message heavily rely on the context and the creator’s intention, and display the idea that the possibilities through technology are endless in their interpretation and uses.