Rhetorical Strategies of Clive Thompson in “Public Thinking”
Ever since the invention of the internet, a plethora of things have changed. But how has the internet affected the simple concept of writing? Clive Thompson, a Canadian journalist and blogger, discusses this in his article called “Public Thinking.” The article is about the effects of digital technology in writing and the effects it has had. It is a rhetorical piece and Thompson makes his stance extremely clear. Thompson addresses his argument that technology has improved the quality and quantity of writing by giving people a platform to write on, by giving writers an audience, and by using effective rhetorical strategies to prove his point. I will analyze these rhetorical skills such as his claims, his evidence, his rebuttals, and his strengths and weaknesses. These can help us completely understand his main argument and how each claim relates to it.
One of Thompson’s main claims is that the internet has helped improve writing by giving people more platforms to write on. Thompson claims this helps the quality of writing because anybody can practice their writing whenever they choose. Platforms such as social media, blogging websites, and even text messages are examples of this. On page 47, Thompson states that every day there are, “over 1 million blog posts and 1.3 million blog comments on WordPress alone”(Thompson 47). Thompson uses this statistic to give his readers a way of visualizing just how much writing goes into the internet every day. He is using real-world data to back up one of his main claims. WordPress is one of the most popular blogging websites in the world and blogs are not considered to be short. According to a website titled Torque, the average blog post contains about 1142 words. 1 million of these posts is an immense amount of writing and Thompson believes a decent amount of it is good quality too. Thompson addresses this in the form of a rebuttal. On page 48 he questions, “Is any of this writing good?” (Thompson 48). Thompson includes this rebuttal to help support his position and to prove to the audience why his stance is the right one. This question demonstrates a sarcastic tone that is basically saying ‘Who cares about this writing on the internet, it can’t be of good quality.’ Thompson answers his own question and goes on to explain that a lot of the writing online is actually fairly good. He refers back to Ory Okolloh, a Nigerian blogger that has become famous just by writing online. By doing this he gives an example of just how impactive the writing online can be. Thompson wants to make it clear that just because there is an extreme amount of writing on the internet, doesn’t mean that it’s all terrible. Between sites like WordPress and social media, humans write a lot more and a lot better than they think they do. Thompson makes this clear in his article and in turn convinces his readers of the same thing.
Thompson also claims that the internet provides writers with an audience, which then makes the writing better. This is called the audience effect and Thompson talks about how it applies to the internet and improves the writing on it. Thompson writes about a Vanderbilt University study that shows how children who solved a puzzle while talking to a meaningful audience solved it much quicker than their peers who solved the puzzle in silence (Thompson 55). Thompson uses this example to first establish to his readers what the audience effect is and then to prove that it is real. This simple example demonstrates a concept that Thompson then uses to transition into the topic of writing. Along with children solving puzzles, college students also improve their writing when the are composing their piece for a group of people. On page 56, Thompson recalls an event that happened at Douglas College in British Columbia. A professor named Brenna Clarke Gray made her students create Wikipedia pages as an assignment. She saw her student’s quality of writing improve dramatically from normal assignments to the Wikipedia assignment (Thompson 56). The only variable changed was that instead of writing for a grade as the students usually do, they were writing pieces that everyone who had internet connection could see. The improvement observed by Gray was proof that when a writer is aware that their writing may be judged or looked at by someone important, all aspects of the writing improves tremendously. This is an extremely effective piece of evidence for Thompson’s claim about the audience effect. He uses a real-world example, which is one of the strongest types of evidence. Another example of this can be seen on the phones of almost every young person born in this new generation. Social media is like the audience effect, but on steroids. Both girls and guys obsess over what to caption their instagram photo or snapchat story. So much thought goes into just those few words, it almost seem illogical. Social media is a feeding ground for judgmental people and because of this, a good caption is essential to any successful post. Since almost everything written on the internet incorporates the audience effect, it makes it one of Thompson’s most important claims. Thompson argued his claim beautifully and used strategies like examples to do this.
Another claim talked about in “Public Thinking” is that young people are good writers. Thompson writes about a Stanford English professor named Andrea Lunsford who studies how young people write. She says that the young generation writes more rhetorically than past generations and have broken the stereotype of writing in the same language we text in. Lunsford states, “And as for all those benighted texting short forms, like LOL, that have supposedly metastasized in young people’s formal writing? Mostly non-existent” (Thompson 66). Thompson includes this in the passage to support his main argument and also uses it as another rebuttal against popular beliefs. Along with being a rebuttal, this quotation is also an example of ethos. By adding a passage about what a Lunsford thinks about one of his claims is a direct way that Thompson uses the opinion of experts to verify his own argument. This is an effective strategy, especially when talking about an academic subject like writing. Another example of Thompson saying that young people produce quality writing also comes on page 66 with another reference to Lunsford. When talking about how young people text, she says, “Out of three-billion words, only 3 percent of them used short text” (Thompson 66). This is an example of another effective strategy Thompson implements in his article. This strategy is using statistics and data to hep address a claim. There is no arguing with cold hard statistics and Thompson refers to a remarkable statistic to show that young people are breaking the stereotype of writing in their own, incorrect language. Whether it’s statistics or rebuttals, the strategies in Thompson’s claim that my generation is good at writing are very effective.
Thompson writes extremely persuasively in his article “Public Thinking.” There are many aspects of his composition that prove to be effective rhetorically, but a few stand out. An example of one of his strengths is Thompson’s explanation of how writing helps clarify thinking. He claims that writing can turn vague thoughts into clear and concise ideas. According to Thompson, “writers often find that it’s only when they start writing that they figure out what they want to say” (Thompson 51). Thompson means that writing transforms ideas in someone’s head into words which helps the person then develop and organize their thoughts. This claim and evidence fits perfectly into Thompson’s overall argument that writing has multiple cognitive benefits. He explains his claim very calmly to the audience and doesn’t take an aggressive stance. This is beneficial to his argument because it is not about a serious topic, it is about writing. Taking an aggressive position might cause readers to think Thompson is too serious about the subject and hence question is credibility. Thompson also assumes that the audience knows about the platforms of social media he writes about. Facebook, WordPress and others are used in “Public Thinking” to show just how much the young generation writes (Thompson 47). If the audience doesn’t know what these things are, then there is no way they can understand some of Thompson’s essential claims. By assuming this, Thompson’s intended audience turns to younger people specifically the few generations that use social media. This strengthens his argument by aiming it directly at a specific age group. Thompson can then use particular rhetorical strategies that will help his young readers agree with the claims he is making. “Public Thinking” includes great rhetorical strategies and Thompson explains his argument very well.
Thompson does not have many rhetorical weaknesses in “Public Thinking.” However one of weakness comes in one of his central claims. Early in the passage, when Thompson talks about how much writing actually goes onto the internet, he does a poor job of proving that this writing is actually of good quality. Just because he thinks the writing is decent doesn’t mean it actually is. Some more examples of bloggers that have become extremely successful just from blogging could have helped his claim. In my eyes, there doesn’t seem to be any more significant weaknesses coming from Thompson. He writes a convincing argument and makes sure his readers understand his claims.
Thompson’s argument in “Public Thinking” is very significant in today’s day and age. The internet is becoming more and more popular which means more writing is being added to the world wide web. With all this new writing, it is essential that society understands the effects this has on not only the younger generation, but everyone that writes or reads anything on the internet. Thompson turns heads with his use of rebuttals and calm argument in “Public Thinking.” Thompson also does a spectacular job of keeping his argument organized. He talks about one claim at a time and produces multiple forms of evidence for each one. “Public Thinking” is a spectacular piece of rhetorical writing that convinces the audience of Thompson’s claim through many angles.
Schäferhoff, Nick. “WHAT IS THE OPTIMAL CONTENT LENGTH? – HERE’S WHAT THE SCIENCE SAYS.” Torque, 10 Apr. 2018, http://www.torquemag.io/2018/04/optimal-content -length/. Accessed 1 Oct. 2018.
Thompson, Clive. “Public Thinking.” Smarter Than You Think: How Technology Is Changing Our Minds for the Better. The Penguin Press, 2014.