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Programming: Unseen Rhetoric in Digital Media

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Unless you specialize in technology, there’s a good chance you don’t know how to code or write a program. You may be aware that the coding is responsible for what you see on your computer screen, but presented with strings of code, you probably wouldn’t be able to read it. That is certainly true for me. A few weeks ago in class, we were given a mini coding assignment, and looking at instructions made my head spin.

Computer Programming Code

The reason computer code is so headache inducing to look at is that it isn’t meant for us. Computer code is a language meant to be read and interpreted by computers, not humans. Humans can, of course, learn to code. In doing this, they learn how to speak in a language that computers can understand. They know what to type to get a computer to do what they want.

A successful code is going to be transparent. Its job is to operate in the background so that every webpage loads correctly and works as its intended to. We aren’t meant to see the lines of code as we navigate the web. This is what it means for a medium to become transparent. We become accustomed to it and lose awareness of the medium.

Computer Program as Procedural Rhetoric

Even though we are no longer aware of the medium, this does not mean our behavior is not affected by it. A computer program running in the background of a webpage is going to determine how that webpage looks and functions. The size and color of the font used may encourage us to focus on certain parts of the page, or effect how often we scroll. The inclusion of hyperlinks may allow for further exploration on a discussed topic. Now that viewer, who likely would have remained on the page otherwise, is reading more.

This is procedural rhetoric. We do not see computer code, and we are not aware of how it affects us, but it has a real impact on our behavior. It impacts how we interact with the medium.


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