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PWR 2CKA: The Rhetoric of Distraction

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Catalog Number: PWR 2CKA

Instructor: Chris Kamrath

Units: 4

Grade option: Letter (ABCD/NP) 

Prerequisite: PWR 1, ESF, ITALIC 95W, or equivalent

Course Feature: WR-2 requirement

In this class, we will take distraction seriously. We will focus on the distractions that surround us and analyze new research about distraction in media studies, biology, psychology, business, political science, history and literary studies. We will read work by scholars who use FMRI brain imaging to study how reading practices evolve as we shift to digital texts; examine research on texting while driving; and consider the effects of multitasking on memory and productivity. We will examine the interruptions that mark contemporary life in essays by writer Nicholas Carr, psychologist Maryanne Wolf, New York Times columnist Nick Bilton, and MIT Professor Sherry Turkle.

Throughout this class we will ask whether these distractions are new phenomena—the product of new technologies and advanced capitalism—or if our distractions have a longer history. What might Youtube have in common with the distracting Nickelodeon films of the early twentieth century? So, what distractions do you want to examine? The theme of distraction is particularly useful for a class focused on multimedia presentations. In class we will consider strategies for maintaining the attention of an easily distracted audience. We will also think about how the visual design of our presentation maintains attention or, potentially, introduces new distractions.

Major Assignments

Research Proposal

(5-minute live oral presentation; written text of 900-1200 words) You will propose a research project on some key aspect of distraction. In this class, the proposal is framed as a hypothetical UAR small grants application. This format frames the proposal as a persuasive act designed to establish the significance and scope of a research project. Possible topics could include how the practice of reading is transformed (and often interrupted) as we shift from printed to digital books; the emergence of digital games that are designed to demand our attention at regular intervals; the design thinking behind time-management systems (like Getting Things Done), lifehacking, and organizational software; or the advantages of distracted thinking, such as the mental benefits of daydreaming.

Written Research-Based Argument

(3000-3600 words; 10-12 pages) After presenting your research proposal, you will pursue research on your topic. You will then make a convincing and sophisticated argument in a well-researched academic essay. You will craft this research-based essay for a specific target publication, such as the New Yorker or the Atlantic. We will work throughout the quarter to carefully craft and revise your argument for this particular publication.

Delivery of Research

(10-minute live oral presentation with appropriate multimedia support) You will translate your written research-based argument into a multimedia presentation. Students will have several opportunities to perform their presentation through rehearsals, a final presentation, and optional participation in a PWR Conference.

Genre/Modes Assignment

(600-900 words or 2-3 pages) You will reflect on the research, writing, and presentation process, considering the rhetorical choices you made at the various points of this process. This research reflection will take the form of an in-class presentation that identifies key challenges you encountered and addressed in the process of composing and performing.