Update Culture and the Afterlife of Digital Writing

by John R. Gallagher

Reviewed by Marissa Baker



As a new scholar to the field of rhetoric with eight years of experience as a blogger, I personally found this book an intriguing examination of a type of writing I know well through the lens of rhetoric and composition studies. Gallagher’s explanation of website templates and online writers’ process for responding to comments may be more extensive than someone familiar with this type of writing would require, but such detailed explanation makes this book accessible to readers who do not have a background in online composition or template rhetoric.

Since I have experience with Wordpress’s IPI templates and engaging with audience comments on my blog, much of the groundwork Gallager lays in early chapters regarding the nature of online writing and the findings of his research was not new information for me. While I appreciate the thoroughness of his research and recognize that these types of case studies are vital for understanding what goes on in online writing from a rhetorical perspective, readers outside academia may not find themselves an ideal target audience for this book. Well-established online writers who’ve been grappling with “the afterlife of their digital writing” for many years will likely find Gallager’s findings corroborate what they already know based on personal experience and interactions with other online writers.

For composition and rhetoric scholars however, Update Culture presents a timely examination of the type of writing that we and our students are increasingly called upon to interact with. Update Culture is not a textbook. However, reading this book (particularly the pedagogy chapter, as well as the chapters on Textual Timing, Attention, and Management) can help composition teachers understand and teach the processes relevant to writing in an online world. With that in mind, Update Culture may also be useful in a graduate seminar focused on digital and multimodal writing. As we increasingly teach and write in multimodal and particularly digital formats, it is imperative that we’re also prepared to teach students how to write ethically in an online context and manage their response to the afterlife of their digital writings.


John R. Gallagher is an assistant professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. In addition to Update Culture, he is coeditor of Explanation Points: Publishing in Rhetoric and Composition, and his work has been published in Computers and Composition, Enculturation, Rhetoric Review, Technical Communication Quarterly, Transformations, and Written Communication.