Update Culture and the Afterlife of Digital Writing

by John R. Gallagher

Reviewed by Marissa Baker


Template Rhetoric and Comment Engagement

“Template rhetoric provides the technical capability for update culture to form, thereby supplying the ability of digital writing to have an afterlife.” (pp. 14-15).

Interactive and participatory internet (IPI) templates allow people to communicate online without any specialized technical expertise. Most of us have experience with templates such as this from using social media. IPI templates make the “computers” part of online composition virtually invisible by providing a template that writers can use to put text online with relative ease and continually update and edit that text.

Most of the 40 authors that Gallager interviewed were not paid for their work. Many wrote every day, and Gallager grouped them into three categories: Redditors, Amazon reviewers, and digital journalists or bloggers. The templates provided by the websites these authors work on make online communication faster and simpler, encouraging “habits of updating, revision, and change without the user noticing the interface as a source of those habits. … They are rhetorical of course, but it’s easy to miss their profound influences since we often look through them rather than at them” (p. 37). Almost everyone on the internet today can identify with this experience—the templates that enable us to share a Tweet or add a picture to Facebook rarely draw attention to themselves, but they have a profound influence on how we communicate.

Because online writers typically have an audience that can comment on all of their published writing at any time, the process of engaging with comments becomes a key part of the afterlife of digital writing. Gallager notes the procedural rhetoric that develops as a result of using these templates and engaging with commenters develops habits of repetition and standardization in writers. The unique methods that online writers use for handling their texts leads to the central focus of Gallager’s book: a close examination of textual timing, textual attention, and textual management.


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.