Tinnell, John. "Tweeting @ Thoreau." Boston Review, 2017. (Cover Story on the BR website from Aug. 18th- 23rd)

In her 2015 bestseller, Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age, MIT’s Sherry Turkle casts Thoreau’s manifesto into the living center of current debates about technology and society. Turkle derives a theory from Walden: a way modeling cognitive balancing acts that the smartphone-equipped ought to strike between solitude and community, reflection and empathy, oneself and others. Thoreau enters Turkle’s pages like John Wayne walks into a saloon. Amid the disarray of digital chatter, here stands the solemn figure who will set things right.

The only problem with Turkle’s Thoreau—her portrait of the masterpiece and life led to write it—is that it’s partially a caricature. Much of Walden rebukes the face-to-face spoken exchanges that Turkle privileges. Core elements of Thoreau’s life and thought run counter to Turkle’s communication philosophy. This essay brings to light that other Thoreau—the guy who more often chose reading over speaking, the dead over the living, and the society of wilderness over human-centered milieus. Thoreauvian tech critics who valorize offline speech over and against online media unwittingly shortchange Walden’s wisdom. The growing pull to "reclaim conversation" in the digital age should also, I argue, push us to expand our ideas about conversation and the diverse shapes it can take.


Tinnell, John. "From WIMP to ATLAS: Rhetorical Figures of Ubiquitous Computing." Computational Culture, 5, 2016.

In the early 90s, Mark Weiser ambitiously proposed that his new research agenda at Xerox PARC—what he called ‘ubiquitous computing’ (ubicomp)—marked a third wave in the history of modern computation, following mainframes and personal computers. Weiser’s first concern was to create hardware beyond the desktop; his team rapidly prototyped entirely new categories of mobile devices (‘tabs, pads, and boards’) that clearly inform today’s smartphones and tablets. On the level of software, however, Weiser’s vision lacked a comparable set of categories. Since the personal computing era, interface designers have structured user experiences around the WIMP framework: Windows, Icons, Menus, and Pointers. WIMP design undergirds the virtual reality of the desktop metaphor that Weiser so vehemently critiqued, making it an ill-suited framework for ubicomp exigencies. This article asks: which elements of interface design today might constitute a ubicomp-specific counterpart to WIMP?

From a rhetorical standpoint, categories of hardware and software may be regarded as figures of the digital interface, and thus studied alongside the classical rhetorical tradition of figures of speech. Sharing the notion of figures, both traditions revolve around cardinal units that serve to orient critical analysis; moreover, figures also act as inventive heuristics to inform design decisions and communication practices. The article’s central proposition is that a new set of figures is emerging with the global diffusion of ubicomp: ATLAS (Apps, Tags, Layers, Actuators, and Sensors). In tracing the circulation of Layers from desktop imaging software to their new roles in emerging media ecologies—such as augmented reality and urban informatics—one gains a keen sense of just how disruptive ubicomp practices may be for approaches to digital culture that are conceptually bound to personal computing and the browser-based Web.


Tinnell, John. "Augmenting the Wildlife Exhibits: A Community Media Project with the Denver Museum of Nature and Science." Reflections, 16.1, 2016, pp. 14-26.

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This article describes how I incorporated an AR-based community media project into a recent undergraduate course on environmental rhetoric, which featured a partnership with the Denver Museum of Nature & Science (DMNS). With the support of DMNS staff in Creative Technology and Exhibits, students in the course researched and wrote curated materials designed for the museum’s extensive Wildlife Exhibits. Built with readily available mobile technologies, their projects augment the Wildlife Exhibits’ existing print-based text panels (which convey scientific information about the animals) with additional layers of digital texts and multimedia that speak to ways in which these animals have inhabited the human imagination in mythology, art, literature, and film.


Tinnell, John. "Grammatization: Bernard Stiegler’s Theory of Writing and Technology." Computers and Composition, 37, 2015. pp. 132-146.

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This article explicates and probes the ways in which media theorist Bernard Stiegler drew on histories and theories of writing in order to enrich the study of digital culture. For digital rhetoricians, Stiegler's notion of “grammatization” is particularly striking in that it suggests the beginnings of a theoretical framework for orienting rhetorical inquiry amid the interminable sea-change of new devices, software packages, and product features.

Grammatization cultivates a perspective that is complimentary to and ultimately distinct from those associated with electracy, augmentation, remediation, and other canonical terms that rhetoricians often borrow from media studies in order to frame their analyses of digital writing technologies. This alternative approach, which Stiegler's own work models, can help digital rhetoricians to distinguish “the long-term processes of transformation from spectacular but fleeting technical innovations” and—going beyond Stiegler—to identify robust categories of analysis and production integral to a variety of contemporary rhetorical situations. To further demonstrate the scholarly value grammatization poses for rhetorical inquiry on writing technologies, the article concludes by comparing Stiegler's examination of online video platforms to two compositionists’ recent analyses of YouTube.


Tinnell, John. "Computing En Plein Air: Augmented Reality and Impressionist Aesthetics." Convergence: The International Journal of Research into New Media Technologies, 20.1, 2014. pp. 69-84.

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Recent advancements in augmented reality (AR) technology have begun to position the medium for widespread adoption and cultural impact. But these ongoing technical victories give way to pressing challenges in the area of content creation. As the page differs from the screen, so too do the hybrid design spaces of AR differ from the virtual reality of the desktop.

Caught in the transition from the personal computing era to the ubiquitous computing paradigm, multimedia producers in many fields will need to adapt to AR platforms. To which traditions, then, might we turn for aesthetic models? This article aims to incite an aesthetic transference between French Impressionist painting and AR media practices, while acknowledging the influences of other avant-garde legacies. I draw upon a transdisciplinary matrix of scholarship in media theory and visual culture in order to emphasize the relevance of Impressionism as an art historical precedent for understanding contemporary AR projects, and to suggest how Impressionist principles of composition might inform AR media aesthetics.


Tinnell, John. "Techno-Geographic Interfaces: Layers of Text and Agency in Mobile Augmented Reality." Design, Mediation, and the Posthuman. Eds. Dennis M. Weiss, Amy D. Propen, Colbey Emmerson Reid. Lexington Books, 2014.

The landscape of mobile media is rapidly transforming with the recent incorporation of augmented reality (AR) technologies. Simply put, mobile AR apps utilize the camera view of smartphones and tablets to create a unique visual-tactile interface, which blends a person’s gaze of the material environment with digital images, texts, and other media files that have been “geotagged” to specific coordinates on the Earth’s surface. As such, mobile devices bring AR into the realm of everyday experience. The general aim of this chapter is to examine the techno-geographic scene of writing afforded by AR platforms, engaging this new technological development as a key site for interrogating foundational oppositions at the core of anthropocentric or “human-centered” approaches to design, communication, and rhetoric.


Tinnell, John. "All the World's a Link: The Global Theater of Mobile World Browsers." Enculturation, 12, 2012.

Marshall McLuhan’s conception of the global village has become one of the most cliché descriptors for commentators celebrating the World Wide Web. In his later writings, however, McLuhan himself began to drop the term in favor of what looks like only a slight revision: the global theater. Little effort has been made to explicitly engage with the rhetorical significance of satellites to which McLuhan alluded in his writing on global theater. With the recent spread of smartphones and the very recent emergence of a mobile app genre called “world browsers,” however, the concept of global theater bears tremendous relevance for those studying the bourgeoning writing ecologies of wireless, mobile platforms and GPS-enabled media practices.


Tinnell, John. "Transversalising the Ecological Turn: Four Components of Félix Guattari's Ecosophical Perspective." Deleuze Studies, 6.3, 2012. pp. 357-388. (republished from and available in full at The Fibreculture Journal, 18, 2011)

Arguably, two of the most important forces affecting contemporary global culture are the growing awareness of ecological crises and the rapid spread of digital media. Félix Guattari's unfinished concept of ecosophy suggests the basis of a theoretical framework for constructing productive syntheses between the ecological and the digital. Moreover, a Guattarian rethinking of the ecological turn in the humanities challenges the philosophical basis of the pedagogy of Nature appreciation that has characterised the eco-humanities landscape since the 1970s. Guattari's ecosophy gestures towards a transversal eco-humanities, which would be rhizomatically rooted in autopoiesis and becoming-other, rather than defined by static allegiance to the ideals of ‘Self-realisation’ postulated by the deep ecology movement.


Tinnell, John. "Post-Media Occupations for Writing Theory: From Augmentation to Autopoiesis." Ecology, Writing Theory, and New Media: Writing Ecology. Ed. Sidney I. Dobrin. Routledge, 2012.  pp. 122-142.


Tinnell, John. "Scripting Just Sustainability: From Green Listing towards Eco-blogging." Environmental Communication, 5.2, 2011. pp. 228-242.