It is how you say it

News Release Date: 

An Ohio State professor’s research on the clash of digital technology and human interaction has real world applications in the classroom and in business, while helping prepare students to work in a digital age.


With an alphabet soup of text talk, multiple social networking sites, a myriad of fonts, colors, and design elements, digital photography, smart phones, blog sites, and e-readers, we are all just a few clicks away from instantaneously communicating to millions of digital message consumers.  The basic way we communicate is in mass transition.  According to Ohio State Marion Associate Professor of English, Ben McCorkle, this is just the latest evolution in human interaction where communication and technology have clashed to create a new hybrid form of rhetorical delivery, reviving the old adage, “it’s not what you say, but how you say it.”

McCorkle’s research into the history of human interaction and its relationship to communication technologies is the centerpiece for his new book “Rhetorical Delivery as Technological Discourse:  A Cross-Historical Study,” to be published this winter. 

Originally from Georgia, McCorkle received his undergraduate degree in English from Augusta State University in Augusta, Ga.  He later earned a master’s and doctorate degree in English from The Ohio State University.  According to McCorkle, it was the reputation of the English Department at The Ohio State University that brought him to Ohio State for his master’s degree. 

Now, he is paying his education forward to a new generation of college students and working to equip them with the tools to keep pace and succeed in the rapidly changing digital age.
“The technology changes the language and the language changes the technology,” said McCorkle.  “I am fascinated by the way this interaction unfolds over time.” 

In the same vein as famed communication theorist and educator Marshall McLuhan, who opined, “the medium is the message,” McCorkle reexamines and reiterates the idea of “the medium is the message,” while considering the advantages and conventions of digital media.  The ever-changing face of communication delivery is imparted in his new book and in the classroom, where he teaches courses in composition, the history and theory of rhetoric, and digital media production.

McCorkle feels those who are educating and mentoring young people, who have grown up in the dawn of the digital media age, have a responsibility to ensure students are not controlled by the medium itself.

“Communications scholars and writing scholars have a stake in teaching students how to manipulate this stuff,” said McCorkle, referring to the myriad of new digital technology mediums.

Through his daily interaction with young people and his research, McCorkle has gained a unique perspective on how modern technology has changed and in some cases adversely affected the written word.

For example, he used to think students turning in reports and written assignments laced with text talk was just a myth, but he now knows it is real.

McCorkle imparts the knowledge gained from his research in communication delivery and technology in the classroom to better prepare his students for the fast paced world we live in.

“I want my students to be active in the shaping the message,” he shared. “I want them to think judiciously, more deliberately and thoughtfully.”

“When you are interacting with any technology always be aware of the conventions that help shape your language.  That way you control it, rather than it (technology) controlling you,” he stated.

McCorkle explained simply, “If students don’t leave college knowing the difference in tone and weight between a Facebook status update and an interoffice email, that is a problem.”

“In the broadest sense,” said McCorkle, “we are creating citizens that will interact and communicate using technologies.  Using these effectively will make them better citizens.” 

“When you let the technology drive how the message is shaped, your intended meaning can take a back seat to that technology,” said McCorkle.

“I approach the use of technology differently,” he explained.  “It is not about learning the software but what they want to do with the content.”

“I am a big proponent of teaching transferrable skills that transcend the rapid pace of change in technology,” he added.

McCorkle believes imparting the knowledge gained from his research will better equip his students to succeed in today’s digital world and in a workforce that must maintain the basic tenants of solid communication through the rapid introduction of unique digital mediums that flood the marketplace each year.