It’s never a good idea to propose to a woman at a baseball game via JumboTron, Heinrichs says. If your lover is unsure, you could become embarrassed in front of tens of thousands of fans. In short, the JumboTron is the wrong medium for a proposal. In this chapter, Heinrichs will talk about how to find the perfect medium—print, face-to-face conversation, a big speech, etc.—for different rhetorical maneuvers.
A good rhetorician must determine the right medium, not just the right time, to deliver a certain message. (And indeed, most people do intuitively understand which media favor which messages—for example, most people know that it’s a bad idea to break up with someone over text).
When considering the proper medium, persuaders should consider a few factors: 1) Timing, in other words, how long the message will last, how fast a response the audience expects, and other related questions; 2) What combination of ethos, pathos, and logos would persuade best, since different media favor different combinations; 3) What gestures will enhance the argument. By “gestures,” Heinrichs means any behavior, literal or not, that improve one’s rhetoric (like a smile or a handshake).
Heinrichs’ method for evaluating different forms of communication emphasizes the permanence, emotional characteristics, and immediacy of a medium. Some media allow the audience to see the persuader’s appearance; others don’t. Some media transmit messages that last forever; others don’t. With these kinds of concerns come important choices about what content would play best via each medium.
Different media persuade in different ways, because the senses work in different ways. Sound, at least a spoken voice, is the most rational sense (although when the sound is music, pathos becomes more important). Smell is the most “pathetic” sense, and sight is often pathetic, too, since people tend to believe what they see, and what they believe determines what they feel. Touch and taste are pathetic, as well. (One could argue that reading text counts as using sight, but Heinrichs replies that reading is actually more focused on sound, since readers “receive voices, not mere type.”)
Heinrichs makes some bold claims in this section, none of which he supports with very much evidence. However, there have at least been studies about smell being the most emotional sense, insofar as smells can trigger strong emotional or nostalgic associations to a degree that the other four senses usually can’t. Heinrichs’ other explanations seem debatable, though.
Now Heinrichs will talk about different media and how they favor different senses and different kinds of timing. Email favors the logos side of rhetoric, and makes it difficult to express emotion. It’s also important to consider the timing of an email: once the email is in an audience’s inbox, it can stay there forever. If you send an angry message, your audience might not read it for days, by which point both of you might have calmed down, and the initial pathos of the email will be irrelevant. Now compare email to texting. They’re very similar, but texting is instantaneous and ephemeral. Because texting involves words, there’s little space for pathos, but in part because of its brevity, texting favors appeals to ethos more than logos. Like all good appeals to ethos, texting is all about code grooming and inside talk.
As a result of their various physical and temporal constraints, different forms of communication favor different kinds of messages. A message that is only heard once, for just a few seconds, will be less logos-centric than a message that stays forever, and which requires a lot of time to read. Heinrichs’ discussion of code sourcing echoes his points from earlier chapters: code sourcing emphasizes the beliefs and culture of a given group, and implicitly excludes people who don’t belong to the group.
In general, the instantaneousness of Internet communication makes the Internet better suited for pathos and ethos than logos—perhaps explaining why the Internet hasn’t been a “great cauldron of democracy.” Above all, people use the Internet to attract like-minded people, not to persuade through deliberative rhetoric. This is especially true of Twitter—its shortness limits logos and emphasizes pathos and ethos.
One implication of Heinrichs’ argument in this section is that communication has lately become less focused on logic and rational argument, and more focused on irrational, emotional. and character-based appeals (since contemporary forms of communication are quicker and more ephemeral than their printed predecessors). Such an argument supports Heinrichs’ general point about the decline of rhetoric in modern society.
Phone calls are probably the most logos-centric form of communication, because, without eye contact or face-to-face gesturing, people are forced to rely on appeals to reason. This might seem a little surprising, since 1) phone companies advertise their products with highly pathetic ads, and 2) teenage lovers will still call each other on the phone to express their passion. Regarding 1), ad agencies have no choice but to use pathos to sell their product—appeals to logic and logos wouldn’t work. Regarding 2), it’s interesting that when young lovers talk over the phone, they pause far more than they speak. Furthermore, it’s interesting that nowadays, young lovers often prefer to Skype or video chat, rather than talk over the phone. Perhaps this suggests that phone calls really are rational, provided that the call is used to communicate words, not just passionate pauses.
Heinrichs maintains that phone calls are more logos-based than other forms of communication; however, he also allows that there are certain kinds of phone calls that favor a more pathetic, emotional form of communication—namely, the kind of phone call, beloved of teenaged couples, in which neither caller talks very much. This might suggest that, although different media favor different forms of rhetoric, it’s certainly possible to transmit the same message across a variety of different media.
The old-fashioned newspaper op-ed might seem like a purely rational medium, but it’s not. Often, the op-ed will make appeals to the author’s authority and reputation; one could even argue that the author is more important than the logic behind the essay itself. In all, it’s important to keep in mind that “the senses and their persuasive appeals” point toward different forms of communication.
Heinrichs ends with a nuanced take on different forms of communication: the op-ed isn’t purely logical, authoritative, or pathetic in its rhetorical styles. Each form of communication can transmit thoughts, emotions, and appeals to character, but it’s still important to be aware of which media favor which forms of rhetoric.