Eric Newsom, Web Designer and Digital Rhetorician
by Angelica Waters
Do we argue differently over the Internet? Do electronic
spaces change the way we think and communicate with others?
Eric Newsom, who earned his Bachelor of Arts and his Master
of Arts degrees from Western Carolina University, thinks so.
When he's not designing web sites for his design company,
Jetpack, he's working on a Ph.D. in Communication and
Rhetoric at one of the nation's most prestigious programs
at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.
"My current work is focused on the dynamics of storytelling
in digital spaces and the author/reader relationship in technologically-mediated
environments. I finished my master’s at WCU in summer
2006, spent a year as an adjunct teaching composition classes,
and came to RPI in fall of 2007," Newsom explains.
A typical day starts at night
Because he's a night owl, Newsom says much of his typical
"day" begins around midnight: "I'm currently
typing this at 1:30 a.m. I usually wake up roundabout 10 a.m.,
do the daily morning routine stuff, then spend a while looking
around on the Internet (I’m lucky to be able to call
that 'research')." After he attends classes in digital
ghetoric, visual design and ethnography, he spends time with
his wife, "and then resume work around 11 p.m., when
I read my assignments, take notes, conduct research, and write
Success due to foundation in writing
Newsom attributes the opportunity to do this cutting-edge
research to his background at WCU. "The focus on quality
writing, close reading and critical thinking continues to
be of service. I’ve also been able to use a good bit
of the theory—especially ideas about rhetoric, usability,
web development, journalism and media—in my current
work. . . As one might imagine, as a graduate student, I write
quite a bit, and it’s quite important for my success.
In addition to writing papers, my ability to write abstracts,
conference proposals, grants, and business letters / emails
are crucial to my advancement in my field, as will one day
be my ability to write a quality curriculum vitae and application
Newsom says his English degree allows him to do work which
not only pays quite well but also satisfies the soul. "This
weekend, I’ve returned from an academic conference where
I was able to both share my ideas about digital authorship
and hear the theories of others on a number of topics. Today
I used some of the ideas I’d heard over the weekend
to better represent a new paper I’m working on in a
digital rhetoric class presentation. Then the other students
in the class offered new ideas on my ideas. So probably my
favorite thing is having discussion with intelligent, well-read
people who are interested in the future and what I have to
say about it."
web site illustrates that he always finds time in life
for his passions, including his fiction, his art, his blogging
and his family.
Advice for future majors
Present and prospective English majors should do what they
love, not what they think they need to do, Newsom advises.
"The best advice I’d offer a graduating English
major is to find something in the field that you both are
good at and that you enjoy, and to make that the center of
your career. Also, learn to manage your online presence, including
your Facebook profile, so that you’re putting your best
digital face forward."
School also gives us the chance to learn the intangibles,
and Newsom stresses their importance: "The most important
thing is to learn to understand other people, to communicate
well, to practice empathy and decency, and to constantly strive
to do things you can be proud of (and not to worry too much
about prepositions at the ends of sentences). . . . I am inspired
by the work of others who have come before me and driven by
the hope that my work might one day inspire others."