The New Institution

egypt

Word: Social organisation and collaboration

Note: this blog post works in conjunction with last week’s entry regarding framing and transversality.

Media is changing dramatically. Given the content I’ve posted throughout this blog page, this shouldn’t come as a shock. Even the medium that I’m using at this very moment – the blog – is working to shift what we know, what has been institutionalised as the media. More specifically, it works to transform the top-down, hierarchical approach to media that we have become so accustomed to.

The greatest product of this phenomena, I argue, is that of the ‘global media event’. This concept has been discussed in one of my earlier posts. We, as a public, are now longer static and we are no longer individuals subjected the institution of mass media. Rather, we are now subjects through whom news is received, interpreted and more recently, created. Social media, along with various other recent media technologies including online blogger, has played a significant role in propelling us into this new world. As mentioned in my previous post, already established frameworks of news media along with the and social practices of news consumption are being challenged with the notion of transversality (the crossing of lines). The greatest examples of this has to have been the media-induced Occupy Wall Street movement and the media-propelled Egyptian unrest.

As discussed previously, a media event works to ““intervene in the normal flow of broadcasting and our lives…Television events propose exceptional things to think about, to witness, and to do.” But what happens when television quickly becomes outdated and is no longer the primary means through which information is gathered? For both the events mentioned, they were formed and took shape using new mediums including social media and online streaming. Only after it had taken off online, did television grab hold of the events, understand how to interpret and broadcast said events and gather necessary foundational information and footage.

Despite existing debates regarding the demise of television and mainstream broadcast media to the so-called ‘unsophisticated’ and ‘unreliability’ of the online world, people need to wake up and understand that together, these two mediums, and the ability to re-assess and re-develop existing frameworks are crucial in order to guarantee that neither are undermined and neither are sacrificed for the other. Governments must also understand that the emergence of these technologies will affect how their governance is interpreted and accepted. With increasing focus on open-forums and transparency, not only government to public communication, but the government structures themselves must change, and change fast.

References:

ABC. 2011. ‘Don’t trust the web’. Accessed May 1 2013 <http://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/backgroundbriefing/dont-trust-the-web/3582912#transcript&gt;

Nieman Journalism Lab. 2011. ‘How Egypt’s uprising is helping redefine the idea of a ‘media event”. Accessed May 1 2013 <http://www.niemanlab.org/2011/02/how-egypts-uprising-is-helping-redefine-the-idea-of-a-media-event/&gt;

Verso. 2011. ‘McKenzie Wark on Occupy Wall Street: ‘How to Occupy an Abstraction”. Accessed May 1 2013 <http://www.versobooks.com/blogs/728&gt;

Framing versus Transversality

itunes

Word: transversally

Acknowledging the dichotomy of framing-transversality is key to understanding and gaining an insight into the ever-changing media environment as a product of the current speed in which technologies are developing. Despite the introduction of said devices having been aimed at enhancing the everyday lives of individuals and their experience of the world, it has come as a challenge to well-established structures and their ability to… This has largely led to the notion of ‘adapt or die’ among major media platforms and outlets.

Framing refers to the means by which we are able to define the world by discerning truth, useful information, as well as our sensory perception and how these all come together to shape our notions of our reality. However, rather than exerting absolute power through restricted definitions and ‘frames’, framing works to form a rough sketch of how things should, or should not be interpreted.

Meanwhile, transversality refers to our ability to transform the ideas formed through framing. Modern media is characterised by such a technique as the increasing connectedness and dynamic relationships that are formed across, through and between frames are now being brought together to create new media events.

Despite the tensions experienced between these two elements, framing and transversality must be understood as being symbiotic as they exist together and rely on each other for survival. This framing-transversality dichotomy can be best explained when examining the ever-evolving music industry.

With audio CDs having been commercially available since 1982, there developed a structure whereby hard copies of the music were bought either as singles or albums directly from music stores with the social practice of both browsing through the racks and ‘collecting’ CDs being aided by its following the social practices of the vinyl era. However, with the release of the MP3 file towards the end of the 1990s and the subsequent flourishing of MP3-based file-sharing networks, both the existing social practices and how the music industry has been ‘framed’ faced significant changes. As a result, musical artists have had to evolve in order to maintain their legitimacy within the music industry. With the increasing use of social media as a medium of transversality and the emergence of globalisation, more and more institutions have had their legitimacy challenged. Said phenomena are impossible to avoid and as such, swift adaption is arguably crucial within this new media environment.

Data and Media—An Unrequited Love?

data

Word: data

Data is everywhere, but what to do with it all. It is clear that data is essential to media and media, essential to data but how so? Data as it exists in its raw form, be it in numbers, percentiles, or even DNA may be able to survive separate from media, but without contextual information, cannot be understood, dissected, interpreted, and used. For instance, the percentile 14% doesn’t mean much on its own. The natural reaction following the presentation of this figure is, “14% of what?” However, when placed within the context of climate change, the percentile 14% represents the amount of Arctic sea ice that has decreased since the 1970s.

(It must be noted that here, I refer to the ‘media’ as not just mass media including news outlets, but as channels through which data is stored and delivered).

Similarly, while media may exist without data, society’s growing reliance on science has meant that data plays a critical role in enhancing the credibility of an idea, argument or . For example, if a newspaper article were to argue for the existence of climate change, it’s credibility would be greatly compromised unless it could provide empirical, scientific evidence as to its effects on the temperature of the earth, the rate of rising sea levels, and the melting of ice caps in the Arctic due to this global warming.

Having understood this data-media dichotomy, I found the layman’s rising fascination with data, not as a means of enhancing credibility of an idea, but as a means of defining an idea in the first place, very interesting. More specifically, Jonah Lehrer’s reflection on Gary Wolf’s idea of the ‘quantified self’ caught my attention.

Society’s obsession with tracking everyday events is reflected in the growing number of smartphone apps catering to this desire. I admit, I have been drawn to this new phenomenon, with personal data not only playing a major role in archiving my private life through the counting of calories and so on, but gradually transforming into social practice. As such, data collated through my phone during my morning runs work as a key, opening me up to a world where I can compare my statistics with friends, thus mediating my social life.

In this way, Gary Wolf perfectly described my life when stating that “… when the familiar pen-and-paper methods of self-analysis are enhanced by sensors that monitor our behaviour automatically, the process of self-tracking becomes both more alluring and more meaningful.”

To this I say: why fight it?

Reality – actual, potential and virtual

aug

Word: augmented

The way media has affected society’s perception of reality is no secret and has been used as the topic for a myriad of scholarly studies. As such, is it virtually (pun not intended) impossible to avoid. Even when looking back to the mid to early-1900s with the invention and widespread adoption of the radio, it is clear that the relationship between media and audience perception of reality was taking shape. One stand-out example of this was the broadcasting of H.G. Wells’ science fiction novel, ‘The War of the Worlds’, on Halloween of 1938. Broadcast in the form of a broadcast, it led many listeners to believe that Earth was being invaded by Martians, resulting in widespread panic.

More recently, complex technological advancements have played a more direct role in enhancing our experience of reality (as opposed to shifting actual reality), and, what Clark argues, in the development of the ‘extended mind’ – so much so that these new platforms have been redefined as either virtual or augmented reality. Virtual reality describes the simulation of physical presence in places using computer-simulated environments, and as such, provides life-like experiences. These technologies have been adopted for purposes ranging from creating alternate universes through the development of avatars as in virtual games such as ‘Second Life’, to maintaining national security through the use of combat training simulations. Alternatively, augmented reality consists of a live view of a real-world environment that has been augmented using computer-generated sensors including sound, graphics and data, rather than replacing the real world with a virtual one. As such, it is generally performed in real time.

While society has gradually become accustomed to the formation of virtual realities through simulation technologies, augmented reality is now an ever-expanding, yet experimental field. It attempts to ride the tidal wave of growing consensus that the world is becoming more and more mediated. With the advent of smartphone technologies and debates surrounding society’s growing reliance on them, this new method of shifting and ‘enhancing’ perceptions of reality works as a further shortcut, allowing us to multitask and in doing so, attempt to match the immediacy of machines.

Sure, this sounds great when living in a world consumed with the ability to grasp the world through the next big thing, but I wonder, what are we sacrificing with this growing desire to ‘save time’. All this talk of ‘enhancing’ our lives and perceptions of reality forgets one thing – regardless of how well we construct alternate universes through virtual technology, and no matter how much data we can absorb of the world in real time, are we not still experiencing life through a screen? Maybe we just need to stop and smell the roses.

Note: in reference to my final research essay on the changing perceptions of reality through the development and adoption of various media platforms, this topic is of greater relevance than the other topics and issues discussed throughout the course. Although I will be discussing more traditional forms of media including the radio and television rather than virtual and augmented technologies, the profound reaction the society had to these revolutionary devices are comparable.

 

References:

Mashable. 2013. ‘The Impending Social Consequences of Augmented Reality’. Accessed April 11 <http://mashable.com/2013/02/08/augmented-reality-future/&gt;

Wikipedia. 2013. ‘Virtual Reality’ . Accessed April 11 <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Virtual_reality&gt;

Wikipedia. 2013. ‘Augmented Reality’. Accessed April 11 <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Augmented_reality&gt;

Globalising Memory, Thinking and Action

memory

Word: experience

If both the past and the external world exist only in the mind, and if the mind is controllable – what then? — George Orwell, in 1984

The other day, my friend approached me, crying her eyes out as if something terrible had happened. Seeing this, I felt compelled to ask her what was wrong and whether she was hurt. It turned out, she had been on the train to meet me and when a man walked past her smelling of her ex-boyfriend’s cologne. To me, this seemed a trivial thing but evidently enough, the memories that this scent carried was too much for my dear friend to handle.

With this story, I begin my discussion of this week’s topic – memory.

When most of people hear the term ‘memory’, they think of their first train ride, their first tooth falling out… I could go on. But here, I argue that there is a lot more to memory than this, and it may not be as ‘natural’ and clean cut as we may think.

According to Stiegler, humans never possessed ‘natural’ memory, untouched by technics. Rather, memory is argued to have been exteriorised from the start and now, with greater technological advancements has come the development of ‘cognitive technologies’ that we rely on when storing and recalling memories. For instance, while before, we may have memorised people’s phone numbers, remembered important dates and made mental notes, we now have the mobile phone to store all our contacts, make reminders of key dates and events, and create new entries into our ‘memo’ applications. This has arguably created a structural loss of memory while simultaneously affording greater power to these particular devices.

The greatest example of this would have to be the uneasiness people (generation X and Y in particular) feel when they are without their mobile phones. If I were to leave my house without my phone and I faced an emergency, not only would I have no means of contacting anyone, but even if I were to come across a payphone, would not be able to recall my mother’s mobile phone number. Years ago, I could recall approximately ten phone numbers from the top of my head. During the days of dial up internet and black and white phones, that is.

However, not only do new technologies challenge human’s ability to remember and take control by storing information, it actively intervenes in our sense of the past and our subsequent interpretation of the future. For example, each time you flick through the gallery on your mobile phone, the way you recall the context in which the photo was taken changes – over time, some components seem clear while others are blurred.

As such, memory is somewhat ‘virtual’ as there exists a dynamic relationship between remembering-forgetting, and habit-conscious thought

 

References:

Ars Industrialis. 2012. ‘Anamnesis and Hypomnesis’. Accessed March 27 <http://arsindustrialis.org/anamnesis-and-hypomnesis>

Brain Blogger. 2013. ‘Mind Games – Science’s Attempts at Thought Control’. Accessed March 27 <http://brainblogger.com/2011/12/28/mind-games-sciences-attempts-at-thought-control/>

 

Media ecologies

Image

Word: Metacommunication

The term ‘media ecology’, dubbed by McLuhan in 1964 and introduced by Postman in 1968, is the idea that technology not only influences but dictates how humans perceive and understand their reality. Simply speaking, and purely on an environmental front, the notion of ecology does not consider organisms independent of fellow organisms but within the landscape in which they survive. Similarly, when noting the idea of ‘media ecology’, the three following ecologies also come into play: that of the individual (mind), the society and the environment in which the technology performs.  

Previously, technology was not viewed in conjunction with the context in which it was adopted. Rather, it was argued that there was a clear disjuncture between nature and technology and, in relation to the ecology of the mind (individual), an insignificant relation between what was thought and what was expressed through media. However, with the growing acknowledgement among academics including Steigler that human life is increasingly becoming dependent upon non-human life (that is, technology), many began to wonder to what degree our thoughts were purely ours and not influenced by external forces through media technology. This suspicion, I believe, was and still is warranted as our environment undoubtedly positions those involved by determining what we are exposed to and how we come to view said events. Furthermore, it dictates our behaviour through established norms such as those existing in the classroom or work environment. To this effect, the idea of media ecologies has a tendency of following suit with McLuhan’s understanding of technological determinism as it is centred on media’s rather than society’s influence on society and human perception.  

While acknowledging the valuable contribution made by advocates of ‘media ecology’, one element of this theory struck me as inconsistent and self-defeating. Despite asserting the fact that ‘media ecology’ works to arrange various media so as to avoid the undermining of other technologies (e.g. radio assisting in literacy vs. television contributing to teaching language) the reality provides a very different picture. In fact, non-networked and independent media technologies are losing to networked technologies including the smart phone and as such, are being undermined through the ever-increasing and ever-changing nature of media.

Still, it must be noted that with Guattari not having lived through the technological developments that have ultimately brought the downfall of non-networked technologies, the theory of ‘media ecology’ was shaped within a very different media environment than we are currently experiencing in the 21st century. Thus, it could be argued that had he lived to see these advances, Guattari’s theory would have been more open to the co-existence of networked and non-networked devices.

 

References:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Media_ecology

http://agreatbecoming.com/2011/02/03/games-as-a-happening-as-a-service-notes-from-my-talk-at-goldsmiths/

http://www.media-ecology.org/media_ecology/

http://mediaecologies.wordpress.com/2008/10/07/the-three-ecologies-felix-guattari/

 

Technological Determinists vs. Cultural Materialists

Image

Word: Machinic

With the growing dependence our generation seem to have on technology, it seems appropriate to discuss how this phenomenon is to be interpreted within our cultural, political and economic sphere or not, as Technological Determinists including Marshall McLuhan argues.

According to McLuhan, “The medium is the message” and as such, technology holds the power to change our behaviour and force us to adapt to it. Therefore, all the information and ‘messages’ carried through said mediums, such as television, are used as a facade distracting us from the truth that is that this content keeps us in a state of denial as to technology’s influence. Technology is seen as autonomous and independent – out of our control. An example of this would be the influence the invention of the light bulb had on changing society’s perception of time. Television as a revolutionary technology would be that light bulb with its content merely adding, yet not changing, its autonomous nature. This is said to have increased exponentially with the concept of ‘globalisation’ and the formation of the ‘global village’.

Alternatively, another school of thought argues that social, cultural and political factors are intertwined and therefore cannot be removed from technology. With this, Cultural Materialism argues that Technological Determinism is one-sided with Raymond Williams arguing that, “… if the medium is the cause, all other causes, all that men ordinarily see as history, are at once reduced to effects.” One example of this would be the political interests that are held behind radio broadcasting in terms of controlling the message through regulations and censorship and controlling the reach this message has through its frequency.

Through this, Cultural Materialists attempt to answer the questions Technological Determinists left unanswered. One such question was that regarding the control of this ‘global village’. Here, the Uses and Gratification Theory comes into play whereby certain technologies are adopted and others are soon forgotten. As the name suggests, this theory argues that only the mediums viewed as having significant use or providing great satisfaction will be taken up. Therefore, as Pierre Levy suggests, “Technologies don’t determine, they lay the groundwork.”

Still, I believe that while it may be foolish to believe wholly in Technological Determinism’s claim that technology is removed from social, political and economic forces, Cultural Materialism fails to acknowledge the growing power technologies generate in modern society. For instance, the techniques society is required to develop in order to make use of these technologies are a clear form of our adapting to these mediums. From understanding how to read and compose text messages, to learning how to code within computer engineering, technology’s hold on society and its influence in the formation of the ‘global village’ is undeniable. Consequently, viewing technology as being only ‘neutral’ would prevent society from appreciating the wonderful complexity of that which is technology.

 

References:

Murphie, Andrew and Potts, John (2003) ‘Theoretical Frameworks’ in Culture and Technology London: Palgrave Macmillan: 11-38

Parikka, Jussi (2012) ‘Introduction: Cartographies of the Old and New” in What is Media Archaeology? Cambridge: Polity: 1-16

Levy, Pierre (1998) Becoming Virtual: Reality in the Digital Age University of Michigan: Plenum Trade, cited in Murphie and Potts (as below), p. 23

Williams, Raymond (1990) Television Technology and Cultural Form (ed. Ederyn Williams), London, Routledge

McLuhan, Marshall (1964) Understanding Media, New York, Signet Books

Event: not your average party.

Image

Event.

Upon first encountering this term, the thoughts of most individuals, including myself, immediately turn to the Mardi Gras parade or your best friend’s 21st birthday party. However, when one delves further into the notion of ‘events’ and more specifically, ‘media events’, this definition becomes increasingly blurred.

The difficulty we find in pin-pointing, let alone defining, a media event is primarily based on the ever-changing nature of said processes in a world where, as Andrew stressed, changing changes. This is particularly true in today’s media environment where traditional mediums including newspapers no longer solely claim monopoly on creating and publicising media events. Rather, new mediums including the vast array of social media and other online domains has meant that even everyday events such as going to school have the capability of becoming media events. Whereas previously, an event was only recognised and awarded credibility through the attention it garnered through traditional and broadcast media, the way news moves is no longer linear. As such the likelihood of an original source of an event being found through a video gone viral online is equal to that of a media event that has been promoted through video footage played on the nightly news broadcast.

With the term ‘event’ having been defined generally by Foucault as something that has a beginning and an end: “Every human experience, activity, idea and cultural form can be analysed as an event or as a series of events”, a ‘media event’ may be more specifically viewed as this same event that has been published in print or online with the aim of garnering attention, promoting discussion and gaining publicity. Furthermore, not only can everyday events become media events but another phenomenon termed ‘Weird Global Media Events’.

According to Ken Wark, such events are, “’Events’ in the sense of singular irruptions into the regular flow of media [and everyday life].” In layman terms, this refers to a break in how we would normally associate political, economic or cultural events and the ‘weirdness’ of this event attracts global attention and publicity. The proliferation of this category of event may also be attributed to the concept of globalisation whereby the world is shrinking due to rapid technological advancement. The fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 is one such example of ‘Weird Global Media Events’ where the whole world stood still watching the break in the political conventions of that particular period.

Therefore, the term ‘media events’ is becoming gradually difficult to pin-point and will continue to do so as the lines between users and producers online become blurred and the hierarchy of media used to promote events are gradually disappearing.

 

References:

Wark, M 1994, Virtual Geography: Living with Global Media Events Indianapolis: Indiana University Press