We are living an increasingly mediated life. As we intensively interact with computers in our daily life, two sets of symbols, human meaning system (usually referred to natural language) and “computational” meaning system (mediated meaning system simulating and representing human meaning system), are being used simultaneously and interactively. In fact, even without physically manipulating a computer, habitually, we are using computational thinking to solve problems, in which we are mediated by the technologies.
This mediation has been institutionalized; it has been collectively and culturally accepted after intersubjective practice. The reason why we are happy with interacting with computers is that we can gain efficiency from this process to some extent. The relative efficiency is realized through the affordances provided by the technologies. By offloading or distributing some part of our cognition functions into physical technologies, we are externalizing cognitive process, which was believed to be “imperceptible”, into perceptible devices. This embodiment is a remediated process and realized by the invisible and intelligible affordances. As we mentioned in the post of week 9, Venmo provides the affordances of calculating, initiating transaction, commenting, etc. While using this application, we are getting used to the icons, index and symbols intuitively in a human thinking way. If the process of accommodating ourselves to the context of this application is natural and smooth, we consider this application as a good example of humanized technology, which narrowing the gap between human and technology. If we get lost in mapping ourselves into this new set of symbols, the application is failed in simulating and remediating human semiosis.
It is why we are limited by the affordances as well. I happened to read a paper called “Are digital media institutions shaping youth’s intimate stories? Strategies and tactics in the social networking site Netlog” (Sander De Ridder, 2015). In this paper, Ridder insisted that SNS has established some institutions to shape youth’s intimate storytelling online. She also argued that the digital media reproduce the mainstream culture and make it even more prevailing. The “strategies” refer to the software design of the SNS, which provides affordances or options for audiences to self-represent themselves online. The “tactics” refer to audiences’ responsive behavior to accept or resist this predefined software context. Online storytelling involves information representation and information process as many other mediated symbolic cognition processes do. Researching how digital media institutions shaping online storytelling inspires me a lot to think about how we are limited by the affordances. For example, on Facebook, formerly we are only allowed to choose between male and female – just like there are two sides of a paper. Now, we are glad to see that we can custom our gender, getting rid of the “limitation” on self-representing ourselves online to some extent.
I think it is a vivid example of how computational context or digital media shape our information representing via predefined affordances.
The influence brought by the technology can also be observed in the case excluding the interaction with computers. Human’s (only human) computational thinking process is an example of how human are jumping back and forth between our own meaning system and “computational” system. The redefinition of computation and the term “computational thinking” put the emphasis on information representation, which is more inclusive to engage the human agent in this process. Different from delegating agency to the technologies and using them to extend and distribute cognitive abilities, we “computationalize” ourselves as well. In other words, we are not going to “physically” turn into a machine; we can reinterpret our thinking process in terms of computational terminologies. When we are solving a problem, we take discrete steps to formulating a solution. From the former step to the current step, we map out a “correct” path, excluding all the “wrong” path. In essential, excluding uncertainties to find out the certain path is an information process. The only difference between how human process information and how computers process information is that we are using different meaning systems. Nevertheless, we can still term the process of finding the solution to the problem as “computation”; we can still term our way of working out the problem as “computational thinking”.
In general, it is a “conceptualized” post that allows me to connect the key concepts to explain what happened between different sets of symbols. The basic argument is that “humanization” and “computationalization” can happen simultaneously, and these phenomena represent the computation process, the transformation between one set of symbols to another set of symbols.
- Irvine, Martin. “Introduction: Toward a Synthesis of Our Studies on Semiotics, Artefacts, and Computing.“
- Denning, Peter. “What Is Computation?” Originally published in Ubiquity (ACM), August 26, 2010, and republished as “Opening Statement: What Is Computation?” The Computer Journal 55, no. 7 (July 1, 2012): 805-10.