Semiotics Reflection

I came to CCT with a broad interest in critical theory and media. When I registered for semiotics, I intended to somehow add it to my arsenal of theoretical assumptions. Looking back, I think my assumption was that it would expand my understanding of semantics, which I intended to use as a theoretical framework for whatever research projects I did while at CCT. Needless to say that assumption was extremely naïve. Studying semiotics has completely shifted my worldview and given me a tool for framing practically everything I look at or problem I attempt to understand.

For example, now when I think about the various forms of media I consume – film, music, literature, etc. – I not only analyze them in regard to the concepts and emotions I perceive, but also in regard to the technical structure of the images, sounds or words they contain. Specifically, I found it fascinating to see how de Saussere’s insight on the arbitrary nature of signs (Irvine 10-1) connects directly to information theory, through which we understand that meaning is not carried by signals through mediums, but rather understood through our own cultural interpretations (Floridi 20-2).

Furthermore, this understanding, combined with concept of cognitive offloading, has completely altered the way I view computation. Primarily, we are completely in control of the meaning that we make with these devices, rather than somehow subject to the perceived demands they place on us. In that regard, using these devices to store, transmit and ultimately use information that can be translated into meaning and abstraction is infinitely valuable in terms of our overall social progress. If we reduce these devices to simply their operational functions, we deny ourselves their ultimate educational and even political significance. We speak through them, create experiences through them and continue to develop new methods for doing both of these things through them.

While these concepts now seem apparent to me, I had not previously considered many of them prior to this class. Furthermore, I’m not sure that I would have ever come to understand or accept these things without having been brought through the process of learning them through the following theoretical constructs: semiotics, cognitive evolution, information and design theory. Having that background and perspective, I am able to trace developments of the technologies that we use today through their intended designs and appreciate them for their educational and productive potential without indulging concerns about how they negatively affect our society. The contributions of designers such as Engelbart, Sutherland and Kay alone give me an excitement for the technologies we have and the learning capabilities that they hold.

For this reason, I now personally feel more empowered and even have the desire to design not only digital technologies or programs, but analogue artifacts using concepts in the spirit of Alan Kay, emphasizing education and usability. Furthermore, when I am presented arguments for how technology is changing our society in manner in which we cannot control or predict, I have the desire to counter that argument and explain how we have brought ourselves to this point in terms of technological development and rather than resist the tools that we have created, we should seek to improve these tools and create new tools with a humanistic focus such as presented by Janet Murray in Inventing the Medium (Murray).

Floridi, Luciano. 2010. Very Short Introductions : Information : A Very Short Introduction. Oxford, GB: Oxford University Press.

Irvine, Martin. 2016. Semiotics, Symbolic Cognition, and Technology Key Writings. Compiled and edited with commentary by Martin Irvine. Communication, Culture & Technology Program, Georgetown University.

Murray, Janet H. 2011. Inventing the Medium : Principles of Interaction Design as a Cultural Practice. Cambridge, US: The MIT Press.