We have talked a lot about semiotic systems. According to Peirce’s triadic model, the “interpretant” process weighs a lot, almost the most, in the whole meaning-representing system. Contexts, collective memories, social traditions, cultures, personal experience and so many other factors decide the meaning eventually emerging in receivers’ minds. This week’s readings, however, reminds me of another part that plays an increasingly critical roles with the update of technology in our times in this whole semiotic process, which is, the SIGN (the vehicle, the signifying element) per se.
We have created many kinds of media to carry meanings in the previous five thousand years’ civilizations of human beings. This stable quantitative accumulation seems to result in a qualitative change, sharply in recent decades stimulated by the computer and information science and technology. In Software Takes Command, Lev Manovich coins the term “metamedia”, referring to the software-sized media on the basis of all information, digital, computational and other technologies. What he emphasizes in the book repeatedly is that, it’s new media more than “remediating”, or “imitating” the old ones, but the fundamentally new semiotic and technological system which includes most previous media techniques and aesthetics as its elements (P81). In short, the metamedia collects all features of old media and generates into new characteristics, enabling to hold all the already-existing, as well as not-yet-invented media in the future.
If we compare the text-processing software with traditional text media, for example MicroOffice Word with a notebook, we may get how unprecedentedly the metamedia functions. Both of them can be used to write articles. By Word, the author can easily delete a passage when he reviews previous works, insert a new one, change the order, search a paragraph with key words, or use different font and size of the characters as much as he wants, all of which however, cannot be done on a notebook. We’ve all seen how a master’s manuscripts look like — they are filled with messy characters, lines, marks, corrections and deletions. It can’t be searched, even very hard to be recognized, but what a notebook keeps is the process of the thoughts forming — all errors and changes are kept, as well as the trajectory of great minds.
The result of Word is a neat, accurate, mature text, like an ending point of the writing activity, while what the notebook presents is a whole developing process. Therefore, even though we assume it’s the same author writing the same article just by different media, clearly what we eventually get is the same outcome, but contents and meanings in that notebook and the software Word are hardly to be regarded as the same.
Such words said by Marshall McLuhan are mentioned in one reading:
The medium is the message.
This can be better understood with Bolter & Grusin’s works Remediation. In this book, authors raise terms “immediacy” and “hypermediacy”. To my understanding, these two indicate two contrary features of medium that the new media now is trying to realize — the transparency of the medium, in contrast to the extreme expression.
For the former, kindle is a good example. This digital book reading device, launched by Amazon years later than people start reading online, is a new media with the desire to embrace the oldest text-vehicle — books. The appearance looks like a book and the screen is as fade as paper, of course with some modern digital functions such as text-searching and downloading. As a modern reading device, kindle in fact is trying to minimize its existence as a digital medium, trying its best to bring users the feeling of reading an authentic, printed book.
For the latter, we can compare those novels with their adopted films. In the film the Grate Gatsby(2013), the story is authentically represented in general. However, traditional film elements like music, camera language, gorgeous settings, as well as new techniques such as large numbers of digital graphic effects, all make this film contain more or less contents than the original novel. The art designer’s understanding of the book results in the setting of the film. The director’s understanding results in the camera and editing. In this case, the medium extremely expresses itself, and the medium itself brings about new meanings (and loses some as well).
The medium is the message?
Well, according to Bolter and Grusin’s ideas, some of the medium is, like the modern film adopted from novels. While some maybe not, like the kindle.
Why the medium is the message?
Because some medium itself contains a process of understandings, like the modern film adopted from novels. Also, none of the medium we use is naturally existed in accord with our cognitive capacities. All of them are created with certain contents and boarders. Each language has its own semantic fields, leading to each nation’ s different cognitions towards external world. Other symbolic system, including maths, dancing, paintings etc., also has its own limited coverage of meanings and emotions, which brings certain messages coming with signs of the system beyond contents.