Category Archives: Week 7

Deblackboxing the Ruler

Tianyi Cheng

Ruler is never regarded as containing high technology. But as a medium, it carries necessary message that is communicated to construct social order. It indicates the material technologies and symbol forms are not different domains.  Ruler bridges the observer and the observed, creates the relationship between interpreting and using, making innumerous human creations compatible. The marks on rulers involve in human’s own standpoints into investigations. By making diagrams with rulers, they also carry out the process of objectification of abstract ideas. But all of these are just the activities of communication; rulers also transmit, which deserves “thick description”.

The two natures of transmission, the technical device and the organic device, can be clearly found on this simple rectangle tool. Their textures change with the adoption of new materials and their sizes are various for different purpose. Technology is just one aspect of the process of mediation. From the organic aspect, the symbolic system that later was mediated on ruler can be traced back before the birth of ruler. The object of transmission does not preexist the mechanism of its transmission (Debray, 1999). The earliest known unit of measurement is cubit, widely used in ancient Egypt, Mesopotamian and India, at least around 2800 BC. A common cubit was the length of the forearm, hand and other certain lengths on human body. These units of measurement assign numbers or other symbols to material world. The inch, foot and yard evolved from these units through a complicated transformation. Although the process has not yet fully understood, rulers using different measurement system became cornerstones of technology, economics, and judiciary in different societies (Pedhazur, Elazar & Schmelkin, 1991).

Mediation takes place as the milieu changes. The conflicts of different measurement grew when the world started to be linked together. In 1668, the English philosopher John Wilkins proposed a universal measure with a decimal-based unit of length. In 1675, the Italian scientist Tito Livio Burattini, used the phrase “metro cattolico” to denote the standard unit of length derived from a pendulum. Scientists kept looking for more concise definition of meter. In the wake of the French Revolution, French Academy of Sciences suggested a basic unit of length equal to one ten-millionth of the distance between the North Pole and the Equator, to be called mètre. And 1 centimeter was defined as equal to 0.01 meter. The definition has been periodically refined to reflect growing knowledge of science. Since 1983, it has been defined as “the length of the path travelled by light in vacuum during a time interval of 1/299,792,458 of a second” (17th General Conference on Weights and Measures, 1983). I believe it is a good example of interactions across systems.

Copies of the International Prototype were distributed to many nations from France in 1880’s, which provided accurate standard to manufacturers. Here, a broad actor-network was immobilized in the way of “translation” (Restivo, 2010). The historical event constitutes transmission as “duty and obligation, in a word, culture (Debray, 2004).” Englishmen and Americans refuted this culture. However, although complicated international situation made American government reluctant to make the metric system compulsory, the fundamental definitions of length and mass in the U.S. were based on metric units, which were stipulated by the Mendenhall Order of 1893. But the recognition doesn’t necessarily translate into practical use. Several reasons “locked” the U.S people to slowly adopt the metric system. Converting technical drawings and operations manuals for complex equipment with many parts can take thousands of man-hours. In addition, cultural and social psychological reasons also leaded to the failure of Congress to make the metric system mandatory in all 50 states (William, 2011). In U.S., a ruler is commonly marked in both the metric system and the U.S. Customary System.

Works Cited

Debray, Régis. (2004). Of Tools and Angels. Theory, Culture & Society21, 3. P5

Debray, Régis. (1999). “What is Mediology?” Le Monde Diplomatique: 32. Trans. Martin Irvine.

Harris, William.  “Why isn\u0027t the U.S. on the metric system?”  04 October 2011. <>  04 February 2014.

Pedhazur, Elazar & Schmelkin (1991). Measurement, Design, and Analysis: An Integrated Approach (1st ed.). Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates. pp. 15–29. ISBN 0-805-81063-3.

Restivo, Sal (2010). “Bruno Latour: The Once and Future Philosopher.” Entry in the The New Blackwell Companion to.

“17th General Conference on Weights and Measures (1983), Resolution 1.”

Frankenstein, Culture, and Technology

Estefanía Tocado

Regis Debray affirms that mediology would like to bring to light the function of medium in all of its forms, over a long time span (since the birth of writing), and without becoming obsessed by today´s media (1).  He also asserts that cultures are constituted by synchronic communication through the transmission of history in an interrelated web of cultural, political, and economic factors making the medium an embedded part of our social value system (Irvine 23).  Interestingly enough Bruno Latour refutes Heidegger’s idea that:  “Technology is entirely unique, insuperable, omnipresent, superior, a monster born in our midst” (30).  Heidegger´s idea, strongly influenced by the romantic period, regards technology as a product of a deviant, that is to say a product of something outside culture.  If we look at Mary Shelley´s novel Frankenstein and its later filmic adaptations, we encounter the first cyborg, half human and half technological.  His appearance incarnated the intromission of electric power into a constructed human being composed of pieces of other dead human bodies.  Rapidly, Frankenstein was regarded as a monster. For English Victorian society monstrosity was often related to vampires and evil creatures that would endanger a human being´s integrity, especially that of women, as seen in many gothic novels of the time (a clear sign of the sexual repression exercised especially on women).  At the same time the construction of a parallel discourse of otherness would promote the deviation of certain cultural and social anxieties towards this threatening element reinforcing the established cultural and social norms.  Monstrosity as well as technologies are the agents that dismantle a set of cultural and social values acquired by society as reliable and dependable.

Latour affirms the first meaning of mediation is translation, understood as a means of displacement, drift, invention, and the creation of a link that did not exist before and, to same degree, modifies two elements or agents (32).  Using the example provided before, Frankenstein incarnated this displacement between what is human and what is technological thus modifying both.  In the effort of challenging the binaries built around input and output, society in opposition to technology, the action of examining both as interdependent to a larger network of distributed agency and meaning would challenge this dichotomy (Irvine 5).  By focusing on the relations and how these are implemented and distributed, the value deposited on a number of cultural, social, political, and religious constructions and discourses are challenged and put into question.  In order to continue to do so it is important to bring to light misattributed agency and causality for technology in order to disarticulate ideological discourses built around technology effects (Irvine 13).  The fear of technological effects and an interdisciplinary approach to humanism and science, between culture and technology, is based on external factors that promote a hierarchy and a monopoly in the act of mediation.  By exposing the multiple levels of distributed agency, meaning, and implementation, certain established discourses and institutions are called into question and forced to justify its positioning.

Works Cited

Debray, Régis. “What is Mediology?” Le Monde Diplomatique (1999): 32. Trans. Martin Irvine.

Irvine, Martin. “Intro to Mediology and Actor Network Theory: How to Hack Black Boxes.” Media Theory Communication, Culture, and Technology Department, Georgetown U, Feb. 2014. Web. 25 February 2014.

Latour, Bruno. “On Technical Mediation-Philosophy, Sociology, Genealogy.” Common Knowledge 3. 2 (1994): 29-64.


Wikipedia: Built on Common Knowledge.

Alvaro Espiritu Santo Raba

Not so long ago, if anyone in the world intended to do a search about any issue or topic they did their search with the help of an encyclopedia. Encyclopedia Britannica was the commonly used compendium of knowledge that helped generations of young people with their essays, homework and search for knowledge.

britannica-decoder-blog480Like most things in society, encyclopedias were transformed by evolving technologies as well as different social and political changes. The first attempt to bring this compendium of knowledge to the digital age was Microsoft’s Encarta Encyclopedia.  Presented in a CD-ROM format, anyone could search information regarding different subjects  whether they were astronomy and science or historical facts and information.

However, it wasn’t long before Encarta was replaced with a different information outlet that is still considered a primary set of information for people of all ages: “Wikipedia”.  Launched in 2001, Wikipedia is a collaborative process where people from all around the world can edit and contribute to all kinds of articles on the site.  18 billion page views and nearly 500 million unique visitors a month, has made Wikipedia number five in the most visited website ranking, just behind  Yahoo, Facebook, Microsoft and Google.  (NY Times, “Wikipedia vs. The Small Screen”)

Some have criticized the website for its lack of accuracy, but its certain that now more than ever, Wikipedia has turned into a cultural icon.  A place we can go to hoping to gather some information and knowledge.  Why has this page proven more successful than Microsoft’s Encarta? Maybe it’s because the information transmitted here can be edited and shared by people around the world.  After all, our relation to things is always mediated by humans and our relation to other humans is always mediated by other things  (Vandenberghe, 32)


If we were to open the “black-box” surrounding this website and it’s impact upon society we would need to talk about mediology.  Considering that Mediology would like to bring to light the function of medium in all its forms. (Debray, 1)  This is not only a search engine, it is also a place where we can find photography, texts, even sounds and movies regarding art, history or even economy.

It is important to think of the impact it has made into our society sociologically and anthropologically, to think that millions of people around the world go to a single website in search for answers.  Like the greeks before us in an Agora, we gather in one single space fitted to the digital age to share and transmit knowledge.

Websites like this may have facilitated our search for answers.  Regardless, we shouldn’t treat Wikipedia as a cultural revolution that may turn books into useless tools, this site is only but a reference.  A quick way to solve doubts if you will.

However, links at the bottom of each article feature may enhance our reading experience; it encourages us to keep reading and searching for knowledge. Some may think that Wikipedia has made us people who are foreign to books and libraries.  But technologies are neither good nor bad inherently but rather they are both. (Vandenberghe, 12)

Like all technologies, the outcome strongly depends on the end-user.  While the main process surrounding this site may be the transmission of knowledge, ), it is important to continue to stay awake to the mode in which things do get transmitted: some things explicitly so (packaged), and some less explicitly so; some tied to intentions, and others not.  (Maras, 14)

Wikipedia is a reflection of a technologically embedded society, it reflects how we have turned dependent on technology to solve most of our problems. But it also has a silver lining.

If a website can have people from all over the world contributing and editing and article on their favorite movie or actor i believe it proofs the unlimited and even untested potential that mankind has to start projects with people all over the world in his pursuit of excellence.


NY Times, Wikipedia Vs. The Small Screen:

Frédéric Vandenberghe, “Régis Debray and Mediation Studies, or How Does an Idea Become a Material Force?” Thesis Eleven, 89, May 2007: 23-42

Regis Debray, “What is Mediology?” Le Monde Diplomatique, Aug., 1999. Trans. Martin Irvine.

Steven Maras, “On Transmission: A Metamethodological Analysis (after Régis Debray)”