Internally Inspecting iPhones

A major theme in our dissection of the worlds of media and digital artifacts that becomes clearer and clearer is that on the surface, we view our interactions with objects such as the iPhone as a given process of society and that these “new” technologies provide us with easier and quicker communication than ever before. The majority of people do not question the screen interface, media functions of their apps or the mediation of the policies, production, capitalism and cultural message that go into making and distributing the iPhone. Manovich states that our use of the digital has “become an assumed part of the everyday existence, something which does not seem to require much reflection about” summing up our tendencies to blackbox things as we have discussed throughout the course.

At first glance, the interface of my iPhone 4 was nothing more than a bunch of icons on a screen that quickly informed me of its function and allowed to fulfill my goals of calling, texting, using social media, taking photos, checking the weather and etc. However, after taking into account the type of theories proposed by McLuhan and Barthes, the semantics and reproduction found on the screen were much evident such a microphone for voice memos, an address book for contacts and musical note for music. All of these not only represent culturally significant items that have been reproduced into the digital interface and functions, but continue a set of pre-established rules and symbols as in the cultural encyclopedia and recycling of mediums within one another. Manovich goes further in explaining this in “New Media from Borges to HTML” when he says “all culture, past and present, is being filtered through a computer, with its particular human-computer interface. Human-computer interface comes to act as a new form through which all older forms of cultural production are being mediated.” Pg.7

Looking at McLuhan’s theory that the medium is the message alongside Manovich’s analysis in “Media After Software,” the iPhone, media functions are more than playing a youtube video or snapping a photo and uploading it onto Facebook. Using the example of photographs presented in the reading, the point of contact and immediacy met as the light hit camera, capturing an immediate moment in time. Now, images are captured by the software within the iPhone, which is in sync with the software from Facebook to which we can immediately upload a post and let our friends know what we were doing a few seconds beforehand. While the software is faster and presents a new form of immediacy, it is framed within the cultural, social and political context of its predecessor.

The notion of remediation discussed by Bolter and Grusin reaches farther in explaining the lack of discussion and recognition of iPhones as a technology that has developed based on past creations. “Our culture wants both to multiply its media and to erase all traces of mediation: ideally, it wants to erase its media in the very act of multiplying them. (p.5) Their statement rings true as our iPhones are updated and proliferated with new apps to make our lives easier and to essentially place our entire lives onto a single device, a path that is created in part to Apple’s marketing, software development and business practices. Once the touch-screen became a popular feature, it helped to eliminate another barrier in the human-computer interaction experience.  Bolter and Grusin state,”virtual reality should come as close as possible to our daily visual experience and transparent interface is one that erases itself.” As we see the proliferation of media interfaces that enable touch and 3D technology, we are seeing the movement to erase acknowledgement of the technology. For example this new screen cover for the iPhone 5 allows for 3D viewing without wearing glasses or any other device that would intrude upon reality. We are drawn even deeper into the technology as a given object of reality.

More information on 3D iPhone covers: