Re-Mediation of the iPad and Its Effects

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As someone who is studying communication, culture and technology, one of my darkest secrets is my tendency to cling onto familiar technology whenever a new gadget is introduced to the market. When I was a child, I didn’t understand what was so different about using a DVD instead of a VHS, and in middle school I distinctly remember making fun of a friend for wanting to carry around all of his music with him in his iPod. More recently, the concept of a tablet/iPad was more confusing than interesting to me when it initially gained popularity. I just did not see the value in re-shaping a computer screen in an attempt to make it seem new and interesting.

Having read Manovich’s and Bolter’s discussions about what digital media entails in modern times, I realized that it wasn’t so much the physical object of the iPad/tablet that bothered me, but rather the re-mediated qualities embedded into the technology. In an iPad, re-mediation is visible at all levels – on the interface, in its media functions and in its mediations. However, each layer of re-mediation depends on the user’s interaction and perception of the level of invisibility of various forms of mediation. 

The interface of an iPad is a physical re-mediation of a computer monitor, and before that, a notepad. However, this notion is true with one added caveat – the user can manipulate objects on the screen with their hands, rather than with a cursor. This tangible component of the iPad is also a re-mediation of how humans naturally touch and readjust surfaces. This type of interaction through remediation is mentioned by Manovich as “the mix between older cultural conventions for data representation, access and manipulation and newer conventions of data representation, access and manipulation.” Therefore, the interface of the iPad creates a sense of personalization that would have been otherwise unattainable on a computer, given the newly incorporated features of creating things by hand.

Similarly, the media functions of an iPad largely re-mediate those of a computer, but on a more basic level due to constrains placed on the technology in its tangibility. Essentially, the iPad is technically able to process media as well as a computer, but its interface limits the scope of whatever is being processed. Additionally, the apps included in the software of an iPad demonstrate how strategic implementation of software can make the mediated functions of a technology seem invisible. For example, take a look at your address book app. The images shown on the screen replicate how a “real” address book would look, complete with hand-flipped pages. The familiarity of the original, re-mediated object make the software of the app invisible. People are unlikely to question what kind of code was used to create this app, but will likely notice how “easy to use” it is since it is based on a model they already know.

The mediation level of an iPad is more difficult to discuss since an iPad can mediate any number of things – emails, mail, entertainment, and any other type of information. To limit my discussion, I will focus on the iPad’s remediation of television functions and a few effects it has had thus far. With the use of digital apps, the convenience of watching television with the freedom to choose what time and place you will tune in has been heightened. Apps catering to this convenience continue to thrive, and create a somewhat symbiotic relationship of re-mediation between themselves and the interfacing technology. For example, Netflix has been an extremely successful online service, and by providing viewers with a steady stream of entire show seasons, rather than one episode at a time like traditional television, the company has been able to re-mediate not only how people interact with their iPad technology, but also with their televisions. In doing so, Netflix learned that people tend to “binge watch” entire seasons quickly, which prompted the company to invest in creating its own show, House of Cards, that would only be shown on Netflix. 

Since not all iPad/Netflix users participate in these “binge watching” sessions, this situation would demonstrate how re-mediation of a media can make digital versions of the technology truly seem more “real” because it is more current with the type of software the iPad is capable of running, thereby highlighting the “cultural bias” aimed at digital endeavors. Any paid-for television channel with its own specific set of shows can be similarly successful if it were to show all episodes of one show in marathon succession. However, the personalization of choosing when to watch the shows is what gives the remediation of television shows some weight. Overall, the re-mediation involved in all Apple products and some other tablets creates success for the brand as a whole thanks to its strong basis in familiar analog technologies.