Author Archives: Cory Benavente

About Cory Benavente

My name's Cory, and I'm a Master's student at Georgetown University in Washington DC. I'm obsessed with Kanye West & Radiohead.

City as Interface: A Discourse on the Semiological Significance of Contemporary Urban Spaces

As physical manifestations of culture, beliefs, and social utility, cities and metropolises function as consequential relics of modernity.  They are shaped and built deliberately, assembled in the image of their creator(s).  Recently, the advent of utilitarian architecture and pragmatic urban design has played a large role in this importance.  Cities act as interfaces, transmitting values and norms through the reification of cultural narratives and messages.

Discussion on the interfacial process around cities and urban design must necessarily begin at cultural semiotics and media theory.  Recent ideological shifts in semiotic theory have brought the process of reception to the forefront.  Stuart Hall’s seminal work, especially the piece “Encoding/Decoding,” captures this shift well.

The introduction of Hall’s chapter is a good cursory introduction to this model of transmission.  Hall writes of relational structures and processes in terms of, “a structure produced and sustained through the articulation of linked but distinctive moments…a process…sustained through the articulation of connected practices (Hall, pg. 508).”  The author also discusses a discursive form that enables, “the circulation of the product…as well as its distribution to different audiences (Hall, pg. 508).”  Shortly thereafter Hall delivers one of his big blows.  “…the discursive form…has a privileged position in the communication exchange…We must think, then, of the variant articulations in which encoding and decoding can be combined (Hall, pgs. 508 & 515).”  The shift theorized communication as a dynamic process in which reception is just as important as, if not more so than reception.  Hall’s contributions did much to revise the communication fields, and would later go on to play an important role in the discourse surrounding cities, urban planning, and their respective importance.

The significance of this paradigmatic shift cannot be understated.  Hall and his peers signaled a notable progression in communications theory.  Previous communications models failed to take into account the complexity of both the communication process and the meaning-making process.  Post-shift models from the 1960’s to the 80’s stressed the importance of reception and interpretation.  Thinkers like Stuart Hall, Roland Barthes, Umberto Eco and William Gibson produced works highlighting the symbiotic process of communication and meaning-making.

This process can be broken down exponentially, ad infinitum.  Functioning within any semiosphere requires both constant symbol-production and continual meaning-making.  Existence necessitates interpretation.  While exhausting at times, this continual sense-making process is extremely liberating.  It is infinitely combinatorial.  It allows for a continually emergent semiosphere.  Much like language, the meaning-making process ensures the open ended-ness of the broader communication process.

This open ended nature of the communication process does have some issues and pre-requisites that must be addressed.  First, the process relies on an intertwined network of concepts and ideas.  This network underlies the semiosphere, and provides the necessary nodes for meaning-making amongst connections and relations.  The network runs across intertextual lines, and collapses both time and space.  This intertextuality is of note when discussing the semiological importance of cities and urban spaces. 

 

The work of Roland Barthes does well to begin a discussion of intertextuality.  Specifically Barthes’ 1971 essay “From Work to Text,” provides a solid background for the concept of intertextuality.  In the piece Barthes discusses Texts heavily.  The Text is “…radically symbolic: a work conceived, perceived, and received in its integrally symbolic nature…an irreducible (and not merely an acceptable) plural…not a co-existence of meanings but a passage, an overcrossing (Barthes, pg. 158-159).”  Elsewhere, “The Text is experience only in an activity of production (Barthes, pg. 157).”

A Barthes-ian reading of the Text is clearly a very active one.  There is room to move within the social space of the Text.  There’s a dynamism and vibrance to the Textual process.  It is analogous to a ballet, or pugilism.  Communications Theory in the 1960’s-1980’s brought about a much more nimble frame of thought.

Because this communications model has much more symbiotic interaction than previous models, it quickly becomes clear that the model needs some kind of frame of reference.  Connections between nodes require some sort of pre-established system of signification in order to make sense of the continual communication process.      

The Cultural Encyclopedia serves this very purpose.  Umberto Eco’s piece “Metaphor, Dictionary, and Encyclopedia,” serves as a brief guide.  Eco describes the encyclopedia form as, “potentially infinite…[and] of a polydimensional network of properties, in which some properties are interpretants of others (Eco, pg. 261).”  Eco defines the communications process as being,

“defined by other terms assumed as interpretants, with the advantage that an encyclopedic representation (even if ideal), based on the principle of unlimited interpretation, is capable of explaining in purely semiotic terms the concept of ‘similarity’ between properties(Eco, pg. 261).”  Eco’s notion of the encyclopedia enables not only the interrelations happening in the semiosphere but also the generative nature of the semiosphere.    

A distributed cognition model is useful here.  According to theorists James Hollan, Edwin Hutchins and David Kirsch, a distributed cognition model, “extends the reach of what is considered cognitive beyond the individual to encompass interactions between people and with resources and materials in the environment…[and] refers to a perspective on all of cognition, rather than a particular kind of cognition (Hollan, Hutchins & Kirsch, pg. 175).”  Further on the authors break down distributed cognition into three distinct categories: those distributed across members of a social group, those involving coordination between internal and external (material or environmental) structure, and those that may be distributed through time in such a way that the products of earlier events can transform the nature of later events (Hollan, Hutchins & Kirsch, pg. 176).

Theorists like Hollan, Hutchins and Kirsch, and their contemporaries such as Andy Clark, signalled a very important conversion in the discourse.  While all of the previous theorists acknowledged the existence of the Text, few notioned towards the physicality of the Communication process in regards to interfaces and the transmission of values.  By shifting their frames to include both chronological contexts and material/environmental factors, the aforementioned works place semiological practice and communications models within a complex network of physical space and interfacial theory.  While useful as a guide into the contextual complexity of the communication process, the distributed cognition model will come to play a larger role in this project during discussion of interfaces.

Going back though, the cultural encyclopedia and associated semantic complexity is emblematic of the 1960’s-1980’s shift in communications theory.  This shift had a supreme importance in theories regarding the meaning-making process and communication.  As mentioned above, both processes can be broken down infinitesimally, ad infinitum.  The Text itself is a sign, which is comprised of many more signs, which of themselves are comprised of many more signs.  It is a progressive model, and one that hinges upon a constant interpretive process between multiple nodes within a complex system. 

The open-ended nature of this dynamic, systems-based communication process relies on some kind of mediating body between internal systems and external bodies.  Broadly speaking, this is the interface function.  The work of Lev Manovich serves as a good introduction to contemporary iterations of interfaces.  Though not his most notable work, his piece “New Media from Borges to HTML” serves us well in this instance.  Manovich argues, “The greatest interactive work is the interactive…interface itself: the fact that the user can easily change everything which appears on her screen, in the process changing the internal state of a computer, or even commanding reality outside of it (Manovich, pg. 5).”  Further on Manovich writes, “…interface comes to act as a new form through which all older forms of cultural production are being mediated (Manovich, pg. 7).”  Interfaces play an enormous role in the maintenance of social order and conservation of cultural norms.

As the primary mediating bodies within social interactions, interfaces are a necessary aspect of new media.  In his book The Language of New Media, Manovich breaks down New Media into a 5-point typology.  The typology appears as follows: 1) Numerical Representation 2) Modularity 3) Automation 4) Variability and 5) Transcoding.  Though not a strict definition, Manovich’s work does well to introduce the concepts and characteristics of New Media. 

So, according to Manovich, New Media is “described formally (mathematically)…and subject to algorithmic manipulation (Manovich, pg. 49),” made up of elements “…assembled into larger-scale objects but [still able] to maintain their separate identity (Manovich, pg. 51),” allow for the automation of operation (Manovich, pg. 53), “not something fixed…but [that] can exist in different, potentially infinite, versions (pg. 56),” and deals with the, “substitution of all constants by variables (Manovich, pg. 63).”  As a consequential aspect of New Media, interfaces must be analyzed through each of these lenses.

Through these lenses then, interfaces come to act as a novel form through which all older forms of cultural production are mediated.  New Media works mathematically, spatially, mechanically, individually, and in an infinitely combinatorial nature.  By specifying both what New Media is and what New Media is not, Manovich has provided us a suitable starting point for the discussion of interfaces.  Through a Manovich-ian lens, interfaces are important in that they allow for a dynamic relationship with a text, while also maintaining an efficient operation.

Discussion of interfaces must first address the technical and mechanical aspects of interfaces.  Our prior insights into the distributed cognition model are useful here.  As mentioned above, the article “Distributed Cognition: Toward a New Foundation for Human-Computer Interaction Research,” by James Hollan, Edwin Hutchins, and David Kirsch does this well.  The authors take a distributed cognitive approach to interface analysis.   Hollan, Hutchins, and Kirsch argue that the distributed cognitive approach, “provides an effective theoretical foundation for understanding human-computer interaction and a fertile framework for designing and evaluating digital artifacts (Hollan, Hutchins, & Kirsch, pg. 175).”  The distributed cognition attempts to understand the organization of cognitive systems.

This model concentrates on the boundaries and processes underpinning interfacial interactions.  In doing so, the distributed cognition model addresses not only the complex nodal networks supporting the interface (actors within a complex network), but also the physical embodiment of a techno-social process (the physical aspects of the interface).  By integrating these broad frameworks into one methodological approach, this model speaks towards the utility of interdisciplinarity.  A useful analysis of interfaces must address the artifact on multiple, disparate levels.

Though their article focuses heavily on technical aspects of any given technology, the distributed cognitive methodology is useful in this project.  By stressing an interdisciplinary framework, the distributed cognitive model allows the project to view an interface through multiple lenses.  As a result, we can gain a fuller picture of both the implications and consequences of cities as cultural interfaces. 

Though a substantial gap, this jump is very important and must be addressed.  Popular discourse surrounding interfaces concentrates on technological artifacts, but not necessarily geo-spatial ones.  The field seems to be lacking in this area.

This project is useful in that it addresses that deficiency.  Through thorough analysis, this project argues that cities act as cultural interfaces.  By functioning as physical embodiments of the cultures, values, and norms of geographic areas, cities play a profound interfacial role.  They mediate between past beliefs and contemporary physicalities.  Additionally, this project argues that cities operate as interfaces within a complex, dynamic acculturation process.  As manicured and curated urban spaces, cities work to reify existing socio-political separations.  Going further though, the city interface is a space of agency for fringe demographics.  Through various generative and combinatorial actions, city-dwellers are able to make an interface their own and use it as a channel for discussion and communication. 

This responsive action is not always as militant as it initially sounds though.  Even benign activity within the city constitutes some kind of interaction with the interface.  This is discussed in Michel de Certeau’s seminal text The Practice of Everyday Life.  His 7th chapter “Walking in the City” is especially useful for this project.  De Certeau frames cities as emergent, continually evolving spaces.  The author claims that “Its (a city’s) present invents itself, from hour to hour, in the act of throwing away its previous accomplishments and challenging the future (De Certeau, pg. 91).”

As continually emergent bodies, cities thus provide ample space for reconfiguration and, as a result, the enunciation of agency.  They then become immensely powerful interfaces.  Further on in his chapter, de Certeau claims that walking, “has a triple ‘enunciative’ function: it is a process of appropriation of the topographical system on the part of the pedestrian…; it is a spatial acting-out of the place…; and it implies relations among differentiated positions (de Certeau, pgs 97-98).”  By encouraging personalization and an intimate user relationship, cities as interfaces provide ample means for user-actualization (De Certeau, pg. 98).

This specific user-relationship ties in well with our previous discussion on interfaces.  Specifically though, it ties in well with our discussions on interfaces as mentioned in the writings of Lev Manovich.  Manovich characterizes the interface as, “the greatest interactive work (Manovich, pg. 5).”  Manovich additionally claims that interfaces act, “as a new form through which all older forms…are being mediated (Manovich, pg. 7.)”  Cities, as discussed by theorists like de Certeau, fit cleanly into this definition.  The artifacts, spatial arrangement, and branding of cities all reinforce and mediate older forms, while allowing for generative, combinatorial interactions.

Washington DC is especially insightful in this example.  Firstly, the city clearly has a deep history.  As the nation’s capital, there is much going on within the city both ideologically and semiotically.  The National Mall is a good example of this.  In a relatively short length (about a mile), city planners worked to pack in a number of national monuments, memorials, and shrines to our collective national memory.  Examples include: the National Museum of American History, the National Sculpture Garden, the Korean War Veterans Memorial, the Vietnam Women’s Memorial, and much more.

While I could continue listing the many shrines and memorials located within the National Mall proper, the quantity is not the point.  The quality of this space, the memorial function, is the greater point.  By memorializing US history and US culture in a very specific and curated way, DC’s city functions as a constant re-ification of past norms and values.  The arrangement of the National Mall is a relatively new form through which select older forms are being mediated.

De Certeau’s chapter touches on this mediation.  The author argues that the “operating chronological arrangements and historical justifications (de Certeau, pg. 104)” associated with a city (read: landmarks), “slowly lose, like worn coins, the value engraved on them, but their ability to signify outlives its first definition (de Certeau, pg. 104).”  Thus, the function takes precedence over face value.  As a mediating body between past narratives and contemporary social function, the National Mall’s function as interface is it’s main purpose.  The landmarks and monuments exist to reify certain cultural norms and values.   The idea of these places becomes detached from the physicality of these monuments, thus extending the reach of the interface past their physical, geographical, and technical limitations and into the socio-cultural lexicon.  They have very deliberately become part of Eco’s cultural encyclopedia.

This sentiment is echoed by Dagmar Motycka Weston, a specialist in space, meaning, and modernity at the University of Edinburgh.  In her piece “Le Corbusier and the restorative fragment at the Swiss Pavillion,” Weston discusses the implications of architecture and urban design.  Weston argues that, “…it is possible…for architecture to transcend merely formal, technical or aesthetic concerns, and communicate deep thematic meaning (Weston, pg. 189).”  Elsewhere the author refers to architecture and urban design as, “a source of existential orientation (Weston, pg. 190).”  Our placement within the city helps place us.  Cities work to map us conceptually, ideologically, and semiotically.  Our mapping of space works to map us as well.  Though not DC, this Yuppie map of San Francisco shows how the mapping of space translates into social and cultural expectations not only of certain areas but of people within certain spaces as well.

While the National Mall is useful in showing the power dynamics of geo-spatial arrangements, it is not a very manipulatable space. It is heavily surveilled.  There is comparatively little semiotic room to move. The progression and flow of bodies within the space is heavily dictated. It thus fails to fully highlight the agency of city spaces.  Part of de Certeau’s big thrust is the personalization of space and function.  The author discusses spatial organization as, “an ensemble of possibilities,” and argues that the city-walker “actualizes some of these possibilities….he makes them exist as well as emerge (de Certeau, pg. 98).”  According to de Certeau at least, the city is rife for displays of agency.

The National Mall is only a fraction of DC Proper, the city as a whole.  There are many other neighborhoods and quadrants, each of which have their own brand and personality.  The residents within the area heavily dictate this brand and personality, unlike the National Mall.  As less sacred areas (when compared to the National Mall, our own Holy of Holies), these habitable spaces act as a discussion between city dwellers, city walkers, and culture.  There is much more space for personalization and customization.  They allow a conversation between city-dwellers and the idea behind a city.

De Certeau discusses this in the context of a city’s reputation, or brand.  To de Certeau, the discourse surrounding an artifact (city) fails to fully deliver on its own promise, thus opening up room for movement and personalization.

“It [room to move] ‘authorizes’ the production of an area of free play…It makes places habitable (de Certeau, pg 106).”  This authorizing act of play within a space is key in both de Certeau and similar theorist’s work.

This concept of the authorizing act of play is necessarily broad.  De Certeau focuses on the rather benign act of walking.  It crosses the spectrum though.  Dissident acts like graffiti and vandalism qualify.  But so do seemingly quotidian acts like skateboarding and neighborhood clean-ups.  All of the aforementioned practices are instances of free play that personalize an area, thereby authorizing the production or manifestation of this space.  This ties back into Weston’s input as well.  Our own mapping and personalizing city space does the same for us in return.

While Weston and de Certeau’s arguments are notable, they are definitely lacking in certain areas.  Namely, both models neglect to address the relationship of the physical cityscape to the acculturation process over time.  While de Certeau does discuss an individual walking through a city and looking down at a city, he does not fully address the chronological implications that are a pre-requisite for this process. 

There are several scholars who discuss time and space though.  Geographer Yi Fu Tuan’s book Space and Place does a good job of working through this relationship.  “Architectural space,” Tuan argues, “has been called…spatialized time (Fuan, pg. 118).”  Elsewhere, Fuan writes, “Daily living in modern society requires that we be aware of space and time as separate dimensions and as transposable measures of the same experience (Fuan 118-119).”  Spaces in general then take on a big role semiotically.  Their relics and arrangements are physical embodiments of aged norms, texts, and values (culture).  They are the impositions of the past onto the present.  Going further though, they also stand for future combinatorial possibilities as well.

This prevalence of time within the semiosphere ties in well with our frames of cities as interfaces.  It works especially well with Manovich’s definition of the interface.  Part of Manovich’s definition reads as follows: “a new form through which all older forms of cultural production are being mediated (Manovich, pg. 7).”  This works directly with Fuan’s conception of time within the function and process of space.  The spatial arrangement and relics of cities are a new form (a physicality) through which older forms of cultural production are mediated.

Washington DC again serves as a good working example.  The design and architecture of the city incorporates themes from prior eras, namely Classical and Victorian aesthetics.  This incorporation relies on the physical remediation of past symbols and images into a contemporary context. Horatio Greenough’s sculpture of George Washington on the Capital grounds (in which the first President is displayed in white marble, wearing a toga a la classical Greece) serves as a prime example.  Additional examples of this incorporation of the past include the Romanian, Victorian, and Norman architectures prevalent amongst the numerous Smithsonian buildings.  By channeling past norms and values into contemporary physicalities, the aforementioned architectural works to mediate all older forms of cultural production.  This hearkens back to Manovich’s framing of interfaces as cultural mediators.

This cultural mediation works outside the sacred spaces of the Capital and the National Mall as well though.  Again, the utilization and personalization of city space works within the process of cultural mediation.  The progression and evolution of spaces over time is a personalization.  The affordances of a city allow for a deep-seated relationship through personalization.  This interactive playground design site is a good example of efficiency through personalization.  Space is re-mediated and re-designed to better align with the needs and desires of city dwellers.

This personalization and customization is discussed in the book Human space by O.F. Bollnow.  Bollnow, who was a professor of philosophy and pedagogy at the University of Tübingen, worked extensively within and between the fields of existentialism and phenomenology.  This work translates well to the semiotic and cultural importance of city spaces.

Bollnow discusses this lightly in his section “The ordering of space.”  “Ordering space,” argues Bollnow, “means that, with conscious deliberation, I assign a place in a space or a container to every object….This ordering must be done appropriately….Thus human ordering always gives a strange sense of satisfaction, because here the world, in the ordered area in question, has become clearly comprehensible and manageable (Bollnow, pg. 196).”  Elsewhere Bollnow argues, “The process of new ordering is a very significant one…We are re-creating space for ourselves.”

While this is useful, it is the connection to cultural significance and importance that is especially of note.  The arrangement and layout of a city helps us become accustomed to norms and values.  “The bringing together of these objects of use with the totality of spatial order creates a totally organized and therefore also totally comprehensible space (Bollnow, pg. 200).”  The personalization of space helps us make sense of our own experience within broader social, cultural, and political networks.  The arrangement and re-arrangement of a space helps us map out our own placement within the complex nodal system.

Cities clearly play a profound role in the semiosphere.  Their importance cannot be understated.  Yi-Fu Tuan’s work covers this well.  “Objects anchor time….To strengthen our sense of self the past needs to be rescued and made accessible (Tuan, pg. 187).”  Our articulations of space, both as memorials to the past and combinatorial affordances for the future, teach us not only about ourselves but also about those around us.  They orient us.  Much like technological interfaces, the geo-spatial interface of the city communicates information and data (technological, historical, cultural, etc…) to the user in a meaningful way. 

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Barthes, Roland.  Images Music Text: Essays Selected and Translated by Stephen Heath.  Hammersmith, London: Fontana Press, 1977.  Online

Barthes, Roland.  Mythologies.  Giroux: The Noonday Press, 1972.  Online.

Bollnow, O.F.  Human space.  London: Hyphen Press, 1963.  Online.

de Certeau, Michel.  The Practice of Everyday Life.  Berkley, CA: University of California Press, 1984.  Print.

Eco, Umberto.  “Metaphor, Dictionary and Encyclopedia.”  New Literary History 15.2 (Winter, 1984): 255-271.  Online.

Hall, Stuart.  “Encoding and Decoding in the Television Discourse.”  Centre for Cultural Studies No 7 (1973): 507-517.  Online.

Hollan, James, Hutchins, Edwin, and Kirsch, David.  “Distributed Cognition: Towards a New Foundation for Human-Computer Interaction Research.”  ACM Transactions on Computer-Human Interaction (TOCHI) 7.2 (2000): 174-196.  Online.

Manovich, Lev.  “HTML: New Media from Borges to HTML.”  The New Media Reader.  Ed. Wardrip-Fruin, Noah and Montfort, Nick.  Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2003.  Online.     

Manovich, Lev.  The Language of New Media.  Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2001.  Online.

Tuan, Yi-Fu.  Space and Place: The Perspective of Experience.  Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1977.  Print.  

Weston, Dagmar Motycka.  “Le Corbusier and the restorative fragment at the Swiss Pavillion.”  Tracing Modernity: Manifestations of the Modern in Architecture and the City.  Ed. Hvattum, Mari and Hermansen, Christian.  London: Routledge, 2004.  Print.

MP3s as Case Study

Pulling from my 506 group’s project, the MP3 could be classified as a combinatorial technology.  The MP3 pulls together seemingly disparate technologies and fuses them together, thus reaching new plateaus.  As such a combinatorial technology though, MP3’s function and exist as a network within a much larger and more complex nodal system.  The nodal system is at once technological, social, political, and much more.  The interactions within the system reveal much about both the history and the future of MP3s, and thus necessitate further academic inquiry.

As a reiteration of the musical function MP3s accomplish much.  Music relates a sense of social cohesion and political voice.  MP3s must be analyzed through this context, as they are an iteration of these factors.  MP3s complete this function, but in a highly reformulated manner.  The final product is micro-packaged, and blackboxed in different players and devices.

The size and presentation of the storage device has played a large role in the sonic process.  As Sherburne notes, music goes through a ‘micromaterialization’ in which the data process is sized down to a negligible, yet still physically present, size.  This shrinkage has shifted not only the way we look at music, but the way we look at information storage technology as well.  This is heavily discussed in Sterne’s work ‘The MP3 as a Cultural Artifact.’  The concept of a record collection has been shrunk, allowing collectors to amass more, quicker, in smaller areas.

This has brought about a mobility for music listening that was not fully realized prior.  Earlier technologies like vinyls and 8 tracks were much bulkier.  Even the more recent developments like Walkmen or Discmen were much bulkier, and skipped ALL THE TIME.  MP3 players do not skip as much, and can be brought virtually anywhere.  Further, the mobility and micromaterialization allow for massive file sharing, which has proliferated the access that users have to music, whether legal or illegal.

This speaks further to the function of the digital format of music.  It has made it more convenient to give, get, and share music.  This is a double edged sword for the music industry though, as it is done both legally and illegally.  The music industry has worked very hard to try and curb illegal downloading though.  One main mechanism for this push has been for-profit music services like Amazon or iTunes.  In this sense, services like these work as a main arm of the music industry and reinforce the existing socio-political tier-ing of the music industry while shifting the shape and format of the content delivery.

Though music services have dealt primarily in MP3s, there are other options.  For example, AAC is another digital file format that can transfer music.  AAC actually holds more information than MP3s, and has a much better encoding rate thus resulting in a clearer and more lossless listen.  Apple uses AACs in their iTunes store.  This shift towards AACs leads to larger questions regarding ‘locking-in,’ technological shifts, and much more.

House of Cy-Borgia

Cory Benavente

This week’s readings and discussions seems to tie-in heavily with last week’s readings on interfaces and our (users) relationship with them (interfaces).  As one of, if not the, mediating body between humans and code, interface and the functions of an interface are of supreme importance to social critics.  That dichotomy was complicated in this week’s readings though, especially Andy Clark’s pieces on cyborgs and the human body.

I’ve done readings on digital convergence before.  It’s not entirely new.  The fact that I can use my cell phone to check the weather, settle arguments, plan my day, etc… is something that I’ve slowly become used to.  But this is all digital.  This is palatable.  This is do-able.  Clark’s writings took this a step further though.  He was very intrigued by this notion of ‘The Extended Mind.’  Put another way, Clark wrote on the increasing expansion of both technology and our own consciousness into one another.  This isn’t new either though.  Clark claims that this has been going on for centuries though, giving numerous examples.  This serves as an interesting techno-exsistential crisis. 

Interface plays a huge role in this techno-exsistential crisis.  The function and utility of an interface then plays a profound role in human existence and communication capabilities.  While we tied the concepts of interface and mediation together well, there is a key difference: function.  Interface is a noun, while mediation is a verb.  Though seemingly simple, this is the root for a much larger issue—mediation is a process while interface is the physical manifestation of said process. 

This difference sheds a whole new light on Manovich’s conception of new media.  While Manovich’s interface analysis is helpful, it does not delve deeply enough into the relationship between user and interface.  Manovich claims that the interface acts as a mechanism that mediates content and carries cultural messages.  This may be true, but it seems to be missing one important point: the interface acts as a mirror as well.  While it does work between user and code, it also works on the user itself.  The interface acts as a mirror.  While it does reveal information to the user, it also reveals information about the User as well.  This is capital U-User (as in the societal User).  Manovich does cover this in his bit on cultural software, but not totally.  I’m excited to see where we take it in this week’s class discussion.    

In Yo’ Face, Interface.

New media and the consolidation of media types is a slippery topic.  While the units of technology remain clearly distinct (the technical usage of a phone vs the technical and physical usage of a map), they are physically combined and blackboxed into a (hopefully) user-friendly package.

This consolidation has profound consequences in regards to our social interaction and use of technology.  Manovich’s work provides an appropriate jumping-off point for a mediation-based analysis of both technological interface and technological convergence.  In the second chapter of his seminal work ‘The Language of New Media,’ Manovich goes into great detail outlining what new media is and what new media is not.  Manovich breaks new media down into 5 parts: numerical representation, modularity, automation, variability, and transcoding.  Taking these 5 markers into account, the convergence of different technologies into one convenient package coupled with a mediating interface, in this example we can use the iPad, would easily qualify as new media.

The designator of a new media interface is tricky though.  While media is somewhat easy to define (an argument can easily be made against this though), the word new is much more difficult.  It’s extremely relative.  Different technologies are new to different areas (whether they be geographical, social, political, etc…).  For example, Twitter was started in 2006.  It slowly gained steam in 2006-7, and by 2008 was a hit at least in the United States other Western countries where Internet connectivity was prevalent.  This seems like the process of ‘new-ing’ media.  An interface is introduced to the public, users become acclimated to it, and contour it to their own news.  The cycle was re-done a few years later, in a different socio-political context.  In 2009-2010 citizens of Iran attempted to overthrow their President.  Communications duties and organizational processes were heavily relegated to online mediums like Twitter.

Analysts must be careful with this line of thought though.  We cannot disregard the agency of the Iranian people.  Twitter was not responsible for any movement.  Twitter did not bring about the socio-political upheaval of the Iranian system.  It was people in the streets and feet on the ground.  Analysis must reflect this.

Manovich’s work on interfaces comes in handy here, especially his piece ‘New Media from Borges to HTML.’  In this piece Manovich does well to deconstruct the relativity of the term new media, thus highlighting the important link between interface, new media, and socio-political climate.  Using the Twitter example, it is heavily reliant on the model of communication set forth by the telegraph: short messages using a limited number of characters sent out in a short period of time.  Reading this through Manovich, Twitter then seems to be the re-appearing of ideological tropes through the re-packaging of aesthetic strategies.  McLuhan’s old line then still rings clear: ‘The medium is the message.’

On Marriage

Marriage and the ceremony of weddings is a symbolic combinatorial process.  It is deeply rooted in both social and political history, and has an ‘aura’ that speaks well to past sessions of our class discussion.  Matrimony operates at a complex intersection of political rule, social order, and religious tradition.  Debray would have us unpack not only the mechanical process and transmission of messages, but also the institutional machine that molds and frames the socially accepted messages.  Debray’s thought would cover a sociotechnical framework of the history and political efficacy of cultural diffusion through the institution of marriage (Vandenberghe).

Invisible grounds and conditions are simultaneously social, technical, and political.  The process conveys messages of love and commitment, while the idea of marriage promotes a politically charged recognition of couplehood and, by extension, access to certain political capital and resources.

Marriage relies heavily on both communication and transmission.  It is an internal communication of trust, love, and commitment, while simultaneously acting as an external transmission of the importance of marriage, and tradition of matrimony, and the social/political capital emblematic of wedlock.

This is a timely topic.  As mentioned above, the institution of marriage holds grave consequences in terms of social and political economy.  Certain tax breaks, leniencies, visitation rights, and other resources/privileges are not awarded to all couples in the United States.  This week the Supreme Court is hearing arguments on both Proposition 8 and DOMA.  As such, able students of Communication, Culture, and Technology should be able to de-blackbox the process of marriage to better critique the implicit political consequences and ramifications therein.

On Museums, Touching, and Jean-Michel Basquiat

Museums are indispensable cultural institutions.  They enshrine cultural artifacts, and enliven artistic discussion.  As such, the perpetuation of museums and museum culture is of a supreme importance.  They are shrines not only to the institution of high art, but to the institution of representation.  Thus the Google Art project has many social and political implications.

First I must address the ethical benefits of the Google Art project.  In terms of class and socio-economic status, many museums are unreachable for poorer youth.  As such, many inner-city and rural youth cannot gain the full benefits of museum attendance.  The Google Art project circumvents this issue, and does it in a practical and accessible way.  Mentioning this is not only useful but obligatory.

Museums as an institution though are ripe for analysis.  As a highly mediated, strategically coordinated space, museums hold much semiotic value.  The framing and placement of works of art is tantamount.  Arranging pieces chronologically vs arranging them geographically has profound implications.  Unfortunately, the Google Art project is unable to transmit this digitally.  While the search function is useful, and the pieces are arranged according to how the museum is laid out, it lacks the immersiveness and physicality of being in an actual museum.  This goes without saying.  The Google Art Project attempts to transfer this though, and as such it has many similarities with physical museum spaces.

A deeper critique though reveals more about the institution of Museums in general.  Jackson Pollock is obviously an amazing, talented painter.  His color schemes, abstractions, and strokes are clearly a work of genius.  But, to me at least, one thing that stands out about a Jackson Pollock painting is the texture.  Pollock worked very hard to give his works a unique texture to, and is very notable for this.

Unfortunately, current museum culture does not allow us to fully appreciate this.  This is for some valid reasons.  Namely, millions of people touching a canvas will bring about the canvas’ decay much quicker.  It is antithetical to the preservation of the art.  Conversely though, we cannot fully appreciate the composition and consistency of Pollock’s canvases.  The institution and culture of Museums does not allow it.  Museums are representations not only of high art, but our interactions with high art.  They dictate how we, the viewer/user, communicate with high art.

This can be contrasted with what most people would call low art–graffiti being a prime example.  As art existing outside of museums, graffiti is touch-able and, going further, seemingly more accessible (at least physically, possibly semiotically?).  What is of interest here is the transfer from low art to high art.  If we take a graffiti artist (say, Jean-Michel Basquiat), and watch their progression from high-art to low-art/streets to museums, there is much going on semiotically.  The institution of Museums serves as a validator, or a signal of the Artist’s arrival.           

These all have profound implications within the notion of digitized curation like the Google Art project.  By attempting to transfer the spatial and semiotic connotations to a digital forum, the Google Art project reifies assumptions and presuppositions of high art in a technologically based forum.  Going further, the Google Art project further secures Museums as representations of culturally acceptable high-art, while dictating acceptable and unacceptable interactions with this art.  In fact, the Google Art project furthers this acceptable interaction by completely removing the physicality of the art experience.  It is a representation of a representation of a representation of high art (thrice removed).  

Brooklyn is a Text.

Brooklyn is a borough of New York City.  It is bounded to the north by Queens on the East side and Lower Manhattan on the West side.  The southern tip of Brooklyn is bounded by the Lower New York Bay.  This is a [superficial, surface-level] reading of the geographical-spatial limits of the borough.  This is useful.  This has value.  But it (the geo-spatial dimensions and measurement constituting Brooklyn) cannot stand independently in our (society’s) depictions and understanding of Brooklyn.

This multiplicity of contexts speaks loads to intertextuality, dialogism, and the cultural encyclopedia.  The physical makeup of Brooklyn cannot stand alone.  Brooklyn’s constitutive elements include the geo-spatial dimensions, the characters and figures associated with it through popular media, the cultures and enclaves of the different neighborhoods within Brooklyn, the artwork and buildings throughout the borough, the smells, the litter, and everything else both within the physical space and within the semiotic sphere.  This has profound implications.

Operating within the borough (both physically and semiotically) thus becomes a creative act.  Taking into account the colossal amount of information and history behind the borough, forming some kind of image and conception of the place is a creative act.  And it is by no means isolated.  This spontaneous and utilitarian creativity is 110% reliant on external factors and creations (which themselves are reliant on other external factors and creations, which themselves are reliant on other external factors and creations, ad infinitum).

This creative act (of experiencing a place) relies on a number of rules, genres, and codes.  These codes do not have any numbered order and/or hierarchy.  While traversing Brooklyn, one encounters the smells and sounds from different areas (the sounds and noise of Bedford-Stuyvesant, the reek of hipster surrounding Williamsburgh, the Russian food and music emanating from Brighton Beach, etc…), the landmarks and monuments (the bridges connecting Brooklyn to the rest of the city, the Bedford subway station, etc…), the socio-political codes upholding and perpetuating the city (Bloomberg’s recent sugar ban, anti-graffiti laws, etc…) and many more.  These codes constitute our social depictions and imaginations of what “Brooklyn” is.  Without having been there, many of us have a distinct idea of what we think “Brooklyn” (or any place for that matter) is.

This is not limited to contemporary factors either.  The people and events concomitant with Brooklyn heavily inform our image of Brooklyn.  In Walt Whitman’s poetry collection Leaves of Grass, poem #86 is entitled ‘Crossing Brooklyn Bridge.’  The poet writes, “…stand up, beautiful hills of Brooklyn!”

In his album ‘American Gangster’ rapper Jay-Z has a song entitled “Hello Brooklyn.”  The rapper states, “Like a mother you birthed me-Brooklyn you nursed me.”  Betty Smith wrote A Tree Grows in Brooklyn.  Though their creative eras are more than a century and a half apart, the three creatives mentioned above play a large role in the makeup and popular image of Brooklyn.  Individual’s images of Brooklyn is heavily dependent on texts like these.     

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The veracity of these images is inconsequential.  Going further, the “Truth” behind Brooklyn is non-existent.  It is a continual process, made and re-made continually on both an individual and societal level.  Bakhtin would be proud.  

This Above All-To Thine Own Self Be True

          Mythology is an erstwhile endeavor.  It’s quite a lofty title, and rightfully so.  Barthes discusses myth heavily in his piece ‘Mythologies.’  As per his usual Barthes defines myth semiotically.  He breaks it down into the sign, the signifier, and the signified, and discusses the process of mediation.  Additionally though, Barthes analyzes myth historically.  The author discusses the social and historical implications implicit within mythologizing texts and artifacts.  This is the rub.

In Anglo European cultures, the name Shakespeare carries with it some heft—and rightfully so.  The playwright achieved much in his short life.  Additionally though Shakespeare’s individual works continue to have quite the impact. Specifically, in terms of this blog entry, it is the play Hamlet that is of the most critical importance both semiotically and historically.  The narrative structure is simple.  Prince Hamlet’s Father/King dies under suspicious circumstances, Hamlet comes of age and works to exact revenge on his Father’s murderer Uncle Claudius, thus usurping and reclaiming the throne while coming of age.

 

 

This narrative myth has bled into countless texts.  Kurosawa’s ‘The Bad Sleep Well,’ the comedy ‘Strange Brew’ and of course ‘Tommy Boy’ all borrow from Hamlet’s structure.  Most relevant to our class’s generation is ‘The Lion King.’  The characters align well between both texts.  Simba is Prince Hamlet, Mufasa is King Hamlet, Scar is Claudius, etc….

 

So there is a clear alignment between the two texts.  The transmission process is an interesting one.  I’ve been trying to think of a model to replicate the process, but I feel like it would need to be 2 dimensional rather than 3 dimensional.  Barthes does well to unpack mythology historically, but I would like to place more emphasis on the nebulous compression and selective trimming of certain aspects of a myth.  A funnel model serves well only superficially.  While output texts are clearly an amalgamation of many previous artifacts and circumstances, the process occurring within the funnel is obscured from view and seems too clandestine—too secretive.

The removal and addition of aspects is an important and strategic part of the mythological process.  Shakespeare’s ‘Hamlet’ spoke to what were, at the time, pertinent and pressing socio-political issues.  ‘The Lion King’ was not written like this, and intentionally strips some of these away.  I need to think harder for a model that illustrates this.

I love Donnie Darko.

‘Donnie Darko’ is a relevant semiotic text.  As a multifaceted narrative, ‘Donnie Darko’ has much semiotic value.  Though ‘Donnie Darko’ is its own narrative film, it grabs influence from many other cultural symbols.  As such, it holds much semiotic possibility.

Tying this example in with he readings is useful in working through semiotic theory.  One of the more prominenent narratives running throughout ‘Donnie Darko’ is the Christ narrative.  The main character Donnie, through a number of chance happenstances, is forced to sacrifice himself for the greater good.  This is analogous to the Christ narrative, in which the Christ is forced to sacrifice himself for the greater good of mankind.

Outside of the superficial narrative that the film hinges upon, the underlying Christ narrative further bolsters the film’s many narrational tropes.  These narrational tropes rely on a shared ultural language, or what De Saussure would call a system of relations.  This system of relations was already in place, and is necessary to fully appreciate the narrational intricacy of ‘Donnie Darko.’  De Saussure’s work is especially useful here.  His views of language as arbitrary mappings between mental meanings and expression is very insightful.  The pre-existing language of film genres enables the re-formations of new expressions.

The ‘Donnie Darko’ example is especially useful here because of its multifaceted nature.  In addition to the Christ narrative, ‘Donnie Darko’ also follows an ‘Alice in Wonderland’ narrative.  Donnie follows a rabbit into a perplexing, parallel universe, and ends up finding himself and fulfilling his destiny as a result of following the rabbit into the dark hole.  This fulfills the idea of a generative grammar.  By following the rules of the ‘Alice in Wonderland’ text while also negating these very rules, ‘Donnie Darko’ works to produce new cultural forms from an established base of meaning and content systems (very similar to the models developed by Peirce and Bakhtin).

This hybridized nature of narration relies heavily on a cultural encyclopedia.  Filmmakers such as Quentin Tarantino, or films like ‘The Matrix,’ pull from a number of different source texts, much like ‘Donnie Darko’ pulls from a number of different inspirations.  And while Bal argues that interpretation is a subject bound activity, this view is woefully one sided.  The ‘Donnie Darko’ example is illustrative in that it shows the work necessary by both ends.  Especially with texts like ‘Donnie Darko’ and ‘The Matrix’ which have both spawned much fan art, it becomes clear that interpretation works on both sides of the aisle. Interpretation of signs is clearly a communal, reciprocal event—but still singular and individual.  The balancing act is quite inspiring.

Woody Allen is a Nasty Pervert who Married his [kind of] Stepdaughter. Regardless, I enjoy [some of] his movies.

Cornelius J. Benavente

The preceding excerpt is from the seminal Woody Allen movie ‘Annie Hall.’  Seminal is an optimal word here.  ‘Annie Hall’ played a large role in setting the template for future romantic comedies.  Many of the themes, directorial styles, mis-en-scenic elements, and other cues can be traced back to Allen’s vision in ‘Annie Hall.’  Influential elements of Annie Hall that set precedent include: the extensive mix of romance and comedy, melancholy love story, disjointed chronology of storytelling, whiny/tortured protagonist, etc….  This influence can be seen in countless numbers of future films, most notably (to younger generations) ‘500 Days of Summer.’

As [part of] the template for future romantic comedies ‘Annie Hall’ stands as a clear representation for futures to come.  As such, the driving aspects of the film serve as a vehicle for the mediation process.  This speaks loads to the practice of ‘representation.’  Representation is a sticky term though.  Representation seems to connote a 1-to-1 relationship.  This seems misguided.  Firstly, each ‘Annie Hall’ derivative draws on numerous other texts and media pieces.  Conversely, ‘Annie Hall’ drew from a number of previous texts—Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Ingmar Bergman, and Miles Davis among others.  Thus, in my humble opinion, I prefer the term amalgamation.

The 1-to-1 relationship of representation becomes problematic in texts other than films.  This seems to be why Fukayama is repeatedly slammed.  Contrary to his (Fukayama’s) ideas, histories (amongst other institutions) are never linear.  There is no single arrival point and, conversely, no single departure point.  So, despite Fukayama’s pleading, there is no ‘end of History.’  There is no solitary point of inception/progression.

This ties in well with McLuhan’s scholarship, which is why I chose to include his ‘Annie Hall’ cameo.  The significance and relevance of ‘Annie Hall’ cannot be pinpointed to one aspect. While the directorial and narrational styles played a large role, there are countless other frames that have affected the impact of the film.  Namely, to McLuhan at least, are the technical and technological aspects necessary for the film.  For example, Allen hired cinematographer Gordon Willis for the film.  Willis’ previous work (most notably ‘The Godfather’) was much darker than Allen’s work.  As such, Willis’ technical and technological contributions (the medium) played a profound role in the making of/look of the final product.  This reading of ‘Annie Hall’ diverges from McLuhan’s “medium is the message” argument slightly though.  While McLuhan’s statement places a strict separation between the medium and the message (placing precedent on strictly the medium) this cinematic example does not do so to the extent that McLuhan does.  I question whether or not they are as separable and applicable to a hierarchy.  Despite this confusion, it is clear that McLuhan’s sentiment stands: the medium [plays some sort of as-of-yet undetermined role in] the message.

P.S. I hope I don’t sound like the man from the clip, pontificating about the technical aspects of cinema. “I would never want to belong to any club that would have someone like me for a member.”

 

I Aspire to 1 Day Be at Least Half as Cool as Janelle Monáe

What makes human beings interesting is the notion of sense making.  Specifically, that humanity has evolved into the primary sense making species seems a pressing question for social critics.  Further pressing on this issue, the evolution of humanity into the sense making species becomes even more interesting when the institution of technology is infused into the conversation.  As computing machines, technology works to process elements of our environment.  Technology thus becomes a necessary area of study—the main question being: if technology helps us to process elements of our environment and externalities, what differentiates us as human beings?

This question is of supreme importance.  At its essence, this question penetrates the differences between humans, animals, and technology.  The music of singer/songwriter Janelle Monáe addresses this question through a combinatorial meaning system.  Monáe has had multiple releases throughout her record career, but the series that is of most interest to us here is her Suite trilogy.  Her first EP, Metropolis: Suite I (The Chase) and her second studio album The ArchAndroid (Suites II & III) comprise her Suite trilogy.  The Suite trilogy tells the story of Cindi Mayweather.  The Mayweather character is a messianic cyborg sent back in time to save Metropolis from The Great Divide (a clandestine organization attempting to suppress love and happiness).

Monáe’s Suite trilogy works well to address the sense-making question amongst humans and technology in a combinatorial meaning system.  The trilogy closely follows the grammar of dystopian sci-fi texts.  Specifically, Monáe draws both narrational and aesthetic cues from the Fritz Lang classic film Metropolis.  As one of the base dystopian sci-fi films, Metropolis has clearly set a grammar for the genre future dystopian texts.  Consequently, Metropolis’ affect on the Suite trilogy cannot be understated.  Monáe combines the symbolic resources of the established form of the dystopian sci-fi film genre, the established form of r&b/funk/neo-soul music, cinematic technologies, and others into her mediated brand.

This combinatorial process has profound implications for sense-making abilities implicit within the evolution of humanity.  Monáe’s Mayweather character addresses Clark’s notions of software vs mindware, and directly engages the issue of humankind as “meat machines.”  Further, the invocation of messianic themes brings tension to the idea of the brain as a device.  By combining these symbolic resources in a media form Monáe questions the innate differences between human and machine, while simultaneously demonstrating that humankind has evolved into the sense-making species.

I don’t necessarily believe the infinite monkey theorem anymore. Thanks a lot Chomsky.

Humans are a social and genetic anomaly.  Multiple instances in all of this week’s readings highlight this point.  One main question addressed by all the writers seems to be: what sets humans apart?  Put another way, what enables human beings to be the sense-making species?  I was especially interested by this question, and have yet to come anywhere near an adequate answer.

The preceding video is a teaser for an installation art piece shown in the Barbican Performing Arts Centre in London.  The artist’s name is Céleste Boursier-Mougenot.  It is interesting and pertinent to linguistics for a number of reasons.  Primarily though it is notable in that the installation subtly addresses a major distinction between human beings and animals—the sense making process (as mentioned above).  The installation piece raises an interesting question: what is the major difference between humans playing the guitar and birds playing the guitar?  It appears that the birds recognize some sort of aural output through their own physical manipulation of the strings.  One of the birds even seems to use a makeshift pick (the twig) to produce a sonic response.  So the question remains: what’s the difference between humans manipulating a guitar and birds manipulating a guitar?

The Pinker reading addresses this well.  Pinker states that Homo Sapiens conveyance of thoughts through language relies on two tricks.  The first of these tricks is Saussure’s ‘arbitrariness of the sign,’ or the ‘marriage between sound and meaning (Pinker, pg. 84).’  Though the phonetic form of words do not necessarily correspond to the terms they are describing, we as humans become accustomed to the connections between words and their concepts.  The second of these tricks is the fact that, ‘language makes infinite use of finite data (Pinker, pg. 84).’  This two-fold magic trick applies well to Boursier-Mougenot’s work.  While not every guitar player may fully grasp the scale system, in order to produce ordered, harmonic sounds (rather than cacophony) human players must operate within a scaled system and do so in a way that reinforces the existing etiquette (or grammar) of music.  Going onto the second trick, there are only a finite number of keys (or frequencies) audible to human ears.  Thus, working within the finite and limited number of notes, human guitar players make all different kinds of sense out of this limited number of notes.

This is the difference between animals playing the guitar and humans playing the guitar.  Though sometimes subconsciously, most adults recognize some (or multiple) forms of the scale system.  As such, we are able to distinguish between melody and cacophony.  Birds, on the other hand, do not have the faculties to tell the difference.  Going further, the birds are not able to make infinite use of the limited data on the fretboard.  While this obviously hinges on physical limitations (the birds are not big enough to reach across the board), it also involves the capacity necessary to process tone and melody.  While it is undeniable that birds are musical creatures and process different pitches and tones, it is certainly not done at the level and to the extent that humans do this.

This transfer of information through language (whether conscious or otherwise) is heavily dependent on grammar.  In Language & Mind Chomsky asserts that a language, ‘associates sound and meaning in a particular way (Chomsky, pg. 102).’  While this works as an adequate base definition, it is flawed in its ambiguity—Chomsky himself admits this later in the article.  Chomsky’s definition fails to address why, despite the fact that other species transfer information through both physical and aural stimulation, humans are set apart as the primary sense-making species.  Grammar begins to answer this question though.  By establishing a set of rules, while simultaneously conditioning humans to grammar performance from birth, we begin to address (on a very, very superficial level) the concept of humans as the primary sense-making species.

Works Cited:

Steven Pinker, “How Language Works.” Excerpt from: Pinker, The Language Instinct: How the Mind Creates Language. New York, NY: William Morrow & Company, 1994: 83-123.

Noam Chomsky, “Form and meaning in natural languages.” Excerpt from Language and Mind, 3rd. Edition. Cambridge University Press, 2006.

InfoLove Or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Code

       The idea of both Information and information transmission seem like slippery concepts.  Prior to this week’s readings I pictured information as a static notion.  While I placed a big emphasis on the process of transmitting information, I saw information itself as a very static and unmoving idea.  Luciano Floridi’s book Information: A Very Short Introduction played a large role in this.
Regarding the mathematical theory of communication, Floridi writes that, “Semantic content is information not yet saturated by a correct answer (Floridi, pg. 45).”  Using MTC, information/content seems like an independent entity that fully relies on interpretation and outside context to “saturate” it with an answer.  This seems to relate to Stuart Hall’s Encoding, Decoding model—specifically within Hall’s extended television analogy.  Hall’s model depends on some kind of code or shared syntax.  Hall writes, “Discursive ‘knowledge’ is the product not of the transparent representation of the ‘real’ in language but of the articulation of language on real relations and conditions.  Thus there is no intelligible discourse without the operation of a code.”  In both Floridi’s work and Hall’s work communication of information is fully dependent on a shared, mutually understood code.  And while this mutually understood code plays a very important role, it must be noted that the social and political underpinnings of communication processes cannot be neglected.  James Carey writes, “To study communication is to examine the actual social processes where wherein significant symbolic forms are created, apprehended, and used.”  Though a somewhat overused analogy, the Rosetta Stone fittingly illustrates the importance of a mutually understood code.  Not only did the Rosetta Stone allow historians to correlate and compare three languages, it also acted as a window into the socio-political circumstances during which the communication artifact was made.  This video of Carl Sagan explaining the Rosetta Stone embodies this importance.
  
Photos courtesy of Carl Sagan & earth-history.com

       The substantial influences of shared codes played out in a real world circumstance this past weekend during the 2013 Presidential Inauguration.  President Barack Obama went through his second inauguration, and the event was covered worldwide by a vast amount of media outlets, and the news was picked up by millions all over the globe.  Despite this, there are numerous shared codes necessary to comprehend and fully grasp coverage of the event.  Thus, de-blackboxing coverage of the Inauguration helps to unpack the immense importance of shared codes.  Speaking over the political and social leanings of all news programs and media stations, all transmitted communication relies on digital communications practices and technologies.  For these messages to transmit not only from one station to another station, but from station to digital receiver, the technologies must share a technological code or syntax.  Engaging wireless technologies to transmit information between stations is further complicated by the inclusion of user-submitted content and citizen journalism.


Photograph courtesy of CNN & Lyzette Garza

This deeper analysis of communication is accounted for in the more recent Ecological Model of Communication.  Theorist Davis Foulger expands heavily upon older, less intuitive models of communication from earlier years.  By mediating the transmission of messages, Foulger works to de-blackbox pre-existing models of communication.  The author includes messages, language, and media as thoroughfares between creators and consumers, thus working towards a fuller analysis of communications processes and technologies.  Tying this back into the Inauguration example, Foulger’s thoroughfares bring transmitted information, shared technological/social/political codes/and the media necessary to transmit this information into the discussion.  Further, Foulger’s model mentions feedback between consumers and creators.  This is useful in that it addresses the more social aspects of contemporary, mass mediated communications.  The Inauguration is a great example of a contemporary, mass-mediated transmission of information.