Author Archives: Jen Lennon

Digital Stories and Adaptation: A Case Study with Game of Thrones


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by Jen Lennon

An age-old tale, filled with lessons, caution, and morals. Intrigue, mixed with backstabbing, romance, mystery, treachery, and brutal violence. Historical references mixed with complete fantasy and imagination. When it comes to consuming a story that encompasses all of these qualities, does it matter which way a person consumes it? As new technology and media continue to build off of what was built earlier and offers new ways for consumption, what does it mean to consume a story in a new or different fashion? Does linearity matter? Does it matter what the original creator intended? What about remakes or remixes? And maybe most importantly, does the meaning change depending on how it is consumed?

The short answer, is yes. Probably. There are many theories that contest that medium makes a difference, as does even the interface or the specific software or the device itself. The consumption is a full experience, and that can’t really be ignored. But the specific case of the story above, which is Game of Thrones and the focus of this study, is actually an adaptation. The television show itself is based on a series of novels by George R.R. Martin entitled A Song of Fire and Ice. The story is an epic fantasy, firmly rooted in the fantasy genre, but also has the feel of historical fiction. Martin drew from inspiration from the English War of Roses time period in the 15th century as well as fantasy stalwarts like Tolkien. There’s a lot to unpack within Game of Thrones. Between all of the different genres and symbol systems, the dialogic implications of the series are extensive. It’s been a series of books, a television series, but there’s also a wiki devoted to the fans and online community, some novellas, and tons of references in other cultural materials. How a viewer would understand Game of Thrones encompasses a lot of media theories. But another important component is how it is physically consumed. The story is on multiple mediums now, and those mediums are available through different kinds of devices. Looking at Game of Thrones from a mediology perspective arises many questions.

The Medium and Transparency

When it comes to the idea of the medium, Marshall McLuhan has a lot of opinions. His overarching point is that the medium is the message, something that can be tough to grasp at face value. He also talks a lot about hot mediums versus cold mediums. Hot mediums are those that invite little audience participation: reading, film, radio. Cool mediums require the audience to become more involved. McLuhan considers television to be a cool medium. In the case of Game of Thrones, he’s actually not that far off. The viewers have become part of the universe; there is an enormous legion of fans that devote time to interacting with the story online or in person. His conception of medium also lends itself to adaptations like this one. “The effect of the medium is made strong and intense just because it is given another medium as ‘content’. The content of a movie is a novel or a play or an opera. The effect of the movie form is not related to its program content. The ‘content’ of writing or print is speech, but the reader is almost entirely unaware either of print or of speech” (McLuhan). If this is the case, then the television medium is sort of overtaking the original novels during mediation. Though the original ‘content’ for the show literally does come from a novel, the viewer is unaware of that fact while he watches. That is, unless someone told him.

Jay David Bolter and Richard Grusin talked a lot about transparency and mediation in ways that echoed this idea. In mediation, transparency is the ultimate goal. We don’t want to feel the effects of the medium that we’re consuming; we just want to experience the story. They talk about how a lot of Jane Austen’s novels have been adapted for the screen, and while most are historically accurate and very faithful to the original novels, “they do not contain any overt reference to the novels on which they are based; they certainly do not acknowledge that they are adaptations. Acknowledging the novel in the film would disrupt the continuity and the illusion of immediacy that Austen’s readers expect, for they want to view the film in the same seamless way in which they read the novels. The content has been borrowed, but the medium has not been appropriated or quoted” (Bolter and Grusin). This idea is even assuming that the viewer is aware of the original iteration of the story. In some cases, people come to adaptations without any knowledge of the previous plot. I actually recently watched the new Les Miserables movie and embarrassingly enough had no real knowledge of the plot except that it was vaguely French revolutionary. I have no idea how accurate that adaptation was, or if the characters were being played well. All I know is that it was extremely depressing. But so many people were so excited about it that I assumed I was missing something from the original source that made it so beloved. Though, how many people have actually read the original book? Published in 1862 by Victor Hugo, it’s a classic novel. But I never had to read it for school and never felt the urge to pick it up otherwise. It would have been more likely for me to have seen it on Broadway – a place where many people most likely interacted with the story line for the first time. The movie is actually much more a remake of the Broadway interpretation as it incorporates the singing and dancing. Bolter and Grusin sum it up this way, “with reuse comes a necessary redefinition, but there may be no conscious interplay between media. The interplay happens, if at all, only for the reader or viewer who happens to know both version and can compare them” (45). The idea of different audiences is significant when it comes to adaptation and remakes. In the case of Game of Thrones, there are legions of fans who are book readers and television watchers, who incessantly compare the two online. But there are also those new to the stories that are learning it all from just the television show. If you go to any recap or article about the show, there is almost always a disclaimer just before the comments asking for book readers to not spoil it for those who are new. A popular entertainment website, The AV Club has an entire section called the TV Club which features essays and recaps of certain television shows. For Game of Thrones, they write two pieces each week: one for “experts” and one for “newbies”. Even still, as I read the “newbies” posts, commenters who have read the books love to come to our posts when something really big happens. They want to see our reaction. They’re reliving those big, shocking moments through the audience that is experiencing it for the first time.

(Wired’s recaps allow readers to choose the redacted versions if they haven’t read the books.)

Utilizing the Advantages of Digital Mediums

For those big moments, it’s curious whether one medium is more effective than other for certain stories. As digital technology has become more prevalent, older mediums are trying to utilize some of those new capabilities. With CGI, green screens, and computer editing, film and television can make things happen that couldn’t have worked 50 years ago. And as the technology continues to get better, those scenes just look more and more real. This has especially been useful to action-adventure types of film. In Game of Thrones, there is plenty of room for digital interaction. For one, there are dragons. There is also a mythically large wall in the far North (filmed in Iceland) that could only be created on a computer. There are white walkers, which are creepy zombie-like creatures, which I think we’re all hoping don’t exist in real life and were created with CGI. But this is something that can be uniquely capitalized within the structure of television. When reading a fantasy novel, the imagination is left to conjure all of these grand images by itself. The medium of television allows for that imagery to come to life. Bolter and Grusin say, “In the logic of hypermediacy, the artist (or multimedia programmer or web designer) strives to make the viewer acknowledge the medium as a medium and to delight in that acknowledgement” (41-42). There are a couple of scenes that actually inspired the creators of the television show to want to take on this story for this medium. A giant battle scene in the second season takes up an entire episode and shows their feeling that certain aspects of this story would be perfect for this specific medium and could come to life in a way that wasn’t possible otherwise. Film would have been too limited of scope where multiple story lines would have had to be cut out. A series where all of the characters could continue to be explored was the best way to do justice to the story.

In the sense that a certain medium may be particularly well-suited for a certain story, there are also things that tend to be changed to match that new medium. So since television was a natural fit for the Game of Thrones story, the visual nature of the show was helpful. As was the ability to be able to see characters over and over again, helping to reinforce who’s who – a difficult task at times with Game of Thrones. But of course, compromises have to be made. The novels are extremely long and not everything can fit into the constraints of the 10 one-hour episodes. Also, the books feature point of view (POV) characters, where certain characters will narrate certain chapters. This allows readers to get some of the internal monologue that isn’t available in the television format. The creators of the television show have decided to treat the entire story as source material, and while they stay pretty close to utilizing a book per season format, all of that is ending in the current third season because the third book, A Storm of Swords is much longer than the first two novels. The creators have talked about how certain smaller plot lines from books maybe be shuffled around to fit in where it best suits the story for the TV show. They are also working with George R.R. Martin to know what’s coming in the next two books so they don’t do anything that would inhibit that from making sense in the future when they’re published and will need to be adapted. Creator D.B. Weiss has said about one of the characters, Robb Stark, “Well, it’s interesting. It’s one of the places where novels diverge pretty drastically from television. Robb is absent from the second book, but he’s not absent. He’s not a point-of-view character [in the novels, Martin rotates around a series of “point-of-view” characters; in the second book, Robb is not one of those POV characters]. He’s basically not “on-screen” in the book, but in a way, he is on-screen because in the novel, Robb is mentioned as are stories about something that Robb did. [So Robb and his deeds are present and important, but] a story that is being told about a person is words coming out of somebody’s mouth for three, four, five minutes in a way that’s just not tenable on television” (Ryan). He goes on to explain that the actor who plays Robb Stark, Richard Madden, has also become one of the fan favorites and is magnetic on screen so they wanted to be sure to include in him the action because it was better for the television show. There are other examples of entire scenes taking place where there isn’t a POV character from the novels present, which means that it didn’t happen in the books. These scenes were added to give some background to some of larger characters on the television show, and typically are regarded pretty highly by fans of the book, as well, as they see it as sort of a “deleted” scene from the book.  Another part of the books that needed to be adjusted for the television medium were some of the issues surrounding sex. Martin has said on multiple occasions that he wanted it to be realistic of the “historical” time period that’s portrayed in the novels where class structures were harsh and women weren’t treated fairly. Sex is used as a form of power often in the story, but that’s not necessarily something people would want to see on TV – or would be considered by any of the top networks. HBO is known for being edgier and for allowing sexual situations to be grittier on their shows, but age was an issue. Martin said, “So, everyone is aged up I think. It was probably most crucial with Dany, who begins as a 13-year-old in the books. But, you have the whole issue of sexual activity on behalf of a 13-year-old, which was accepted in the Middle Ages, which I was using as my model. Many high born women, particularly noble women, were married at 13 or even younger. But it’s not so accepted in today’s society and we didn’t want to get into that whole bag of worms” (Poniewozik). He also mentioned that in any sort of screen adaptation that certain characters would need to be prioritized as having “arcs” where other smaller plot lines might fall by the wayside due to basic time constraints. He continued, “I mean, I’ve been a screenwriter myself. You have to go into a big book like this and you have to say, well, what’s the arc? Who’s the major character? Well focus on him and/or her and we’ll follow that major character through and we’ll pare away all these secondary characters and secondary stories and then we’ll get a movie out of it. Not only didn’t I want that done, but I didn’t think it could be done because in the early books, I’m deliberately disguising who the major characters are. I thought, well, it might work better as a TV series, but we’d run up to huge problems with the network censors with all the sex and the violence and that is much more graphic than anything is on television” (Poniewozik).

Genre, Dialogism and the Cultural Encyclopedia of GoT

The idea of the historical fiction aspect of Game of Thrones is interesting because it’s mostly marketed as a fantasy series. As with any major story or franchise today there is a major marketing engine behind it, which will ultimately have an effect on the expectations of consumers. Game of Thrones is a series that mixes up a lot of different symbol making systems and structures, and plays with genre in a way that’s definitely been done before, but probably not this realistically. Martin was intrigued with the idea of historical fiction, but not in the fact that the ending is already known. As with television shows like The Americans, which is set in the 1980s Cold War, the viewers are aware that within 10 years, all of the issues this show is centralized on will have been solved. When one watches Titanic, hopefully he isn’t expecting the boat to make it to New York. In the case of a mixed genre of history with fantasy, some of those models can be tweaked to allow for more suspense. Martin explains, “And then you’d read the historical fiction which was much grittier and more realistic and really give you a sense of what it was like to live in castles or to be in a battle with swords and things like that. And I said what I want to do is combine some of the realism of historical fiction with some of the appeal of fantasy, the magic and the wonder that the best fantasy has. As much as I love historical fiction, my problem with historical fiction is that you always know what’s going to happen. You know, if you’re reading about the War of the Roses, say, you know that the little princes are not going to come out of that tower. Fantasy, of course, doesn’t have that constraint. You can still have that driving force, which I think is one of the things that people read books for, what’s gonna happen next? I love this character, but god, is he gonna live, is he gonna die? I wanted that kind of suspense” (Poniewozik).

With so many different story lines going on in the plot – they have a constantly updated map in the opening theme song to help keep the audience up to date – there are plenty of examples of things being pulled from Eco’s idea of the cultural encyclopedia. The mixing of two well-known genres immediately culls assumed notions from the audience. Right from the beginning, the audience needs to understand these two genres to see how they might work with each other. As Bahktin talked about a cultural artifact having a past, present, and future, Game of Thrones looks toward the past within the show itself while instilling modern ideas. The audience is pulling from knowledge of the time period, while also utilizing the ideas of these genres. As Bahktin explains, any sort of communication has each person’s past associated with it. Everything presupposes previous iterations and anticipates a future; everything is part of a working model. Shows like this that rely so heavily on genres that have already been established and are nodding toward common TV tropes and devices, require this kind of dialogism. The audience needs to be on board. And the more they can pull from their own cultural encyclopedia, the more meaningful the show will be.

Technical Capabilities

For Martin, one of the hardest parts of the adaptation was not what one might expect. He explained, “And I was anxious that I would even remember how to write a teleplay. I mean, it’s been more than a decade since I’ve done one. But it turned out to be fine. I wasn’t changing much, I was just moving it from one medium to another medium and making cuts and trims, which I did plenty of in my Hollywood days. Actually, the hardest adjustment was me getting used to the new computer software” (Poniewozik).

Moving from the story itself to the means with which it is viewed adds another layer to the viewing experience of an adaptation like Game of Thrones. Bolter and Grusin said, “Filmmakers routinely spend tens of millions of dollars to film on location or to recreate period costumes and places in order to make their viewers fell as if they were ‘really’ there”. Remediation begs for transparency. The viewer doesn’t want to feel that the story is being consumed in any specific way, they just want the story. Yet behind the scenes, the technology is working to try to make that experience real. The experience of watching television is itself a blackboxed activity where people might not be considering what’s going on behind the scenes to mediate that experience. Bolter and Grusin say, “Digital visual media can best be understood through the ways in which they honor, rival, and revise linear-perspective painting, photography, film, television, and print. No medium today, and certainly no single media event, seems to do its cultural work in isolation from other media, any more than it works in isolation from other social and economic forces”. Watching a television show means interacting with various mediums that came before it. The story itself comes from a written novel, which according to McLuhan is originally conceived of from thoughts through speech through to the written word. “The movie, by sheer speeding up the mechanical, carried us from the world of sequence and connections into the world of creative configuration and structure. The message of the movie medium is that of transition from lineal connections to configurations.” (McLuhan). And going even further behind the scenes, television works with the ideas of photography, but has the human agency of a director or editor who is deciding how a viewer interprets or sees things from a certain perspective. “The production of computer animation seems to be automatic, yet the viewing can be interactive, although the interaction may be as simple as the capacity to change one’s point of view. In painting and photography, the user’s point of view was fixed. In film and television, the point of view was set in motion, but it was the director or editor who controlled the movement” (Bolter and Grusin). The effects of moving imagery go all the way back to elementary mathematics, much in the same way that photography does. “Digital graphics extends the tradition of the Albertian window. It creates images in perspective, but it applies to perspective the rigor of contemporary linear algebra and projective geometry. Computer-generated projective images are mathematically perfect…Renaissance perspective was never perfect in this sense, not only because of hand methods, but also because the artists often manipulated the perspective for dramatic or allegorical effect (of course, digital graphic perspective can be distorted too, but even these distortions are generated mathematically.)” (Bolter and Grouisn). The immediacy of television depends on hypermediacy in this school of thinking. In order to create the live-action motion that we see on television, the physical work of actors and live action is combined with computer graphics and editing to make it look seamless. The story is mediated through multiple lenses: the physical, with light and mathematics, through computer graphics and interfaces. “Digital graphic images are the work of humans, whose agency, however, is often deferred so far from the act of drawing that it seems to disappear” (Bolter and Grusin). Film theorist Tom Gunning argued that the logic of transparency works for filmgoers, or you could argue television watchers, because they obviously know that they are watching something on screen. They chose to watch it that way. But though the audience knows that what they are watching isn’t technically “real”, they “marvel at the discrepancy between what they knew and what their eyes told them” (Bolter and Grusin). It is such an interesting concept to imagine that an audience can choose how it consumes a story, but in certain ways feels those effects in a much more viscerally “real” way than in other forms. Does reading become less real because it’s “viewed” within our own imaginations?

The Digital Experience and the Blackbox

“Computer graphics experts, computer users and the vast audiences for popular film and television continue to assume that unmediated presentation is the ultimate goal of visual representation and to believe that technological progress toward that goal is being made. When interactivity is combined with automaticity and the five-hundred-year-old perspective method, the result is one account of mediation that millions of viewers today find compelling” (Bolter and Grusin). The audience knows what it is doing. There’s a physical interaction with television much in the same way that there is with a book. In order to access the story, one has to find a remote control and press a button to turn the television on. From that point, there are multiple experiences to go through before getting to the story itself – and all of these things factor into the experience and the way the story is perceived. There are television networks and the choice of which to watch; in the case of Game of Thrones it’s the heady HBO experience. Commercials are fewer on HBO, but there are trailers for their other shows while you wait for the one you want to start. This all takes away from the transparency of the experience. “The digital medium wants to erase itself, so that the viewer stands in the same relationship to the content as she would if she were confronting the original medium. Ideally, there should be no difference between the experience of seeing a painting in person and on the computer screen, but this is never so. The computer always intervenes and makes it presence felt in some way” (Bolter and Grusin).

The idea of interacting with a medium is especially evident in the different devices that television shows can now utilize for viewing. In the case of a story like Game of Thrones where there are so many different methods for consumption for any aspect of the story, as well, the computer has offered many options. At any given time, one can pull up the show online, via Netflix for older seasons or from HBO Go for the current season. In a separate tab could be the Kindle application with one of the books. In yet another tab could be the Game of Thrones wiki with a wealth of information on all of the characters, seasons, books, symbols, or even fake languages featured on the show. In another tab could be a Tumblr devoted to Justin Bieber as King Joffrey. Finally, the AV Club’s recaps or Grantland’s podcasts could round out a full browser experience full of Game of Thrones. This amount of mediation makes a couple of things apparent. This windowed viewing of a piece of culture shows the medium in a way that most things don’t do to this extent. Within one of the recaps, one could click on a link that then literally erases the online written material and replaces it with a video of the show. This is impossible in any other format besides the web. By toggling between all of these different forms of media, it becomes clear that the story is being mediated. This is what Bolter and Grusin would call the “hyperconscious recognition or acknowledgment of the medium” (38). There is very little transparency in this kind of experience, and makes it clearer why McLuhan would consider the medium to be the message in and of itself. HBO GO has a ton of information for each of HBO’s show; it’s basically a portal to whatever show one could want. For Game of Thrones, there are full episodes, along with biographies of each character, recaps, clips for upcoming episodes, and interviews with actors and the writers. This has the idea of “confronting the user with the problem of multiple representation and challenging her to consider why one medium might offer a more appropriate representation than another” (Bolter and Grusin) Even if one is just choosing to watch the current episode, by pressing the necessary menu buttons to get to that point, the medium has become a part of the experience.

Cultural History: What Happens to the Books?

So with all of this talk about how television might have been a useful medium for this particular story to utilize, what about the original source? What happens to the original medium when stories start to get adapted for current technology? Bourdieu talked about the idea of “high culture” and television tends to not fall into that category in the same way that literature does. As pop art was snubbed in the beginning for being too appealing for the masses and less highbrow, television seems to fall into that category compared to literature and film. But times are changing on that front. With the advent of cable networks and beloved television shows that delved into harder hitting topics like The Wire, The Sopranos, or Mad Men does, television is becoming more respected. But in the case of adaptations with Game of Thrones, does it mean people will read the books? Do the books just become source material for the show the longer that time moves on and technology continues to improve?

One of the most interesting parts of adaptations to me is to see if the original meaning was effectively mediated through a new medium. Film as described by E.H. Gombrich is “the most radical attempt to stamp out ambiguity and to enforce one reading of the picture – that of a man-made construction, a colored canvas.” This is such an interesting concept. By adapting a series of novels to television, the end result is a specific vision of the world the story created. I would guess that everyone has experienced watching an adaptation of a book they really loved only to have a character look completely different from what they had in their head. It’s disjointing. D.B. Weiss explained, “It’s much easier to flip back in a book than it is to flip back in a television show. It’s easier now than it used to be, but it’s still not a natural way of experiencing a TV show [to constantly go back and re-orient yourself in the story], whereas that is a natural way of experiencing a book.” That is definitely the case, especially with Game of Thrones. There are a ton of reasons why a television show can almost help viewers understand the story better – even if those viewers had already read the book. But is the same story being transmitted? George R.R. Martin sums it up:

“People ask me, is it what you imagined, and my answer is, no, not really. I have very strong visual pictures in my head about what they look like. And unless you’ve read my mind, that would be very hard for someone to get that.

But what they’ve done is good.”

 

 

 

 Multimedia:

http://shamandoowop.blogspot.com/2012/07/apologia-for-game-of-thrones.html

http://www.wired.com/underwire/2013/04/game-of-thrones-3/

http://www.grantland.com/blog/hollywood-prospectus/post/_/id/72166/hollywood-prospectus-podcast-game-of-thrones-showrunners-david-benioff-and-d-b-weiss

Works Cited and References

Eco, Umberto. “Metaphor, Dictionary, and Encyclopedia.” New Literary History: 15:2 (1984): 255-71.

Hudson, Laura, and Erik Henriksen. “Recap: The Ultimate Burn on This Week’s Game of Thrones.” Wired. N.p., 22 Apr 2013. Web. 1 May. 2013. <http://www.wired.com/underwire/2013/04/game-of-thrones-3/>.

Jay David Bolter and Richard Grusin. Remediation: Understanding New Media. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2000.

Marshall McLuhan, “The Medium is the Message,” (Excerpts from Understanding Media, The Extensions of Man, Part I, 2nd Edition; originally published, 1964).

Miller, Laura. “TV and the novel: A match made in heaven.”Salon. N.p., 11 Dec 2011. Web. 1 May. 2013. <http://www.salon.com/2011/12/11/tv_and_the_novel_a_match_made_in_heaven/>.

Poniewozik, James . “George R. R. Martin Interview, Part 1: Game of Thrones, from Book to TV.” Time. N.p., 15 Apr 2011. Web. 1 May. 2013. <http://entertainment.time.com/2011/04/15/george-r-r-martin-on-game-of-thrones-from-book-to-tv/>.

Ryan, Maureen. “‘Game of Thrones’ Producer On Season 2 Book Differences, Fan Feedback And What’s To Come.” Huffington Post. N.p., 08 Apr 2012. Web. 1 May. 2013.

http://www9.georgetown.edu/faculty/irvinem/theory/Bakhtin-MainTheory.html

 

Considering the e-book


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Jen Lennon

Technologically speaking, e-books aren’t super complicated. The use of a screen interface is something that has already been established for other purposes and through multiple devices. The digital ink is interesting, but it really just replicates regular ink. But it is the combinatoriality of the physical book, with the pages and dark script mixed with a touch screen and memory and interactivity that makes the e-reader a mediation of a former book. In a physical book, if you lose your bookmark, your book won’t remind you where you left off. If you lose it and go to buy a new copy, it won’t have the same notes you made in your old one. That computer-like memory and storage adds a new dimension to the reading experience through what’s behind the black box.

E-books are interesting because it’s allowed for the digitization of multiple ancient forms: storytelling, historical sharing, or even propaganda or religion imparting. On a social level, this is an amalgamation of these old-as-time art forms put into a small piece of technology. But thinking about that another way, it’s not all that remarkable considering the evolution the form has already taken from cave drawings to scrolls to tablets (the physical ones) to the physical book. E-books, if anything, took the leaps and bounds achieved through the physical book and expanded on that with the inclusion of the screen interface and digital ink. But socially, e-books also remove the need for certain societal interactions: the trip to the bookstore or the library. Users rely on reviews for book recommendations, or for an algorithmic equation to suggest something, as opposed to a bookseller or librarian or stranger in a store. 

In many ways, e-books perform exactly the same as a physical book. The ink, as it has improved, looks more and more like regular ink. With the Kindle, at least, they are trying to front-light the device much as those old-school clip on reading lamps worked when we were kids. The organization stays the same – you have just as much ability to jump ahead or go back as you do with a physical book. They can be lighter, depending on the book, but it’s still something you typically hold with your hands and read with your eyes. They perform the same function – they are there for you to interact with. It’s not going to do much for you without your participation.

However, e-books allow for reproduction to occur instantaneously. It allows for social sharing of books – you can lend a friend a book through the device, much as you would in person, but you can share with multiple people at the same time. Some have software capabilities that transcend the e-reader and can go to other sorts of portable devices as well as to computers and laptops, allowing you to stay on the same page across devices and the ability to see the notes you’ve made on one device onto another. It’s instant gratification, as well. In the past, getting a story into someone’s hands was a laborious process. It took physically hand-copying word by word, or it meant printing new pages and binding them. It was a complicated publication process with hoops for authors to jump through and agents and publishing companies who stood as gatekeepers. It meant going to a bookstore, in the hours when they were open, and looking for something new or even ordering online and waiting for the book to come. Now, it’s a touch of one button. It’s self publishing. The cultural institutions are different now and have merged with technological ones. While seemingly none of this changed the content (though, there’s something to be said for people buying things they might be too embarrassed to buy in a store OR for the amount of typos on e-readers), the reading experience has evolved again. And it is the merging of the old, or even ancient, with the new that is making this experience unique from its predecessors in these certain ways.

My brain on Chrome.


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Jen Lennon

Manovich delves further into software theory this week, and brought up some points about software in a cultural context that I hadn’t considered before. Throughout CCT we consider the effects of interface, device, HGI, and the black box. But I’d never really stopped to consider that now most culture is viewed through this lens, as well. He mentions that in the past, a piece of culture like, say, a film or a television show or a newspaper article had a finite end. Also, it was either a whole thing or a defined part of a whole thing. But with software, now experiences have become infinite. People don’t have to consume things as a whole anymore, and they can jump around a lot more quickly than they used to.

I use Chrome constantly. I always have two windows open: one for personal and one for work/school so I can keep two separate gmail accounts open. And I have a really bad habit of being the girl with 20 tabs open. There’s nothing that can demonstrate the jumping around that Manovich is talking about more than having endless Chrome windows and tabs running concurrently. Though I hesitate to consider Chrome part of my distributed cognition, or becoming a part of my brain, who knows. Maybe it is. It’s a little freaky, but I couldn’t do my work at this point without it.

What’s interesting is beyond managing my day-to-day functionality on my computer, I consume a lot of cultural artifacts through Chrome. I can get to my Netflix that way, where I watch shows on marathon – they literally just start the next episode for you now automatically – or rent movies from Amazon. I constantly read online, whether it’s a blog or the newspapers I used to read physically. I read books through my Amazon Chrome extension now when my e-readers aren’t around. And what does that all mean? To be able to jump mid-sentence in a book to a television show to a social networking site maybe isn’t the best (or intended) way to consume all of this culture. Regardless, though, this is how it happens. And does that make my perception of what I’m viewing any different?  I’ve found myself getting more interested in this idea throughout the semester: does it matter what interface you use to consume certain cultures? Does it change your understanding or your perceptions?

Plus, on top of all of this, Chrome has been saving all of this data the entire time I’ve been using it. And it will recommend things to me based on what I’ve searched for in the past. It will fill things in when I’m typing in searches based on my past. The idea of software memory and customization is something else to consider in the context of distributed cognition. At what point does it stop being your brain? Not to be overly alarmist, but it’s weird to consider that eventually the software you consistently use will start to give information back to you that you haven’t asked for based on your “preferences”. And does this take away from the kind of open mind that consuming cultural artifacts promotes?

Choose your own ending.


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Yesterday I was sitting on the bus, and as usual, everyone was on his or her iPhone playing around, waiting until they got home. I could see multiple screens from my seat and it was clear that everyone was doing something differently with the same machine: one person was reading a book on their phone, another playing a game, someone was writing a list, one person was flipping through instagram, and there I sat, sifting through my Spotify.

We talk about the iOS and iPhones a lot in CCT – I know we did when I took 506 – but it’s such a good example of what’s possible with interface. Apple knows what’s up when it comes to designing easy-to-use machines. And this interface allows for all different types of software (within the Apple circle of trust, of course, but that’s a whole other political issue), basically allowing it’s user a huge range of, but not infinite, amount of activities. When Manovich talked in “Language of the New Media” about how new technology puts more responsibility into the user’s hands, it reminded me of my iPhone, but also basically everything I do online. In talking about variability, Manovich explained how our interfaces now correspond with modern society where every person is unique and so is her experience. Instead of offering one path to do things, now we get customized information delivered to us through our devices. A sort of choose your own ending type of approach, where an user can meander online and find one piece of information in a certain way that maybe nobody else ever will.

Manovich put it this way: “More generally, every hypertext reader gets her own version of the complete text by selecting a particular path through it. Similarly, every user of an interactive installation gets her own version of the work. And so on. In this way new media technology acts as the most perfect realization of the utopia of an ideal society composed from unique individuals. New media objects assure users that their choices — and therefore, their underlying thoughts and desires — are unique, rather than pre-programmed and shared with others.”

He goes on to ask if we should want that kind of freedom. And this is something that I’ve struggled with and that friends of mine who aren’t so into jumping on every new technology also ask. With that freedom comes a lot of choice and a lot of noise. Manovich talks about putting the decision making as a moral issue. I think I could agree with that, but almost in a different way. If technology has evolved to deliver media to us in a way that caters to our interest, is that what we really need? The readings mentioned how technology has been shaped by culture, and vice versa, which sort of implies that we’re getting what we want from our devices. We’re utilizing our interfaces and software to take over certain tasks like communication, research, and news gathering.

But back to the bus. In thinking about McLuhan’s idea of the medium being message, that day with everyone’s cell phone blazing kind of sent its own message about society. While everyone was flipping through their iPhone interface, it seemed like the message was almost more about distraction than any sort of meaningful content. (It feels weird to say this because I really love my phone, and I’m constantly on it.) And maybe that’s just a product of the environment; on a commute, polite societal rules go out the window. But watching everyone flip through their phones, myself included, doing completely different tasks at the same time, we all looked the same. And we all kept flipping. What does that mean? Foulger’s idea of the medium being part of the message also intrigued me in the example of the guy reading a book on his phone. Does reading a long-form book on that kind of device or interface impart a different message than a physical book or even a bigger device like a Kindle?

Digital Museums


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Jen Lennon

When I first opened Google Art Project, I went straight to the Phillips Collection because it’s the museum I’ve probably visited the most in my time in DC. I’ve looked at the Google Art Project before, and I have to say, it’s come pretty far in the past year. It seems like a ton of new museums have been added. Anyway, I went to the Phillips Collection, and I flipped through the images looking for something specific: the Rothkos. At the Phillips Collection, there is an entire Rothko room. It’s actually pretty small and only a few people are allowed to go into it at once – something that they actually pretty strictly monitor. The first time I went I didn’t get why and I thought it was kind of dumb, but I liked that at least it wasn’t packed when you were in there. But each time I’ve gone back, and since I’ve learned a little bit more and started to appreciate the pieces more, I’ve grown to love the Rothko room. Interestingly, I couldn’t find the Rothkos on Google Art Project. It showed most of their permanent collection – none of the Pollocks that are on display now. And one certainly couldn’t replicate the Rothko room, so maybe that’s why they’re not there. Maybe they didn’t even want to try.

In one sense, I’m still sort of protective of the idea of museums. There’s something that can’t quite be replicated about visiting a museum, from the architecture to the reverence to the fact that art is literally surrounding you. I also like that a trip to the museum means meaningfully taking time out of your day to visit some art or to expand your mind. In this case, then, the digital reproduction of great art works would take away some of the aura that Benjamin talked about. However, I also think that there can certainly be value in posting these things online, as well. It’s not as if it makes the physical museum disappear. And there’s definitely a sort of cultural divide, much like the digital divide, where some people don’t have access to great museums or the time to visit them. In basically every city besides DC, it costs money to visit a museum. So in these cases, I’m glad that the art exists somewhere for them. This offers the ability for people to be inspired by art who might not have been before. And maybe, for a group of people who have never visited a museum, this will have an aura of its own. If the first time you see a great work of art is on a screen, wouldn’t that sort of re-calibrate your expectations?

Another thing that the Google Art Project made me think about was curation. Museums (and galleries) have curators who thoughtfully put together exhibitions. As I mentioned already, the current main exhibition for the Phillips Collection isn’t included in their entry on the Google Art Project. What does this mean for the idea of digital art museums? Does it lose some of that curatorial thoughtfulness? I think it could be an opportunity for a new kind of curation. Maybe certain groupings would work better together online than they would in physical space. Maybe museums could work together to make exhibitions. I also like the idea of getting smaller museums online – or from even more faraway places. The digital museum could be really cool, and it’s own entity, if put together thoughtfully for its own medium as opposed to merely digitizing another. It seems as if sculpture and street art wouldn’t translate well online, which is a shame. But what could? Or could there be a way to make these fit in a better way? Google seems to be on its way, as I mentioned before, they have already made big strides on the site. I look forward to seeing what it becomes.

Game of Thrones Requires Plenty of Encylopedias


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Jen Lennon

In thinking about dialogism and intertextuality, I typically think of television because there are so many examples of good television pulling from multiple genres and codes. One example is Game of Thrones. There are a lot of aspects to Game of Thrones that could lead to discussion about theme, symbols, genre, and more. Adapted from a series of books, A Song of Ice and Fire by R.R. Martin, Game of Thrones is a story set in a fictional time and place, but it’s definitely historical. David Benioff, one of the series creators, once joked that it was The Sopranos in Middle Earth. It has that Crusades feel of a time in history when epic battles arose with swords, machetes, and armor. One of the major plot lines of the series is a battle for the Iron Throne, which rules over the seven kingdoms of Westeros. But there’s a lot of fantasy, as well. There are dragons and some sort of zombie-like creature that supposedly only come from the North. A group of men guard the wall to north of the kingdom to keep out such creatures. When the story starts, it has been summer for 10 years and there’s frequent mention of the coming Winter and how intense and long it will be. There’s a sense of nobility; a king rules but there are also lower level leaders of regions. And gender and sexual politics are a big focus as there are a couple of extremely powerful female characters, but society is still extremely patriarchal and violent against women. Prostitutes are frequently used as plot devices. Oh, and there’s also an entirely fictional language utilized for one of the groups on the show, with the scenes being subtitled into English.

With all of these different things going on in the plot – they have a constantly updated map in the opening theme song to help keep the audience up to date – there are plenty of examples of things being pulled from Eco’s idea of the cultural encyclopedia. When you first start watching, it seems like it’s just going to be a show about England in the 1400s or that typical type of genre show with lots of violence and politics. But the fantasy element becomes just as present, making a sort of genre mash-up that defines the show. So right from the beginning, the audience needs to understand these two genres to see how they might work with each other. As Bahktin talked about a cultural artifact having a past, present, and future, Game of Thrones looks toward the past within the show itself while instilling modern ideas. The audience is pulling from knowledge of the time period, while also utilizing the ideas of these genres.

Another interesting issue associated with the show is that it’s begun to be referenced by so many other shows and writers. Jokes have been made about the amount of scenes of exposition that take place with sometimes almost comically gratuitous sex scenes taking place in the background. The fictional town of Winterfell has been mentioned in a bunch of sitcoms, including Parks and Recreation. The creators of Portlandia said in a panel once that they had imagined a dream episode of Portlandia where everyone would ban together to kill Joffrey – a character on Game of Thrones.

I think it’s interesting because the show is based off of this series of books, which isn’t even completed yet. R.R. Martin is still working on the ending of the series. But there is all of this original source material as well as the show. Additionally, fans of the show have gotten really into it and started creating wikis and fan fiction and clubs that meet. It’s actually probably good that the ending hasn’t been written yet because the amount of internet activity that happens around this show would certainly spoil the ending before the TV show would get that far. Some fans have gone as far as to start harassing the author, pressuring him to finish the series. They’re worried because he’s overweight and older and they actually are mad that he could die before he finishes the books. Yikes.

Overall, there’s a lot to keep with if you watch Game of Thrones. First, there’s the massive amount of characters and major plot lines going on at any given time. There are multiple locations with major plots happening – completely separate from one another. The landscapes are incredibly diverse, as well, with shooting locations ranging from Iceland to Belfast to Morocco. There’s the history that the shows asks you to remember about the characters – things that get brought up in passing on the show through exposition. They’re asking you to understand and trust the genre(s). Certain things happen almost as if they have to happen as part of the model. There’s a rich system of symbols throughout the fictional universe. You need to understand how things probably worked in the time period of the show, even if it’s unnamed. As Bahktin explains, any sort of communication has each person’s past associated with it. Everything presupposes previous iterations and anticipates a future; everything is part of a working model. Shows like this that rely so heavily on genres that have already been established and are nodding toward common TV tropes and devices, require this kind of dialogism. The audience needs to be on board. And the more they can pull from their own cultural encylopedia, the more meaningful the show will be.

Signification Problems.


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Jen Lennon

In trying to unpack Barthes’ model, I found myself getting confused on what the difference was between some of the terms. He describes mythology as a combination of three things: the signifier, the signified, and signification. The form and concept, and also the history, all come into play. And how the viewer receives something is also important, but how one understands something or the level in which he or she dissects it, can also change the meaning. I saw Argo this weekend, and there are plenty of layers to work through within that story. First, it’s a true story. It’s about the extraction of six American diplomatic workers hiding in Iran during the Iranian Hostage Crisis in 1979-1980. In order to extract them, a CIA agent makes up a cover story of a fake movie that is going to be filmed in Iran and hides them as part of a location scout crew. So. if you’re looking at Argo and trying to figure out its mythology or meaning making system, then the signifier would be the general story taken at face value. There’s the plot and that’s it. The signified would be the story as a multidimensional political and historical story. It questions top-level authorities at the time. It’s patriotic. It shows American-Canadian relations, and probably more significantly, American-Iranian relations. It has symbols of the middle east and how things were in Iran at the time, which is depicted as extremely violent and scary. The final layer is something that trips me up a little bit. I suppose this could be the mixing of the two. By taking the story at face value, or just thinking about the images and the colors and the costumes, and then mixing that with the historical and political undertones of the story, it becomes clear that what you’re watching is set in the early 1980s and the rules were different then. It’s also a symbolic system for how differently things are now, but also how much some things have stayed the same.

Barthes mentioned that “a whole book may be the signifier of a single concept; and conversely, a minute form (a word, a gesture, even incidental, so long as it is noticed) can serve as signifier to a concept filled with a very rich history.” I thought this was an interesting point, and something I want to think more about. I’ve been interested in more historical works in books, film, and tv lately, and I think this is something that is very important. When producing stories within a specific historical context, there are symbols strewn all over the work. Some are big, but most are the smaller details that really can fill a story in – but only if the audience is educated on that history. What happens if they are not? Then the symbols become meaningless or become modern symbols which make a different meaning. I think this is what Barthes is trying to explain towards the end of that reading, that every mythology can be unpacked differently, depending on how one takes it. By focusing on an empty signifier, the reader takes things more literally and at face value. By focusing on a full signifier, the reader “clearly understands the meaning and the form” and can see how that dichotomy and how those are playing off of one another. And focusing on the signifier as an inextricable whole, then the meaning becomes more cloudy and become more symbolic than literal.

Medium as Message


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When thinking about “media” and “medium” this week, I couldn’t help but keep thinking of the “actual” media most people consider today. The role of traditional media versus new media is something we talk about a lot in CCT, and something that has been particularly on my mind lately as I think more about what I want to do in the future. In the traditional sense, at least for let’s say the time period when I was growing up, “media” meant newspaper, television, magazine, and radio. Each of the different mediums had different implications. Newspaper was to be the most trusted. It had the venerable institutions like the New York Times and the Washington Post. This is Woodward and Bernstein breaking Watergate, well-known columnists like George Wills or Nicholas Kristof, and the Associated Press. Television media was usually a little softer and included more interviews or human interest pieces, but still, there were television news anchors who you could trust. I remember mostly Barbara Walters, Tom Brokaw, Dan Rather, and Connie Chung. For radio, you had Ira Glass. And magazines like Newsweek, Time, the New Yorker, and the New Republic covered more long-form news stories usually on a weekly basis.

Thinking about the traditional media I grew up with, and sure I was young and a definitely idealistic journalism student, I was reminded of the power of the medium. In Professor Irvine’s chapter, he mentioned the idea of how power or authority can be transmitted or mediated through the medium itself. There are social, cultural, and political messages that are transmitted through certain mediums. And these big old-school type of media institutions I think definitely transmit a certain amount of power. Or at least they did. I hope they still do. The idea of the broadcaster that you trust is something that was highly revered in American society. This is a passed down tradition of hearing your news from the same source, and someone who was typically pretty objective. While that has obviously changed in the last couple of decades, the idea of the medium still stands – in a way.

New media brings social media, user generated content, citizen journalists, and a 24-hour news cycle. The Internet has no doubt changed how things are reported, how they are packaged for consumption, and how people typically get their news. I think the panic that print is dying is a little premature, or that traditional news outlets will cease to exist. I think the sociocultural power is still behind the venerable news sources. Sure, we might get the headline off of the New York Times twitter feed or iPad app, but I’m personally still going to the Times. McLuhan posits that the medium is the message – that the content doesn’t really matter. While hopefully this isn’t entirely true with news, I think it’s an interesting lens to consider the media today. If the medium is the message, what does that mean? Does that mean that newspaper content is still transmitted as an important, serious matter? Do we still buy into the television news anchor and the prestige?

Last night, I watched the State of the Union address. Brian Williams was doing the post-speech coverage for NBC and had some of the usual talking heads on to talk about their perceptions of the speech and how they think it will go over for the public. I’ve personally always appreciated this kind of insight or analysis (though it’s decreasing with the downslide into supremely partisan conversations). At one point, though, he read a tweet from one of Romney’s former aids in regards to the Marco Rubio water scandal of 2013. The guy said he would have put the water bottle closer. While he was obviously right, it was still so funny and interesting to me that one of these big TV anchors was using twitter as part of news coverage. It’s becoming more and more common. During election coverage, multiple news channels incorporated social media into the broadcast. This is the convergence of media. The integration of everything onto one platform – the metamedium. Now news media consists of the words or written pieces by these news institutions that transmit power and authority, partnered with photo, video, and social media content. This is sort of a “warm” media on McLuhan’s scale of hot and cool mediums. If hot mediums require no participation, like a film, where things are just transmitted at you, and cool mediums require the user to fill a little bit more in, then “new” media is kind of a mashup of the two.

All I know is while I was watching the State of the Union, I wanted to watch the speech uninterrupted. Then I wanted to hear some news feedback on it. And the entire time, I was scrolling through twitter. I was on one hand reading what some of my classmates were saying and interacting with them, but also seeing headlines come in from major news sources and specific journalists. I was getting their reactions, as well as quotes from the speech itself. I saw the White House feed which was linking to specific action plans. The entire experience showed the metamedium of digital news, but each different medium plays its part. Some of the older mediums are still flexing that traditional power and authority, but their utilization of new media is becoming necessary as a new form of technological power. The social media aspect is still gaining its credibility; it has a ways to go to get the prestige and power as its medium on its own. The medium as the message can still be noise when it comes to social media. There were a million people who were uninformed who I could have chosen to watch on twitter last night. But the curation of traditional news sources on the new medium seems to be where it’s all going. My feeling is the newer online news sources which are mixing these all together will do the best at least in the near future. Sites that have been recently redesigned or launched, like the Business Insider or Quartz, which rely solely on online content, but have poached writers who are real journalists from traditional news outlets, seem to be the new trustworthy sources for the web. And traditional newspapers are finally starting to consider online content in its own right, which is also promising.

The Distributed Cognition of Television


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A media artefact that I usually like to view things through is television. I thought that it was particularly useful this week with so many concepts being introduced to take things back to where I’m comfortable. This week introduced distributed cognition, and the ideas of how language and symbols interact with the human mind, how that has evolved, and also how we use metaphor to make meaning. According to Hollan, Hutchens and Kirsh, the theory of distributed cognition looks beyond the individual cognition of a person and includes interactions between people as well as with the outside environment and materials. Some components of this are the coordination of internal and external, and the idea of memory. Things that happen now can be products of earlier events, and rely on that memory. “The relations between internal processes and external ones are far more complex, involving coordination at many different time scales between internal resources—memory, attention, executive function—and external resources—the objects, artifacts, and at-hand materials constantly surrounding us.” (Hollan, et. al).

The television medium shows a modern example of distributed cognition. Shows rely on a lot of different players and parts to be successful. The interaction between the creator and the writers, the producers and the actors, the editors and the musicians all make a television show what it is. Beyond that is the audience. The people behind a show rely on the memory of the audience to keep up with a long-standing story. Television is an ongoing art form and something that requires the worn-in feel that they talked about wanting to replicate in modern HCI. Symbols, language, and meaning making are also extremely important to a successful television show. Especially in genre shows, there are certain signs that let you know what to expect. In a comedy, you expect a physical pratfall or a even a laugh track which reminds you when to laugh. In a spy drama, you expect twists and turns. In the horror genre, you know that once someone runs up the stairs, they’re probably going to get killed. Metaphors can also be hugely effective to evoke an emotion or to impart a feeling without having to write it out as exposition.

The example that pops to mind is The Americans, a show that just premiered last week. The show is set in 1981 in D.C. and features a married couple who run a travel agency in Dupont Circle. Except it turns out that they’re really KGB agents planted in the US to gather intel during the Cold War, and their marriage is arranged through their government. To make matters more complicated, they’ve been in their marriage for 15 years and have had children together and might be starting to actually have feelings for each other. One of the largest aspects of the show is the idea of the Cold War as a metaphor for their marriage. With all of the espionage and lies, can a spy really know or trust anyone? Can you really ever truly know your spouse? There’s giving and taking and changing relationships. There’s diplomacy and cooperation. There’s a sense of allegiance, whether or not you’re having a good day, to each other. Beyond that is the symbols of a bunch of different things. There’s the indicators throughout that denote the time period: the fashion, the music choices, the references to Reagan and certain astronauts. There are symbols of a(n outdated) spy show: wigs and disguises, interrogations, high-speed chases. The writers behind The Americans are betting on the audience’s memory of the new characters and the plot, but also of the historical implications of the time. They’re trusting you to get the genre and to roll with it. And I think there’s the certain feeling of responsibility to give you what you’re expecting – the drama, the high stakes, the close calls. On top of all of this is the fact that the show is based off of a true story of Russian sleeper cells that were discovered living in New Jersey in the early 2000s. Does that cognitive memory need to be tapped?

I think overall that television requires that sort of distributed cognition due to its serialized nature. Shows with big casts and multiple seasons require an almost working relationship between viewer and writer. There is an entire world that is made in which people need to suspend their own realities and join to understand. The grammar of serialized television includes all of these elements.  By combining so many different elements, such as the written words, the visual components, the music, and the story, a lot of different meaning and symbols need to be deconstructed to be understood as a whole. This also requires the knowledge from viewers of each of these aspects, and their reaction can ultimately impact the show. If things aren’t working, the creators will be forced to fix it or they’ll be at risk of going off air. Since television lasts longer than film, it has become much more collaborative with its audience, which can add even more to the distributed cognition. There’s an additional landscape putting in their inputs.

 

References

Deacon, Terrence W.  The Symbolic Species: The Co-evolution of Language and the Brain.        New York, NY: W. W. Norton & Company, 1998.

Hollan, James, Edwin Hutchins, and David Kirsh. “Distributed Cognition: Toward a New   Foundation for Human-computer Interaction Research.” ACM Transactions, Computer- Human Interaction 7, no. 2 (June 2000): 174-196.

Lakoff, George. “Conceptual Metaphor.” Excerpt from Geeraerts, Dirk, ed. Cognitive Linguistics:            Basic Readings. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter, 2006.

Leaving a Digital Environment and the Impact of Television as a Medium


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The part of the reading that resonated most with me came from Floridi’s Information and the idea that we are creating a digital landscape that can alter social status, economic status and one’s place in the world, but also that we will create a landscape that will be left behind for generations behind us. Floridi talked about the merging of a sort of virtual reality with humanity and how they are overlapping as people create digital presences. But the idea that the digital world we’re creating could be something left as a legacy was something I had never really considered before. You hear about the morbid stories of a digital presence after someone dies. But this is on a much bigger scale, where the potential for online currency exists and where the digital divide could essentially decide the “haves” versus the “have nots” more than any state or national economy could. The idea of the digital divide is interesting because it also factors in different generations and rate of digital adoption. He specifically says “the digital divide will become a chasm, generating new forms of discrimination”…”It will redesign the map of worldwide society, generating or widening generational, geographic, socio-economic, and cultural divides” …”We are preparing the ground for tomorrow’s digital slums”. I honestly don’t know what else to say about this except that it made me think and is something to keep in mind. This requires almost taking a foreign policy type of mindset and applying it to the internet. How do you interact with online entities? How do you level the playing field? How do you help those in need?

Foulger talked a lot about the idea of the medium, and how medium becomes part of communication. It is not just the message, or the media, or the language. As we learned throughout all of the readings, all of these are interconnected and play their role in shaping how communication is understood between creators and consumers. But the idea that the medium can be an integral part of the message; that the medium we choose deliberately is every bit as important as the thought behind the message, is interesting in today’s media landscape. Obviously, different types of stories work best within different mediums; some can be adapted to fit other mediums, but it usually requires some manipulation. For example, taking a book and making it into a movie requires writing a screenplay that will make it usable for a visual medium. Longer stories work best on television where there is time to develop characters and storylines over a period of time. Television, in particular, seemed a good example of this new form of communication in today’s digital culture that Foulger talked about. He mentioned how with television, how people react is not necessarily instantly impactful to the show, but once viewers begin to talk about it together, they can affect the outcome. Also, since television reaches so many people at once, if something memorable enough happens on a show, then it can have “immediate and sweeping effects within social systems”.

I can think of a couple of examples of television making a big social impact, especially in the case of live news broadcasts. One big example is when tragic events occur on tape, and people can see it live, such as when the Challenger exploded or during 9/11. On 9/11, I was in a journalism class and got pulled into the library to watch the story unfold. While we were sitting there watching a reporter cover the first tower, a plane hit the second tower behind her – live. We watched her turn around and react to seeing it in person, and saw it unfold in real time. In the past, big events like this wouldn’t be actually viewed by the public. There could be arguments made to the benefit or detriment of the public seeing something like this unfold, but there’s no turning back on the availability of those images. People didn’t see Pearl Harbor happen. They read about it, or heard about it on the radio, but they didn’t actually see the explosions. In this case, the medium became a part of the message. The visual component made a strong impression, and the emotions that came from that could be used in tons of other kinds of media whether it was used for propaganda abroad, for persuasion domestically, or for entertainment purposes in movies about the war on terror.

For a lighter example, consider the finales of big shows like The Sopranos or Lost. The creators had put together a story and messages they wanted the consumers/audience to receive. However, both of those endings were left open for viewers to decide for themselves. Immediately, there were reactions across the country about the endings. They were highly anticipated; there were online cultures devoted solely to predicting what could or would happen. Once aired, the reactions came in and there was an immediate social impact. People either loved or hated the episodes and devoted a lot of time to explaining why or talking to others about it. In some cases, conversations about it opened minds or created new opinions. But also, with another new medium created in the time between the Sopranos and Lost, came another dimension to the experience. Now, people could instantly react on social media. They could tell their friends what they thought immediately – and in some cases, spoil others in different time zones on what was to come. They could speak directly to the creators and writers of the show, telling them exactly what they thought. With the mix of social media and television, the audience now can have a say. They can tell the powers that be when they don’t like something, and in some cases, they listen. On the Good Wife, creators of the show removed a character after so much public backlash on social media. It’s becoming like the communications models where messages are sent, received, processed, and sent back; the communication of entertainment can now be collaborative and a full communication loops as opposed to just sending out a message to be decoded.

Works Cited
Floridi “Information” Chapters 1-2

Davis Foulger “An Ecological Model of the Communication Process”. April 16, 2004. Brooklyn College/CUNY.

Reading, Writing and Pittsburghese


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Reading about Chomsky’s views on linguistics, and the syntax-heavy thoughts behind it, originally didn’t make much sense to me. I mean, I understood what he was saying, but I didn’t understand how one could remove the meaning from a sentence. To me, especially as a writer, they’re intrinsically connected. Sentences without meaning are gibberish. Searle pointed out that Chomsky’s critics do not separate syntax and semantics. They believe that grammar starts with the meaning of the sentence, and the syntax are merely rules forming the system (Searle). I tend to agree. In the intro readings, the idea of a literate culture was brought up. Language is inseparable from writing and reading once a culture has become literate; or once a person has become literate. Chomsky would argue that even the “dumbest” kids learn their native tongue, and education teaches how to read and write. While that may be true, finding the meaning behind the written word is often left up to the reader. Once someone has learned how to read, language is spewn at them constantly. From advertisements to the newspaper to novels, people are constantly reading language. And I think in modern culture, it’s tough to separate syntax and semantics from written communication. While we all probably learned how to map out sentences in school, and to break them down by the roots and the participles, that didn’t teach us how to communicate with each other. That taught us how to “correctly” construct something. (And keep in mind, I used to be a grammar nerd copyeditor, so I love my grammar.) But language goes beyond native tongue when it comes to understanding and transmitting messages.

Chomsky’s views of native tongue and the arguments against the idea of being born with Locke’s tabula rasa made me consider the different kinds of languages that we use. We all learn how to speak differently. Even just within English, there are tons of different accents and dialects. British English sounds different than American English. Southern American accents are much different than, say, a Minnesota accent.

I was raised mostly in Ohio, but most of my family is from Pittsburgh. If you’ve never heard “Pittsburghese”, then you’re in for a real treat one day. Some words are literally just made up. Here are a few examples: “red up” means clean up or tidy up. “Jeet” means Did you eat? “Gumbands” are rubber bands. “Yinz” means basically you guys, or is the Pittsburgh equivalent to y’all. Spicket means faucet. Nebby means nosey. But none of this really even touches the accent. Downtown sounds like dawntawn. Steelers is really Stillers. This made me think about how we learn language. While children can figure out their native tongue, Chomsky’s point is that they only hear bits and pieces and not necessarily the greatest version of the language, and yet they still learn. However, children learn with an accent. My Pittsburgh cousins have Pittsburgh accents, but I don’t. I wasn’t immersed in the culture of place in my formative language years. However, even as a little kid, I understood what they were saying. I picked it up without having to be told what they meant – even if it’s not how I spoke or how I would chosen to get that message across. That’s just how my family spoke. Additionally, my mother was born and raised in Pittsburgh and has none of the accent or the language, but my father does. The difference is that my mother was raised by two Italian immigrants who spoke Italian in the home as well as English. Is that why? And how did she pick up both languages at the same time? How much influence do different cultural groups have on language? There’s your family, which tend to have a language of their own. Every family has their own sayings and stories. Every baby is raised with the catchphrases their parents baby-talked to them. Then there’s also the place you grew up in; the language of the place. There’s your friends and the slang of the time period you’re in. And, finally, then you have the syntax and the proper grammar language. The stuff that’s taught in schools, and how you learn to read and write. This is probably why my cousins don’t write the way they speak, which is another interesting point to understanding what a language is. If people know the “correct” way to read and write English, then why do they still speak in slang and in accents?