Author Archives: Paulina Johnson

week 2: communication theory

In communication, meanings can be found not only in the content of the message, but also in the context– the medium, in a sense. The environment, psycho-social states of the people being communicated with, as well as any non-verbal cues– these factors also influence the content of the message because they influence how the message is received.

I believe that it is difficult to model the meaning of these implicit or not explicitly stated influences. Despite this, it is almost a critical error to disregard or ignore them completely. This external information can completely alter the content of a message. Another way to view the importance of the method of delivery of a communicated message is by looking at the medium. If the same exact message is delivered via phone and via text message (ex. “Will you go out with me tonight?”), one might argue that the meaning of the message is the same because the content (“Will you go out with me tonight?”) is the same– however anyone who has personally been in a position where they have been asked such a question via both mediums might argue that the method of delivery does in fact matter. One may argue that there is much more information (implied and explicit!) within the medium of the telephone: any person with sensory information can detect vocal and tonal intonations, sincerity, and other factors. Even something seemingly as insignificant as the pauses within a conversation also provide information to the members within an act of communication–in a feedback loop sort of way. On the reverse, the lack of this additional information in the other medium (text message) may also serve as information itself. 

Claude Shannon’s information theory of communication does not account for nuances such as these, including the influence of feedback within communication. “Noise” is the only external influence on the transmission of a message from sender to receiver that Shannon accounts for–and noise is something disruptive. Shannon does not accommodate for the fact that such interruptions he may consider as noise can add information to a communication–and that senders and receivers can in turn respond to that interruption. Being that it is a mathematical theory of communication, it is very linear, which in my opinion is not an adequate model for representing how communication occurs. It does not account for interaction between the sender and receiver. What interested me most in studying communication is the psychology behind it– something which this theory disregards entirely. Therefore, I find much to be desired in using Shannon’s theory when trying to describe the complex nature of communication between individuals in society. It may have been able to provide a direct, simple model of communication but communication is often not direct or simple by any means.



Works Cited



week 13: new media implementations- google glass

Google glass is a product designed to augment reality. It has been defined as “a wearable computer” (Wikipedia). The device makes use of both still and motion camera technology, as well as voice activation technology, a global positioning system, wifi, Bluetooth, et cetera. Time magazine has stated that “Augmediated reality serves to both augment and mediate our surroundings.” Google glasses mediate our reality by providing information about what we experience with our eyes immediately upon our perception and receptiveness to our visual clues. Google glass is almost intended to be a wearable smartphone, or the smartphone version of glasses, because it requires the Android operating system to function, and developers are looking at making Android applications for the device

The concept of mediation as it relates to photography and videography is an interesting one. Many people today are infamously known for holding their iPads, iPhones, and other smartphone or tablet devices up to their face, consistently, in order to capture the moments of their lives. Google glass takes that concept and creates a new way for users to experience and capture their worlds: through the lenses they wear on their noses, literally. A prime example of this are the photos via which one man experienced New Years’ Eve.


Google glass users are able to record and document events as they see them, instead of through another medium, such as a phone or tablet. Although the glasses are in fact, another medium just the same as a phone or tablet, in this case, the glasses are a wearable object, making them just one step closer to semi-instantaneous mediation of life and its experiences. Due to the fact that glasses are an incredibly personal accessory (and often, a necessity) for many people, the fact that Google glasses are an object that is worn versus carried in a pocket or purse, as well as the fact that the glasses are an object designed to be worn over the eyes, makes using them and experiencing life through the glasses almost automatic.

Another example of mediation with Google glass is when a Bride wore them when she walked down the aisle to meet her soon-to-be-husband at the altar. She herself was quoted saying, “My husband and I have a love for technology. We wanted to use Google Glass to capture the most intimate moment of our lives… All my friends told me they were so emotional that they actually forgot [I was wearing the glass] walking down the aisle. This was an experience I never want to forget” (Mashable). Wearing the glasses enabled her to record her wedding as it occurred without necessarily even perceiving that she was doing so. The basic concept of glasses as a whole is that they are designed to alter/better our perception of reality without us necessarily being cognizant of the changes being made.




Works Cited:

Eye Am a Camera: Surveillance and Sousveillance in the Glassage |

week 12: the digital milieu

I see a convergence in psychology, marketing, design, computer science, technology, and innovation in the material we have studied thus far. In order to understand how culture influences technology one must understand the people that make up that culture–hence the psychology. Marketing, or how to engage consumers with technology, has a lot to do with the design of the product, as well as a psychological understanding of how people use technology. This also brings the invisible institutional structures into play– the things that influence human behavior and mental models about technology that are invisible to the eye and are only present by combining an analysis of the past with the present. Computer science and technology studies are of course relevant in that they are necessary in order to bring a product from innovation design and planning to implementation. I believe that all of these disciplines are trying to approach the task of using media to develop and share useful and desirable technology to consumers. Therefore, it is useful to utilize an interdisciplinary approach to technology and media in order to solve this issue, rather than assume that one discipline holds all the answers and “correct” approaches to technology and media creation alone.

Steigler wrote about the necessity of building upon different schools of thought when he said: “The web constitutes an apparatus of reading and writing founded on automata that enable the production of metadata on the basis of digital metalanguages which change what Michel Foucault called the processes of enunciation and discursive formation. All this can only be thought on the condition of studying in detail the neurophysiological, technological and socio-political conditions of the materialisation of the time of thinking (and not only of thinking, but also of life and of the unthought of what one calls noetic beings, which is also, undoubtedly, of their unconscious, in the Freudian sense)” (Steigler 9). In order to understand how interfaces are used and how they function as a part of technology, one must understand “digital metalanguages” –otherwise known as ways of decoding how we determine meaning from digital media.

I found Alexander Galloway’s notion of “the ultimate task is to reveal that this methodological cocktail is itself an interface. Or more precisely, it is to show that the interface itself, as a “control allegory,” indicates the way toward a specific methodological stance. The interface asks a question and, in so doing, suggests an answer” to be an interesting one (Galloway 30). To me it seems as though he is saying that the combinatorial process of integrating different disciplines in order to come up with the best solution for problem solving and creation is itself an interface– that interdisciplinarity is itself a discipline.

The tab function of many web browsers is almost similar to the layout of library catalogue cards or even bookmarks used in books, magazines, and other forms of reading material. Apple’s most updated user interface (iOS 7) has made use of translucence in order to remind viewers of the screen that they had just come from. Smartphone screens as a whole have an interface very similar to that of a computer desktop background, desktop icons and all.


Works Cited

week: 11: digital and new media

In the readings for this week: this particular quote stood out to me: “…For users who only interact with media content through application software, the ‘properties’ of digital media are defined by the particular software as opposed to solely being contained in the actual content (i.e., inside digital files)” (5). I definitely agree with Manovich’s point. We experience digital media through the mediums and formats through which it is presented to us. Following the example given, one would experience an image differently if it was presented in iPhoto, on Facebook, in Microsoft Paint, etc. Cellular technology is an excellent example of Manovich’s point. Apple’s iOS can be used as a case study to exemplify this phenomenon.

Photos can be experienced through Apple’s camera application, or via any of the other other phone applications available for download in the App Store. Many devices support advanced camera apps that give users the functionality to: adjust black and white clipping, add a vignette, adjust green and magenta tint, alter exposure, adjust color temperature, and remove blemishes and other imperfections: features that go beyond the basic cropping and border capabilities of the past. One can argue that the invisible structure giving foundation to these apps is Adobe Photoshop. Photo application developers are giving modern day users with varying levels of photographic and editing ability the opportunity to mimic software of professional-grade functionality on smartphone and tablet devices.

Another example of media accessed via smartphone/tablet mediums is music: particularly with video applications such as YouTube and Vimeo, users are subject to the same play/pause/fast-forward/rewind buttons popular on cassette players in the past.

I found this quote:

“Over time, the culture’s construction of the medium is inevitably subverted, as new communication technologies emerge to the fore. Users are confronted with the problem of multiple representation, and challenged to consider why “one medium might offer a more appropriate representation than another” (Bonnett)

to be particularly relevant to questions of social media today: many marketers are constantly re-evaluating which mediums are best for them to reach their desired audience. This quote is representative of Bolter and Grusin’s theories on media: user experience does change how we perceive media. With the development of technology, small business owners and marketers will be especially attuned to how new mediums affect media: the content they produce for consumption and sharing.–jay-david-bolter-and-richard-grusins-remediation?rgn=main;view=fulltext


week 10: mediology and instagram

Regis Debray pioneered the notion that technology is influenced by culture. He described the influence of ideas on technological mediums, and the influence of culture on those ideas. Those  One example of a medium that his theories can be applied to is Instagram. Instagram fills a social need that humans have– to communicate with others– by enabling users to share snippets of their own lives, and follow what others have shared. Another need that Instagram meets is the need for affirmation. As social beings, we seek affirmation from others and this need is somewhat satisfied through the medium of instagram as users can “like” photos to denote their approval.  We are socialized to need others to like us, and Instagram makes this need for affirmation very visible.

One invisible condition is that users need to own a smartphone device, as one is not able to post photos to Instagram via the web. That condition in itself requires that one has the financial resources in order to possess a smartphone, as well as a data plan for the phone. The app’s creator, Kevin Systrom, has described his product as a method of turning ordinary moments into extraordinary ones (Behind the Hustle). Users need to have visual sensibilities, meaning their brains must be able to process visual information in order to use the application.

According to Debray, “communicating…is a way of making familiar,” while transmitting is (Debray 1) In a way, Instagram serves as a medium for communication, as users the application “prompts an instantaneous response between parties” (Debray 3). Users send and receive information via images, hashtags, and captions, and communicate with each other via comments left on each other’s images.Debray writes, “human beings communicate; more rarely do they transmit lasting meanings” (Debray 4). This is definitely applicable with Instagram; the prefix “insta-” is defined as “instant or quickly produced” ( The application is designed to capture what may be considered as a fleeting moment in time.

One underlying framework and institution of Instagram is the internet. Instagram requires an internet connection in order for it to be used. Users have the ability to pick-and-choose whom they’d like to receive updates from, as well as the ability to choose who can receive their updates– if they create privacy settings.

final paper

Paulina Johnson

Final Paper

Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where Nature may heal and cheer and give strength to body and soul alike.- John Muir

Beauty as Myth

Philosophers over time have tried to understand the nature of reality. How is it possible to understand reality when myth exists? How does myth affect one’s perception of reality? Do some people ever discern myth from truth–or does the myth become their truth as they subscribe to it?

Beauty is one aspect of myth that can be quite interesting– we as humans are especially susceptible to subscribing to myths when they pertain to things we find beautiful. As John Muir famously quoted, “Everyone needs beauty.” Does our need for beauty ever deceive us? Is beauty deception? Roland Barthes (1915-1980), the French literary critic and semiotician, was a major cultural theorist of the 20th century who contributed to the development of modern critical thought. Myth “hides nothing and flaunts nothing: it distorts; myth… is an inflexion” (Barthes).

Theoretical Framework

Beauty is one of the most powerful motivators. It motivates us to date and to marry, to travel, to make a decision on a house, a city, a town. For these reasons, beauty is a subject of myth for the ordinary individual.  The theories of Roland Barthes will guide this paper on the meaning of myth as a cultural symbol. Barthes would argue that if we are to consider beauty as a myth, then embedded within the subject of beauty are symbols and signs that we are meant to decode.

Therefore, how is beauty reflected as a form of myth in our culture? In what domains is there evidence for beauty being perceived as a myth. This paper will explore the myth of beauty in the areas of physical beauty and advertising, romance, place and location, and inner concepts of beauty.


Physical Beauty

In this day and age, how do we value aesthetics, and how do we convey this value within our society and on individual levels?

Barthes wanted to relate the method of semiotics to understanding everyday life phenomena, especially in popular culture because he was believed that objects and events always meant more than themselves; ‘they are always caught up in systems of representation, which add meaning of them’ (McNeill, 1999). Barthes described semiology as being able to:

…take in any system of signs, whatever their substance and limits; images, gestures, musical sounds, objects, and the complex associations of all of these, which form the content of ritual, convention or public entertainment: these constitute, if not languages, at least systems of signification. (Barthes, 1967: 9).

Barthes believed that semiotics would offer an suitable reading of modern culture because unlike liberal studies of culture by humanists, semiotics ‘a science of signs that not only possesses a notion of ideology against which the truth of science can be measured, but it promises a scientific way of understanding popular culture’ (Strinati, 2004: 97). Barthes in his famous book Mythologies (1957), examines semiotics in order to reveal particular pieces of cultural material which according to him were being used by the bourgeoisie as a way to impose their values on others. His semiological evaluation of popular culture involved the decoding of signs in areas of photography, fashion, music, literature and magazine.

The Dove Real Beauty Sketches video shows how people should know that they are truly beautiful, inside and out. The Dove brand is “about listening to women” and encouraging them to love themselves for who there are. (Dove 2013) Dove did a major global study called The Real Truth About Beauty: A Global Report to launch the Campaign for Real Beauty in 2004. The campaign began a “global conversation about the need for a wider definition of beauty” after the study proved that the definition of beauty has become unattainable and limited in today’s society (Dove 2013). Dove’s goal was to dispel the myths women hold about their own beauty.  In the findings, only two percent of women around the world described themselves as beautiful. Since 2004, Dove employed  “various communications vehicles to challenge beauty stereotypes and invite women” to discuss beauty (Dove 2013). As of 2010, Dove has evolved their campaign and launched a big effort to make beauty a source of “confidence, not anxiety” with Dove’s Movement for Self-Esteem (Dove 2013).

The Dove Campaign for Real Beauty was created to have discussions and debates pertaining the true definition of beauty. From 2004-2011, they proved what the true definition of beauty could be.  In 2004, the Campaign began advertising women whose appearances “are outside the stereotypical norms of beauty” (Dove 2013). Women were asked to look at the women’s looks to determine their kind of beauty. In 2005, Dove’s second phase was advertising women with real bodies and real curves. This was used to debunk the stereotype that stick thin is beauty. In September 2006, Spain banned overly thin from their fashion runways. In response, Dove created a short film called Evolution which “depicted the transformation of a real woman into a model and promoting awareness of how unrealistic perceptions of beauty are created”  (Dove 2013).  In 2007, Dove launched the third phase called Beauty Comes of Age. This global study revealed that “ninety-one percent of women ages fifty-sixty-four believe is is time for society to change its views about women and aging”  (Dove 2013). The campaign focused on the idea that girls are constantly given the “unrealistic, unattainable images of beauty and images that impact their self-esteem”  (Dove 2013).

Dove came out with an online film called Onslaught that portrays the bombardment of dramatized beauty images. In 2010, the Dove Movement for Self Esteem and Dove teamed together to make women with the opportunities to mentor young girls and celebrate their natural real beauty. Some of the ways that one can get involved with the Dove Movement for Self Esteem is joining the Dove brand to extend their vision to women around the world. In the United States, Dove supports the work that the Girl Scouts of the United States of America Inc. and Boys and Girls Clubs of America. Dove has also created “self esteem-building, educational programs and activities that encourage, inspire and motivate girls around the world”  (Dove 2013).

Dove has reached approximately seven million girls with these programs and should reach a global goal of reaching fifteen million girls by 2015. In 2011,  Dove released their results of their largest global study called The Real Truth About Beauty: Revisited. In this case, Dove discovered that only “four percent of girls around the world consider themselves beautiful and it begins at a young age … seventy-two percent said that they felt pressure to be beautiful”  (Dove 2013). The study also discovered that only eleven percent of girls like using the word beautiful to describe themselves. There is a universal increase in beauty increase and a decrease in girls’ confidence as they grow older.

Despite Dove progressing in a positive direction with their campaigns, there is a lot of work that needs to be done. Girls and young women are constantly influenced by societal norms of how beauty should be portrayed. In magazines, television, movies, music, and other forms of media, the image of beauty is distorted. One example of this is the Kardashian family, particularly the female Kardashians, as they attract a lot of attention and are known for their beauty. Due to this, they set a high bar of how beauty should be: including how women should do their hair and makeup, how they should dress, and how they should act. They are not the best role models because they sexualize beauty, which perpetuates some of the myths that women carry about beauty that may transfer into their relationships.

Dove is spreading a positive message of beauty. There are so many girls and young women who “develop low self-esteem from their looks, and consequently fail to reach their full potential in life” (Dove 2013). The media and society give girls and young women a dramatized view of what beauty should be. This is how low self esteem is developed. If more girls understand the true meaning of beauty, there would be happy and high self esteem girls in the world. In a video, an artist drew portraits of people by asking them how they view themselves. Most of the people being drawn had negative views about their bodies. After, he asked strangers about the people who were drawn and redrew them based on the strangers view. The second drawing were more positive. They were positive  because other people looked at another person and looked passed their flaws. More people should love themselves for who they are.  The Dove Self-Esteem Fund was created to act as an agent of change to inspire and educate girls and women about a wider definition of beauty.

In contrast to Dove’s initiative to the true definition of beauty, there are  people who feel they need to look beautiful to feel beautiful. People with low self esteem who do not think they are beautiful try to make themselves more beautiful and give themselves false definitions of beauty. Girls do not need to wear as much makeup as they think they do because they should know that they look beautiful with a modest amount of makeup, not an excess amount. Sometimes wearing too much makeup can send the wrong messages, such as attention seeking or insecure. The positive message about wearing makeup is that one can be creative and feel confident in wearing makeup. Once this has been achieved, one can understand that they are truly beautiful. If someone only covers themselves in makeup to cover their flaws, it does not build up self esteem and makes someone insecure, even if it is not admitted. An extreme case of changing one’s appearance to make one feel beautiful.  In an video, women with cancer were given makeovers to make them feel better about themselves. Cancer treatments, such as chemotherapy, weaken the body and make people feel as if they are unattractive. During the video, women were allowed to enhance their appearances to look differently as if they did not have cancer.  These people were given makeovers because their physical appearance would help them on the inside to feel better about cancer.

Additionally, there are those who believe the myths presented to them in video games and cartoons (which are products of fantasy themselves), and go so far as to modify their physical characteristics to look like these characters, based on a physical and emotional connection that they feel to these characters. One prominent example of this is Anastasiya Shpagina, who transformed herself into a walking, talking anime character.

Another example of this phenomenon is Valeria Lukyanova, who transformed herself into a Barbie doll.


Beauty in Romance

 Many people hold myths about relationships in general: “Disney princess effect” and have to suffer from the fallout of their expectations meeting reality. The Disney generation of women were raised to believe that they needed to wait for their own personal Prince Charming to sweep them off their feet and save them from their single lives.

 Others find themselves persuaded by someone’s looks, blinding themselves to the reality of who the object of their affection who may have a rotten personality beneath their sweet exterior.

Another version of myth in romance is fetishism. Those who hold a fetish for one type of person are automatically making generalizations about an entire stereotype of classification of people without knowing anything about one individual person. One popular interracial dating stereotype is the “Caucasian man + Asian woman” pairing. This phenomenon is also known as “yellow fever.” When someone “assumes anything about [a person’s] personality based on [her] physical attributes, or disregards [her] autonomy because of [her] anatomy,” they are blind to reality because of their ideas of beauty (Chen).

Beauty as Place

It is easy for human beings to romanticize certain places, professions, and sometimes a combination of both. The beauty of certain places creates an illusion for people to fall beneath– they see everything through rose-colored glasses and have very specific (sometimes even high) expectations for what they expect their lives to look like as a result of being surrounded by and engaged in the beauty of the life they have perceived. Barthes’ belief that culture applies to everyday life makes it seem as if one could have access to an infinite amount of data through the semiotic examination of all the signs produced by society (Ribière, 2008: 29). Barthes’ influences to the study of cultural practices could be applied to the myth about the beauty of place. One can argue that the ideal of living in a certain place helps the individual to be seen as one who could be successful. This myth that by buying real estate or choosing to reside in a certain city an individual is helping to construct his personality show the consumerist ideology of the desire to market the city in question. One prominent example of this is New York City–the Big Apple– a place where “if you can make it there, you can make it anywhere.” Society has turned New York City into some kind of self-selecting mechanism of exclusivity. This phenomenon of moving to New York city to pursue a career in the literary, fashion, or even financial industries has inspired some to write a book about it:  Goodbye to All That: Writers on Loving and Leaving New York. Author Cheryl Strayed wrote: “New York City isn’t just a city, it’s an idea—a projection of our fantasies and desires, like Paris or California or that beautiful person across the room. Because so many have imbued New York City with such meaning, it’s hard not to be a bit over the top in one’s reaction to it” (Westgate).

Paris is similar to New York City in that it attracts those who want to live the writer’s dream, as well as painters and other creative professionals. The City of Lights has another nickname however: The City of Love. Paris has become an ideal spot for lovers to be romanced–whether by the city or by each other. Those who believe the stereotypes of Paris may find beauty on every corner while others only see grimy city streets and odorous metro stops.

EF Live the Language has created a series of videos as a part of its marketing campaign to better familiarize people with different areas of the world.

Los Angeles is another city that perpetuates the myth of Hollywood stardom for many would be actors, models, musicians, screenwriters, and directors. These groups of people flock in droves to the City of Angels to pursue their glamorous dreams of making it in the television and cinema industries. Oxford Dictionaries defines glamour as: “the attractive or exciting quality that makes certain people or things seem appealing or special.” Merriam-Webster defines glamour as “a magic spell; an exciting and often illusory and romantic attractiveness” (Webster). When something or somewhere, is beautiful to us we fall in love with it, not so differently than we may awe at the novelty of a potential romantic interest. Many people end up working as baristas or bartenders while pursuing their dreams on the side. However, some have an idea of what their ideal life would look like that is grounded in reality, while others may be up for some disillusionment due to high expectations. A common belief of the latter might be, “If I could just sell one screenplay, get cast in one starring role, make one hit album, then I’ll have arrived. I would have made it.”

Reality television has only further perpetuated myths about Southern California. Shows such as The O.C., Keeping Up with the Kardashians, Real Housewives of Beverly Hills, The Hills, Laguna Beach, Beverly Hills Nanny portray life as it so called “is” according to the cast members of the show. People who do not have direct experience with life in the Southland are likely to hold beliefs and make generalizations about Southern California and its residents.

The Kardashians in particular have created an empire based on their portrayal of the reality of their lives.

As evidenced in the previous paragraphs, it is easy for an aspiring member of a certain industry to idealize and succumb to myths about the industry hub of their choice. Silicon Valley is not an exception to this. Silicon Valley, another reality television show, was produced recently in order to portray what life is like in the startup capital of the nation.     

Additionally, Charles Dickens has written about London and its characteristics as another object of wanderlust.

Beauty as Spirituality

“It’s not what’s on the outside, but what’s on the inside that counts.”

Inner beauty is something that many choose to focus on–and inner beauty is often directly tied to spirituality. Beauty of the spirit is another facet of beauty that mystifies many people. Upon deciding to embark on a spiritual path, many people subscribe to myths and illusions about what being spiritual entails. Many seekers believe that in order to be spiritual, they must deny financial abundance and remained detached from emotions, situations, people, and experiences.

Those who wish to possess an inner beauty often find that they do not have the wherewithal to actually become the kind of person they wish to be.


This essay explored the concept of beauty as myth, using Barthes’ theory of myths in order to analyze the symbols and signs embedded within the cultural representations of beauty today. One of the driving beliefs we have about beauty may be founded in perfection– if something is beautiful, we idealize it and have a difficult time disbelieving the myths we have either been exposed to, or created in our minds throughout our lives. The dangerous thing about perfection is that it either a) keeps us from living to our fullest potential because we believe we can never live up to the myth and are so disillusioned by it, or b) we never enjoy the experience of living life because we are always striving after the next best thing, in order to complete our vision of a beautiful life–whether that beauty is found in our profession, where we live, or in the eyes of another person. We project our image of beauty onto the things and people around us and experience things based on these illusions. It is only sometimes that these projections are altered or even destroyed when life (or whatever experience we are after) does not meet our expectations. Technology and digital media have only made it easier for us to fall in love with ideals through constant exposure to them.  


Works Cited

Strinati, D. (2004) An introduction to theories of popular culture, London: Routledge.

Ribière, M. (2008) Barthes, Penrith: Humanities-Ebooks.

Barthes, R.  (195): Mythologies

week 9: on the Google Art Project

I believe that “street view” is understood as a code for “the real” in our digital culture. We understand it as such, because it represents a photographic snapshot of an actual physical location, and we decode photographs as being real and true to life. When we have no other way of understanding what a location actually looks like, we take what we are given (the Google maps representation) and accept it as reality. 

I believe the user-curator culture that we live in enables people to embrace and get in touch with their creativity, especially those who may not have thought of themselves as creative, otherwise. The only concern I see with a culture that encourages viewers to record an experience as they undertake it (ex. by photographing it in order to curate a Pinterest-style collection of their favorite images) is that it detracts from a viewer simply going to a museum, standing in front of a work of art, and either “oohing and awing” at it or shaking their head and walking to the next piece of art.

The Google Cultural Institute is a valuable creation because it brings pieces of high art to those who may not otherwise have had access to. I do not believe it discourages people from visiting actual museums–those with a physical location. As the prompt mentioned, I do believe that digital museums such as this can “[enable] individual learning, pattern recognition, and understanding of the museum function.” It gives viewers (yes, even those online museum spectators) the ability to engage with and be inspired by creative material. For that reason, I am not surprised that “[a Pinterest-like] feature was so successful upon the Art Project’s launch, that Google had to dedicate additional servers to support it” (Wikipedia). The Google Art Project is bringing the experience, knowledge, and culture to a wider audience.

Integrating Google’s street view idea with the concept of a museum worked well because viewers took Google’s representations as “real” because the media they were exposed to were digital representations of the physical objects, and they already had experience as taking photographic representations of things as “real.” Of course, experiencing works of art in person and seeing the imperfections and textures of the individual works of art (ie. canvases, etc.)  is another experience, but the Google-museum-without-walls experience provides a similar experience for those who cannot view the works of art in person.

There is value in Malraux’s idea of the art book standing as an example for all that the work of art stood to gain from the advent of the reproducible image in its ability to carry the ‘revelation of the world of art’ beyond the physical walls of ‘real’ institutions.

week 8: intertextuality and Pretty Little Liars

When I read the Lethem reading I was interested to discover that the first example he used was Lolita, because the example I’m about to introduce also made an intertextual reference to Nabokov’s work. Pretty Little Liars is a television show that embraces intertextuality and multiple codes. The show falls under the “drama” genre but is much more nuanced than one simple label can classify. To start with, the television show was based on an original novel series by Sara Shepard. It features four teenage girls who are desperately trying to solve the disappearance and apparent murder of their shared friend and the leader of their clique, Allison.
Being that Pretty Little Liars is a teen novel, the television show is aimed at the teen/young adult demographic. The characters in the show each encounter situations that force them to adapt to the winds of life and grow into maturity. The main characters face things such as: an inappropriate student-teacher relationship, coming out and identifying as a lesbian, divorce and a step-family, a military parent, absent fathers and single mothers, adultery, bullying, helicopter parents, sibling rivalry, eating disorders, cliques.
The writers of the show take pride in making many literary allusions and intertextual references. However, many of the references are quite subtle. It is as if the writers are giving their culturally adept and well-read viewers admittance into a secret club in which they speak and understand a shared language. The references that these writers choose to include are not essential to one’s comprehension of the story, but rather they provide additional depth where the writers deem necessary. One example of this takes place in the episode “A Kiss Before Lying.” The main characters discover that Allison had taken it upon her self to develop an alternate identity, under the name “Vivian Darkbloom.” This name is a reference to Vladimir Nabokov, the author of Lolita. It is believed that Nabokov himself used the name “Vivian Darkbloom” (an anagram of the author’s name) “for cameo appearances in his own novels” ( Pretty Little Liars Wiki.)
This concept is similar to that of Derrida, who believed that meaning was aided through the utilization of a cultural encyclopedia. A viewer must have previously been exposed to television shows in the “Detective/Mystery” genre, as well as the “Teen Drama” and “Romance” genres in order to understand the myriad of themes that the show encompasses. Additionally, by referencing other works, artists and consumers co-create an encyclopedia that builds and increases with every work produced and referenced to.
This quote in particular stood out to me: “And artists, or their heirs, who fall into the trap of attacking the collagists and satirists and digital samplers of their work are attacking the next generation of creators for the crime of being influenced, for the crime of responding with the same mixture of intoxication, resentment, lust, and glee that characterizes all artistic successors. By doing so they make the world smaller, betraying what seems to me the primary motivation for participating in the world of culture in the first place: to make the world larger” (Lethem).
The line between inspiration and plagiarism is constantly being redefined. Personally, in respect to the visual arts, I believe that if someone were to literally take the exact image/work of art and claim it as their own, then it would be stealing. Reproduction may fall within remix culture– it’s easy to look at the internet and see different graphic designers and photographers using similar arrangements of space and typography, or replicating poses and lighting. I love the way the author described the gift economy as “establish[ing] a feeling-bond between two people” (Lethem). Inspiration and remixing enables some artists to find themselves and grow into their own style. Eventually you end up imitating everyone and make changes to your work here and there and discover that you cannot be a particular artist and somehow your work becomes your own. Writers, comedians, and many other creators have described the process of becoming themselves along these lines.
When intertextuality and remixing becomes a commercial issue, usually that is when cases like this one ( surface and intellectual property is claimed, shifting our culture from a gift economy to a market economy.
Works Referenced:
Pretty Little Liars Wiki.

week 7: an analysis of The Cuckoo’s Calling

The Cuckoo’s Calling is a crime/detective novel by Robert Galbraith.  The beginning of the novel provides the reader with the question that  they will attempt to discover through the course of the novel: How did  Lula Landry, a famed model, die? The novel then moves into a description  of the main character, Cormoran Strike. Galbraith portrays him as being  on the verge of career failure after it is revealed that his personal  life has gone down the tubes. This characterization tells the reader  that the main character could be classified as “the underdog,” or  someone fighting against his circumstances for his survival and hopes of  success. Everything rests upon his ability to solve the mystery.

A  female character is introduced as Strike’s assistant in solving the  crime. One can easily make a liken the duo to Batman and Robin;  coincidentally enough, the character’s name is Robin.

Though  the novel is centered on solving the “whodunit” mystery, it  simultaneously presents readers with the opportunity to deconstruct an  alternative mystery: the myth of how the obscenely rich live their  lives. The novel touches on the hopes, dreams, fears, troubles, and  corrupt attitudes and behaviors of the rich and aspiring.


The  author continues to explore the myths surrounding social class in the  framing of the main character, Strike. Strike’s case is particularly  intriguing because he was the son of a celebrity yet chose to disown  that aspect of his history, embracing the culture of the working-class  professional instead. His resentment towards being associated with his  father is clearly depicted in multiple scenes throughout the novel. The  only way Strike can solve the case is to examine the culture of the life  he turned away from.

I really liked that  Chandler described myth as “extended metaphors.” The characterization of  the members of the upper echelon could only occur because we live in a culture where things such as a “’clinging poison-green’ Cavalli dress, vintage Ossie Clark confections and ‘fabby  handbags’ with custom-printed ‘detachable silk linings'” exist. This is  the point that Barthes makes in his analysis of myth particularly in  regards to social class. The myth is given meaning because of the signs that exist.

Works Referenced:

“A  Murder Is Solved, a Sleuth Is Born.” 17 July 2013.

Galbraith, Robert. The Cuckoo’s Calling.

Roland Barthes, Mythologies, “Myth Today” (excerpt from Mythologies, trans. Annette Lavers, 1984, pp. 107-45).

Semiotics for Beginners.




week six: semiotics and media

Our symbolic encyclopedia enables us to comprehend the narratives we  are exposed to in the media. One great example of a website that  collects and organizes this information is TV Tropes. Merriam Webster  defines a trope as “a common or overused theme or device.” Though many  think of tropes as cliches, the meanings tropes convey enable us to  decode what we are presented with. A specific example we can use to  dissect semiotics in television is the show Suits.

In the video reel above, one can view the scenes that set up Harvey (an attorney known as the “best closer in the city”) as “the Ace” and Louis (his peer who looks up to Harvey with a mix of respect, repulsion, and envy) as “the anti-Villain.”  Though a viewer may be unfamiliar with the terms used to classify these  tropes, their prior experience with these symbols enables them to  comprehend the setup of the show. Meanwhile, it is clear that Mike (an  associate) is supposed to be Harvey’s protege, and a viewer can guess  that Harvey will be a kind of “Big Brother Mentor” to Mike.

In  this way, semiotics serve as a method of communication, as the symbols  we use to encode a specific message into a medium are decoded by the  viewer, enabling him to receive the message transmitted. Chandler  expands on this idea in Semiotics for Beginners. One point he  made which I found particularly interesting was the idea of transparency  as it relates to our awareness of tropes. Chandler quotes Lakoff and  Johnson is saying that: “However, much of the time- outside of ‘poetic’  contexts- we use or encounter many figures of speech without really  noticing them- they retreat to transparency’. Such transparency tends to  anaesthetize us to the way in which the culturally available stock of  tropes acts as an anchor linking us to the dominant views of thinking  within our society” (Lakoff and Johnson 1980).  When we as viewers are  introduced to these characters, not only are we reading them based on  their portrayal, but we are also taking their race, gender, and age into  account on a more subconscious level and integrating the cultural  hierarchy into our analysis/perception of the protagonists. In the case  of Suits, Louis would also be referred to as “the underdog”  when  it comes to the senior lawyers at the firm. Two of the three main  female characters star in “serving” roles (ex. a secretary and a  paralegal), and it is inferred that there are hints of romantic history  between the women and their male counterparts. These tropes are so  heavily embedded into our culture (and even more specifically, the  symbols that occur within a coporate office environment) that to state  them feels uncomfortable– they exist transparently.

It’s  interesting to note that the title of the show is also a metaphor  referring to both “lawsuits” and the suits that the gentlemen wear on  the show (many references are made to suits [i.e. the article of  clothing] in the first season). Semiotics shapes our lives from the way we make meanings to interact and communicate with one another, to the way we are entertained and advertised to.
Works Cited

Chandler,  Daniel. “Semiotics for Beginners.” Semiotics for Beginners. N.p., n.d.  Web.

pinterest and media theory

Pinterest is a digital media platform that has developed an increasingly large sphere of influence outside of the internet space. Retailers are especially attuned to this, as many of them use Pinterest to propel their brands, whether they are providing services or products. Pinterest itself has responded to the popularity of its use by businesses by enabling businesses to create separate, verified business accounts.

Pinterest exemplifies McLuhan’s idea of “the medium is the message.” McLuhan states that the “message” of any medium or technology is the change of scale or pace or pattern that it introduces into human affairs” (8). It is clear that Pinterest is having an influence on the scale at which consumer goods are previewed and eventually purchased, as detailed in the examples below.

As it relates to space and time, Pinterest follows the present need that we as a society have for instant gratification. Pinterest operates in a manner through which you can save something that catches your eye, immediately. It is a form of curation, where users can organize the items they have pinned for easy viewing at a later time period. This is great for retailers because it reinforces brand recognition.

In respect to the social-ideological value, power, and authority of Pinterest, the medium clearly has demonstrated that it is influential and here to stay. In a somewhat cyclical fashion, Pinterest has become a form of social proof (similar to retweets on Twitter or likes on Facebook): the more times an image is pinned, the more valuable the product in the image is perceived to be. Most recently, Nordstrom has implemented a strategy to use the social proof that Pinterest provides within its own stores. The fact that this is possible is a reflection of the facts that 69% of Pinterest users find items they desire to purchase or have purchased via Pinterest (

In order for Pinterest to have the power that it does, one must consider the fact that it is an image-centric medium. Over time we have become a society who is constantly exposed to images, thanks to advertising, mass media, and cinema. Pinterest rose to success largely because it capitalized on the fact that we are an image-centric society. Pinterest continues to reinforce the value not only of the products that are pinned, but of the images that represent them. Along these notes, the technique and equipment needed to produce those images is also validated because images of a certain caliber are in demand. Viewers are able to recognize when images are professionally produced, versus the otherwise. This “[has] driven online sellers to begin to spend less time optimizing text for search engines and more time tweaking images to please human shoppers (Tate).” To explore societal dependencies that influence Pinterest’s success even further, one would bring the consumerist mentality of our society into account. Pinterest provides a platform for consumers to have a virtual experience with the product they are eyeing, and in a manner in which they can save all of their favorite items in one place.


Kern, Eliza. “Using Pinterest’s Social Cred to Get In-store Shoppers to Make Purchases — Tech News and Analysis.” GigaOM. N.p., n.d. Web. 25 June 2013.

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

Tate, Ryan. “How Pretty Pictures Are Conquering Online Shopping.” Conde Nast Digital, 24 Apr. 0013. Web. 26 June 2013.

“if you take care of the syntax…”

Recently I have been chewing on the concept of the mind as software and as thought as computational expression, so encountering these ideas in the Clark reading was quite captivating.

A week or so ago, I actually wrote this poem as a means of working through my own thoughts as a method of computation.


Machines can miss the meaning in messages. Semantics can complicate computational expression. Maybe I’m like a machine.

Input, output. Something doesn’t add up.

1 + 1 should equal 2, but I’m missing something.

All I’m getting is 1.9999999.

This week’s section theories on symbolic cognition are quite different from the models of communication that we learned about during the first week. The fact that cognition is being taken into account alone symbolizes an energetic shift away from the lexicon of the words we use and instead, the reasoning that goes into choosing those words, and how we as humans make meaning of them. This week’s readings begin to uncover the process of understanding at a level beyond the basic “sender/receiver” model in which the sender encodes and the receiver decodes. Now we are examining how exactly a receiver would decode a message, based on his or her conceptions of the words themselves.

The notion of “formal logics,” described in Clark’s reading, stood out to me as a huge deviation from the original, non-interdisciplinary communication theories, as it describes how meaning can be transferred from person to person without being understood. The example he gives is one of following the instructions to build a bookshelf. Thinking about the concept more, it reminds me a lot of legalistic interpretations of religion, and how people are prone to following rules without understanding the meaning behind them. In medieval times, the Catholic church took advantage of this phenomenon, because as Clark writes, formal logics are advantageous in that the end goal is reached (constructing a building, paying indulgences, etc.) even without the person having an understanding of the symbols embedded within the message conveyed.

I really enjoyed the examples of conceptual metaphors that we read–the relation of love, life, and career to the concept of a journey. Lakoff writes about the difference of contemporary communication theory and the cornerstone theories–that contemporary theories incorporate the importance of the image as a symbol and as a retainer of meaning.

Overall, it makes absolute sense that we as scholars would incorporate cognitive studies into our analysis of communication as it relates to meaning making.


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

Andy Clark, Mindware: An Introduction to the Philosophy of Cognitive Science. New York: Oxford University Press, 2001. (Excerpts from Introduction, Chapters1-2)

universal grammar, subcultures and linguistic fillers

Prescriptive vs. Descriptive Rules of Grammar

Chomsky’s concept of universal grammar is the springboard for human language development. In the right environment, humans learn how to communicate with each other via language. However, we are often taught the “rights and wrongs” of language as it relates to grammar and syntax. The conventions we are taught to adhere to are called “prescriptive” rules. These rules are prescribed to us within our culture, often by means of certain gatekeepers. It is interesting to consider that if language is a system–a discipline which has its own discourse–than it is not immune to having gatekeepers who write and/or enforce the rules. In this case, prescriptive grammar is taught to humans by means of English teachers (who themselves were taught by English teachers and professors), copy-editors, style-manual and handbook writers, etc (Pinker 385). Society’s construction of grammar creates a framework of etiquette for us to follow.

In direct opposition to this lies the concept of “descriptive rules,” an idea centered on describing how people actually talk and make use of language (Pinker 383). Pinker writes that linguists and scientists are more likely to look at descriptive language because prescriptive language is comprised of “bits of language that originated for screwball reasons several hundred years ago and have perpetuated themselves ever since” (Pinker 385). As someone who had been raised according to the prescriptive rules of grammar in and outside of the classroom (yes, my mother was an English teacher) and who has a tendency to freak out over grammar, this concept was entirely novel to me.


Slang as Linguistic Innovation

Studying descriptive language enables one to look at the impact of slang upon our cultures. The creativity involved in the creation of new words is something to be remarked upon.

Pinker describes how words used by groups such as college students (“blow off”) and rappers (“dissing”) and other various groups (“banter, sham, stingy, junkie, jazz”) started as slang but have made their way into our socially acceptable language dictionary (415).

He notes that slang and colloquialisms within particular cultures act as a badge of membership, which is true of academics, advertising agency executives, culinary maestros, and musicians. A shared lexicon among these different disciplines simultaneously has the potential to springboard innovation through incubation, as well as for isolation and relative creative stagnation.


Pragmatics and Linguistic Fillers

Linguistic fillers (some commonly attributed to various subcultures, others to humans across the board) are often indicators of power dynamics within the relationship of two or more people communicating with each other. Language has political and social implications. It’s interesting to note that pragmatically, these fillers have no linguistic value; yet when one takes their semantic meaning into account, they can provide more information about one’s cultural background. Combined with the nonverbal and contextual language cues that Chomsky does not give much attention to, one can learn a lot about the sociological implications of the use of fillers.

Examples of subcultures:

Northern Californians:

  • “hella”

Southern Californians:

  • valley girl accents:
    • “like, totally” ;
  • surfers:
    • “stoked”
    • “sick”
    • “sketch”
    • “epic”
    • “radical”

Language and Identity

Southern Californians become upset when Norcal words like “hella” starts infiltrating their lexicon.

Language is used to foster perceptions of the “other,” us vs. them, particularly in cultural/national conflicts. Example: Spain’s autonomous communities (Catalonia vs. Madrid vs. The Basque Country).


// one last note on language and creativity //

an example of comments in a piece of code I wrote. comments are denotated by ” // “.

In programming in particular, coders were accustomed to being extremely liberal in how they chose to write their code, particularly in regard to commenting. Commenting code is important because it provides readers with a clue on why a certain piece of code was constructed in the way that it was written. Initially, most programmers were fluid in the way they commented (if they did at all) because only readers that would have stumbled across their code were themselves. However, as programming languages have become essential to digital culture (front and back end design, user interface coding, etc.), more and more programmers end up working on the same piece of code, and some kind of uniformity had to occur in order for coders to build off of each other.

This kind of creative collaboration within a network of programmers stems from their ability to communicate via a shared language. Computational linguistics could argue that this serves as a springboard for innovation.


//* works cited *//

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

Irvine, “Linguistics: Key Concepts.”

Lynch, Sally. “Filler Words Become Regular Practice.” Elon Pendulum. N.p., n.d. Web. 30 Jan. 2013.

Pinker, Steven. The Language Instinct: How the Mind Creates Language. New York: Perennial Classics, 2000. Print.