Author Archives: Somaiya Sibai

Pocahontus in Space

The legend of Pocahontas was constructed by Disney in 1995, creating the famous story of a young Powhatan woman who saves the life and falls in love with a European immigrant soldier. This myth seemingly enraged the native Powhatan people who find myth to be insulting to their history. The following text is taken from, a webpage created by the Powhatan people to preserve their history and debunk the Pocahontas myth:

“In 1995, Roy Disney decided to release an animated movie about a Powhatan woman known as “Pocahontas”. In answer to a complaint by the Powhatan Nation, he claims the film is “responsible, accurate, and respectful.” We of the Powhatan Nation disagree. The film distorts history beyond recognition. Our offers to assist Disney with cultural and historical accuracy were rejected. Our efforts urging him to reconsider his misguided mission were spurred. “Pocahontas” was a nickname, meaning “the naughty one” or “spoiled child”. Her real name was Matoaka. The legend is that she saved a heroic John Smith from being clubbed to death by her father in 1607 – she would have been about 10 or 11 at the time. The truth is that Smith’s fellow colonists described him as an abrasive, ambitious, self-promoting mercenary soldier. Of all of Powhatan’s children, only “Pocahontas” is known, primarily because she became the hero of Euro-Americans as the “good Indian”, one who saved the life of a white man. Not only is the “good Indian/bad Indian theme” inevitably given new life by Disney, but the history, as recorded by the English themselves, is badly falsified in the name of “entertainment. “

However, Pocahontus has already become a part of popular cultural and her story became an inspiration for other productions.  In 2009, world renowned director James Cameron produced a major blockbuster that became the highest grossing film of all time. (Wikipedia, Avatar 2009 Film). Cameron’s film, is extremely similar in storyline with Disney’s Pocahontas. The Huffington Post published a picture in its comedy section titled “ Avatar = Pocahontas in Space” critisizing the film’s storyboard and accusing it of being an exact copy of Pocahontas

In this picture, the story of Pocahontas is written as text, and then names of characters, places, and other details specific to the Pocahontas film are crossed out and replaced with their counterparts from Avatar. This illustrates the high similarity between the two.

This clip points out similarities in scenes between Disney’s Pocahontas (1995) and James Cameron’s Avatar (2009).

The presence of striking similarities between those two films is apparent. Despite the large differences in production technologies, settings, and visuals, one cannot help but associate the two films with each other. Barthes mentions that texts, and particularly mythological ones, are continuously recycled to make use of already recognizable signs and significations, but within new context. Both films follow almost exactly the same story – an army arrives at a foreign land for the sake of obtaining its natural resources. One soldier forms a connection with the place and the natives, and eventually sides with them against his own people. John Smith/Jake Sully represent the same character, as do Pocahontas/Neyteri. 

The ultimate purpose of this myth can be assumed to be creating a story with a moral; equality, love, valuing one’s land, and respecting nature. Barthes talks about mythology being a combination of  signifier and the signified. This purpose is communicated through signifiers – differences Each of those films uses different signifiers in a manner that is appropriate and in-line with current times and technologies. For example, Pandora, the foreign planet where Avatar takes place, signifies new beginnings and a new world, just like the new found land of America does in Pocahontas. The inhabitants of Pandora, The Navi, signify foreign and highly misunderstood people, just like the Red Indians once were.  


Photography, Reflected on the Google Art Project

The Google Art Project is an innovative idea that utilizes the web to digitally archive and preserve artwork. It allows it to be accessible by everyone in the globe, including people who might not have physical access to certain museums. It is a natural product of the digital age, where everything is being digitized, shared, and kept on the web, from books to orchestras to paintings. The Google Art Project serves as a resource for cultural art products coming from all over the world.

Nonetheless, the experience of viewing artwork digitally is still and always will be a limited one in comparison to being in presence of a painting in real-life. Physically visiting a museum still surpasses looking at artwork online, as there is much more to experience – the location, the architecture, the history – than merely looking at a work of art. The artistic value of a painting or work of art does not only lie in it’s visual value, but there is also cult value, or the significance of the work of art itself, the person who made it, the reason it was made, the process of making it, and so on.

I wanted to contrast this with photography, to see how such a project, if done for photographs instead of paintings, would be different. In the past, when photography depended on film rather than digital methods, a processed photograph had more cult value, particularly when early photography was mostly used for portraits. At the time, photography was a longer process that required more effort and was more expensive. It needed several “analog” steps, from capturing the image to processing it. Film had limited space, and you could not “preview” or “delete” photographs on the spot like we do now. Therefore, at that time, photography also had a cult value just like paintings

Edward Steichen’s photo of a pond in Long Island, New York, in 1904. This rare print has set the world record for most expensive photograph, sold for $2.9 million in February 2006. The only other two copies in existence are in museum collections.

It is interesting to note that such a limitation of value or a separation between visible and cult value is diminishing as technology progresses. Modern technology has resulted in the availability of easy-to-use photography devices, such as mobile phone cameras and compact digital cameras. The technology of photography has been extended, adding the function of online sharing that has almost become inseparable from the act of photography itself.  All latest cameras are equipped with technologies like Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and other connectivity technologies that facilitate immediate sharing. Mobile phones in particular have apps, like Instagram, that have become inseparable from the camera. All this has cost the photograph its cult value. It seems that a photograph of today naturally belongs to the web rather than a museum.  

YouTube & Learning

In the past, when you wanted to learn a new skill such as playing a musical instrument, using certain software, or speaking a new language, you had to enroll in courses that required you to be physically present in a classroom. As technology of the Internet progressed, online courses and classes became more and more available. At one time, such courses were only offered by formal institutions and were given by “experts” in their fields. Some websites were specialized in software training and tutorials, and at most times those sites were not free.

As new media and social networks appeared into the scene, innovative mediums that allowed peer-to-peer sharing of content were created. People were able to utilize those mediums to promote the sharing of knowledge and to be self-taught with skills they were interested in acquiring. YouTube in particular is a huge example of this. Today, you can search YouTube’s millions of clips and find lessons on almost every skill imaginable – from graphics design, coding, dancing, playing instruments, applying makeup, cooking,  and more. You can also create videos of your own to demonstrate and teach others a skill you excel at.

Here are a few examples:

Playing the guitar

Dancing Ballet

Animating in Photoshop:


Hairstyling tutorial

But the question is, are those videos reliable learning mediums when compared to traditional, more “formal” mediums such as paid tutorial websites and courses?

In general, the quality and characteristics of a medium gives authority and credibility to the information being transferred. For instance, people are more likely to trust and believe a piece of news that comes from a major news network versus if it came from a random tweet or Facebook post. Similarly, knowledge obtained from a formal teaching source still seems more valuable or credible than that obtained from a free sharing website such as YouTube. It is even generally accepted that traditional learning in a physical classrooms still exceeds compared to every other form of learning, and is given the most preference. However, many people today, especially the younger generation, are making the most out of new media learning.

YouTube gives the user the ability to fast-forward, pause, and rewind to certain parts of a video a user needs to view, without having to watch entire clips that might contain redundant, unnecessary information. This gives the user power to see only what they need, and helps save time. It also gives users the ability to repeat clips as many times as desired, something that is not possible to do in many formal learning situations. This versatility has given power and desirability to YouTube as a learning source.

Here is an interesting article named “The Teacher’s Guide To Using YouTube In The Classroom”. It gives teachers tips and advice on how to maximize the use of YouTube features – such as creating playlists, archiving, and others – to enhance the learning experience for children. It also talks about how a teacher can create review sessions, quizzes, and extra lessons all in the form of YouTube videos which children can benefit from.


A Failed Media Revolution


The Arab Spring’s winds of change reached Syria in March of 2011, bringing with them a strong will for freedom. For decades, Syrians have been deprived of their freedoms and basic human rights, including freedom of expression. The people have revolted to demand those rights back, and to end an era of dictatorship, oppression, and injustice.

The Syrian uprising – like the previous Arab uprisings – has been largely fueled, influenced, and driven forward by the force of the Internet and social media. The Syrian case in particular has seen a significant revolution in the use and utilization of such communication technologies. This was motivated by the strong will Syrians felt to speak out the realities of what was going on and debunk the lies and manipulations of state-owned television. As philosopher and linguist Noam Chomsky states, mass media is a tool of propaganda in the hands of governments who “manufacture consent” through media, filter out whatever opposes their views, and frame issues according to their benefit. This has been the case in Syria for decades, where the government heavily regulated all media sources and denied people from rights to freedom of press and freedom of speech. To make matters worse, when the revolution was sparked, the regime prevented all foreign media from entering the country, and limited coverage to its official state-owned media.

Nevertheless, the presence of new media technologies in today’s world, and namely social media, has given today’s Syrians a golden opportunity and boundless power to show the world the truth and express their uncensored views, opinions. Over the span of two years, Syrians, who were for decades afraid to speak out in the simplest of forms, have created a very rich online media presence. A large volume of material that includes photographs, graphics, videos, music, e-magazines, animations, comics, and other forms, has filled Syrian cyber space.

Some History

In February of 1982, Hafez Al-Assad, who was president at the time, ordered troops to besiege the city of Hama and commit wide massacres in order to quell an uprising started by the Muslim Brotherhood, a political party that opposed Assad’s Baathist government. As a result of this crackdown, and according to Amnesty International, 10,000 – 25,000 people were killed, the vast majority civilians. The Syrian Human Rights Committee claims the number to have possibly reached 40,000 people. At the time, there was no Internet, no mobile phones, and very minimum media capabilities. Those events passed by and were forgotten by the world. They hardly have any documentation or records available.

Slidehow of images from the 1982 Hama Massacre

Bashar Al-Assad’s crackdown against the revolution today is very similar to what his father Hafez has done in the 80s. A major difference is, that in 1982, a single opposing political party in a single city carried out the uprising. The current revolution, however, is an uprising of the people across the entire country.

At the early stages of the current revolution, elders and people who witnessed what happened in 1982 were very critical, and did not believe a revolution would succeed in overthrowing the government. Many even opposed it, in fear of repetition of the dreadful, bloody outcome in 1982. However, this was not the case for younger generations. Many of them, when warned and reminded about what happened in Hama, would respond saying something along the lines of “we didn’t have good media then! This time, we have the Internet and we are showing the world what is happening in real time. People will be able to see us the truth and will support us.”

Unfortunately, this has not been the case. The rich, large volume, and high-quality content Syrians created to communicate their revolution’s events and aspirations seems to have failed in influencing global audiences, and has not been much of game changer when it comes to gaining global opinion and support. Many people in the West still do not know what is going on, some haven’t even heard of Syria altogether. The Washington Post very recently published an article titled “Half of Americans can’t identify Syria on a map”, after over two years of ongoing revolt and conflict in Syria. Interestingly, the article compares this with finding with another statistic: 80 percent of Americans correctly identified the Twitter logo. This proves that most Americans are acquainted with and are using social media, and yet many of them are not well informed on Syria. So why does this divide exist? And why hasn’t Syria gone viral beyond Syrians or Arabs despite the huge volume of news and information constantly being fed to the social media websites by Syrian activists?

This essay will explore different examples of some outstanding media content and campaigns created by Syrians, and will de-black box and analyze them based on communications theories, such as Latour and Callon’s Actor Network Theory and Danesi’s semiotics theory to understand why they have not been effective in making an influence on a global scale. It will also look and compare those examples with an example of a hugely successful promotional campaign “Kony 2012”, which promoted a very similar cause to the Syrian one, and which has become the most viral video in social media history.. Conclusions will be drawn from this comparison to understand why this particular campaign has succeeded and what it can teach Syrian activists so they can improve their social media outreach and let the voice of their cause reach global audiences.

Actor-Network Theory

Although social media is a very modern communication medium, it is nothing but a reconfiguration of older and previous forms of communication rather than being “new” or replacing preexisting systems. Thus, it follows the same communication theories of all forms of media. Understanding this is crucial in order to be able to fully utilize its potential and build powerful messages to be carried through it.

By looking at Bruno Latour and Michel Callon’s Actor-Network Theory, it is recognized that there is much more to the success of any media than just the quality of its content. Some material may appear to be very powerful in terms of production quality, but when used or applied does not show results as it is expected. This is because media is not a neutral force, and it cannot be viewed a single entity – but is rather a dynamic processes and a complex network of players, or nodes – social, economic, technological, and ideological, and others. Consequently, the significance and power of media does not only lie within the content itself, but rather the connections and networks between all those nodes and their positions within the network. The more well arranged and strong such connections are, the more powerful media is. It can be observed that Syrians have focused much more on the quality of the content itself, and have – to a large extent – neglected the significance of the relationships and networks that allow such content to exist in the first place. Factors like language, culture, social norms, and so on have not been well considered in most productions made by Syrians. This has resulted in keeping Syrian media networks to connect with Syrians only, isolating them from external, global networks and thus the rest of the global population. Agency in those productions is limited to be to and from Syrians, distributed only among Syrians, and thus failing to influence anyone outside this network.

This video is a compilation of the works of Wissam Al Jazairy, a Syrian graphics designer and digital painter who gained fame during the revolution through work he shares through his Facebook page. He is probably the best known revolution graphics designer. His work is compelling and beautiful, and captures highlight moments and events of the revolution, turning them into visual masterpieces. However, the reach of his work has been largely limited to a Syrian-only audience. This is mainly because of his  heavy dependance on messages and visualizations derived from Syrian cultural to create his work. Also, his influence is detailed, current events that only Syrians tend to follow, and thus only they can understand the coded messages in those paintings.

Semiotic Theory & Language & Culture Barriers

Marcel Danesi has put forward a theory that states that any form of media content consists of codes that carry the information meant to be transmitted, and such codes are defined by three that features that are necessary to make the media powerful in working and delivering those codes. Those features are representationality, interpretability, and contextualization. For media content to reach global audiences, it should represent something that is appreciated and understandable by global audiences. A common feature seen in the content created by Syrians is their assumption that everyone is familiar with Syrian history, politics, and the country’s situation, when in fact, global audiences and audiences who take freedom and human rights fore granted (Western audiences in particular) do not know such knowledge nor do they understand it, and at most times they cannot envision what concepts like dictatorships, crackdowns, or a government killing its own people are, without them being explained to them clearly beforehand. Additionally, heavy dependence on Syrian culture in creating those codes creates is a barrier that limits understanding. Therefore, the codes in Syrian’s messages represent ideas that are not easily understandable by global audiences.

Secondly, and this is the most obvious factor concerned with interpretability – the lack of a common language between sender and receiver automatically cancels the interpretability component, since non-Arabs cannot understand Arabic, the language used in creating most of this media content. Finally, in regards to contextualization, and vey much like the issue with the representationality component, messages coded in the media content cannot be understood by global audiences without having proper context, or being given background information on the issues being addressed. Many messages appear to be lacking context to people who are unfamiliar with the culture or historical backgrounds Syria. 

This is an episode from the YouTube animation series “People’s Palace” produced by the YouTube channel “Wikisham” which ridicules regime officials in a satirical way. Even though English captions are provided, the story of the series builds upon the assumption that that the viewer is familiar with who the characters are and the nature of events in Syria.  Since this is not the case except for Syrian audiences, it is hard to see such a series go viral globally.

 Another example:





 Sequential art and comics from the Facebook page “Comic4Syria” uses English to tell stories of the revolution and the regime crackdown. However, even though the language barrier is gone, people who do not have background information on Syria and the are not familiar with the main story, history, culture, and nature of events do not fully understand the message or significance of the story.

A Comparison to Kony2012

Kony2012 is a short film that was released on March 5th 2012. It was produced by the NGO Invisible Children, and aimed at creating awareness and action among the general global public to support the fighting and capturing of International Criminal Court fugitive, Joseph Kony, the rebel group LRA leader, who kidnapped and recruited children as soldiers into his rebel army, used girls as sex slaves, and killed innocent people in Uganda. He is responsible for killing 100,000, abducting 70,000, and forcing more than two million people out of their homes to seek refuge in four neighboring countries. This cause is very similar to the Syrian cause in many ways. It is a cause for human rights and the combat of oppression and injustices inflicted by a dictator, and it is a cause that is related to a remote area of the world nobody knows much about and which has a culture very different from American or popular culture.

The video and its campaign were a huge success. It was ranked by TIME as the most viral video of all time. It got over 100 million views, 3.5 million support pledges, and leaded to getting the US senate and House of Representatives to both sign resolutions to continue US involvement in the efforts to capture Joseph Kony.

So how did this film manage to capture so much global attention and support? There are a number of reasons that are can be concluded when de-black boxing the film content and drawing an analysis based on Latour/Callon and Danesi’s theories. The Actor-Network theory is utilized in that the film has an abundance of nodes strongly connecting different aspects together – cultural, political, psychological, technological, economic, and social. This allowed the film to create a strong connection with both American audiences and global audiences as well. There is a strong presence and utilization of American culture, which has been made into an influential global culture thanks to globalization, which is in turn facilitated by American cultural products such as Hollywood movies, television shows, pop music, and others. The film begins with cuts of scenes from popular viral videos, and is narrated by an American speaker, who is the filmmaker and one of the main characters of the film. He introduces his family – a standard American family who viewers can easily relate with. The filmmaker introduces his baby son who acts as a signifier and a symbol of hope and continuation of life. We see this child as he grows up and lives the story throughout the movie to strengthen this signified notion of hope all along the film.

The film also utilizes celebrity endorsement, and shows that global celebrities, such as Oprah, George Clooney, and several others have backed up the campaign and promoted it. Those figures are regarded as very influential and trusted sources in society, and their endorsements can be thought of as one of the most powerful components in the campaign.

The story slowly shifts from being the story of a typical, happy American family, into the story of their friend, a Ugandan boy that has suffered so much misery, pain, and loss due to Kony’s crimes. The notion of “friendship” here acts as a connecter, and creates a powerful relationship that empowers the message and connects the “nodes” of American culture and Ugandan politics together. If Jacob was just a random person in Uganda, with no clear connection to the American family characters the film starts with, this strong connection would have been lost and the film’s message would have been greatly weakened. Additionally, having the focus on Jacob, a single person’s story, rather than talking in general about the situation in Uganda, creates an even stronger connection between the viewer and the message. He is a person, just like us, with hopes, fears, dreams and emotions. It is easier for audiences to relate and be touched by a personal story rather than a general one. Jacob is shown in several moving shots, creating an emotional connection and a strong sense of apathy within the viewer. It is interesting to note that, some graphic and gruesome images are used, but only shown for a split second – long enough to shock the viewer and grab their attention without repelling them and making them lose will to continue the film.

Also, the use of distinct characters who tell the story and express support, including the expert – the main prosecutor of Kony’s case – and the filmmaker’s child, Gavin, allows for further connections to be built to accommodate a wider range of audiences. People who are intellectual, educated, and professional would be drawn in by the information portrayed by the prosecutor, while the child is effective in impacting everyone else, including young children and the uneducated. Those two characters can also be seen to communicate to audiences at two levels, the intellectual level as seen with the expert, and the emotional level as seen with the child.

Moreover, powerful visualizations that illustrate statistics of the campaign are very effective in a sense that they turn abstract concepts, or numbers, into concrete, real life meanings. An example of this is the shot where Jacob, the main Ugandan character of the film, is shown, and the shot is then pulled out to show him situated among a huge mass of people who are just like him, victims of Kony atrocities. If the film just simply mentioned that there have been 100,000 victims, and stated it as a plain number, it would have passed by without sticking into viewers’ minds as effectively as having it visualized.

The film communicates solutions as clear actions normal people and youth are doing to defeat Kony. Upon seeing those actions being done in such a simple manner and by people just like them, viewers are highly likely to take action, and they have. The film highly stresses on the concept of unity, and pushes forward the message of all humanity being a single body that suffers and prospers together. It opens the eyes of the viewer to the powers of communications tools that people have at their disposal in today’s world, and which has allowed power standards to be shifted from central governments to the people. It talks about people being able to “see” each other and thus care and protect each other.

A Syrian Attempt to Replicate Kony2012

Syrian activists have produced a video titled “Assad2012” in an attempt to draw global attention and support towards the Syrian cause the way Kony2012 has drawn attention to the Invisible Children cause. Unfortunately, the result was not as desired and the film did not go viral as the producers had wished.

Firstly, this film lacks the professionalism, originality, and high production quality that was seen in Kony2012. It is merely a mash-up of already existing productions, news reports, and YouTube videos, put together to tell the story of the Arab Spring and the Syrian uprising in particular. The main weakness in this film is in that it appears to be more like a passive documentary talking about history, rather than an active piece of moving, shocking stories and information that motivates the viewer to act in response as the case was in Kony2012. It does not clearly suggest action like Kony2012. More importantly, it has not utilized any network forces and lacks social or cultural relationships that would attract global audiences.

The Bright Side – A Notable Success Example

The small town of Kafranbel in Northern Syria has gained stardom during the revolution for its outstanding banners and political cartoons used in protest. Its has perhaps been the source of the Syrian revolution’s most successful and powerful media.  In particular, one recent banner, has gained huge popularity that surpassed expectations. It has over 17,000 shares from its original source

 This banner is powerful in that it brings together two contrasting cultures, those of the US and Syria. It uses proper English wording that would be appreciated by the American viewer, and removes the barriers made by differences in place, culture, social class, and language by creating a strong relationship and connection using the notion of shared suffering . This relationship is what gives it its power.

This banner was the topic of a few online articles in the US: 

 Foreign Policy

USA Today


It has even generated a response back, all the way from Boston.


Conclusion & Recommendations

Drawing from those examples, and If Syrians wish to influence global public opinion on their cause, they need to keep in mind the cultural divide between their country and the rest of the world, and the lack of basic knowledge on the country and region in general. Such a a divide needs to be addressed in order to give media a strong outreach.

  • Use of more English: English media content on social media websites is very limited, and as a result limits the reach of the Syrian story to English speaking and global audiences.
  • The focus on use of relationships more so than content- and the creation of cultural and historic elements that show  other similar events famous in human history, such as the French Revolution, the Holocaust, etc. 
  • Messages need to be made simpler and more basic, and should not assume that everyone who will understand it the way a Syrian would. When creating media, activists should assume that the audience does not know anything about Syria. There should be more emphasis on the history and geography of the country in order to familiarize it with the audience.
  • Creation of creative and simplified web resources, such as a news networks in English that report top daily news from Syria. One form could be the creation of a visual timeline that highlights game-changing events in Syria. Once a project like this is established and reached to public, it could help create initial awareness necessary for viewers to understand other materials, and could be used as a reference. The image on the top-right uses English and successfully utilizes cultural/religious icons leading to strong relationships between elements, yet a viewer who is not informed with the background story about the use of chemical weapons in Syria would not be able to understand it fully or appreciate its message. This is a very important step, especially in light of the large lack of awareness on Syria altogether.



Google Glass – Good or Bad?

Week 13 – Somaiya Sibai

Google Glass, a technological innovation that’s almost out and ready for consumers, is expected to be the next big thing in the world of communications. Reactions to it started as soon it was announced almost exactly a year ago (April 4th, 2012), and it seems that people are either very excited and supportive of the idea or very critical and against it. But what is really new in Google Glass? And what does it add to the plenty forms of media and communications we already have and depend on today? Has it really added “new” functions and forms of mediation than the ones that already exist, or is just the methods? And how are people viewing it today?

Sergey Brin, the co-founder of Google, mentions during the TED talk embedded below that the one of the main vision’s for the Glass project was to enhance the way people interact together. He questions whether the act of looking down at a smart phone is the ultimate way in which people would like to interact in the future. He then explains how Google Glass would eliminate this, and would allow people to look directly in front of them and at one another while at the same time collecting information and using media applications. Furthermore, he talks about the absence of the “sense of feel” in the use of touch screens, when all one feels is the rubbing of a piece of glass, and hence we would better off if we could be “hands free” to use our hands for other things we can actually touch and sense. Also, he talks about “freeing” the eyes and ears through the way it is designed.

So reflecting on this vision, we can understand why Google Glass can be such a powerful media artefact. The functions of Glass are not new in themselves, and almost all of them exist today in our smartphones and mobile devices, such as navigation, social networking, photography and video recording and sharing, web search, etc. According to Glass’s Wikipedia page, it is a device that displays information in a smartphone-like hands-free format, that can interact with the Internet via natural language voice commands. So the functions are still pretty much the same. The new thing however, is the method and approach to using those applications. The Google Glass liberates the user’s senses as Sergey Brin explains, allowing them to interact better with the real world and maximize their sensual experiences. It allows a layering of information, by letting the user to be in touch with the real world in real-time, AND the digital world at once. For example, using Glass, we can take videos and photos of our own personal perspectives (what we see as the real world) and share them with others. Such an action cannot be done otherwise with usual cameras or mobile devices. 

CNET released this interesting video that illustrates the top 5 uses of Google Glass:

However, and as the video above mentions, such a technology poses a risk on the small space of privacy we still have a left today. This is the reason why many people today oppose it and are even lobbying against it.. An example is a London-based group called “Stop the Cyborgs” composed of graduate students who launched a campaign in which they created a “No Glass” logo.

Shop owners are putting up the logo in their shops already. “If it’s just a few geeks wearing it, it’s a niche tool and I don’t think it’s a problem,” said Adam, one of the members of the group. “But if suddenly everyone is wearing it and this becomes as prevalent as smartphones—you can see it becomes very intrusive very quickly. It’s not about the tech, it’s about the social culture around it.”

Here’s a couple of funny video parodies on Google Glass which might suggest why Glass might not be a very good idea after all:


Google Glass, Wikipedia.

J. Angelo Racoma. “Stop the Cyborgs” Launches Campaign Against Google Glass.

A User-Generated World

Week 12 – Somaiya Sibai

Being an effective, influential, and successful individual in today’s world, is greatly determined by the ability to contribute content to the digital world. The world of the internet, social media, mobile applications, and instant sharing of information has become the main influence in shaping culture, ideologies, and trends. Manovich states that “During one decade, a computer moved from being a culturally invisible technology to being the new engine of culture.” This is clearly visible today, as the internet and digital world has become the most influential form of media, rather than television or radio as it once was in the past. What is special about the internet, however, is that it participatory, where users are not only receivers of information, but are the creators of it.

What Most School’s Don’t Teach

The following video went viral a couple of months ago. It talks about the importance of coding and programming as a key skill for success in today’s digital world. The video stars prominent celebrities of the IT and digital world, such as Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, and others, who talk and encourage people to pursue learning coding, and refer to it as a “hidden superpower”.

However, programming is not the only skill that can effective in shaping the digital world. Other forms of content creation, such as video production, music production, graphics design, photography, are other, similar skills, empower people who have them over those who don’t, and give them a competitive edge in influence and control of how culture is shaped. They are givers rather than takers, producers rather than consumers. People who are skilled in any of those pursuits, and who successfully share their content on the web tend to gain near-celebrity status at many times. Examples are numerous, and can be found all over user-generated content websites such as YouTube, Tumblr, Deviantart, and more. 

It is also interesting to observe the spread and sharing of such skills through numerous tutorial websites, videos, and other forms. Anyone interested in learning a skill, whether it is programming, videography, or digital sound production, can find unlimited resources from other people who are experts at them. A lot of successful content creators today are self-taught. Additionally, there are many simplified tools becoming available online that greatly help in creating content without the need for expertise or knowledge. Those are called “webware”, and allow anyone to create simple websites, edit photos, videos, and do other things with minimum effort and skills. It is hard to find an internet user today that has not contributed at least a little to the cultural content of the web. What is for sure, however, is that the more knowledgable and skilled a person is, the more influential they are expected to be. 

The iOS from a Manovich Viewpoint

By: Somaiya Sibai

Using Manovich’s eight propositions that define new media, we can analyze and deduce how the iOS used in mobile Apple products, such as iPhones and iPads, can be considered new media. The iOS has been an innovation in the world of technology that changed the face of mobile computing. It has set a standard for similar technologies to emerge by other companies. iOS devices have become a fore granted part of modern life, where people use them for numerous tasks and daily activities. 

According to Manovich, the distinction between cyberculture and New Media lies in that cyberculture is concerned with all the social interactions enabled by technology, while New Media is the cultural objects and paradigms concerned with networking and beyond. He explains such cultural objects as those which use computing as a means to distribute and exhibit information. The iOS consists of applications, which can be considered as cultural objects that perform all sorts of media functions, such as displaying and browsing websites, running games, utilities, and so on. Also, he mentions that New Media is digital data controlled by software, where certain algorithms control how the media operates, which is how iOS applications operate.

This means it follows the principals of modularity, automation, and variability. A software, or app in this case, is designed to run autonomously according to a certain set of algorithms. A game always operates the same way for everyone and progresses in the same way. However, variability allows the customization of some features according to the preferences of each user. We can see this clearly in many apps where users set preferences and options according to their liking. An example could be weight loss apps, where the user customizes the diet plan according to their personal needs and goals, and coupon/special offers apps, which a user customizes according to their location and preferences.


Another feature of New Media is in that it morphs two different sets of culture forces together – that is, for example, turning an image that is normally meant to be looked at and gazed upon, into an interactive object that one interacts with and interprets as information. In the iOS, the GUI heavily depends on pictorial icons that are “touched” rather than looked at, in order to operate apps. Also, users now mindlessly slide their fingers over images to switch, zoom, or edit them. The apps themselves depend on imagery the user clicks and drags to operate the app, like in games such as Angry Birds.

Manovich also explains that any new technology that by offers “more immediacy”,“ represents what before could not be represented”, “will contribute to the erosion of moral values”; and “will destroy the natural relationship between humans and the world by eliminating the distance between the observer and the observed”, can be considered New Media. He argues that every form of media, such as film, photography, telephone, and television, have done this at a certain stage, and thus have all passed through the New Media stage. This can be also applied to the iOS, which has been an innovation in the field of mobile computing, one that has certainly contributed to all those points he mentioned.

According to Manovich, the definitions we have described are all focused on technology. The remaining definitions are focused on encoding of cultural tendencies, turning what was once manual activity into digital. All algorithms today are based on linear steps that are done in order so a task can be done. This is similar to human-done tasks, except that technology allows it to be executed much faster. Similarly, art was once man-made, rather than digitally produced. This means that the entire digital world is based on functions that were once done manually, and have sped their process. Examples of this in the iOS are numerous. There are apps for note taking, to do-lists, maps, photo retouching, address books…etc, all which were done manually not to long ago, and have been transformed today into being almost entirely digital, becoming much faster and reliable. 

Finally, just as the Avant-garde period (1915-1928) and the post World War II period revolutionized ways to represent reality and see the world, New Media revolutionizes the ways to access and manipulate information, with techniques such hypermedia, databases, search engines, data mining, image processing, visualization, and simulation. All those techniques are present in iOS, which relies on a combination of them to run its apps. As the first mobile computing system to heavily depend on connectivity to the internet, those functions have become inseparable from it.  

Cross-Cultural Media Remixing

For this week’s topic, I would like to revisit a project I made last year for the Remix Methods Class. I created a short promo on the Syrian Revolution to raise awareness among Americans and westerners in general, or among people who are not very aware of the issue and are not familiar with Middle Eastern culture and affairs. To do this, I tried to bring the topic as close to possible to something that is globally appreciated, understood, and influential, and nothing seemed to do the job better than Hollywood and its movies.

For the video, I cut up some audio quotes from various famous Hollywood movies that relate to topics such as freedom, revolt, courage…etc. Movies used are from various genres (Adventure, sci-fi, fantasy, animation) and include Lord of the Rings, Avatar, The Hunger Games, Braveheart, and Brave. I also used one of the soundtracks from the major romance blockbuster, Titanic. Next, I selected powerful scenes from tens of amateur videos uploaded by activists onto youtube, ones which would line up well with the selected audio. Finally, I chose a music track full of energy which was used during a flash mob for Syria, to be mixed with the softer Titanic soundtrack.   

The resulting video:

This video breaks down and summarizes the story of the Syrian Revolution in a way that is easily understandable at an almost global level. The popular Titanic music draws attention and creates interest in the viewer. Making the characters “speak” in English and in voices of famous characters makes them more friendly and relatable. English text guides the viewer through the story and provides important information. The music moves from soft and sad (communicating tragedy and sadness) to active and energetic (communicating resistance and challenge) in order to create the appropriate emotions for the flow of the story. Over all, this mixing of western style narration and music with Middle Eastern footage results in something watchable by people from either background. Concepts that are globally appreciated, such as freedom, humanity, and justice, are the highlights, and they serve to tie everything together.

The production quality is not that great generally speaking, but the fitting of different media elements together (audio, video, music, text) is powerful even though they come from very different sources. For example, it almost seems like the people talking are really saying the words heard even though the audio is in English and was produced for an extremely different story than the real one shown. With stronger production technique, such a video can serve as an effective promoter of the cause.

The Graphical User Interface

By: Somaiya Sibai

In this digital, age people are becoming more and more inseparable from electronic devices that they increasingly rely on for almost every function and task. We depend on mobile phones, tablets, computers, and other devices, along with thousands of applications and software to facilitate numerous daily activities and solve problems. This growing relationship between people and devices has been greatly facilitated by the graphical user interface (GUI).

The GUI can be considered as a language, a set of symbols, and a form of communication between human and machine. It consists of graphic, pictorial symbols that represent commands. Those pictorial symbols serve as a universal language that can be understood by almost anyone. They are laid out in the form of menus, tables, or buttons, in a way that facilitates working the software efficiently. Thanks to this, most people find it extremely easy to operate certain software or applications without any prior training or instruction. Many people self-instruct themselves on how to operate certain programs through trial and error, by experimenting with different buttons do and associating them with occurring actions. Through experience and continuous usage, it becomes easy for users to identify and predict what commands each icon does.  The symbols in a GUI can be thought of as “visual metaphors” that take the place of text commands. We “read” those symbols like we do for words. We call the left-pointing arrow in an Internet browser the “back” button rather than the “arrow” button, and the looking glass button is universally interpreted as “search” rather than “looking glass”.

In Peirce’s concept of the sign, he identifies three classes of signs, the icons, indices, and symbols. He defines icons as being similar to and resembling to the semiotic object physically, and an index as a sign that interrelates its their semiotic objects through either actual or physical imagined connection, while symbols are not physically related to the actual semiotic object, but rather create a certain association in the viewer, such as a corporate logo which does not resemble the signified corporate in any way but immediately reminds the viewer of it, and even emotions and perceptions they have towards that corporation just by seeing the logo. In the GUI, all three of those types are present. Some signs are icons, in that they physically resemble their respective commands or associated programs – for instance the icons of Mac applications like notes, calendar, and address book. Other signs are indices, they represent their function in a metaphoric sense, like the looking glass example mentioned above, and like the scissors symbol that stands for the “cut” command. Others are symbols, such as the logos of software and applications, which we have learned to recognize instantly, like the compass logo of the Safari browser.

How many of those signs can you recognize?

External Representation in Political Caricatures

Pictorial expression is a powerful kind of external representation, which in many cases surpasses the written word by not being limited to cultural and linguistic differences, and in that it accommodates a very wide range of audiences. An example of visual expression is political caricatures, which are often simple drawings that convey & sup-up complex narratives or theories.  Those caricatures use a kind visual “shorthand” that relies on symbolism, where objects are used to represent ideas, and are arranged or juxtaposed in a manner that helps convey the story or theory. So it is both the semantics (the images themselves) and the syntax (the arrangement) that allows them to work. Information conveyed through political caricatures is much more striking, memorable, and powerful than plain words

According to Jiajie Zhang, external representations, or shapes and positions of symbols, have certain properties that allow them to convey information for people to process in an integrative and dynamic manner. Such properties include that those representations provide memory aids – either long or short term – that help reduce the memory load on preceptors, as symbolism in caricatures does. The exaggeration of certain qualities in their drawings (such as exaggerating facial features of political figures to make them comic) allows for those images to stick in the viewer’s mind. Also, those representations need to hold information that is easy to perceive with minimum effort yet be formulated explicitly, and minimize abstraction of ideas to aid understanding and processing, which is done in caricatures by using drawings of concrete objects to represent abstract concepts.

A recent example and trend of political caricatures is seen in the Syrian Revolution. Protestors heavily rely on those caricatures in communicating their demands, feelings, and ideas. In Kafranbel, a small town in the suburbs of the Idlib province, political caricatures have become a nationwide – even international – phenomenon, where this town, previously unheard of, gained stardom and fame among Syrians and people following the revolution all over the world. It is frequently referred to as “the icon of the revolution” and its caricature banners are considered as powerful summaries of events and ideas that represent the whole of Syria. Here are a couple of examples:

In this caricature, sectarianism, which is an abstract concept, is pictured as concrete object – a balloon – being blown by Assad and infiltrators of the revolution (again, hypocrisy is pictured as a mask being worn by an infiltrator) and the revolution, pictured as a person wearing the Syrian flag, pops this balloon. It serves to explain how Assad is the cause of any sectarianism present, and how the revolution is eliminating it.

Similarly, in this example, Assad is shown as if he is a  battery low on charge, where his biggest ally and supporter, Vladimir Putin, plugs him with a charger. It conveys how Russian support to the Assad dictatorship has been the main reason why he has lasted this long.

Finally, here are a couple of interesting quotes on political caricatures by Dr. Paul Parker, a political science professor from Truman State University:

“Relying on symbolism and caricature, experimenting in fresh imagery, political cartoons help people think about politics. Whether their purpose is to promote the status quo, raise social concerns, or to spur people to fight hard for change, political cartoons have changed the face of history.”

“Political cartoons are a unique creation–pictorial editorial and artistic social commentary. The medium of the political cartoon, which combines the political and the artistic with journalism, allows them to make social commentary beyond the boundaries of the written word.”




Dan Youra – The Art of Editorial Cartoons & Political Caricature

Jiajie Zhang and Vimla L. Patel, Distributed cognition, representation, and affordance. University of Texas at Houston / Columbia University

New Forms of Language?

Written communication on the web and via mobile phones can be considered as one of the primary methods of communication nowadays, where people are increasingly using instant messaging, emails, wall posts, tweets, and other similar methods to stay in touch and exchange information. The structure and form of language used for such communications differs from standard, formal language. Most of the time, and particularly in informal situations, language used for such communication does not follow the rules and grammar of formal language. Simple examples would be using shortcuts rather than full words, like the use of “u” in place of “you”, and “i” is rarely capitalized, and so on.

However, this does not mean that emerging web language trends do not follow rules; they just follow new sets of rules. As mentioned in Chomsky’s Revolution article, the evolution of language structure happens based on the needs of communication and according to how those needs are served best. In our digital information age, where the speed of communication is a main characteristic, shortcuts and abbreviations in written language are being used to facilitate this speed. In addition, those changes are not only affecting written language, but are touching upon spoken language as well. For instance, popular abbreviations that originated in web and text messaging communications, such as “fyi” and “omg” are now being used in spoken language and have become popular and widespread in recent years especially among younger internet users.

Those changes are not affecting English and English-speakers, but also speakers of other languages. For instance, a new form of written Arabic which is very popular on the web emerged and spread with the internet. In this form, Latin letters are used rather than Arabic letters in writing, and even use numbers to represent certain Arabic letters that are absent from the Latin alphabet (for example, using “7” in place of the Arabic letter “ح”, which has a sharp H sound). This form of language is even well known among Arabs as “Arabeezyah” which is a word that merges the Arabic words for Arabic and English together. It mainly started due to the lack of Arabic alphabet on many computer and mobile phone systems, as well as English being the internet’s dominant language, where people are generally more familiar with English interfaces, and are faster and more efficient when typing in English. This language trend is so widespread that it is being used for domain names of many Arabic websites (eg: and elsewhere. Also, Arabic speakers have adopted a wide range of new words that have to do with the internet from English. The words “post”, “admin”, “group”, “like”, “tag”, and others are all regularly used within both written and spoken Arabic conversations, and seem to have become a normal and natural part of it.


Some pictures from the internet on “3rbeezeyah” language. The picture on the right is a guide to which Arabic letter each numeral represents. The picture on the left translates to “You can now write in Arabeezyah”

This picture shows a website header that also uses “Arabeezyah” to form the website name.