Author Archives: Wanyu Zheng

About Wanyu Zheng

I am a 2nd year CCT and Graduate Associate at CNDLS. My passion lies in new media communications, graphic design and Chinese poems.

Unpack Media Interfaces: The Interaction Between Interface and Our Mind & Its Complexity


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With a desire to enter the web product design field in my future career, I was especially interested in our discussion of the media interface in two weeks ago. Galloway made an ambitious argument about the effect of interface: he does not view the interface a stable object, but a multiplicity of processes; he does not want to study interface as a “thing”, but a technique of mediation or interaction.

When I open a book discussing the new media interface we access everyday, it mostly tells the narrow sense of the interface, for example the picture below asks us to focus on different product design steps including design presentation, user data collection, model test, and interface feedback. These points appear to be practical but superficial to me, since the relationship between the software and ideology, the complexity behind this design process is rarely being explored. Why the interface of Google homepage stays nearly the same across so many years? I believe the answer is much complicated than “because it’s clean and simple”. What does it mean when “Photoshop” becomes a verb? In my essay, I want to discover how interface shapes our cognition and ideology, and in turn how our understanding of the world decides the way that new media interface is designed. Lev Manovich might call this the “poetics” of interface.

Now for me the biggest problem is to find several certain cases as the entry of my topic, otherwise it will get too broad. And I need to get my ideas more into shape so that I can make a clear point of view.

(Screen Capture from http://www.zurb.com/apps)

Reading Notes:

An interface is not something that appears before you but rather is a gateway that opens up and allows passage to some place beyond.  —- Galloway, P30

An interface, for Galloway, is “not a thing”; it is “always an effect” — a technique of mediation or interaction. The conceptual move here departs from the object-centered approach taken by critics such as McLuhan, for whom media objects are technological extensions of the human body…    — Patrick Jagoda

An interface, Galloway argues, is not a stable object; it is a multiplicity of processes. In other words, an interface is not merely a laptop LCD or a television screen. It is not the Windows 8 operating system or Mac OS X. It is not a hypermediated heads-up display of the contemporary videogame with its myriad forms of information …   — Patrick Jagoda

Affordances are the allowable actions specified by the environment coupled with the properties of the organism. In distributed cognition, affordances can be considered as distributed representations extended across the environment and the organism.  —- Zhang, Jiajie, P337

 

Important Concepts:

Interface

Software

Meaning making

Mediation

Mediology

Distributed Cognition

Complexity

New Media

Affordance

Product Design

 

Resources that give me inspiration and help me explore this topic:

Alexander GallowayThe Interface Effect (Cambridge, UK; Malden, MA: Polity, 2012). Excerpt from Chapter 1, “The Unworkable Interface.”

Patrick Jagoda, “The Next Level: Alexander R. Galloway’s ‘The Interface Effect’.” LA Review of Books, 1.25.2013.

http://www.zurb.com/

Lev ManovichSoftware Takes Command (ebook version, 2008), excerpt, attend especially to the section on “Cultural Software”.

Andy ClarkSupersizing the Mind: Embodiment, Action, and Cognitive Extension (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, USA, 2008), excerpts

Living with Complexity Donald A. Norman

Don’t make me think: A Common Sense Approach to Web Usability, Steve Krug

Zhang, Jiajie, and Vimla L. Patel. “Distributed Cognition, Representation, and Affordance.” Pragmatics & Cognition 14, no. 2 (July 2006): 333-341.

Ok, glass, post a blog.


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Wanyu Zheng

At first, I thought Google Glass was a smartphone terminator – consider how many functions/components it has taken from a smartphone: messages are sent via voice control, information is displayed on the glasses like screen, and pictures/videos are captured by a first person view camera. Time Magazine recognized it as one of the “Best Inventions of the Year 2012”, yet this pair of glass would not be much of an invention, but an assemblage of existed media. Wait a second, isn’t this re-mediation? When McLuhan pointed out that all media were extensions of men, did he realize that all media would also be extensions of media themselves? I am hoping that Debray’s Mediology method will help me in the following analysis.

Dissection: Re-Mediation

The picture below shows an earlier version of the design of Google glass. And now it is as light as a few ounces but is implanted with a hands-off HD camera, a touchpad on the side of Glass to navigate, an oval speaker on the inside of the battery pod, a transparent LCD which could show information on the plastic cube in front of the user’s right eye. The interaction between the Google glass technology and human works mainly through the voice commands – which will certainly remind us of “siri”. It has support for Wi-Fi and blue tooth, and even allows USB charging and has 12 GB memory that syncs information to Google Cloud. Insofar these technologies may sound advanced, but none of them seems surprising or innovative to me, since I have experienced similar things earlier on an iPhone. If so, why are people crazy about it? What gives the assemblage device so much significance? 

 Surveillance and Capture: Freedom or Panopticon

A major difference between the Glass and an iPhone is that the hands-free camera on the Glass is from first person point of view, so that what we record is what we see, and we are able to capture the world ahead of us more frequently. With the constant capture, the Glass appears to be a dangerous one. We can hardly be aware of whether we are being monitored, and may fall into a panopticon like what we’ve learned in 506. The “hands-free” is now making us action-limited, and even mentally stressed.

Augmented Reality: Alone Together Again?

A few weeks ago I discussed the bad sides of Facebook, one of which argues how social media makes people so addicted to it that weakens our interpersonal relationship/communication. Sherry Turkle, the MIT scholar called this situation “Alone Together”. As for Google Glass, while it provides us more effective and efficient information, it also brings us more info-glut. The augmented reality function makes the Glass possible to become a “good-helper” of human beings – like the saying “Human’s idleness will bring us to the new technology”, but I doubt that whether we are truly closer to the reality. Like the Google Arts Project, Benjamin would say the loss of aura is a good thing, since it allows us to be creative and share information to wider audience. However, imagine that I am standing in front of the metro entrance, instead of stepping in to check the next train, I ask my Glass first: “ok, glass, when does next blue line train come?” At this point, are we closer to the real metro, or being more drifted apart from it by the technology we love? If I can ask the Glass to translate Chinese to English, is there any need for me to learn English at the first place? This comes to my big concern: Google glass is likely to drive us apart from the real world and from each other. We don’t want the Glass to have negative effects on the human-human interaction while we are busy with the human-technology interaction.

Interface – A Glass Without Glass

One funny thing about Google Glass is that it is called “glass” but only applies the frame of a real glass, not the original function, concept and material of glasses – it won’t protect your eyes. This design pattern happens all the time in other kinds of digital media. A photo editing software is called “Photoshop” while it barely has anything to do with buying or selling photos; an E-book always has zoom-in function while we can never zoom-in with our fingers when reading a real book. In the new media/ digitalized world, the interface is not only a channel for us to communicate with the product, but also an alternative interpretation of the real things. This points to the new meaning making of new media, which I’ve found really fascinating. Google Glass may have the chance to become a symbol, a cultural representation in the post-Google era.

Now it seems to be an endless topic to talk about. I’ll have to pause and say: “okay, glass, post a blog.”

 

References:

http://www.nbcnews.com/technology/gadgetbox/google-glass-specs-revealed-one-day-battery-life-bone-conducting-1C9374243

http://www.techradar.com/us/news/video/google-glass-what-you-need-to-know-1078114

https://www.google.com/glass/help/#getting-to-know-glass

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Google_Glass

Walter Benjamin, “The Work of Art in the Era of its Technological Reproducibility (1936; rev. 1939).

Regis Debray, “What is Mediology?” Le Monde Diplomatique, Aug., 1999. Trans. Martin Irvine.

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

http://www9.georgetown.edu/faculty/irvinem/CCTP748/CCTP748-syllabus.html

 

 

 

It’s Love, Not War


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Wanyu Zheng

As for this week’s reading, especially for Manovich’s piece, I’ve gained some mind-blowing thoughts, which stem from sentences like: “All intellectual work is now ‘software study’”, “I think of software as a layer that permeates all areas of contemporary societies.” (Manovich, 7) All these point to the social effect the software brought about, endow software/interface with social and cultural functions, and discuss their role as our extended mind and milieu. I couldn’t help but thinking of how my 6 year old cousin could easily playing around with an iPad without any instructions. As a child like my cousin, he is used to the fact that digital technology has permeated every sphere of his life. Certainly, professor Irvine’s wiki question is pretty urgent: admit that the interface has such tremendous impact on both human mind and social functioning, what is the thing behind/in the interface that changes us?

It occurs to me that this question may come to the work of a product designer. Consider, the search engine start page for example.

1999

2013

Here are two screenshots of Google’s homepage; one from May 1999 and one from now. Although the history is as long as 13 years and web has dramatically changed over time, Google’s search page doesn’t seem to change much. It was easy to navigate/use Google back in 1999, it’s still easy to start now. The message conveyed is that this interface has been designed well enough so anyone could use it, no matter the user is a grandma or a child – this is the same as the iPad case of my little cousin. To take a further step, I would say by making the homepage and search bar simple and clear, by enabling the user to start the search with one click, Google also lets people know how fast/immediate it takes to acquire information. In Steve Krug’s best-seller book Don’t Make Me Think, the key concept/principle of designing website is presented in a few words “Don’t make me think”, this instant classic on Web usability is still being discovered by people everyday. This is perhaps the golden rule of interface design: always putting ourselves in the position of the user, always assuming the user never think and has very few time when browsing the sites, and try to be simple, friendly and reliable. These simple steps have been embedded in people’s mind and they have constantly been using Google as a information search tool, as the word Google became a verb and associated with special social meaning- “Google is your friend” – a long time ago.

The more approachable and user-friendly the interface/software is, the more dependable it becomes. This involves a strong love from the designer to both the interface and the user. Here is my custom Google page, which was unsurprisingly called iGoogle. The interface becomes much complex than the general one, but since it is what “I” set, and as the word “I” has been capitalized, I won’t feel complicated when using the page. It gives me choices, spoils my music taste (coldplay header), provides me multiple functions (weather report, news blog), and even entertains me with super cute game plug-ins. At this point, the interface has become a part of the user’s belongings, and the user has been presented on the interface. Who will deny himself/herself and knock his/her own ideas out of the window? By closely linking the user and the interface, the website succeeds in attracting people and transforming them into its followers.


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

At last, I think of the high risky long-distance relationship. More than twenty years ago my parents wrote letter to communicate and last their relationship when they were apart, and now my boyfriend and I constantly communicate with each other by using software like QQ (Chinese Instant Messenger) and Skype. Printing media was the bond of love in the past, while digital media becomes the bond of love at present. The same passion lies in the two “software” (letter and online message), and they have amazingly similar interfaces: a letter is a piece of paper with text written on it, while in an online message box the same conversation goes on. The love/passion for a world of good visible interface goes on as well. Similarly, our course may end, but will never stop.

 

Lev ManovichSoftware Takes Command (ebook version, 2008), excerpt, attend especially to the section on “Cultural Software”.

Steve Krug: Don’t Make Me Think: A Common Sense Approach to Web Usability, 2nd Edition [Paperback]

Nick Hughes, Here’s Google’s Homepage 1999 vs. 2012. Can You Tell The Difference? http://soentrepreneurial.com/2012/01/09/heres-googles-homepage-1999-vs-2012-can-you-tell-the-difference/

 

 

New Media Ourselves to Death


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Wanyu Zheng

In the winter of 2011, I set up a Chinese “Tumblr” page called New Media Ourselves to Death. (http://zhan.renren.com/communications) Instead of making a tribute to the famous book Amusing Ourselves to Death, I wanted to emphasize the power of new media at the time that how it grew a rush life. I was fascinated by this revolutionary power and couldn’t help imaging how it had changed and would continuously change everything. Apple devices and social networking sites have saved our time and wasted our time simultaneously, and we always enjoy them. I like Manovich’s database theory, as new media presents a world of database: new media forms are such compatible and inclusive that all the videos, texts, images are archived as files on personal computers and are organized yet fragmented. “The database presents the world as a list of items, and it refuses to order its list.” (Manovich, Language of New Media, 41) I’d say my current desktop is a good example: I’m doing multiple things simultaneously on one platform/interface, but by opening all the windows, web pages and software, I’ve interacted with different interfaces and am able to construct my own desktop database.

 

Right in the place we take this course – CCT studio, I noticed an old yet potentially evolutionary device is silently standing at the back of the room, which was designed as “Microsoft Surface” in its time (2004). It was perhaps the earliest tablet ever and the ancestor of the current Microsoft Surface, iPad & Nexus X. This device looks like a heavy metal desk with electronic glass screen on its surface, and there are complicated wire cable and circuit board inside the desk a black-box alike body. The screen allows both direct multi-touch and mouse control through a computer. What’s even more amazing is that this device is installed with software and applications for gaming and working. In short, it’s a desktop sized Microsoft surface. The circuit board inside is an interface providing the networks for wires and technological components to connect each other, which generates the machine – machine interaction; the glass screen is an interface for users to directly “talk” with the machine, which involves human-technology interaction; the software in the device can be viewed as interface as well, since it enables the user to enjoy the process of playing games: the action itself is the transmission of design, code, and ideas. Although not telling a story, this device is such a collection of items that each of them has the same significance as the other, creating an integration of different levels of interface.

Standing in front of the precursory tablet, I felt so excited that I was even picturing what the future of desk would look like: a neat, large, plain desk with nothing on it. By touching any point, the desk surface may transform to any media forms we want, a large piece of paper, a pc/mac system desktop, a social networking site platform, a digital piano, or simply a piece of solid wood. It obeys all the five characteristics concluded by Manovich: Numerical Representation- digital, numbers, work with sound and image in one platform; modularity – we change any form/page but won’t change the structure (the desk itself); automation – the ability to accomplish the task is automated; variability – variability and multiformity during the media convergence process; transcoding – data can be read in many different ways. Most importantly, the future desk has already existed, conveying an idea of the abundance of today’s new media.

In my “New Media Ourselves To Death” page, I posted Steve Jobs’ classic lines when introducing the first generation iPhone at the launch in San Francisco on January 2007:

“Today, we’re introducing three revolutionary products of this class. The first one is a widescreen iPod with touch controls. The second is a revolutionary mobile phone. And the third is a breakthrough Internet communications device. An iPod, a phone, and an Internet communications device. Are you getting it? These are not three separate devices, this is one device, and we are calling it iPhone.”

New media never dies; it re-mediates.

 

References:

Lev Manovich, The Language of New Media (excerpts). Cambridge: MIT Press, 2001.
A very influential book in the field. Read selections from chap. 1 (What is New Media) and chap. 2 (“The Interface”)

http://zhan.renren.com/communications

Steve Jobs Introducing iPhone At the MacWorld 2007:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x7qPAY9JqE4

 

10 Things I Hate About Facebook


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Wanyu Zheng

“I hate your big dumb combat boots and the way you read my mind.
I hate you so much it makes me sick — It even makes me rhyme.
……
I hate it when you’re not around and the fact that you didn’t call.
But mostly I hate the way I don’t hate you — Not even close, not even a little bit, not even at all.”
— Film line from 10 Things I Hate About You

The film line above only serves as an interesting citation and is related to my emotion for Facebook/Renren. When speaking of Facebook, I’m mainly talking about either Facebook or a Chinese version – Renren, which I browse once in a while everyday. I’ve written about Facebook like ten times in my past papers/thesis, but this leading metaphor of what we call the “social network” has occupied such a great deal in our daily life: our time, our mind, our capability to communicate, but has never relieved our loneliness. To follow Debray’s theory, I hope to once again analyze Facebook – its “higher social functions” in its relationship with the means and mediums of transmission. This is pretty much like our first mini-project on 506: unpacking a technology/ de-blackbox. Even the most mundane technologies that we take for granted may become the butterfly wings.

Self-betrayal

The online self-exposures and privacy threats did not start from Facebook, but it indeed is the pioneer of the real-name social networking sites. In Myspace, we at most stay behind the computer and convey our insights and set free our interests on music, movie and trivial matters. We are surrounded by the consistent surveillance and captured all the time. In the textbox question “what’s on your mind”, the words we type do not often truly represent ourselves, but the me-self, the unreal image we manage to create on the public sphere.

Hacker Logic Kills Art

In an early book describing the definitive history of Facebook, The Accidental Billionaires: The Founding of Facebook: A Tale of Sex, Money, Genius and Betrayal, it introduced how Mark Zuckerberg created the basic frame of Facebook by using the color blue, which in the eye of a hacker/engineer is probably neat and elegant. The design of the site’s structure has slightly changed over time, but the main functions and the color blue stays, which lead an inherent logic that may kill creativity and artistic expression when we frequently use the site or design a similar site.

Alone Together

Admittedly, a new media platform such as a social network site or a smart phone seems to create a “smart world” for us, which gives us a sense that this is normal and necessary. However, this necessity appears to be ridiculous when people gather at a dinner table absorbed in their cellphones instead of talking to each other. There’s a joke concerning this point, “The furthest distance in the world is not between life and death, but you are texting messages when I stand in front of you.” If the communication services of new media platforms have in turn impeded our face-to-face interaction, what’s the meaning of a “contact book of faces” then? In Shurry Turkle’s book Alone Together, she summarizes this situation as “alone together”, that “we expect more from technology and less from each other.”

Facebook Addiction/Sydrome

A typical Facebook syndrome is that you constantly check how many people like your posts, spend a long time on Facebook but find yourself less productive in your work or studies, and use Facebook as an escape for relaxation and pleasure. To be frank, I have all these “Facebook addiction” signs above. Although I cannot find an effective solution to get rid of the syndrome, but the truth is: the richer my real life is, the less will I focus on the virtual life.

 Since the Facebook platform is not a piece of hardware, I’m unable to unpack it by its material components but put more emphasis on the theoretical, spiritual level. Certainly, it also requires the real world relationship and interpersonal communication, the support of Internet, and the website design programs to make it work. I just named a few, which mostly concerns with Facebook’s effects on human mind, and the number 10 is an analogy to describe these “a few”. Daniel Chandler made a good point in his piece: “The significance of media transformations to those involved depends on resonances deriving from the nature and use of a medium rather than from explicit ‘messages’. ” (Chandler,1995) Should there be a McLuhan in the digital Era, I very much look forward.

References:

Regis Debray, “What is Mediology?” Le Monde Diplomatique, Aug., 1999. Trans. Martin Irvine.

Daniel Chandler, “Processes of Mediation.”

http://www.foxnews.com/health/2013/01/24/addicted-to-facebook-study-shows-users-are-lonelier/

Working With Mediology: From Theory and Hypotheses to Analytical Method. Martin Irvine https://docs.google.com/document/d/1_uEIJ5I4Sf6Jue45Fb_1CwTHbIEDD7H3lT5BHxLeV1Q/preview

Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other. Sherry Turkle. Basic Books. 2012.

The Accidental Billionaires: The Founding of Facebook: A Tale of Sex, Money, Genius and Betrayal. Ben Mezrich. Anchor. 2010.

http://www.facebook.com

http://www.renren.com

From A Post Card To The Loss Of Aura


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At the beginning of March, when I went to the National Gallery of Art for the second time, I was amazed by the Pre-Raphaelite exhibitions. Ophelia, a famous painting by Sir John Everett Millais around 1851, remarkably presented the drowning Ophelia from Shakespeare’s Hamlet. The woman in the water lies quietly and desperately in the stream and are surrounded by “the symbolic flowers that stand for death, innocence and love in vain”, according to the description in its Google Art Project page. I stared at the painting for a long time and was fascinated with the colors of plants Millais used, the ethereal beauty of the woman’s hair and dress he represented, and the dolorous yet peaceful atmosphere he created. I was so excited that I bought a post card of this painting after the exhibition. However, when I went back home, the whole marvelous mystery the painter created somehow disappeared, and I could never have the same feeling for the post card as what I felt in front of the real one.

Ophelia, by John Millais, 1851

(Ophelia, by John Millais, 1851)

In the post card case, I encountered what Benjamin would call “the loss of aura”. “What withers in the age of the technological reproducibility of the work of art is the latter’s aura.”(Benjamin, 254) “We define the aura of the latter as the unique apparition of a distance, however near it may be.” (Benjamin, 255) The aura is the authenticity, the unique, special thing in the original. The aura is mom’s recipe, and you can never make the exact same taste of food by following mom’s recipe. The reason why we say the author does not die also lies in here, since the author always has the aura, which even the hi-fidelity digital representation cannot replicate. The power of the author is passed along through reproductions. Every time we capture the original, replicate or reproduce it, we are making a tribute to the author, where the ecstasy of influence appears as what we read last week in Jonathan Lethem’s piece.

Is the loss of aura a good thing? Or, is Google Art Project a good thing? Most might struggle when answering the former question but wouldn’t hesitate to say yes when facing the latter. Benjamin says yes to both. Although we lose an emotion, the loss of aura, or the mechanical/digital reproduction gives Mona Lisa to us, so that we can collect works of art through post cards or online exhibitions and build our own galleries of art, and we are able to travel together with Leonardo Da Vinci. The works of art now have such strong social function: “For the first time in world history, technological reproducibility emancipates the works of art from its parasitic subservience to ritual.” (Benjamin, 256) The cold function of the works of art to general Read Only is replaced by the fact that we could all have them. They can be educational, lively, social, and aesthetical at the same time. Instagram provides us the museum without walls, Facebook photo album provides us the museum without walls, and so does the Google Art Project. “The decontextualized representations of works of art in photographic reproductions in books enabled a reconceptualization of art by styles, abstractions that render a history of cultural objects into ‘art history.’ ” (Malraux, 3) Children of the modern society have the chance to talk with the great thoughts through these representations, which make the great thoughts don’t stand too high above the masses.

The Hallway from West Wing to East Wing in National Gallery of Art, photo by Wanyu Zheng

(The passage from West Wing to East Wing in the National Gallery of Art, DC. Photo by Wanyu Zheng)

I’m not yet convinced by the benefits a digital art museum brings us and cannot say I really enjoy the loss of aura. If I’ll have a kid one day, I’d try my best to give him/her a taste of the aura, take him/her to a real art museum, and whisper: “See, they were once so silent.”

 

References:

Walter Benjamin, “The Work of Art in the Era of its Technological Reproducibility” (1936; rev. 1939).

André Malraux, “La Musée Imaginaire (The Imaginary Museum)”.

Google Art Project: Ophelia. http://www.googleartproject.com/collection/tate-britain/artwork/ophelia-sir-john-everett-millais/320337/

 

Everything is A Remix


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Wanyu Zheng

Reading this week’s materials, I can’t help but think of another course I am taking in this semester: Remix Methods, in which I’ve learned that everything can be viewed as a remix once you recognize what it’s referring to and its context. The term remix was originally applied to music, then developed by scholars like Kirby Ferguson and Lawrence Lessig and became a method that “combines or edits existing materials to produce something new”. The idea that “everything is a remix” has a lot in common with Daniel Chandler’s description of intertextuality: “No-one today can read a famous novel or poem, look at a famous painting, listen to a famous piece of music… without being conscious of the contexts in which the text had been reproduced, drawn upon, alluded to, parodied and so on. ” We are living in a world of the flourishing of Read & Write Culture: everyone can be productive and publish their own works (text, image, music, video) through new media platforms. If Barthes treats this possibility as “the death of the author, the birth of the reader”, I’d rather say this is “the reunion of authors and readers”: there is no boundary anymore.

Everything is A Remix: The Matrix

I find myself very much enjoyed the presentation A Matrix for The Matrix, which evoked my memory of a great many films I watched that had such strong intertextuality and dialogism with other cultural products. In fact, I’ve seen a remix video of The Matrix made by Rob G. Wilson indicating the cultural elements from other films and animations that it has derived from, and most of the comparisons are crowd-sourced by remix fans.

A text does not die but is passed along through generations of authors. This is like how Barthes characterizes a text: “ Text is experienced only in an activity of production… The Text cannot stop…” (Barthes, 157) This ecstasy appears to be huge when the influence is larger, and the more famous the original work is, the more frequent it may be cited and remixed. When I realized this fact, I subconsciously started to pay more attention to the remixed things around me in the daily life. I want to state that they have clear difference from plagiarism, because a cheap copy cannot introduce anything new while a remixed artifact always brings new understanding of our past, present and future works. Somehow, the excessive emphasis on copyright and intellectual property is placing a huge threaten to our free culture, and may kill people’s creative power. The rising of the grass-rooted writers can be a characteristic of the fan culture, and these amateurs basically irrigate their reproductions with enthusiasm and love: once their love can spur the creation of a new aura of the original, they can never be blamed.

My Own Experiment

Ten days ago I took a walk in the West Building in the National Gallery of Art, and found that even in the classic art collections, the intertextuality – the unbounded connection between art masterpieces from Middle Age to the present are everywhere. I’ve made a video, a remix of the relationships between classic works of art I’ve observed in the exhibition.

Video Details:
The design of the West Building (1937) by architect John Russell Pope was in a neoclassical style with a domed rotunda modeled on the interior of the Pantheon in Rome.
Giorgione and Titian’s Portrait of a Venetian Gentleman, c. 1510:
As a Venice art master of the renaissance, Titian had an obsession with colors, which obviously reflected on his painting that the color of the characters and sceneries might be based on the different colors of the real Venice in 16th Century.
Raphael’s The Small Cowper Madonna, c. 1505:
Raphael’s paintings of Madonna and Christ Child often had a similar theme and composition with what his teacher Perugino did. Apparently Raphael was hugely influenced by Perugino but had his own expression and spirit of art – the humanity during the renaissance. In Raphael’s paintings, the image of God was more vivid and more human.
Paine’s Graft 
In the Sculpture Garden, there is a tall silver dendroid sculpture, which recombines the elements of nature and presents a distinctive artistic expression of human desire.

 

References:

1. Daniel Chandler, “Intertextuality.” [Useful Overview; but primarily a literary structuralist take on the concept, not wideningout to dialogism and generarive principles.]

2. Roland Barthes, “From Work to Text” (1971; trans. 1977; excerpt from Image, Music, Text).

3. A Matrix for The Matrix (Irvine) [presentation]

4. Kirby Ferguson, Everything is a Remix

5. Lessig, Lawrence. 2008. Remix: Making Art and Commerce Thrive in the Hybrid Economy.  Penguin Press.

6. Jonathan Lethem, “The Ecstasy of Influence,” Harpers Magazine, Feb. 2007.

From my name to modern poetry


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Wanyu Zheng

This week’s readings are apparently an extension of those of last week. When Barthes mentioned that “Myth is a pure ideographic system” (Barthes,126), I can’t help but think of my name in Chinese ideographic characters. He uses ideographic system as an equation to myth, and I want to reversely describe the “mystery” of Chinese ideograph. When you see the name “Wanyu”, you see nothing but a hard-to-pronounce word, while in fact it runs like “莞雨” in pictography. Modern Chinese characters have transformed into a distortion of the original implications of early pictographic languages, take my name for example, “莞”(wan) and“雨”(yu) are not linked but two different characters: in my name,“莞”(wan) means a slight smile, “雨”(yu) means rain. From the shape of these two characters, “雨”(yu) still possess the original symbol of rain with four spots/drops under a roof; while“莞”(wan) carries the meaning of smile yet originally means a particular grass, which is a signifier that has multiple signified. This well fits in Barthes’ claim: “The relation which unites the concept of the myth to its meaning is essentially a relation of deformation.” (Barthes,121)

How do we identify cultural semiotics then? Since Western and Eastern people’s language systems are quite different from each other, do they actually have different cultural semiotics? I hardly think so, since language is not culture. “We understand culture as the nonhereditary memory of the community, a memory expressing itself in a system of constraints and prescriptions.” (Lotman, 213) Let me illustrate a poem that resonances people across borders:

I climbed the door and opened the stairs
Said my pajamas and pull on my prayers
Then turned off the bed and crawled into the light
All because you kissed me goodnight

This anonymous poem upsets the intrinsic rule of linguistic, or to say syntax, but still touches upon your emotion. No matter in English or in Chinese, the poem possesses awry syntax but impressive meaning, the character’s ecstasy is hidden in the jumbled sentences that structure such a beautiful piece. The memory of natural human emotion, love is inside us regardless of cultural backgrounds, relative constraints and prescriptions. Although culture may “appear as a system of signs” at first, the continuous memory of some cultures may turn out the same. This nonhereditary memory is always beyond nation, race and language; it works as a whole.

In college I took a course called Modern Poetry Studies. During the first class, the teacher (Leng Shuang) asked us to read modern poetry of Europe and America before reading any modern Chinese poems. He did not at first introduce us the famous “New Moon” school poet Xu Zhimo, but recommended T.S. Eliot and Rainer Maria Rilke. He later explained that the reason was that modern Chinese poetry in a great degree mixed the poetic image of both Western poetry and classic Chinese poetry: We might already understood the meaning of “plum blossom” as a classic image in Chinese culture, but was not enough familiar with the implication of the lonely “wind flag” in Rilke’s poem. “Although people always assumed there was a great divide, there has never been a crack between the classic Chinese literature and modern Chinese literature.” My teacher said. He illustrated this idea with a famous modern poem, In the Mirror, composed by Zhang Zao, who wrote this best-known poem in age 22.

In the mirror   by Zhang Zao

As Long as there are thoughts that bring regret
plum blossoms fall:
watching her swim to the other shore, perhaps
or climbing a pine ladder,
there’s beauty in dangerous things.
Nothing beats watching her return on horseback,
cheeks warm with her shame,
head lowered, answering the Emperor.
A mirror always waits for her.
Let her sit at her usual place in the mirror
look out the window.
As long as there are thoughts that bring regret
plum blossoms fall and cover the southern mountain

When it goes to its basic typological features, the poem has a deep meaning of time going by, reminding me of Escher’s paintings which always filled up with the symbols of running time and the circle of life. A mirror can either stand for the change in space and time, or the change of the person’s emotion. To take a closer look, the words “plum blossom”, “southern mountain”, “horseback”, “mirror”, “emperor” are all classical poetic image/element in China, while the other words “swim”, “pine ladder”, “shore”, “dangerous’, are exogenous to ancient Chinese literature but more often occurred in modern western culture. There are just a few sentences building these scattered scenes, but a whole movie is built in the poem. I find the poem fascinating since its author Zhang Zao tried to use modern language to present the ancient artistic conception. This is such a great trial to recall the forgetting memory in one’s community by using current cultural semiotics.

References:

Yuri Lotman, “On the Semiotic Mechanism of Culture
Roland Barthes, Mythologies, “Myth Today” (excerpt from Mythologies, trans. Annette Lavers, 1984, pp. 107-45).
Irvine, “Introduction to Meaning Making, Symbolic Cognition, and Semiotics“. (Read section 5)
All because you kissed me goodbye, http://www.douban.com/note/153449801/
In the Mirror, http://www.douban.com/group/topic/10242671/

The crouching culture and hidden emotion in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon


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Wanyu Zheng

Being a Chinese director who’s been in the United States for many years, Ang Lee always seeks to present his understanding of Eastern culture with the comparison of Western culture: His Oscar winning film Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon is one. In my perspective, perhaps derived from Zhuang Zi, an ancient Taoist philosopher in China, Ancient Eastern culture is collectivism that values endurance and self-control, seeking some kind of infinite realm; Western culture is more of individualism that values courage and determination, seeking freedom and pleasure. The conflict between these two culture systems are embodied in Ang Lee’s film, and his interpretation of this conflict is conveyed by the signs and symbols that lies in the image and music of the film.

The story is around a stolen sword and several warriors. Li, a great warrior famous throughout Qing China decides to retire to the mountains. He asks Shu, the un-conceded love of his life to bring his treasured sword, the Green Destiny to an old friend. However, the sword is soon stolen by a mysterious assassin. All these lead to a teenage nobleman’s daughter, Yu, who is a martial artist at the crossroads of her life. In the clip below, Li and Yu are fighting in a bamboo forest, and the two relatively stands for two characters: the tranquil, repressed Eastern culture and the freedom seeking Western culture. 

In this bamboo-fight sequence, Li can be viewed as a symbol of the Eastern wisdom, which emphasizes subduing the activity with serenity. Li always stands on the top of the bamboo forest and rides the wave, even if Yu presses the bamboo really hard, Li never shakes but stands firm, waiting for the right time to rebound. The bright green color of the bamboo can also be interpreted as a symbol of the hidden emotion stirring inside these two characters: Li brings peace and calm to Yu’s heart as well as Yu affects Li with her courage and passion. The shots are full of panorama and wide, and the fighting scenes are not fierce but seem to be slow. These all show a special perspective from the director and certain emotions he wishes to convey through the film. Thus, the meaning of the film title Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon superficially stands for the powerful warriors and swordsmen in the film, but in fact appears to be the repressive emotion of each character, whose changes push the story forward.

Whether I am right in making such multi-layered interpretation might be explained in Eco’s model of the cultural encyclopedia: “the meaning of something is not a matter “correct” or “incorrect” interpretations, but rather an instance of an interpreter’s competence in engaging the cultural encyclopedia, the whole repertoire of symbolic resources available and known to a culture.” (Irvine, 24) My interpretation is actually a combination of sign and interpretation – Chinese swordsmen fly over the bamboos – which focuses on the semiotic process and historical continuity at the social and cultural level.

According to Peirce’s theory, the image of bamboo in the film is mere a sign and its indication of Chinese culture makes it a symbol, but if I want to combine the explicit meaning of bamboo with Ang Lee’s personal interpretation in the film like bamboo means emotion, the whole meaning making process will become much complicated than before. These symbols are so dynamic in human brain. “We think only in signs. These mental signs are of mixed nature; the symbol-parts of them are called concepts.” (Peirce, 10) Perhaps Peirce’s classic observation is the reason why a bamboo may become a representative of a culture, a fight can stand for the conflict between Eastern and Western cultures, and a film could not only show Eastern philosophy, but also the flows of hidden emotions that touch every audience across cultural barriers.

Movie Trailer:

References:

C. S. Peirce, “What is a Sign,” excerpt from Peirce, Charles S. Essential Pierce: Selected Philosophical Writings (1893-1913). Edited by Nathan Houser, Christian J. W. Kloesel, and Peirce Edition Project. Vol. 2. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1998.

Irvine, “Introduction to Meaning Making, Symbolic Cognition, and Semiotics” (begin here)
Read sections 1-4 of this book chapter in progress. We will use later sections next week.

Mieke Bal, “Semiotics for Beginners,” from Mieke Bal, On Meaning-Making: Essays in Semiotics. Sonoma, CA: Polebridge Press, 1994.

Mtime.com, Film Review of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon,  http://i.mtime.com/1118470/blog/6085452/, visited on Feb. 2013

imdb.com, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon(2000), http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0190332/?ref_=sr_1, visited on Feb. 2013

Media: In the Crossed Paths of Communication, Culture and Technology


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by Wanyu Zheng

[Gringoire]:
The little things always triumph over the large
And literature will kill architecture

[Frollo]:
The scholarly books will kill the cathedrals
The Bible will kill the Church, and man will kill God

This will kill that

— Florence, Notre-Dame de Paris Musical (1998), by Luc Plamondon

This opening song in the second act of the French musical Notre-Dame de Paris briefly and poetically presents the printing revolution that Gutenberg’s invention has raised during Renaissance. After reading this week’s pieces, I realize that the properties of printing media during Renaissance are amazingly similar to those of the digital media in our Information era. “Mcluhan saw the present age as a new Renaissance, a new sensory galaxy ushered in by electronic media that are capable of jolting our sensibilities as sharply as the printing press did earlier.” (Czitrom, 176) Lev Manovich concludes five characters of new media as numerical representation, modularity, automation, variability and transcoding, and I’ll say printing technology at its time matches some of these characters: it enables human the ability to do things more automated, and relatively makes every word on books a modular individual components, further more, by sampling all the shapes of letters into standard print text, it’s doing the same work with a binary system that digitalizes the information displayed on computers. 

Marshall McLuhan’s media theory has always been mind blowing to me, whenever I read his articles or other scholar’s comments on his contribution, I’d gain new understanding of media and its relationship to human society. The point was made as early as in 1964, and media forms in the world have changed profound enough since then, but McLuhan’s theory has never been “tarnished”. As for me, to say “the medium is the message” is like to say “knowledge is power”, what matters is not the message a medium itself carries, but the fact that a medium has brought to human society such tremendous change and power that any prior mediums didn’t achieve during the process of communication. The message would not exist without the medium, according to McLuhan, “This fact merely underlines the point that ‘the medium is the message’ because it is the medium that shapes and controls the scale and form of human association and action.”(McLuhan, 9) “His famous phrase, ‘the medium is the message,’ refers to the change in scale or pace or pattern that any extension of communications technology introduces into human affairs.” (Czitrom, 177) This idea with technological determinism is indeed optimistic about the meaning a new media form brings about, but one must start question: What is that change on earth? What do we mean by the power of media?

Although the word “new media” is largely concerned with the term “web”, new media is always a relative concept of the old media: when newspapers stemmed from the invention of the printing press, the newspaper was the new media of its age. “When media are new, they offer a look into the different ways that their jobs get constructed as such.” (Gitelman, 6) By saying “a look into the different ways” doesn’t solve our puzzle either, as McLuhan’s media theory actually emphasizes media’s social effects, which can span realms of culture, politics and psychology or human recognition. “The effects of media technology occur not on the conscious level of opinion and concepts, but on the subliminal level of sense ratios and patterns of perception.” (Czitrom, 177) At this point, when we talk about media we are talking about the “forms of social-political-cultural mediation” (Irvine, 3), we are talking about the recombination of a media type and its inseparable content. What discusses the power of media is Debray’s mediology theory, a method de-blackboxing the influence of the information transmission process. It’s a method to figure out what’s behind the scenes instead of only focusing on the inputs and outputs like Victor Hugo’s rhesis “this will kill that”.

The mystery of media is that although current new media are digitalizing and integrating all prior communication media forms, old media remain meaningful. I can’t help thinking the initial meaning of studying in the Communication, Culture and Technology program. The rapidly changing technology introduces us new possibilities of media forms, which take us into new mode of communication, and thus shape our culture. It seems that media is at the crossed paths of CCT: when Wired magazine pointed out that the definition of new media is that “media age of all for all communication”(New media, Baidu Baike, 2013), will there be a day that media are no longer merely the extension of human, but human agents themselves become the media/transmitter? A big if might be, one day the wireless systems will be implanted in human body.

 

References:

Regis Debray, “What is Mediology?” Le Monde Diplomatique, Aug., 1999. (Trans. Martin Irvine).

Daniel Czitrom, “Metahistory, Mythology, and the Media: The American Thought of Marshall McLuhan,” excerpt from Daniel J. Czitrom, Media and the American Mind: From Morse to McLuhan. Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 1982; read pp.172-182.

Marshall McLuhan, “The Medium is the Message,” (Excerpts from Understanding Media, The Extensions of Man, Part I, 2nd Edition; originally published, 1964). (See especially Part 1, “The Medium is the Message,” sections 1-3.).

Irvine, “Media Theory: An Introduction” (working draft of book chapter: overview of issues and ways of working)

Lisa Gitelman, Always Already New: Media, History, and the Data of Culture. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2008. Excerpt from Introduction. [Includes excellent bibliography of references.]

Lev Manovich, The Language of New Media, excerpt, The MIT Press, 2001

Read This Title As You Are a Human Being Who Understands English


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“We don’t read and write poetry because it’s cute. We read and write poetry because we are members of the human race. ”   — Mr.Keating, Dead Poets Society

A quote from the film Dead Poets Society may illustrate the light and beauty humans have discovered in poetry, as well as the primitive men read the distinct smell in the wind as a warning of a dangerous animal’s approaching. We used to recognize and interpret sign, and generate its meaning. Briefly, Deacon concludes: “Breaking down the term re-cognition says it all: to think [about something] again.” (Deacon, 77) Deacon’s piece at length talks about the interpretive process, the tricky relationship between Peirce’s “icon, index and symbol”. At first, the triad reasoning seemed confusing, until I found Deacon’s comment on Peirce’s contribution to the semiotics very interesting: “Peirce’s most fundamental and original insights about the process of interpretation: The difference between different modes of reference can be understood in terms of levels of interpretation.” (Deacon, 73) Indeed, the mystery of a sign is that it can be interpreted in a million ways: anything is a sign once it is interpreted as a sign. And that means, one thing can simultaneously be treated as an icon, an index, and a symbol as the content is defined by the context.

It’s a recursion, infinite creations in finite materials. Deacon does mention the word “recur”: “A languagelike Signal would exhibit a combinatorial form in which distinguishable elements are able to recur in different combinations.” (44) I find it fascinating. Think how many times a simple object “apple” has been interpreted and how fast these interpretations and meanings have gone through your brain. A picture of an apple is an icon when we see it, we think of the round, red, juicy apple, but wait, it becomes a symbol as the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden, a symbol of the original sin, also, isn’t it the apple that kills Alan Turing? And what about Steve Job’s Apple? The multiple mappings make our existing world so complex and colorful, and we as humans seem to naturally have the ability to associating, to make sense from nonsense, and make more senses out of that.

Take my meaningless title for instance, “Read This Title As You Are a Human Being Who Understands English”, if the person who reads it does not understand any language, he/she can’t see any words or letters but only the strokes of various shapes, maybe the character font is “cambria”, and the word size is “12”, at this point, the printed sentence is just an icon. It’s an index when I point out that it’s the title of this blog, to relate the sentence as a whole to the function of a title, and even a quote by myself. It becomes a symbol when you really read it and almost immediately understand its meaning. By that means, any words, sentences, letters, any languages are symbolic signs – Peirce’s symbols. By generating ideas and connecting different indexical signs, we create layers of symbolic significance, and that extends to metaphors. My sentence “Read this Title As You Are a Human Being Who Understands English” is no longer a simple sentence with literal meaning, but a metaphor for this week’s readings, a joke about semiotics and our mind. At this point, the metaphor is much more important than the language itself.

According to Lakoff, a metaphor goes deep into different domains of experience. “A metaphor can be understood as a mapping from a source domain to a target domain.”(Lakoff, pg190) How boring our lives would be without metaphors? Poetry will lose the depth of soul, and TV shows will lose their fun and vigour. Joe Wang, a Chinese comedian in America who has a PhD in bio-molecular, I always found his talk shows full of metaphors that are rich humor and let people laugh. In his performance at RTCA dinner, he joked about the questions from American history lessons: “Who is Benjamin Franklin?” And he thought: “The reason our convenience store gets robbed?” When asked: “What is the Second Amendment?” He thought again: “The reason our convenience store gets robbed?” Similar examples are too numerous to list, and my point is that, although we can treat thought as computation as Clark mentions in his piece, the great difference between human and machine lies in what the signs and symbols have endowed us: we don’t just follow the procedures but generate our existing ideas and keep digging new meaning in our lives. We laugh when we understand that new meaning, and the laugh itself is a representative of joy.

 

References:

Terrence W. Deacon, The Symbolic Species: The Co-evolution of Language and the Brain. New York, NY: W. W. Norton & Company, 1998. Excerpts from chapters 1 and 3.

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)

 

When colorless green ideas sleep furiously


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I was born and raised in a city where people spoken two languages: Nanchang dialect and Mandarin, which was relatively normal in China since each place had its local dialect apart from Mandarin Chinese. However, if taking a 40-minute bus from the city center of Nanchang to a neighbor town Nanchang county, I wouldn’t understand what people spoke there because they had a different dialect, an unknown tongue to me. This was also normal in China, especially southern China. Certainly, I would be able to communicate with people all across China since there exists the universal language for Chinese people – Mandarin. Language makes us apart, and in turn it brings us together.

Map of Chinese languages and dialects

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chomsky would say that the universal grammar is the language faculty in human brain instead of on their mouth. One point that Chomsky attempted to make in his “revolution” was that the purpose of language is NOT essentially communication, but “the syntactical structures of human languages are the products of innate features of the human mind, and they have no significant connection with communication”. (Searle, p I) As for me, this happens when I see the written characters of the word “ice cream” in Chinese OR listen to the pronunciation of “ice cream” in English, both expression gives me the visual image and taste sensation of an ice cream. Even if I don’t know any language to express the meaning of ice cream, I’d have recognition of it once I’ve formed its spiritual idea in my mind. What’s tricky in this is that, in reverse, when I see the word “ice cream”, I may run at the mouth since the language gives me the natural perception of a certain concept and recalls my sense. 

I found Chomsky’s conclusion of transformational components pretty interesting: “the syntactic component consists of rules that generate deep structures combined with rules mapping these into associated surface structures”. (Chomsky, pg 124) This structure appears notably in Chinese language, and usually people are doing the opposite works – since there is a deep structure lies behind the surface structure, people would interpret both the surface structure and phonetic representation to figure out its semantic meaning, including the literal meaning and deeper meaning. For example, a world-renowned linguist, Yuanren Zhao, who also named the Father of Chinese language and linguistics, once composed a 92-character poem to illustrate how Chinese language could tell a story with only one phonetic symbol. When written in Chinese characters, this poem below tells the history of a person named Shi living in a stone room loves going to the market and eating ten lions. (The words “history, stone, room, love, go, market, eat, ten, lion” can all be pronounced as Shi in Chinese.) Although a ridiculous false tale, it did represent the semantic meaning and fit in the grammar with a transformation of the deep structure within the author’s mind.

Yuanren Zhao, 1916

 

<< Shī Shì shí shī shǐ >>
Shíshì shīshì Shī Shì,shì shī,shì shí 10 shī.
Shì shíshí shì shì shì shī.
10 shí,shì 10 shī shì shì.
Shì shí,shì Shī Shì shì shì.
Shì shì shì 10 shī,shì shì shì,shī shì 10 shī shìshì.
Shì shí shì 10 shī shī,shì shíshì.
Shíshì shī,Shì shǐ shì shì shíshì.
Shíshì shì,Shì shí shì shí shì 10 shī.
Shí shí,shǐ shì shì 10 shī,shí 10 shī shī.
Shì shì shì shì.

 

The creativeness of language can never be limited even though the terms syntax, phonology and semantics have been constraining our thoughts and natural abilities, no matter rational or perceptual. In Noam Chomsky’s Syntactic Structures (1957), he composed a famous sentence “Colorless green ideas sleep furiously” as an example to demonstrate the distinction between syntax and semantics: the sentence was grammatically correct but semantically meaningless. However, the sentence can be given an interpretation through polysemy, and Yuanren Zhao was the first one who attempted to provide the sentence meaning through context. (Zhao, 1997) This definitely reminds me of the nonsensical poem Jabberwocky in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (Carroll, pg 64-65), which inspires us to explore the wonderland of linguistics as infinite understanding always creates infinite meanings and expression.

Jabberwocky in Alice in Wonderland 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

References:

John Searle, “Chomsky’s Revolution in Linguistics,” The New York Review of Books, June 29, 1972.

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

Chao, Yuen Ren“Making Sense Out of Nonsense”. The Sesquipedalian, vol. VII, no. 32 (June 12, 1997).

Lewis Carroll. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass pp 64–65 Createspace ltd. 2010

Noam Chomsky, Syntactic Structures, The Hague/Paris: Mouton. 1957

Infoglut: how are we going to deal with the information explosion?


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This week’s readings introduce a great deal of the fundamental theories of communication and information: how a piece of message is transmitted, shaped, affected and in reverse affects the society, which to a large extent reminded me of what I learned in college on the Communication Theory class. To me, these theories and thoughts are systematic, in a linear pattern to explain the communication process itself and the agents involved. Take Shannon’s Model for example, it gives us such a linear explanation of the communication process: from information source to transmitter, distorted by some noise source and then reaches the receiver and its destination. (Shannon, P2) Among the process, the noise can be human agents or nonhuman agents, as a derivative model introduces the concept of gatekeepers, who guard the transmission of the message and shapes it with their own purpose. (Foulger, 2004) This particularly happens in the case of mass media, where the information content is largely determined by the preference of its editors or moderators. These theories are theoretically perfect for me to understand certain knowledge of what we are talking about when we talk about communication.

Until one day, the information society emerged, and the communication process tended to be non-linear and the noise became much louder than ever. Here comes my question: if the communication process is less linear than the thinkers had thought before, how could we deal with it? During the transmission of network information, is there still a meaning for the gatekeepers? Marshall McLuhan had this classical declaration of “the medium is the message”: “All media work us over completely. They are so pervasive in their personal, political, economic, aesthetic, psychological, moral, ethical, and social consequences that they leave no part of us untouched, unaffected, unaltered.” (McLuhan, P26, Understanding Media) The information transmission nowadays not only fits in this declaration but also extends it since the power of Internet, information technology and new media forms has substantially changed the way people communicate and remodeled the process that a message is being transmitted. When it comes to Facebook, Twitter, I’m not talking about our friends and the celebrities on Facebook and Twitter, nor the texts, pictures, videos they publish on these two popular platforms, but the platforms themselves, how they shape the way we communicate and live.

(Marshall McLuhan, http://www.marshallmcluhan.com/biography/)

Let’s not go there but take a look at Floridi’s book: Information: A Very Short Introduction. Floridi mentioned the word “infoglut” – the inability to determine relevance of information – to describe an extended consequence of information exploration. “It’s like being told again and again, by a million sources, a trillion different kinds of messages that are being sent and being told again and again.” (Floridi, 2010)

http://vimeo.com/27334003 (An online video introduction of “infoglut” by Floridi himself)

Now we are experiencing the abundance of information: the messages we receive everyday on Twitter is being retransmitted again and again, although in a way it strengthens the impact of this message, the effectiveness of information is missed out. I often find myself facing the difficulty of selecting the real useful information in the vast ocean of information, and this may lead to wrong decisions or the passing of misinformation. When I look at Shannon’s model again, I would easily neglect the information source, get lost while wandering in the transmitter’s world, and be disturbed by the other thousand pieces of irrelevant messages. Now I’m getting back to ask the simplest question: If the more information cannot necessarily bring the more convenience, what is the meaning of communication when there is such information explosion?

While I’m still thinking about the answer to my own questions, Graph Search, Facebook’s new function launched last week catches my attention. Graph Search, simply put, is a search function for people to search with specific conditions and get results within Facebook. For instance, they can search for “People live in DC and like Rock’ n Roll”, and Facebook would give result to it by showing the avatars of those who match this condition.  Although the function is still in limited beta and I haven’t had a chance to try it, the idea behind this is pretty eloquent. With the abundance of information that we have provided on the “cloud”, we can discover the connections between people, places and other fun facts around us – isn’t it a good way to deal with information explosion and explain the meaning of communication? The thinkers are on their way, and the tinkers are putting ideas into practice, no matter what kind of puzzle they wish to solve – that’s a good sign.

Works Cited:
1. Marshall McLuhan. Understanding Media: The Extension of Man. The MIT Press. Reprint edition. Oct. 1994.
2. C. E. Shannon. A Mathematical Theory of Communication. Reprinted with corrections from The Bell System Technical Journal, Vol. 27, pp. 379–423, 623–656, July, October, 1948.
3. Davis Foulger. Models of Communication Process. 2004. http://davis.foulger.info/papers/ecologicalModelOfCommunication.htm
4. L. Floridi. Information: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford University Press. 2010.