Category Archives: Week 10: Mediology and Mediation

week 10: mediology and instagram

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

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

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

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

Tweets Aplenty: Power of 140 Characters

By Catherine Cromer

Transmission and the social, political and cultural embeddedness of media is evident in our constant need to connect instantaneously and formation of an online presence. Twitter is an interesting example of a media form that has been shaped through past and present institutional standards. For example, the 140 character limit of Twitter and it’s transmission of short messages heralds back to the days of the telegraph when the messages were concise and to the point, and for the time period transcended the notions of time and space. Twitter and other social media outlets present us with a live feed of what is going on in the world and is obviously shaped by different social and cultural agencies than its predecessor. The mediology of Twitter needs to be analyzed in its usage of real-time communication, the position of the users, communicators and interpreters, and the effect of Twitter’s institutional background in context of ideologies, memory, traditions and values. 

March marks the 7th year anniversary of Twitter’s launch in 2006 during SXSW Interactive in Austin, TX . Below are several quick facts of Twitter’s development over the past several years.

Courtesy the

The numbers above shows the combination of transmission and cultural of this media format as both a proliferation of institutions while also displaying Twitter’s power as an institution. The number of uses and tweets sent everyday is an indication of our need to communicate and have our voices heard. The use of tweets by politicians as Barack Obama, who currently holds the record for the most retweets, indicates the utilization of social media within the institution of government. It is not Twitter or smartphones that are simply giving the messages agency, it is the people and organizations within our societal structures that give it power.

The bottom-up model that Twitter enables and its model geared toward smartphone usage, puts in Twitter in a different mediological context than other social media outlets like Facebook. The real-time transmission of 140 character messages, the kind of brevity used in other institutions like businesses, politicians, activists and so forth to create a succinct marketing/branding message, has created a new type of platform. Without the focus on the personal and friends list that Facebook promotes, Twitter as an institution has become a transmission of ideas, news and opinion from an array of people from celebrities, journalists, political figures, artists, businesses, activists and even the Pope.

Courtesy The Huffington Post

The idea of the Pope on Twitter, while at first seeming quite bizarre, is perpetuated not just by the popularity of Twitter as media and technology, but reaches back in our human history and culture of meaning-making in which we evolve to reach out, send our message to have others interpret it just as people did with the invention TV, newspapers, telephones, telegraphs, letter delivery systems, messengers and etc.

Another example of mediology within the twittersphere is usage of the platform for research, public opinion and free speech within society. It also raises the question of privacy within our institutions like many technologies these days. The link below shows an interactive location-based map from USA Today of tweets about the Supreme Court hearing on gay marriage based on GPS location systems and hashtags. The tweets represent people on both sides of the ruling and again attests the real-time communication factors, citizen involvement and now the political and social connotations involved within the Twitter world and all of its components such as access to the website, use of smartphones and political and cultural ideologies in an increasingly shrinking network of discourse.





Mediating Makeup on YouTube

Alisa Wiersema

Over the past three years or so, I have been following a group of YouTube bloggers (vloggers?) who post videos about beauty and fashion topics. The majority of these bloggers are girls my age and in the short time that I’ve been viewing their videos, I’ve noticed a definite shift in the way they portray themselves as in their videos. While critics (and there are many critics in the comment section of the videos) cite the changes to be attributable solely to the bloggers’ personal decisions, mediology dictates otherwise, citing YouTube to be the catalyst in their transformation.

Three years ago, when I stumbled across Elle Fowler’s YouTube channel (AllThatGlitters21), she looked just like any normal college girl who was making makeup videos on her MacBook camera for fun as visible in a screenshot below: 

Now, her videos look more like the high-quality, professionally produced, DSLR videos one would see on the websites of well-known fashion magazines:

So what happened in those three years? Did she suddenly become wealthier, more business oriented and more camera savvy? Yes and no.  While it is easy to say that Elle’s changes happened solely as a part of her own doing, the medium of YouTube needs to be de-black boxed in order to demonstrate its hand in her transformation.

YouTube pays its most successful “partners” an undisclosed, small amount per video view. Additionally, due to its involvement with Google, the ads running before some videos bring in additional revenue. Given Elle’s increasing subscriber and viewership base over the past few years, it is safe to say that YouTube’s financial incentive has provided her the opportunity to not only purchase new products to talk about, but also improve her video surroundings. Additionally, YouTube’s switch to HD video prompts partners to make their videos in a higher-quality.

When viewers watch Elle on YouTube, it is clear that  Debray‘s points about “[the mediological revolution] stirring together concrete things and myths” are demonstrated to be true. As far as the average viewer is concerned, Elle lives in the square box of her videos, where everything is perfectly lit up and edited to perfection. Since everything is shot prior to uploading, she has the liberty to go back and set up certain shots to look better than they would in real life, thereby creating the myth of perfection that is very much associated in the beauty and fashion industry. By perpetuating it further through the medium of YouTube, Elle mixes the reality of being a “regular person” with the myth of socially-codified perfection, while YouTube transmits this message to the masses.

Other YouTubers have enjoyed the benefits of partnerships by way of the YouTube Boot Camp, which brings the website’s most successful bloggers/vloggers to Google’s Manhattan headquarters to receive training in how to make their videos more likely to go viral, brand themselves and increase viewership. Clearly, this partnership is beneficial to both the vloggers as well as YouTube, and it would have most likely never happened had they chosen another medium on which they could post videos. YouTube is somewhat of a digital institution, and it actively mediates this kind of interaction with its partners for the sake of increasing the viewership and revenue of the website as a whole. In this sense, it is definitely an institution of transmission because it doesn’t just extend these services to a specific kind of vlogger, but any and all successful partners.

This complex, symbiotic relationship of the transmission institution and those producing the videos ties into the topic of what is transmitted about the medium itself, since many of the YouTubers who attend these sponsored sessions will later discuss their experiences about it in videos. This then creates a cyclical process in which the institution is prompting its partners to hype up its digital predominance and implicitly dissuading any other similar media from achieving the same amount of success since it wouldn’t be able to provide the same kind of training.

As mentioned in  Debray’s questioning of whom the “authorship” of a mediated message is designated to, it is interesting to discuss whether the authorship of YouTube videos belongs to the YouTubers or to YouTube. After all, doesn’t YouTube contribute just as much to the “coding” and format of the videos as the YouTuber him/herself?

National History Museums from a Mediological point of view

Transmission: Traditional history museums, including the NMAH are dominated by transmission functions over communication functions.  This distinction comes from Regis Debray’s formulation.  He understood the study of “communication” to be focused on contemporaneous speech acts, only as long as a single moment, ephemeral sounds that disappeared on the wind.  Debray thought the real effort of culture went not into communication, but into transmission –or passing meaning and ideas over time.  Transmission imagines the future listener/reader/user and invokes past writers/producers/creators. A history museum is a conscious, deliberate transmitter.  It is a cultural institution that acts as a translator and interpreter of objects from the past.  In fact, perhaps nothing fits so well into Debray’s framework as the history museum.

Conveying Distance: As reiterated by Constantina Papoulias’ discussion of his thinking, at the end of Transmitting Culture, Debray bemoans the transparency and immediacy that our current moment in history so values in cultural objects.  Debray’s example is the illusionist piano player who plays a Bach composition with such vibrancy that people feel transported; they no longer are aware of the distance of time that separates them an Bach. Our culture’s desire for immediacy is also evident in how we build computer and internet interfaces –we’re in awe of Google Art Project (discussed last week) is largely because we feel so close to the artworks; they are hyperreal.  Whether this is a good thing (as our culture seems to think) a bad thing (Debray’s opinion) or a more complicated, ambiguous thing with pros and cons (my opinion), there is no doubt that a traditional history museum display retains the distance, the evidence of its mediation in a way Debray would approve of.  A visit to a history museum is framed off as a special ritual act.  The history museum’s architecture is meant to be the opposite of transparent.  Admittedly, some display choices (such as when curators recreate a full scene with a mix of historic objects and objects newly fashioned to look authentic) try to be more immediate.  Nonetheless, the overall museum experience never lets the visitor forget that they are looking into the past.

See – Not invisible and transparent.

Material Traces of Meaning: Because of his interest in transmission over time, rather than ephemeral communication, Debray puts an emphasis on the materiality of ideas.  Our ideologies manifest themselves in material ways and these materials (objects, institutions, documents etc.) cannot be untangled from ideology.  Debray is not a dualist, but a monist, a firm believer that mind and body, ideology and technology, are not independent of each other.  Unlike other intellectual institutions in our culture, such as libraries, newspapers and universities, museums have always privileged objects as carriers of meaning.  Like Debray, museums see ideology as embodied.  These objects carried particular meaning about the past, and could be used and organized by curators to transmit a particular meaning to visitors.

Analyzing an institution from a mediological point of view means taking note of the invisible grounds and conditions, the political-economy and the ideology that embeds the institution.  These few paragraphs about history museums hardly scratches the surface.

“Dancing Through Life”

Elizabeth-Burton Jones
“Dancing Through Life”
Week 10

In February, my Aunt took some family members to go see The Alvin Ailey Dance Theatre Company. The whole performance was wonderful. As a former dancer in my elementary school days and now a musician and actress, I thoroughly enjoyed the music, set, lights, etc. However, the driving force throughout the performance was the culture.

For this week’s assignment, the “Working With Mediology:From Theory and Hypotheses to Analytical Method” reading it mentions that “Mediology is a method for thoroughgoing, self-reflexive redescription of topics and problems that we have received under the cover of prior descriptions with pre-packaged conceptual metaphors”. I believe that this aligns with The Ailey School because of their ability to “redescribe” dance.


For instance, the traditional code for dance would be ballet. When I was younger, I did ballet for 10 years (I was on point for 4 years). Through ballet, I learned the dicipline of the art form from everything to having the perfect bun (with no frizzy hair follicles going out of place) to elevating to point in the proper way. Sometimes at the end of the year or at a special time of the year during class we could choreograph our own barre work and during the Summer we would have to go to Ballet Summer Camp. Summer Camp consisted of an intensive program where, students learn almost every known form of dance and the history (African, Composition, Modern). In my program, we were also encouraged to learn other dance forms throughout the year so I took Tap and Jazz and then I did figure skating. The point of all of this personal information is the structure. Whether I was dancing to classical music or a popular song, there was alway structure and a way to dance that could not be tampered with.

That’s where The Ailey School comes into the picture. I believe that they have extreme discipline and extreme focus, but they just use another way to display this focus. Instead of relying on one discipline of dance, they fuse multiple areas of dance and they pair these areas with cultural history.



The Mission Statement for The Ailey School is “To make dance accessible to young people and adults through dance training and innovative community outreach and arts-in-education programs”. One of their many goals is to “To train outstanding students as professional dancers by offering a diverse dance training curriculum of the highest caliber.” With the words “a diverse dance training curriculum” we can see how the dance performance is “redescripted”. We know that the dance performance that is “redescripted” is art, but just as Debray asks, we must see how it changes art.

Even though there dance performances can be viewed as a modern dance genre, they still incorporate various characteristics of foundations of dance, yet, they also add an interesting spin of culture and physique. Therefore, the school continuously finds new ways to change and invent new codes of dance, while continuously relying on diversity.

Other areas that I would like to explore:

“Point”y Propaganda

Meaning of culture in Ballet


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

The Pop Culture Engine: Mediology and the San Diego International Comic-Con

The Pop Culture Engine: Mediology and the San Diego International Comic-Con

Sara Levine

Earlier in the semester, I analyzed Shannon’s and Foulger’s models of communication through the lens of fandom interaction. These models come into play again through the study of mediology. Shannon’s model of communication has divorced the communicative process from cultural, political, economic, semiotic, and any other processes that it may be intertwined with. Shannon’s and Foulger’s models seem to imply that there is a cause and effect process involved in studying media. Mediology, on the other hand, posits that culture and technology are so intertwined that they should not be studied separately.

Instead of concentrating on one single interaction between creator and consumer on Twitter, it may be more effective to analyze a broader form of media. In terms of fandom, nothing is bigger or broader than the annual San Diego International Comic-Con. Hundreds of thousands of people flock to California every summer to attend this massive media event. How can Comic-Con be analyzed through mediology? How does this analysis compare to that of Shannon’s and/or Foulger’s models?

Image: Exhibition Hall 2011

Comic-Con as Combinatorial

Other comic conventions such as Emerald City Comicon, Angoulême International Comics Festival, and New York’s MoCCA Festival are focused on the singular medium of comics and cartoon art. San Diego Comic-Con, however, is combinatorial on multiple levels. The physical space of the arena is transformed into hundreds of booths that are categorized by medium. There are comics dealers, t-shirt vendors, independent and small press comics, video game companies, television and movie studios, toy collectibles, and the list goes on. Guests and exhibitors communicate through a variety of mediums as well. There is person-to-person contact, but there are also free giveaways and game demonstrations. Shannon’s and Foulger’s models are present when a comic artist signs an autograph, or when a guest tweets to a friend across the room about a free poster she or he just snagged from a vendor. However, those models do not allow for the scope and underlying conditions of Comic-Con. In addition to the media forms present in the exhibition hall, there are also panels and events throughout the weekend. Panels take place in large rooms in which there are interviews, sneak previews for shows and movies, podcasts, workshops, etc. Outside of the convention center, San Diego embraces fan culture by incorporating Comic-Con events. Restaurants are taken over by TV shows, there are a number of parties at any given location throughout the city, and hotels employ shuttles that carry guests to and from the convention center. Comic-Con exists within virtual media forms as well. Twitter is overrun by attendees spilling news and jealous non-attendees discussing the panels as they happen. Attendees may also post pictures, videos, and blog posts within the context of the convention. Shannon’s and Foulger’s models seem too narrow to accommodate such a large-scale media event.

Image: An excited fan asks for an autograph from Pen Ward, the creator of Cartoon Network’s Adventure Time.

Comic-Con’s Embedded Institutions

Debray explained in Media Manifestos that he is “interested in the power of signs (Debray 6)” rather than their meanings. Comic-Con seems to harness that power in order to produce both monetary and cultural value.

The most harrowing experiences occur before the convention actually takes place. I am referring to ticket purchasing and hotel reservations. Tickets officially go on sale during the previous year’s convention. Later on, the remaining tickets are sold online but disappear within hours. Hotels are similarly booked up months beforehand. There are several economic underpinnings to this interaction. Comic-Con is not cheap, and so the buyer must have the economic means to purchase a ticket. Sociologically speaking, the average Comic-Con attendee may be of a certain class that can afford the expenses. Then there is the matter of navigating the ticket website, which may or may not be designed to help or hinder the potential attendee. Other economic factors involved in guest attendance include the sales of airline tickets, hotel bookings, restaurant reservations, car rentals, and many other industries that are able to feed off of the mania surrounding the convention.

The cultural forces and conditions involved in Comic-Con are similarly expansive, and are nearly inseparable from economic forces. Large media companies attend in order to build up a fanbase before releasing content. Small independent distributors and artists attend in order to sell their work or look for work. Many guests attend in order to purchase comics, artwork, figurines, and other items. However, there are other conditions of Comic-Con that are not as deeply enmeshed in profit margins. As I mentioned earlier, fanbases are created at Comic-Con to help a new television show or film gain support before its release date. The creation of a fanbase over the course of a weekend is a remarkable feat, and could not be accomplished without the involvement of celebrities, branding, social media, and well-constructed preview material. This process is the formation of fan culture within a contained space. Additionally, other fandoms come to Comic-Con in order to reinforce their loyalty and camaraderie.

Image: Cartoon Network takes over a restaurant for Comic-Con weekend.

Communication vs. Transmission

Steven Maras writes that “Debray casts doubts on a complete separation” between communication and transmission (Maras “On Transmission”). Further analysis of Comic-Con may support the idea that these concepts are folded within each other. The communication process of pop culture seems to overlap with the reification of pop culture over time. Pop culture manifests within many institutions and mediums (there may be some parallels to organized religion in that regard), but all of these converge onto San Diego each summer. Comic-Con has become synonymous and symbolic of the umbrella term “pop culture.” The convention’s semiotic power is rooted in its communicative and transmission processes.

Image: Exhibition Hall 2011

Is Comic-Con a Black Box of Pop Culture?

Comic-Con may function similarly to a black box metaphor for someone who is unfortunately unable to attend. Guests enter the convention doors, and a cacophony of news and hype pour out into the virtual world. New films and shows are either lauded as the next hot cultural phenomenon, or they are declared dead upon arrival. Celebrities make surprise appearances, and some clips may make the rounds within a few minutes of their appearance. Mainstream comic book characters are introduced or killed off within the course of a panel. All of this occurs in one place and over the course of one weekend. Even the attendees may not be aware of how news spreads of a free giveaway or disappointing panel. It seems as though the process of producing culture through Comic-Con is not clear. Non-attendees soak up the information and react to bad news accordingly. Attendees rush through the crowded hall without much knowledge of the convention’s inner workings. A more specific example of this potential black box occurred in 2009. A new film debuted at Comic-Con called Scott Pilgrim vs. the World. The film was based on a series of fairly popular comic books, and it was a rousing success at Comic-Con. Rave reviews came in from those who saw it at the convention that weekend, and Comic-Con’s adoration of the movie seemed to be a good omen for its success. Unfortunately, Scott Pilgrim did very poorly in the box office and is now generally considered to be a cult film. Comic-Con’s failure in this case reveals the mysterious nature of its underlying processes. So many different forms of media make up the input and output of the convention that it may be difficult to pinpoint what exactly goes on over the course of that weekend.


Chandler, Daniel. “Processes of Mediation.” Processes of Mediation. N.p., n.d. Web. <>.

Debray, Régis. Media Manifestos: On the Technological Transmission of Cultural Forms. London: Verso, 1996. Print.

Debray, Régis. Transmitting Culture. New York: Columbia UP, 2000. Print.

Foulger, Davis. “Models of the Communication Process.” Models of the Communication Process. N.p., n.d. Web.

Irvine, Martin. “Working With Mediology: From Theory to Analystical Method.” N.p.: n.p., n.d. N. pag. Web.

Maras, Steven. “On Transmission: A Metamethodological Analysis (after Régis Debray).” The Fibreculture Journal 12 (2008): n. pag. The Fibreculture Journal. Web. <>.

Salkowitz, Rob. Comic-con and the Business of Pop Culture: What the World’s Wildest Trade Show Can Tell Us about the Future of Entertainment. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2012. Print.

Vandenberghe, Frédéric. “Régis Debray and Mediation Studies, or How Does an Idea Become a Material Force?” Thesis Eleven (2007): n. pag. Web.



10 Things I Hate About Facebook

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.


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.


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

Daniel Chandler, “Processes of Mediation.”

Working With Mediology: From Theory and Hypotheses to Analytical Method. Martin Irvine

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.

The Bulletin of Videos: Two Major Functions of YouTube

Yiran Sun

YouTube at this point is by far the most dominant video hosting site on the Internet—Yet it is a young brand of only eight years old. What has brought it to the status today? Obviously this is not the power of just one single artifact. What really lies behind that black-white-red logo?

Physically, a major contributor is the collaboration of server farms. With servers all across the globe, users of YouTube have no trouble accessing the site’s vast content from all parts of the world. Above this tangible infrastructure, there is of course the Internet, running on shared protocols that enable packets of information to be sent back and forth in milliseconds. Then in that there is the technology of digitizing video content, which is then based on the juxtaposition of numerous still images through the frame of time. The list can go on and on, but of course, these are never solely physical, for in every stage there is heavy human and cultural involvement. The material side alone would never fully account for the power of YouTube. So what lies beneath the materiality of YouTube?

The website, just as any other form of medium, mediates social functions that are already constructed and in place before the artifact is present. Two of the most essential functions of YouTube are the video function and the bulletin function.

The video function can be seen in our society from the magic lantern to the film and television, all based on human’s perception of images and time. This is also where the second half name of the website came from: the “tube” used to refer to the television, which materially used to be based on cathode ray tubes (CRTs). This concept then sprout from its material form and sunk its root into the cultural reservoir, where now it’s still being used in a similar sense even as today one can only fine a tube television in a museum setting.

Throughout their years in people’s lives, film and television have established a consensus that videos can both be used as pure entertainment or strict indexes to reality, with culturally-shared cues and codes leading up to each. These same roles of videos are also seen in the content and use of YouTube. But YouTube does not only inherit from its milieu: It influences its environment as well. While advancements in printing have helped to establish the reign of news photography as the synonym of truthfulness, photo-editing techniques, the popularization of programs like Adobe Photoshop, and television news in video forms have brought us into the paradigm that only videos serve to prove legitimacy and trustworthiness of pieces of news. In fact, videos have become a way of how we make sense of the world. Yet with the popularization of video making and editing, with democratized channels like YouTube, and interestingly with mainstream television picking up videos from these online sources, this video-centric paradigm of news may again be moving on to a new stage not yet clearly pictured. This chain of change can be interpreted as a shift of authority, and although this shift here is heavily reliant on the materiality of technologies themselves, the institutional Function of authority has always been, and will always be there.

Then let us look at the other half of the website’s name: you. This word is among the most often used terms in the English language, usually to refer to the person being directly addressed. Here however, it serves to emphasize the “sharing” property of the website, to stress its democracy: The website’s contents belong to “you”, the ordinary users, instead of some professional producers or authorities. Now this seems like a really democratic idea, but how democratic is it? (And of course, by its definition, “democracy” would be the “rule/power” of “people”, at the time meant non-slave adult land-owning male citizens with leisure and access to the assembly, and now, Internet-literate people with leisure and access to the Internet.) Since democracy is not anarchy, people participating in it play by the rules. This is what I would call the bulletin function, in the sense of modern bulletin boards (compared to the ancient newspaper-ly meaning from the Acta Diurna of the Romans). This is a public space where people can put up their messages and where messages can be taken off by regulators when deemed inappropriate. Before YouTube, this function has been exercised in the classified ads section in newspapers, in the university hall corkboards, and in the online bulletin board systems (BBS): Someone puts up some message, the regulator checks if it’s appropriate, especially when someone else protests against it, and then takes it off if it indeed violates the rules (For YouTube: copyright laws (realized through the Content ID technology) and social conventions).

The two above-mentioned functions are just a tip of an iceberg of the institutional settings behind the website. The power of YouTube lies in the people using it, but more fundamentally, lies in the ways its users have been trained to make sense of the world. When such power is realized through this medium/artifact, it then serves to influence the institutions it has been built upon: Many people have now come to understand the world through the YouTube paradigm where news or entertainment are mediated via videos that can be accessed anywhere at any time, and preferably shorter than 15 minutes; and this is definitely not the only feat of the video sharing website.

The University and the Degree from a Mediological POV

The university is a sociotechnical system. It is a hub of interconnected nodes consisting of knowledge, bureaucracy, entertainment, art, and infrastructure just to name a few. After soaking up Debray’s philosophy about mediology, it made me question how we view the almighty university degree. His work also inspired me to push the envelope a bit by considering the college degree as a media form. In other words, to ‘de-blackbox’ the degree using metatheory. In Papolias’ (2004) review of Transmitting Culture, the author explains how Debray and other mediologists aim to focus more on “the instruments and technical apparatuses that support the formation of cultural meanings” (p.166). So not only is the university degree a type of media, but it also should be regarded as a technical tool to transmit cultural values. The degree transcends our professional abilities (“I graduated with a degree in X”), social relations (“Oh I was also a Com/Bio/History major!”) and familial relations (parents pushing their children to “go get a college education’).

One cannot talk Debray without mentioning his view of communication versus transmission. In Debray’s mind, communication is very self-centered, focusing on temporal actions and responses. Debray argues that humans lack the purview to truly engage in transmission of meanings. For Debray, transmission equals culture. It is transmission that really makes our experiences, thoughts and beliefs remain within cultures (instead of vanishing with us individually). If that is the case, I see the university as one of the most frequent and respected ways humans engage in transmission – and the most ostensible end result is a degree. This leads into my point about the institutional forces that relate to mediology and the degree. Two other areas that I found relevant with my argument/stance include mediology’s view of material forces and selective forces.

Institutional Forces
We all know that getting a degree is a process- it requires several steps before it is handed to you: the application, coursework, payment and fees, etc. All of this involves an oft-hidden political economy at work right under our noses. The university knows that to sustain itself (financially and for relevancy), it must have a supple amount of patrons a.k.a students to make the two, four, or six year commitment. According to an article by the Chronicle of Higher Education, “for the typical family, college is one of life’s big-ticket purchases.” This pricey ticket is worth it for hundreds of thousands of students and their families. Why? Institutions have for hundreds of years instilled hope and assuredness that certain treasured values (namely, knowledge) and cultural footholds will live. As Debray states:

The institution acts as a kind of registry or patent office, but rather than passively conserving its changes, it is never done sifting, revising, censuring, interpreting, and peddling them. It also authorizes others to turn to pass on its achievements or even to deflect and divert them. The church though its preaching, the university through its teaching…” (2000, p.11, emphasis added)

Each time a student earns a degree it is recorded. It is meticulously registered formally though commencement activities (the grandiose ceremonies), and informally by the Registrar’s office and academic departments (mundane tasks). This is the university at work keeping track of students’ culmination of individual achievements. It is also important for the university to keep track of the path students traveled down to earned their degrees because future leaders, Nobel Prize winners, etc could be in the ‘pile’ of degrees.

Media Forms / Material Forces
To understand the degree as a media object, I see it as a physical message. It’s the tangible way of saying “I have met the minimum qualifications to earn a Bachelors/Masters/etc degree in this field.” If you compare the degree to common media such as TV, a book or a website it has similar properties as these undisputed physical forms of media. Debray would argue that TV, books, and the like have certain values attributed to them, and have social influences on our social constructs. I believe that the degree is a media form because it is first a highly-symbolized artefact (made by humans) and second, it is a way of communicating and transmitting meaning across mass channels. The degree does significant work for the university – just imagine if every time you applied for a job or applied for another degree some university official had to talk to whoever was reviewing your application and explain “Yes s/he completed coursework in X amount of time, did this, and this, and majored in this.” Our cultural norms make it acceptable to simply state you obtained a degree and move on.

Selective Forces

Lastly, it was in Chandler’s reading that he made a point to mention how selective of media are and how it in effect, creates an uneven power distribution in society. The university from the beginning was created for elite scholars but even today there are still concerns over access to institutions of higher education (which is why online ed and MOOCs have been in the spotlight). This is another major issue but it’s worth bringing up considering Debray point that every school needs someone to lead it to make decisions (as well as who else will makes decisions) from admissions to budgets to academic life.


I used Debray to offer a (hopefully) newer insight on components (physical and non) of the university that often are overlooked or are invisible. This may be an area I choose to delve deeper in for our final papers/projects. There is still a lot of ground to cover with mediology and plenty of critics to go along with it too.

Videos For Thought: 




Chandler,Daniel. “Processes of Mediation.”

Debray, R. Transmitting Culture, trans. Eric Rauth. New York: Columbia University Press, 2000.    Excerpts in pdf: From Chaps. 1-2; from Chap. 7, “Ways of Doing.”

Papolias, Constantina. Review of Transmitting Culture: “Of Tools and Angels: Regis Debray’s Mediology,”Theory, Culture & Society, 21/3 (2004): 165-70.

Supiano, Beckie. (2012) Degrees With a Price Tag. The Chronicle of Higher Education. 


Critical theory IN mediology

Latour’s assertion that ‘…”to have” (friends, relations, profiles…) is quickly becoming a stronger definition of oneself that “to be”‘ (Latour 2011, 802) signals a paradigm shift that students of communications, culture, and technology must explore and expand on in order to do justice to their subject(s) of inquiry, especially the subjects of knowledge and power. Law explains that Actor-Network Theory (ANT) is useful because it asks the type of questions that should be asked about the mechanics of power, nature of organization, and the heterogeneity of network materials, and their implications on agency (Law 1992). Debray takes this paradigm shift further with the concept of mediology (Maras 2008, Debray 1999). To Debray and other mediologists, the subject of interest is not the technical innovation but what is in between technologies i.e. the cultural practices, social beliefs, and communicated messages (Debray 1999). The reason why the technology itself is ancillary to these ‘in between’ aspects is because whilst technology is the means by which synchrony (present communication) is achieved, it is vis-a-vis social beliefs and cultural artifacts that transmission (the more important transfer of communication over time via technologies and institutions) occurs (Debray 1996).

This is  a critical development in communications heuristics because unlike in past communications theory, mediology is anathema to technological determinism. As Irvine states: ‘technologies can’t be usefully described as having “effects” on cultures or societies, because technology is culture and only empowered by culture’ (Irvine 2005). This necessary paradigm shift deals with power and agency and according to Irvine, ANT and mediology are ways to uncover these power relations. Some of the conceptual frameworks we have been learning throughout the semester thus far can be incredibly helpful in helping synthesize mediology’s concepts and take them further, especially on fundamental issues surrounding how authority systems are legitimized.

The Critical Theories perspective would argue that since legitimacy involves garnering acceptance, socialization is a key way through which members of society can be led to embody appropriate attitudes that are conducive to accepting the authority system (Paletz e. al. 1977). According to Bourdieu, this socialization happens covertly, through what he calls symbolic power in the production of belief, a power that is effective precisely because it is unrecognized, or recognized as abitrary (Bourdieu 1991). Bourdieu would thus ask:

(1) How covert is the reification of [insert any technology] and is this clandestine effort successful in garnering acceptance of [insert said technology’s corporation, maker, regulator, user, etc.]?

(2) Which invisible insitutions (cultura, legal, etcl.) are linked to visible media technologies and how are they so?

(3) Are social networks powerful because of the technology itself or because of the networks, cultural artifacts, and social institutions that surround it?

(4) To what extent does [insert any technology or medium of communications]’s ‘agency’ and arguments/claims about causality (via blackboxing) contribute it its legitimacy?

The way to explore such questions is to use the concept of symbolic value and power to scrutinize via de-blackboxing (Latour 2011) because in order to fully understand the legitimizing and socializing processes that are present, the hidden power relations must be uncovered by analyzing the thingified technology itself as an ideological producer. Because the ‘ideological products offered by the political field are instruments of perceiving and expressing the social world’ (Bourdieu 1991, 172), the forming of opinions, and thereby individual thought-process, depends on the scope of available instruments of perception and expression. In other words, it is imperative to uncover any hidden or embedded political agenda in the process of reification because the political field effectively censors via its limiting the scope of what is politically thinkable.

These questions and methodology address fundamental elements in the quest for finding and developing a sound and rigorous conceptual framework and paradigm for a richer view of mediation and communication: symbolic value and power and their roles in the legitimization of those in power, and the clandestine socialization of those being overpowered. Using such concepts from critical theory will help add nuance and insight to the inquiries of mediologists and practitioners of ANT.