Category Archives: Week 12: Digital Milieu / Digital Culture

week 12: the digital milieu

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

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

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

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


Works Cited

Diving into Design: Website Management

By Catherine Cromer

I by no means consider myself an expert in IT, coding or the computing world. I have worked the past two years in within the realms of social media marketing and web content management, working behind the scenes of the web interfaces I had taken for granted and never thought twice about my daily usage of the different mediums. I took the notion of software as an extension of our cognitive expressed by Andy Clark earlier this semester as a way to understand how I interact not only with the interface of web browsers, but the web content management systems that I have utilized, creating content on the inside and viewing the content on the outside.

As Manovich states “we live in a software culture – a culture where the production, distribution, and reception of most content and increasingly, experiences is mediated by software.”  I found the entire idea of cultural software particularly striking as it ties into my former work at Whole Planet Foundation managing web content and social media, as well as my current position working on the revamp of the Student Affairs websites at Georgetown. The co-existence of authoring and accessing functions that this experience gave me made me aware of the noise that disrupted the interface. Looking back on both past experiences and analyzing my current ones, I can understand how relationships are mediated through interface with the media, organization and people represented on the page. This is taken to an even more extensive level when analyzed on social media outlets such as Facebook and twitter where the relationship between creator and user is blurred even further. 

Taking my work at Whole Planet Foundation as an example, the website and its colorful interface is forming a relationship with visitors as well as a vibrant representation of the organization as a whole. The facts of human culture being mediated here are numerous from the Whole Foods Market brand and ideology it contains, the pictures of women and their businesses,the metrics, the biographies giving narrative and life to the microcredit clients. Browsing through the site, there is milieu of meanings, values, beliefs, ideologies, rituals, dress and behavior codes contained within the pictures, their placement, the text, the social media links and so on. What I find even more interesting after examining the readings of Manovich and Clark is that after working on the creation the Whole Planet website interface through the interface of a web content management system, is that our world view is for the most part always connected to software, if not constantly through the screens we interact with. Working on the website, I was made away of the noise that disrupted the interface whether it be through the glitches in website browsers such as Google Chrome not loading Youtube videos or problems with the management system in displaying awkwardly spaced text, misplaced photos or bad website layout. These issues disrupt communication and interfere not only with the impact of the message, but with the ability to extend our cognitive processes to interact with it. As a creator of content for the website, I was surprised at how easily the generation of web content became second nature to me and began to feel like a natural extension of my thinking, an idea that makes Clark’s theory of the extended mind and mindware upgrades all the more intriguing. 


Is All Software Created Equal?

As mentioned by Manovich, we are living in a software society that values software culture both directly and implicitly. One of the most recent and direct examples of this is the military’s implementation of unmanned aerial vehicles or drones. Not only does this use of software extend the abilities of institutions on a world scale, but it also changes the way people think of and use interfaces in order to interact with technology, as well as one another.

Judging by the amount of controversy surrounding this this topic, it’s a bit mind-blowing to think about exactly what makes this software so disputed. Can we use software in virtually every other way, but insist that using it in war is off limits? Or do we acknowledge that drone software as another step into the future? Obviously it isn’t a simple topic that can be broken down into two options of black/white or good/bad, but there definitely is a question of how society will proceed with the use of this software.

In bringing up drones, I am not trying to make a political statement, but rather point out that much of the discomfort people feel toward this technology and software, exists in the functions of things we use every day on a personal level. As mentioned by Manovich, various types of interface components have been embedded into our culture and we expect technology to be able to produce the outputs we desire. 

In it’s most basic essence a drone is used to execute an action in a remote location, with the input of a human being in another location. Although this physical distance is discomforting to many, doesn’t it already exist in some capacity when we use Google search? Critics of drones say that their use would blur the line between the army and those with whom it interacts, but according to Manovich the software we use daily already does that – “Google’s search engine shows you the results both on your local machine and the web – thus conceptually and practically erasing the boundary between “self” and the “world.”

When de-black boxing the drone, we come across a variety of interfaces that exist in other technologies – the screen and it’s various layers, “user-friendly” icons, cameras and satellite relays – so what is it exactly that makes people uncomfortable with this technology and not other technology? Is it solely political? Does it make us super aware of the actor network theory in action? Or is it something else embedded into the human side of the interfacing? It seems as though much of the debate about drones is rooted in our difficulty of pinpointing the answer to this question, which truly demonstrates how software is permeating all levels of our culture.

A User-Generated World

Week 12 – Somaiya Sibai

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

What Most School’s Don’t Teach

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

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

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

Toolkit Formation and Thoughts on Interface

Toolkit Formation and Thoughts on Interface

Sara Levine

It seems that no two analysts’ tool kits are the same. Certain theories resonate more strongly with some analysts and not with others. For example, Chandler’s website, Semiotics for Beginners, functions as a toolkit for budding semioticians. However, Chandler’s colleagues may disagree with the organization of Semiotics for Beginners or with the omission of certain concepts. Consequently, the tool kit that I have begun to outline here may be particular to my interests and is not intended to be used as a general reference.

Here is my first draft:

Don’t Take It Out of Context
I would make it a priority to learn the context surrounding the development of the form of media or technology that I am analyzing. Most media artefacts were not created in a vacuum, and their histories may reveal a new issue or perspective. Lisa Gitelman’s article in which she emphasized the historical significance of the ink and paper of the Salem Witch Trials records would make a good reference for this lens of analysis.

Technical Content
The “black box” effect indicates that the user of a media or technology artefact is unaware of the technical processes involved in its usage. For example, I can use a computer but I may not understand the technical details involved in saving my documents or sending an email. Consequently, it is important to ask: What does the user see and interact with? What is invisible to the user? Lev Manovich’s discussion of number-based operations contained within “new media” that users do not interact with might be a good resource for this topic.

There are a large variety of semiotic concepts to choose from when analyzing media. However, Daniel Chandler’s Semiotics for Beginners is a great resource. Barthes may work well with Chandler’s basic overview because Barthes introduces new layers of interpellation and the signification of myth. For example, if I were analyzing a web comic I would draw from Chandler when studying specific panel construction. I would then consider Barthes’ concepts in order to analyze the web comic in terms of codes, ideologies, and target audiences.

Cognitive Processes and Interface
It seems more effective to group cognitive science and interface together because interactivity between a media interface and users usually demands some form of cognitive work on the part of the user. If we return to the web comic example, the semiotic analysis may reveal certain meaning-making processes involved in reading the comic. The cognitive and interface analysis might uncover certain aspects that are not covered by semiotics. This includes how a user interacts with the software that displays the web comic. Specific readings that may be helpful with this analysis include most of Andy Clark’s writings, McLuhan’s “The Medium is the Message,” “Distributed Cognition,” and Lakoff’s “Conceptual Metaphor.”

Powerful Combinations
Intertextuality and intermediality could be explored as the final component of the toolkit. Manovich, Bolton, Grusin, and Clark discussed the ways in which media forms encapsulate each other in the same way that a Russian nesting doll is constructed. An iPhone, for example, is composed of many different media forms that came before it including the photographic camera, video camera, telephone, etc. Intertextuality can be analyzed under this topic as well, but may be more applicable to a text within the media artefact. The iPhone provides users with a personal assistant named Siri. If the user asks certain questions, Siri will answer with jokes and ironic statements that a user may only be able to appreciate if she or he is familiar with another text such as the Star Trek series.

I look forward to refining this tool kit and perhaps applying it to a case study as the semester comes to a close. Additionally, I would like to point out two concepts that stood out to me in regards to interface.

Andy Clark’s perspective on spatialization and spatial grouping reminded me of how tagging has become a spatial process on blogging websites such as Tumblr. Tumblr’s interface allows users to tag posts and “follow” tags that they are interested in. The popular tags that people follow then  organizes a space for users to have discussions in. Consequently, this interface for tagging leads many users to refer to tags as places rather than labels. A common complaint amongst Tumblr users is that other users should “stay out” of a certain tag. This implies that there are physical boundaries in place around each tag. These boundaries may be breached when a user adds a label to a blog post, but the language surrounding this action implies that the offending user has walked into a room as an unwelcome guest.

Another concept discussed in terms of interface is hypomnesis. Stiegler uses the example of advancements in automobile technology. The more advanced this technology becomes, the less we have to know in order to operate the vehicle. Consequently, we are forgetting how to drive. Another example that might be applicable here is attribution and copyright. The use of artists’ images without permission is an issue that continues to inspire heated debate on Tumblr, Pinterest, Facebook, and other websites. Tumblr’s interface allows users to re-blog an artist’s work without any attribution because the source link always appears at the bottom of the post. However, there are many instances in which a Tumblr user has posted a piece of artwork that was not theirs and was taken from another site without proper citation. I became involved in a similar situation when a pet supplies company took an image from my Deviantart Gallery and posted it on their Facebook page. I learned about it by chance and sent the company a message asking why I had not been cited or contacted about the use of my artwork. The company replied that they thought the watermark on my image was enough, but eventually made the changes I asked for. It seems that the advanced sharing and re-blogging components of certain website interfaces have further eroded our ability to attribute sources for creative works.

Allen, Graham. Roland Barthes. London: Routledge, 2003. Print.
Barthes, Roland, and Stephen Heath. “From Work to Text.” Image, Music, Text. New York: Hill and Wang, 1977. N. pag. Print.
Barthes, Roland, and Annette Lavers. Mythologies. New York: Hill and Wang, 1972. Print.
Bolter, J. David, and Richard A. Grusin. Remediation: Understanding New Media. Cambridge, MA: MIT, 1999. Print.
Chandler, Daniel. “Semiotics for Beginners.” Semiotics for Beginners. N.p., n.d. Web. <>.
Clark, Andy. Mindware: An Introduction to the Philosophy of Cognitive Science. New York: Oxford University Press, 2001.
Clark, Andy. Natural-born Cyborgs: Minds, Technologies, and the Future of Human Intelligence. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2003. Print.
Clark, Andy. Supersizing the Mind: Embodiment, Action, and Cognitive Extension. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2008. Print.
Gitelman, Lisa. Always Already New: Media, History, and the Data of Culture. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2008. Excerpt from Introduction.
Hollan, James, Edwin Hutchins, and David Kirsh. “Distributed Cognition: Toward a New Foundation for Human-computer Interaction Research.” ACM Transactions, Computer-Human Interaction 7, no. 2 (June 2000): 174-196.
Lakoff, George. “Conceptual Metaphor.” Excerpt from Geeraerts, Dirk, ed. Cognitive Linguistics: Basic Readings. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter, 2006.
Manovich, Lev. The Language of New Media. Cambridge, MA: MIT, 2002. Print.
Manovich, Lev. “Media After Software.” Journal of Visual Culture (2012): n. pag. Web.
Manovich, Lev. “New Media from Borges to HTML.” Introduction. The New Media Reader. By Nick Montfort and Noah Wardrip-Fruin. Cambridge, Mass. [u.a.: MIT, 2003. N. pag. Print.
McLuhan, Marshall. “The Medium is the Message,” Excerpts from Understanding Media, The Extensions of Man, Part I, 2nd Edition; originally published, 1964.
Stiegler, Bernard. “Anamnesis and Hypomnesis.” Ars Industrialis. N.p., n.d. Web. <>.


It’s Love, Not War

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.



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?



How Software Turned Us Into Cyborgs

Yiran Sun

I cannot go through a day without my Firefox or Chrome. As Andy Clark has suggested, they are tools that have become extension of my biological body: they are part of how I interact with the world. We have become cyborgs not by attaching chips or wires to our bodies, but by incorporating software into every aspect of our lives.

Web browsers like Mozilla Firefox and Google Chrome are software that serve as interfaces to the Internet and the ocean of software running out there. We have discussed much about such interfaces in CCTP506, but at that time majorly focused on the more technical aspects such as the protocols and the infrastructure. For human-computer interfaces, Paul Dourish has categorized them into five kinds: electrical, symbolic, textual, graphic, and tangible and embodied. He suggests, through this progressive view, that interfaces have come through a move of interfaces towards more immediacy to human cognition (the human symbolic faculty; syntax and language; processing of visual information and exploiting peripheral vision, etc.), towards a better utilization of natural human capacity. This is certainly evident when we compare the Erwise (the first graphic browser) to the World Wide Web browser.

However, here we should re-balance the scale by emphasizing not only how interfaces drew their inspirations from natural human capacity, but also how they have come to influence and train their users into viewing them as natural way of living. After all, interfaces are hardly ever static. They are constantly evolving and sculpting the world around it: they are processes, according to Alexander Galloway. After Erwise came the Mosaic browser, which redefined and popularized the World Wide Web. Its close derivatives (graphic interface-wise; other features of interfacing such as the interpretation of CSS codes still continue as an issue across different software) are still with us today.


We take those extremely simplified icons for granted and think of them as natural representations of real-life concepts and appearances, yet when you think about it, none of them are exactly “natural”: Our ancestors probably did not look at a triangle and think it means “forward” or “backward”, nor a round Ouroboros-like arrow as “refresh”. These associations are invented (based on existing associations, of course, yet still invented) by those who developed the graphic browsers. With the popularization of the browsers, the associations become naturalized into our shared cultural reservoir as well, and now we use them “instinctively”, rarely paying much attention to where it all came from.

An anecdote: It is also intriguing to look at how quickly human mind jump to assign meanings to things. When I was opening the Galloway article in Firefox, there was an issue with the decoding/display. Yet before I noticed the warning of the software, I had thought that this is an effect designed by the author to convey a certain message! It’s amazing how our minds is capable of associating any meaning to anything.

My brain on Chrome.

Jen Lennon

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

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

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

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

The Barcode: It’s a Cultural Software Too


As indicated through this week’s readings, we depend on software. A lot. One type of technology that may not come to mind first as an interface for digital media is the barcode, particularly the Universal Product Code (UPC). The UPC (a type of barcode) is a ubiquitous technology frequently relied on for purposes such as checking out library books, buying all kinds of merchandise or boarding an airplane. Something as simple as a barcode has a unique history rooted in the growth of American commerce and information technology. Just think of how often you come across UPC’s on a daily basis: the bottled water from a vending machine, the packaged snack from the cafe on campus and even on everyday objects such as folders, notebooks, and laptops. What we come across is the finished product but plenty of invisible work (involving software) has already taken place.

Technically Speaking

The UPC bar code is not a random order of black and white lines; rather the black and white design was chosen because it was easy to print and read the codes with minimal errors. On the left side of a UPC bar code, five digits indicate who the manufacture is according to the Uniform Code Council (Reilly, 2003). The five digits on right side represent what type of product is being sold, and also contains price information. The UPC bar code can only work through its interaction with a barcode scanner. This is where the function of the interface comes in, as a technical-material implementation of multiple softwares working together.

In Chalmer’s piece (2008), he talks about the act of labeling. I found that barcodes are a prime example of how labeling has become so entrenched as part of modern society. Chalmer describes how “labels allow us to focus attention on all and only items belonging to equivalence classes” (2008, p.46). Just think of how disorganized a grocery store would be without barcodes differentiating between organic bananas, regular bananas, or the bananas on sale for the week. Labels now automatically trigger linguistic and computing processes in our mind to categorize things and create a controlled system not only in a physical format, but also in our minds.

Furthermore, Chalmer goes on to state how labeling “…effectively and open-endedly add new ‘virtual’ items” which “reconfigures the problem spaces” (p.47). This got me thinking of Pinterest. This site has become somewhat of a quasi-retail site, as ways for retailers and really anybody to post items they like and Pinterest can ‘label’ the price of the item for them. In this scenario, one does not see the UPC, but sees the price right away. Still, it is software and multiple interfaces at work.

The UPC is a Gatekeeper

The earliest creation of the bar code began in the 1940s, when two graduate students at Drexel University patented a technology for scanning grocery items (Fox, 2011). Even since it’s beginning barcodes have worked by use of an interface. More notably though, the UPC acts as a digital gatekeeper. By the 1970s UPC-enabled bar codes were widespread when the primary purpose shifted to retailers’ ability to efficiently audit inventory. During this time, the U.S. faced high inflation and labor costs and this automated method could help stores reduce costs and manage goods instead of having each clerk manually tabulate and write down an entire store’s inventory.

Today, one could argue that the UPC is a cultural software in addition to its gatekeeper properties. Cultural Software as defined by Manovich (2008) is the “something else” that is “directly used by hundreds of millions of people” carrying fragments of culture” (p.3). UPCs surely are used by millions of people nationally and internationally, and are tied closely with the material culture we define ourselves by. For instance, grocery stores that offer “shopper rewards cards” are essentially metadata. These cards (with their own barcodes) identifies the individual shopper by when he or she buys (Do they only brand names? Or mostly junk food?). What we buy is a part of our culture.

Thus far, we have seen that media, information and communication are not the same thing but they are deeply interconnected. Contemporary issues are just remediations of past mediums, media and/or theories.



Brain, Marshall. “How UPC Bar Codes Work” 01 April 2000.
Clark, Andy. Supersizing the Mind: Embodiment, Action, and Cognitive Extension (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, USA, 2008), excerpts from the Forward by David Chalmers,
Fox, Margalit. “Alan Haberman, Who Ushered In the Bar Code, Dies at 81.” The New York Times. 15 June 2011.
Manovich, Lev Software Takes Command (ebook version, 2008).
Reilly, Edwin D. (2003). Universal product code.

Did you ever have to learn how to play the recorder?

Elizabeth-Burton Jones
Week 12
“Did you ever have to learn how to play the recorder?”

Last week I explored the music world and the technological intersection via Apple products. The class helped me draw conclusions about the functions and software that are used and it also introduced me to the black box of musical apps. In addition, I noticed the physciality and material differences between the actual instruments and the digital reproductions. This study led me to a greater interest in consumerism and the interface. Specifically in stores where they are utilizing the technology of taking an image of the consumer and reproducing that image on a screen.

Certain companies take an image of the consumer and then place that image on an interface. Then the consumer has the freedom to scan any makeup product and apply it to their image on the screen.

This virtual spin has many positive aspect such as eliminating product waste via samples. Also, the digital makeover is very sanitary. However, a negative aspect about the product would be the “numbness” that was discussed last class. In addition, with this new technology, one can forget the connection between the brush and the skin.



Another technology that is starting to become popular is the growth of virtual dressing rooms. (2:03)

This innovation is a remediated form of the closet and finds notes of dialogism within the retail world and history.

Last week I mentioned the music features of the iPad.


However, for this week we were asked if there was any convergence within the materials covered throughout this course. My answer would be: yes. The convergence is demonstrated by my examples of all of blending of music and technology and fashion and technology. This convergence demonstrates the common thread from our physical world to the “cyber” world. The vibrations and other technological extensions are all part of a greater network. For instance, it is obvious that the technolocial devices such as the iPad and other smart devices are not the actual instruments. They provide a watered down way to play these interesting instruments. However, depending on the context, this nature could be very crucial to education and semiotics. For instance, when teachers incorporate instruments via iPads into their classes they are not only changing the meaning of an instrument but they are also changing the way the instrument is being received. For example, is children are learning how to play the xylophone during class, there’s always the two kids in the corner trying to use the sticks in a sword fight. There’s always the pounding of the sticks on various surfaces or on other humans (to their chagrin).

But when this seemingly mundane switch from analog to digital occurs, then there is a breakdown of communication. I am very interested in writing my final paper on this topic. When we replace instruments with shiny squares of glass, we are loosing the material “street smarts” of the instrument. We are replacing movements with strokes to the machine. Therefore, I think the connection between all of the material would be the loss of cultural memory and the power to change the cultural memory.

Galloway and the Muse:

I am still not 100% positive on Manovich’s opinion of the muse, but I think it is interesting and I think it is a common thread that we can use for later. With regards to the other readings, my main takeaway was the form of the interface through time, the power of software, and the transformation of cyborgs.

I believe that Galloway’s reference to the muse being a vector for information in polytheistic religions is an interesting example. However, it leads to a great point to wonder about:

“This being the same refrain sung
throughout the book, not media but mediation.) One must
look at local relationships within the image and ask how such
relationships create an externalization, an incoherence, an
edging, or a framing? Or in reverse: how does this other spe­
cific local relationship within the apparatus succeed in creat­
ing a coherence, a centering, a localization? But what does this
mean?” (Galloway 36).

This is the connecting point. For every section whether it was linguistics or semiotics, we had to go back to the roots of the issue. We had to reflect on the history and on the meaning. We had to refer back to the cultural encyclopedia hence trying to find the great points in the universal cultural memory. Essentially, for every section, we must as “what does this mean?” to properly assess the information.

Does this contribute to the break down of communication?
Is the shift from analog to digital a good thing?
By losing the tangible instrument lead to a loss of musical history?

I think this could be my final project.