Category Archives: Week 5: Intro Media Theory

pinterest and media theory

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

YouTube & Learning

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

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

Here are a few examples:

Playing the guitar

Dancing Ballet

Animating in Photoshop:


Hairstyling tutorial

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

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

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

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


Medium as Message

When thinking about “media” and “medium” this week, I couldn’t help but keep thinking of the “actual” media most people consider today. The role of traditional media versus new media is something we talk about a lot in CCT, and something that has been particularly on my mind lately as I think more about what I want to do in the future. In the traditional sense, at least for let’s say the time period when I was growing up, “media” meant newspaper, television, magazine, and radio. Each of the different mediums had different implications. Newspaper was to be the most trusted. It had the venerable institutions like the New York Times and the Washington Post. This is Woodward and Bernstein breaking Watergate, well-known columnists like George Wills or Nicholas Kristof, and the Associated Press. Television media was usually a little softer and included more interviews or human interest pieces, but still, there were television news anchors who you could trust. I remember mostly Barbara Walters, Tom Brokaw, Dan Rather, and Connie Chung. For radio, you had Ira Glass. And magazines like Newsweek, Time, the New Yorker, and the New Republic covered more long-form news stories usually on a weekly basis.

Thinking about the traditional media I grew up with, and sure I was young and a definitely idealistic journalism student, I was reminded of the power of the medium. In Professor Irvine’s chapter, he mentioned the idea of how power or authority can be transmitted or mediated through the medium itself. There are social, cultural, and political messages that are transmitted through certain mediums. And these big old-school type of media institutions I think definitely transmit a certain amount of power. Or at least they did. I hope they still do. The idea of the broadcaster that you trust is something that was highly revered in American society. This is a passed down tradition of hearing your news from the same source, and someone who was typically pretty objective. While that has obviously changed in the last couple of decades, the idea of the medium still stands – in a way.

New media brings social media, user generated content, citizen journalists, and a 24-hour news cycle. The Internet has no doubt changed how things are reported, how they are packaged for consumption, and how people typically get their news. I think the panic that print is dying is a little premature, or that traditional news outlets will cease to exist. I think the sociocultural power is still behind the venerable news sources. Sure, we might get the headline off of the New York Times twitter feed or iPad app, but I’m personally still going to the Times. McLuhan posits that the medium is the message – that the content doesn’t really matter. While hopefully this isn’t entirely true with news, I think it’s an interesting lens to consider the media today. If the medium is the message, what does that mean? Does that mean that newspaper content is still transmitted as an important, serious matter? Do we still buy into the television news anchor and the prestige?

Last night, I watched the State of the Union address. Brian Williams was doing the post-speech coverage for NBC and had some of the usual talking heads on to talk about their perceptions of the speech and how they think it will go over for the public. I’ve personally always appreciated this kind of insight or analysis (though it’s decreasing with the downslide into supremely partisan conversations). At one point, though, he read a tweet from one of Romney’s former aids in regards to the Marco Rubio water scandal of 2013. The guy said he would have put the water bottle closer. While he was obviously right, it was still so funny and interesting to me that one of these big TV anchors was using twitter as part of news coverage. It’s becoming more and more common. During election coverage, multiple news channels incorporated social media into the broadcast. This is the convergence of media. The integration of everything onto one platform – the metamedium. Now news media consists of the words or written pieces by these news institutions that transmit power and authority, partnered with photo, video, and social media content. This is sort of a “warm” media on McLuhan’s scale of hot and cool mediums. If hot mediums require no participation, like a film, where things are just transmitted at you, and cool mediums require the user to fill a little bit more in, then “new” media is kind of a mashup of the two.

All I know is while I was watching the State of the Union, I wanted to watch the speech uninterrupted. Then I wanted to hear some news feedback on it. And the entire time, I was scrolling through twitter. I was on one hand reading what some of my classmates were saying and interacting with them, but also seeing headlines come in from major news sources and specific journalists. I was getting their reactions, as well as quotes from the speech itself. I saw the White House feed which was linking to specific action plans. The entire experience showed the metamedium of digital news, but each different medium plays its part. Some of the older mediums are still flexing that traditional power and authority, but their utilization of new media is becoming necessary as a new form of technological power. The social media aspect is still gaining its credibility; it has a ways to go to get the prestige and power as its medium on its own. The medium as the message can still be noise when it comes to social media. There were a million people who were uninformed who I could have chosen to watch on twitter last night. But the curation of traditional news sources on the new medium seems to be where it’s all going. My feeling is the newer online news sources which are mixing these all together will do the best at least in the near future. Sites that have been recently redesigned or launched, like the Business Insider or Quartz, which rely solely on online content, but have poached writers who are real journalists from traditional news outlets, seem to be the new trustworthy sources for the web. And traditional newspapers are finally starting to consider online content in its own right, which is also promising.


Elizabeth-Burton Jones
Week 5


Virginia Woolf once said that “Every secret of a writer’s soul, every experience of his life, every quality of his mind is written large in his works. ” The idea of having a physical extension of the spiritual is not a new idea, however the an interesting approach to this idea is a mediated extension of the spiritual. This can be demonstrated through multiracial advertising, politics, and music.

McLuhan mentions the myth of Narcissus and his love for himself: “The Greek myth of Narcissus is directly concerned with a fact of human experience, as the word Narcissus indicates. It is from the Greek word narcosis, or numbness. The youth Narcissus mistook his own reflection in the water for another person. This extension of himself by mirror numbed his perceptions until he became the servomechanism of his own extended or repeated image. The nymph Echo tried to win his love with fragments of his own speech, but in vain. He was numb. He had adapted to his extension of himself and had become a closed system. Now the point of this myth is the fact that men at once become fascinated by any extension of themselves in any material other than themselves…” (4. The Gadget Lover: Narcissus as Narcosis). This is interesting because it awakens concepts of narcissism a possible reflection made by the media and the power that the media bestows.

For instance, in the usage of multicultural models in commercials it is often said that they “carefully manufactured racial utopia, a narrative of colorblindness” and something that “It’s always been something that reflects our aspirations, what we can be.”. The advertisements of multi-cultural people creates a new world that may or may not exist , yet the commercial creates this world. However, this world is not tangible (in some cases) therefore the advertisement shows people what they want to see, creating a world that could be an extension of a person’s hopes or dreams or multicultural fix. This in turn makes us “numb” possibly to changing the rights for people that are diverse, because we are constantly bombarded by images of harmony (we could be numb to the outside needs for change).

Obnoxious Video

Another example could be music. Through music, songwriters typically write songs about themselves. The act of writing songs about situations in which they are familiar creates more of a “believable” story and if the songwriter is the vocalist it creates more of an “authentic sound” and “authentic performance”. Therefore in some cases we become “numb” to either passionately good music or in some cases manufactured music. We become numb to this because we are surrounded by it, we are surrounded by singers and song writers as soon as we press the radio button.

The political figure’s lens lends itself to numbness when we pair it with performance.  For instance many politicians are changing their campaigns to a format of the politician or candidate precedes the issue rather than another belief that the issue precedes the candidate. By shifting to this lifestyle, politicians start to talk more about their personal lives also, politicans create a different extension of themselves to the public and finally, the politicians create an extension that more people can probably link on to and relate to. For instance, if a politician mentions his or her dealings with Medicare or Medicaid then this creates a new lens for the politician. The politician becomes a real person. dealing with real issues. The humility to acknowledge such issues creates more of a personality for the politician in which more people can relate to and then have an interesting view that the politician shares an extension of his or herself, therefore they win the vote. The voters or constituents can become numb by constantly seeing images or themselves (or constantly relating to the topics the politician brings up). However, I am not sure if this numbness is a bad thing. This form of numbness is a continuous reflection of what society is like and in turn creates change for everyone. This could be a debatable topic.

With these three examples it is difficult to extract the personal realm or the personal reflection from each. If advertisements only used a distinct physical gene makeup that is not as common, then the audience is lost. If a singer covers a track from a person and doesn’t know the original intent or know the meaning of the lyrics then it is not as feasible for the audience. If  a politician does not mention his or herself, then a politician becomes the stereotypical “politician” and has a difficult time connecting to the voters.


In sum, this weeks reading relates to the power of media because of the power of the extension of the mirror. McLuhan says that “[a]ny extension, whether of skin, hand, or foot, affects the whole psychic and social complex.” (introduction). Therefore, if the definition is linked to the “extension” found by the connection in a mirrored image, then the power creates a new level. The extension is a rules the mind (the advertisements, musical world, and politics). Therefore, grip that the media has is extremely strong and creates an uncanny reflection.

Work Cited:

The medium of Skype

by Alexis Hamann-Nazaroff

I want to talk about Skype, a medium for communication that is hugely important in the current shape of my life.  While a lot of college students are far from their families, I feel like my family in particular likes to spread out to the four corners of the earth.  I lived in Germany for a couple of years.  My boyfriend is still there.  My older sister lives in Japan.  My parents spend significant portions of each year in both Denmark and in Singapore.  But skype shapes how we deal with these kinds of international separations.

In these rather silly photos, my younger sister and I, who could make it to our childhood home for Christmas-time a few years ago, share all the Christmas cards and decorations, via skype, with our older sister, who could not make it.

James Carey describes the telegraph as the technology that “permitted for the first time the effective separation of communication from transportation.” If Skype has a parallel, it permits for the first time the separation of long-distance, simultaneous communication from high costs.  In other words, unlike international phonecalls, Skype is free.  For my life, this means I can conceive spending many hours per day connected to my boyfriend in Germany, with no concern about racking up bills.  Also, skype permits (although a number of similar programs permit this now as well) the re-connection between long-distance, simultaneous communication of sound and sight.

Skype as part of an orchestrated combination of technologies and social conditions: The technology of skype makes an impact in a world where international lifestyles, like that of my family are not unusual.  While skype helps to make my long-distance relationships sustainable, it gains meaning from the relationships, rather than the other way around.

Skype and the conditions of space and time: Obviously, Skype interacts with conditions of space.  Skype allows for simultaneous communication and, like a telephone call, does not record the communication for the future.  Just a couple of days ago however, on my newly updated Skype a button appeared to “leave a video message”.  A new feature and I will have to wait and see whether or not this changes my interactions with skype, and the meaning of what I can and choose to do with Skype.

The social-ideological value, power, and authority of skype: Unlike written communication, skype communication is more informal.  Something said on Skype is not imbued with a higher power than something said in a physical, in-person conversation.  In fact, the social-ideological value of skype, at least for interpersonal relationships as I use it for is diminished in comparison to physical, “real” contact because there are so many symbolically significant acts in “real” contact (ex: hugs, kisses, handing someone a gift, sharing a meal together that includes smelling and tasting things simultaneously etc.) that cannot be simulated over skype.  These symbolic acts have enormous social-ideological value, that we often take for granted in our daily lives, but notice when we have to make-do without them over skype.

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

by Wanyu Zheng

The little things always triumph over the large
And literature will kill architecture

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.



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

Video Streaming Services as Media Artefacts

Video Streaming Services as Media Artefacts
Sara Levine

Video streaming services such as Netflix, Amazon, and Hulu have re-configured the medium of recorded film and broadcast television in order to move these forms of media to a new technological interface. The effects of this reconfiguration are wide-ranging in terms of social, economic, and ideological concepts.

What are the combinations of technologies and other conditions that make up this form of media?
Video streaming is not a self-contained media artefact. There is a history behind its development that involves many different socio-economic factors. Lisa Gitelman made the point that artefacts are “reflexive.” She used the example of papers from the Salem witch trials. The content of the papers hold great importance, but so do the physical components of ink and paper that make up these papers (Gitelman 20).

Figure 1

Much like the capitalist ventures surrounding the telegraph (Carey 4), video streaming is dominated by a few large companies that are vying for control over the market. Netflix was an early adopter of this technology. Netflix was originally set up as a subscription-based service that delivered DVDs (and eventually video games) to the home. There were no late fees or tedious trips to the video rental store involved. It wasn’t until around 2007 or 2008 that Netflix launched another feature that allowed subscribers to access movies over the Internet (Anderson 1). Video discs, or DVDs, have not been rendered completely obsolete since then. Friedrich Kittler writes that old media is usually found elsewhere and is re-purposed (Kittler “The History of Communication Media”). However, one outcome of Netflix’s rise in popularity was the decline of video rental stores such as Blockbuster (“Movies to Go”). Blockbuster has since launched its own service, but has not fared well against competitors. Hulu, another streaming service, also appeared around 2007 or 2008. It was originally a free service, but has since implemented a paid subscription service called Hulu+.

Figure 2

Netflix’s main competitor is Amazon, which offers Amazon Instant Video to its customers. Amazon Instant Video was released recently in comparison to Netflix. Netflix had not faced much serious competition until Amazon launched its service. Another interesting aspect of their relationship is that Netflix uses Amazon’s cloud services to host its content. Netflix streaming was down this past Christmas Eve because of problems with Amazon’s cloud computing service (Chen 1). There are several important immediate effects of the emergence of Netflix, Amazon Instant Video, Hulu, and the relationships between them. Competition is driving subscription rates up, there is heavy reliance on cloud computing (and therefore Amazon), the playback technology for film and television has to be incorporated into this new digitization, and the streaming technology of these services is a new and unfamiliar tool to many of its users. There is also the sociological aspect of who is using video streaming and why viewers are migrating to this new technology.
Figure 3

How do space and time factor into the consumption of this media?
The abandonment of physical spaces such as Blockbuster indicates a shift in our concept of space and time. The use of the term “instant”, for example, has re-configured the idea of wait time and playback in regards to video and other entertainment. Video streaming services deliver content at a rapid-fire pace. People can easily catch up on movies and television that might not have been as readily available to them several years ago. Quick load times have now become a technological norm that we do not notice until it breaks down and gives us the “buffering” sign on our screens.
James Carey wrote about the telegraph’s overwhelming effect of freeing up communication in regards to geographical movement (Carey 3). Video streaming has created boundaries instead of removing them. Netflix is available to a few select countries including North America, South America, the UK, and Ireland. Amazon Instant Video is only available in the US. Hulu is available to only US and Japanese customers, but there have been illegal proxy servers set up so that viewers from outside the country can use Hulu. These boundaries are set up in accordance with the companies’ wishes for distribution of content, but it also inadvertently constructs new concepts of space on the Internet. Similarly, international standards for content sharing and distribution must be taken into consideration. This results in the creation and/or re-configuration of other technologies such as proxy servers to get around these invisible boundaries. On the other side of these boundaries, streaming services are offering international content. Those who have access to these services are able to learn more about foreign cultures through film and television.

What are the social-ideological effects?
Video streaming services have aided the standardization of the interface for online video controls and features. Elizabeth Eisenstein discussed the concept of standardization in regards to typography (Eisenstein “Some Features of Print Culture”), and the same can be applied to video player interface (Fig. 4, 5). There is always a scrub bar through which the viewer can adjust the timecode of the video. There is a play and pause button, and an option for full-screen. Other features usually include HD streaming, dimming the lights on the screen, and rewinding ten seconds of video. Most of these features have become uniform standards. These features rely on video editing programs for their features, and encourages direct participation and manipulation of video content on the part of the viewer.

Figure 4 and Figure 5

In the excerpts from McLuhan’s book, he wrote about Narcissus and narcosis. McLuhan was exploring the concept that we regard “gadgets” and other media technology as extensions of ourselves (McLuhan 42). Video streaming services takes the idea of watching video content in the comfort of one’s home and expands its mobility. Characters and TV personalities had become a part of our families because we invited them into our living rooms every evening. However, now we invite them onto our cell phones and computers. We can watch this video content at any moment and anywhere we can get service. This makes the content considerably more personal than it was previously.
McLuhan also wrote about hot and cold media. He labeled television as cool and movies as hot. The combination of the two on video streaming services is a complicated convergence of these concepts. Do video streaming services heat up the television medium, or cool down the film medium? It may be the latter case because McLuhan writes that “any hot medium allows of less participation than a cool one (McLuhan 24).” The movie is not on the big screen and involves the viewer physically manipulating its timeline. On the other hand, this participation may not be a strong enough argument to re-configure film as a cool media under the auspices of streaming services.

On a final note, video streaming services were not in direct competition with broadcast and cable television. However, both Netflix and Hulu are starting to produce original content for their subscribers. It remains to be seen as to whether this will affect television and film distribution, or if consumers will simply use different mediums for different purposes without significant social and ideological change.  

Works Cited

“Amazon Adds Movies to Streaming Service in New Challenge to Netflix.” AdAge. N.p., 04 Sept. 2012. Web. <>.

Anderson, Nate. “Netflix Offers Streaming Movies to Subscribers.” Ars Technica. N.p., 16 Jan. 2007. Web. <>.

Carey, James. “Technology and Ideology: The Case of the Telegraph,” excerpt from Carey,

Communication as Culture: Essays on Media and Society. Revised edition. New York, NY and London, UK: Routledge, 1989.

Chen, Brian X. “‘The Cloud’ Challenges Amazon.” The New York Times. N.p., 26 Dec. 2012. Web. <>.

Eisenstein, Elizabeth L. “Some Features of Book Culture,” from Elizabeth L. Eisenstein, The Printing Revolution in Early Modern Europe. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1983. Rev. ed. 2005.

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

“ Opens to Public Offers Free Streams of Hit TV Shows, Movies and Clips.” Hulu. N.p., 12 Mar. 2008. Web. <>.

Irvine, Martin. “Media Theory: An Introduction”

Kittler, Friedrich. “The History of Communication Media,” C-Theory, 1996.

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

“Movies to Go.” The Economist. N.p., n.d. Web. <>.

“Wired 10.12: The Netflix Effect.” Conde Nast Digital, n.d. Web. <>.


Advertising With Oreo – Fresh or Stale? — Alisa Wiersema

From personal experience, the term “new media” is frequently bounced around in advertising brainstorm sessions. When this word is brought up, the unstated understanding is that “new media” refers to strategies that target a particular demographic online, specifically through the use of social media websites. Lately, Twitter has been the avenue of choice because of its instant connectivity to large amounts of people and ability to provide witty, time sensitive responses at a much lower cost than traditional television or print ads.

However, as mentioned by Friedrich Kittler, “New media do not make old media obsolete; they assign them other places in the system.” This assertion is particularly true in the recent case of “new media” advertising by Nabisco and its Oreo Cookie division. The people behind the Oreo Twitter account devised a way to combine traditional print media with the low cost, high volume accessibility of online social media. This quickly devised campaign started during the Super Bowl blackout when @Oreo posted this image: 


The image was a hit, and many advertising professionals hailed this incident as another “new” advertising trend. But how “new” is it really? Going along with Kittler’s statement of old media not being obsolete, we can see that although the visual Oreo strategically released is distributed through a different channel, it is still a square, two-dimensional image that recalls billboards, posters and paintings of the past, all of which similarly set out to express a meaning or instruction to large quantities of people at once.

The manner in which this image spread virally is also derived from early print culture as described by Elizabeth L. Einstein when she referenced an “explosion of knowledge” that occurred in the sixteenth century. She cites that this era signaled a time of “intense cross-referencing between one book and another,” which is an idea that is very familiar to the way in which advertising via Twitter (and viral material in general) operates today. By reTweeting, or reposting the original image released by Oreo, people are inherently cross-referencing one another since the source of the viewed image could be from the brand itself or from one of their friends, and the cycle continues as long as there are more people who think this material is worthwhile.

Oreo’s success at the Super Bowl prompted more versions of this online poster to be released for other occasions like the Grammy Awards and Fat Tuesday. This continued practice of something that seemed novel at first further highlights Einstein’s description of how, “increased output… created conditions that favored new combinations of old ideas at first and then the creation of entirely new systems of thought.” In other words, more of the same type of media was released and due to positive responses to these seemingly new types of ideas, we now have a new manner of thinking of online advertising.


Following McLuhan’s proposal of the media being the message and applying it to this scenario, it is undeniable that the message of Twitter resonates within Oreo’s advertising attempts. Twitter allows for people to share opinions and updates on an online platform, but it limits the amount of characters a person can use. In this way,  it forces visual messages and other short blurbs to be shared more frequently because they are easier to view, thereby making visuals  like the Oreo ad an incredibly appealing manner of communication. The medium limits verbal communication, so the message ends up being something that can easily be inferred without the use of words and that largely depends on some kind of shared experience between users viewing the communicated message. This combination of media and message seems to be working well for Oreo, so we can look forward to more funny, time-relevant ads popping up in the future.


Elizabeth L. Eisenstein, “Some Features of Book Culture,” from Elizabeth L. Eisenstein, The Printing Revolution in Early Modern Europe. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1983. Rev. ed. 2005.

Friedrich Kittler, “The History of Communication Media,” C-Theory, 1996.

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

Children’s Advertising: mediation through law

To Debray (1999) and other mediologists, the subject of interest is not the technical innovation or technology itself but what is in between technologies i.e. the cultural practices, social beliefs, and communicated messages. The reason why the technology itself is only 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 the like that transmission (the more important transfer of communication over time via technologies and institutions) occurs. This is a critical theoretical 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).

I was going to do an unpacking of children’s advertising as a media a la Carey (1989) but while doing my research I realized that despite all that mediate this medium, from advertising agency giants like Ogilvy and pro-market neo-liberal ideology, to the power relations between Congress and watchdog groups like the Parents Television Council, US law was what stuck out to me the most to warrant a discussion of the mediation of children’s advertising.

The US system of consumer law assumes that consumers buy products based on rational choice, or an assessment of the products’ objective attributes (Ramsay 1996). It presupposes that the legal subject is a freely choosing, coherent, and rational being that is accountable for any of his/her actions in normal circumstances and with clear intentions. This rational consumer’s preferences are revealed through the choices he/she makes in the marketplace- not through psychological processes or non-obvious influences on human behavior (Ramsay 1996). Consequently, although there is no social scientific justification for such a dispositionist view of human agency, this assumption is pervasive in US law.

For example, current US law legalizes the use of advertising ‘puff’. Puffery is a nebulous grouping of bluster and hyperbolic imagery and language used in virtually all advertising such as ‘Coke adds life’ or ‘America’s Favorite Pasta’ even though there is no evidence of such claims (Yosifon 2006). This advertising tactic is legal because according to US law, no rational consumer would take these claims or any similar claims literally and seriously, as puffs are too subjective and vague (Yosifon 2006). Therefore, the law says that ‘mere puff’ does not give rise to liability. According to the FTC and common law jurisprudence, advertising that exaggerates happiness, excitement, fun, health, and vitality, is considered puffery; therefore, these types of ads, which encompass virtually all ads, are irrelevant to consumer deception concerns (Yosifon 2006).

Furthermore, corporations themselves have ironically shown that their tactics influence consumer behavior through puffing. In its attempt to convince the FTC that General Mills, Inc. is responsibly responding to America’s childhood obesity issues (and therefore not in need of advertising regulation), the food company explains how it markets healthful foods to children: ‘In order to encourage yogurt consumption, General Mills introduced Go-Gort and Trix Yogurt, and supported these products with appealing advertising emphasizing an association between fun and yogurt’ (Yosifon 2006, 536). In fact, their marketing campaign is so effective that a 2005 survey finds that 76% of children that consume yogurt like Go-Gurt and 74% like Trix, which is not only impressive in terms of sheer numbers but also in relative terms to the liking scores of dominant, junk food products like Popsicles and Oreos, which are, respectively, 77% and 74% (Yosifon 2006). As a result, General Mills successfully creates a new product category that did not formerly exist for children whilst encouraging children to consume a more nutritious snack. However, in flaunting the ease in which the company is able to influence children’s consumption via marketing tactics that are, according to the puffery doctrine, benign, General Mills ironically reveals that puffery is powerful. Because this is so, the current legal framework, which does not regulate the use of puffery, is wholly inadequate and flawed in its assumption of a rational consumer.

The fact that all this legal debate is not happening publicly all whilst advertising keeps legally doing what it’s doing reflects what McLuhan (in Czitrom 1982) would say is the content cleverly distracting us from the the real message embedded in the medium through the medium’s mediation. US law and its mediation of children’s advertising begs so many questions: how can the law assume that adult consumers are rational and therefore able to decipher the difference between a puff and a false statement? Let alone, how can children be expected by the law to do so? The essence of labeling someone a ‘child’ is to proclaim that he/she needs a guardian so how does society provide that guardian? What is the capitalist culture behind such laws that assume a rational consumer? Is there an inherent neoliberal ideology that is present in the relationship between regulation and the market? Can the Freedom of Speech regime (negative vs. positive freedoms of speech debate) in the US be considered as a party to how children’s advertising is conceived? etc.



James W. Carey, “Technology and Ideology: The Case of the Telegraph,” excerpt from Carey, Communication as Culture: Essays on Media and Society. Revised edition. New York, NY and London, UK: Routledge, 1989.

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

Martin Irvine, “Media Theory: An Introduction”

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

Yosifon, David G. (2006) ‘Resisting Deep Capture: The Commercial Speech Doctrine and Junk-Food Advertising to Children’ in Loyola of Los Angeles Law Review Vol. 39 (pp. 507-602)

Ramsay, Iain (1996) Advertising, Culture and the Law: Beyond Lies, Ignorance and Manipulation London, UK: Sweet and Maxwell

Art, the Media, and the Message(s)

With continuation into the depths of media theory, particularly mediums, media and mediations, I was fortunate to view some of the work by Nam June Paik in the last few days. Paik crosses traditional lines of art by incorporating unique and sometimes taboo television and video media into his art. In a figurative and literal way, Paik used art to “get out of the boxes” by using the medium of media to show that there is more to something than its technical inner workings or apparent social uses.

Art vs. Media vs. Communication

Seeing Paik’s work in person at the Smithsonian American Art Museum put much of the historical texts related to media theory to life. What first came to mind was how to distinguish between the difference between art, media, and communication. According to Gitelman, media are “socially realized structures of communication” whereas communication is “a cultural practice” often defined through rituals that people share (2008, p.7). This can be language, history or other means. Media, also left to the description of Gitelman, was termed as “unique and complicated historical subjects” (p.7). This description bodes well with the general perception of media, but when we begin to unravel what is dependent on media and what allows it to function, new lines of thought emerge.

TV Garden

One of Paik’s pieces that first stood out to me was “TV Garden,” which hosts numerous televisions sprawled on the floor, enmeshed in a jungle of foliage. Each television had some action going on – whether it was a distant televised segment of the past or random lights emitting from the antiquated screens. This is where McLuhan’s theory on the medium comes in. One of the many relatable points by McLuhan involves content and the state of media. First, McLuhan claimed that society was undergoing a transition from placing more emphasis on the effect of media rather than meaning. To McLuhan, “…effect involves the total situation” (1964, /26).

Recall that McLuhan’s The Medium is the Message was written in 1964. Paik’s “TV Garden” was first produced in 1974 but the significance is still applicable today:  Paik’s audience, by viewing his work, sees content within content. First the person enters an institution specializing in art, then the audience member views media (TV segments) through a medium (The television sets). This provides an individualized effect on each person (which varies based on his or her cultural milieu and communication background) for instance, will the audience share their reaction to a friend in another language? Or tweet their reaction instantaneously? Effect that media has on people cannot be overlooked, because when the combinatory systems become so enmeshed into a unifying entity, it can blur the lines of how to define common occurrences. 

The next point that is relevant when discussing media and communication is how and if it is possible to describe art as a scientific instrument. Gitleman explicitly says that it is helpful to consider media as scientific apparatus that somehow relate to society’s general livelihood, yet we often fail to know how media “does the job” (2008, p.5).  Ping literally opens the black box, (and even turns it sideways) of the ubiquitous television set, which is so often familiarized with McLuhan’s “the medium is the message” vernacular. To some, it is simply an art form, but in my view it can become a scientific instrument when it’s used to analyze society on a macro scale or to use its “mediumness” as an empirical or historical case study.  Even though TV as we know it may be a thing of the past, with streaming-over-the-web services and the ability to watch it on a laptop, Paik and other artists’ work that involve media artefacts still have meaning and will be useful as historical tools ten, 20, 30 or more years from now. Just think of the portable CD player that was all the rage in the 1990s and early 2000s. Although they are becoming antiques, the CD player is still a form of media even though its current use is virtually nonexistent. The CD player is in the memory of millions of people around the world. This is why the CD player can be viewed as a scientific tool – its history and representation do not vanish because new media and mediums are available.

2000 NYT Article describing the revered CD player of the time

To sum up, all of this shows the power and pervasiveness that art and media retain. Using Einstein’s analogy of the master printer serving as a book seller, publisher, “indexer-abridger-translator-lexicographer-chronicler” (1983, p.60), the same can be applied to artists. Artists may be a master in aesthetics, but they can also be researchers, instructors, storytellers, entrepreneurs and architects. Overall, art, media and communication each retain power structures in their own right. McLuhan has been a highly-regarded influencer on how we should consider media, but of course, everything McLuhan has said regarding media should not be accepted as the Ultimate Truth. As long as we are willing and able to modify theories from McLuhan, Williams, Cary, etc. to fit with the times, we’ll have a better grasp on the social implications of media and combined technologies.


Eisenstein, Elizabeth L.  “Some Features of Book Culture,” from Elizabeth L. Eisenstein, The Printing Revolution in Early Modern Europe. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1983. Rev. ed. 2005.

Gitelman, Lisa.  Always Already New: Media, History, and the Data of Culture. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2008.

Nam June Paik Studios. Web.

Power of Photography: Origin and Impact

Yiran Sun

Nowadays we seem to be unable to survive without photos. A diner would take a photo before he/she starts with the food, a student would take a photo of the whiteboard instead of jogging down notes, a police would rely on photos to catch speeding cars and to keep records, and of course everyone takes photos when he/she sees something worth remembering. Then there are also the subtler impacts such as its legacy in fine arts,film, the belief of capturing the present moment, and so on. But how have we come to this? What gave photography power to penetrate into every aspect of our lives?

In the 21st Century, where the majority of photography has become digital (both in production and distribution), photography’s power lies in the various electronic devices with a lens (be it zoom or prime) and a photosensitive element (be it CCD or CMOS), in the technology of how the light is interpreted by the electric circuit, and in the shared rules/protocols of how such information is to be encoded, compressed, and decoded (RAW, JPEG, etc.) Without these, it would have been impossible to take a photo anywhere anytime with almost no cost nor trouble, to transfer light bouncing off objects’ surfaces into a digital file, and to make any use of the digital file (of course we would not be thrilled if we have to read 0s and 1s all the time).

From the late 19th Century to the 20th, the power of photography came from the flourishing industry of film. This thin sheet of plastic coated with an emulsion was enjoying its peak during the 1900s, when it became indispensable for photography, for motion picture (one of the hottest media even up to now), and even for the medical world, where it served as an essential medium for X-rays. Before George Eastman introduced roll film, cameras used silver surfaced copper plates and inevitably were big, complicated, expensive, and only used by professional photographers. With the film, Eastman was able to market the Kodak cameras, which were small, foolproof, and cheap. Not only was the Kodak camera affordable, common people could also buy film rolls everywhere and easily have them developed at a reasonable cost. This system marked the advent of amateur photography. More and more people owned cameras, which resulted in changes in people’s point of views towards the world, and also in a boom in pictorial historical records, contributed by every ordinary family.

Now let’s move further back to the pre-film era of 19th Century. This is when the first permanent photoetching was introduced by Nicephore Niepce, and when the very term of “photography” was introduced by John Herschel. In this era, the power of photography came from the ancient lineage of fine art. After centuries of development, people have become accustomed to the method of translating three-dimensional objects onto a two-dimensional surface, and in very vivid, life-like ways. When it was first introduced, photography, a very hot medium with almost no room for ambiguity or disbute, was celebrated as the perfect reproduction of reality that no artist can compete with. The tradition that paintings try to be somewhat objective and reproduce real life brought photography to interest, and in turn, the quality and popularity of photography served to devalue artists’ skills in replicating reality, and drove artists to approach reality in a quite different way. Thus is born the school of Impressionism, which led to an entire new era of artistic subjectivity. With the cameras becoming more and more portable, some branches of photography started to acquire relaxed compositions, which also contributed to the relaxing of compositions in paintings, compared to its more staged tradition. This portability also extended to journalism, letting photography taking over earlier hand-drawn illustrations. Such photography-based journalism is deeply-rooted in our culture nowadays, that only by having proper photos can a report prove itself legitimate.

Then even before the 1822 first prototype, we have to remember that photography did not just appear from nowhere. In the 18th Century Thomas Wedgwood produced images on silver and Tiphaigne de la Roche published the novel Giphantie which predicted the notion of modern photography; in the 17th Century Wilhelm Homberg described the photochemical effect of certain chemicals darkening when met with light; in the 16th Century George Fabricius discovered silver chloride; in the 13th Century Albertus Magnus discovered silver nitrate, and dating all the way back to 5th/4th Century B.C., Mozi and Aristotle independently described the phenomenon of pinhole camera. Without an documenting and circulating system, these knowledge would not have survived, been passed on, learned and combined by the 19th Century generation who eventually brought photography into real life.

We sometimes think of photography as a technology, a medium that has completely changed our ways of living. Well, although it has had great influence on our world, it has never “completely” changed things on its own. Photography was born on the top of old wisdom that was preserved and circulated within an established literature system; it was popularized with the invention of film and the supply chain that came together; and it has now been applied everywhere in our lives because we are able to digitize things, translating images to 0s and 1s and vice versa. Photography was never born in the vacuum, and would never have had much impact had it stayed in its primitive form. It has gained its power through institutions, and has influenced the world through institutions.


Gernsheim, H., & Gernsheim, A. 1955. The History of Photography from the Earliest Use of the Camera Obscura in the Eleventh Century Up to 1914. Oxford University Press.
Gernsheim, H. 1986. A Concise History of Photography. Courier Dover Publications: Mineola, N.Y.
McLuhan, M. 1964. Understanding Media, the Extensions of Man.
Potonniee, G. 1973. The History of the Discovery of Photography. Arno Press.

New Media, Medium and the Message

By Catherine Cromer                                                                                                                 Access to new media, particularly social media, is now taken for granted much like other media objects of the past despite the increased complexities and mediums in a highly digital, or electronic, culture. The popularity and widespread use of smartphones has created a different kind of digital and media culture that is mediated through a number of institutions and social processes that are embedded in a history of changing technology and adaption of media landscapes by the social, political and economic landscape. For example, Instagram provides an interesting case study of how new media functions not merely through user-generated content, but through the medium as the message that ties the ubiquity of such media sharing and communication to notions of space and time, power and authority. Originally a mobile phone app, Instagram presents a metamedium interface that as McLuhan would say “works by making itself invisible.” Through a phone, millions of people are able to receive, send and upload data through a blink of an eye to these photography website, now owned by social media mogul Facebook. However, it is not just just the numerous pictures of food, cats and photo-filtered landscapes that make the meaning behind Instagram, it is its medium and mediation of photos, internet, phone, production and history.


In “Always Already New,” Gitelman points out that new media “is never entirely revolutionary: new media are less points of epistemic rupture than they are socially embedded sites for the ongoing negotiation of meaning as such.” The examples of the printing press and telegraph demonstrate how the information and communication produced from these technologies reconstructed the format of daily life by change the mode in which humans perceived and experience symbols. While perhaps not as groundbreaking as either of the aforementioned artefacts, Instagram lies within the greater medium of smartphones and social media with the additional revamping of the prior media technology of the camera and photography.  It’s position as part of the world of “user-generated media” makes the mediology of application hard to distinguish from its content. However, in order for Instagram to function, is important to understand the institutional-social structures, such as the creation and proliferation of smartphones for instant media gratification, companies like Apple and Facebook among others who have invested into the program and the desire of users for a sense of “power and authority” in producing self-generated media content. Instagram’s logo itself depicts a camera, yet one that symbolizes the notion of producing digital media through social media through the lens of a phone that can than be manipulated to look like an “authentic” photograph is an interesting of the extension of creating a picture and reality of ourselves though this medium. As it’s name implies, Instagram has changed the idea of time and space by allowing for automatic pictorial updates that are complex not only as a still moment of life,but one that can be altered through filters and cropped in matter of seconds.

As a form of cold media, Instagram is highly participatory and therefore depends on its users. However, in the land of the digital, the power and authority of who owns what is a contested social-ideological idea. The concept of ownership recently came into dispute as Facebook, who bought Instagram last year, announced in late 2012 that it “owned” all photos taken by users and had “the right to license all public Instagram photos to companies or any other organization, including for advertising purposes.” ( They quickly took out the language from the policy agreement after user uproar, but the dissemination of personal information is a mediation of the new digital era arising from these “free” social media sites. Additionally, to understand the mediation of digital photos, the evolution of photography, phones, the internet and social media need to be looked at as reconfigured means of communication and human understanding. The medium of the camera and the production of photography changed people’s cognitive and sensory faculties by providing easily reproducible, printable and in general real-life visuals of people, places and things without them actually being there at that exact time. Instagram is extending that notion in combination with social media in which it is common practice now to form digital identities and have multiple modes of instant communication. Many of us, especially younger generations have grown up with smartphones and access to social media, taking this technology and instant media sharing for granted. However, to understand the way that popular applications like Instagram shape our modes of communication, we have to understand the emergence and context of the medium.