What’s Interesting in Interdisciplinary Media Theory and How That Helps Us Think about Digitalization?

This week’s readings take a landscape view of the fields that help us to open our way of thinking out of the box. It challenges the assumptions that typical communication text books based on. There are indeed overlapping with the concepts that we were talking about in another class last semester with Professor Irvine. So in this post, I want to talk about something I think is both fresh and thought provoking to me.

Before read this week’s materials, I have a sense of the broad landscape of this class. Also I had a background of journalism and communication. What stroke me most is that, bearing the interdisciplinary method and Debray’s mediology concepts in mind, when I looked back the more mainstream communication discipline. McQuail gives us a very systematic way to understand the field of communication and I think can perfectly answer the question that most of people will ask: What does the discipline Communication mean? The term communication is so mundane that makes it not easy to understand in a academic scenario. Also we usually are confused with the use of the terms communication, information, media and medium. All those confusion and questions lead me to think: do we have to draw a strict boundary of communication as a discipline? If we don’t, what kind of interesting question that we can ask that is beyond the boundaries? Like what Debray says, “by looking from the perspective of mediology, we can ask more ‘interesting’ and ‘missing’ questions.”

So what is the assumptions that will change if we break the wall of disciplines? I think one of the most prominent changes are looking at information technologies and medias as interfaces. As what Luciano Floridi said in his essay Information, “What all these and many other metrics have in common is that they are all historical.” Every technologies that we have now are interfaces of the past and future. It is based on the historic development in both technologies and the numerous interaction with the society. Moreover, technologies and media are interfaces with other systems at the same time. Language, as a model of our “medium” illustrates this point to a great extent. Also, Stuart Hall’s theories of encoding and decoding help us to understand media as “interfaces”. We have our meaning system inside of our brain which embedded in a larger social/cultural context and we communicate meanings through language with other people. Every time we speak, we “offload” the meanings onto language and convey them to the people we talk to. And they receive the language and decode in their own brain. Thinking about other information/media systems such as computer (coding), cultural products (films, paintings, and music.) We “offload” our internal meanings onto those media vehicles and constantly encode and decode them at the same time.

The last subject that I want to discuss particularly is the question that professor Irvine raises in his article about digitalization. Professor Irvine asks that, what does it mean by digitalization? What is digitalized and what is not? What is the implications? I think those are all very thought provoking questions that we normally take granted. However, many years ago, Walter Benjamin talked about mechanical production of photography and its impact on traditional art (eg. paintings.) Interestingly, he then asked almost the same question that we are still struggling with nowadays (or maybe more confused about.) His most prominent concept “aura” stirs heated discussion about the “impact” of new media technologies on old ones. Benjamin was afraid that photographies with its features that can be reproduced unlimitedly, will impact the way we think of art. However, he is less interested in claiming that photography is bad/good than proposing that our NOTION of art is changing. I think every media technology is trying to define and redefine what is real. Same as digitalization. We are trying to use digital representations to build a new mode of reality. Our notion of realness and reality is constantly changing. Too illustrate my point, I’d like to use the Google gallery as an example. Strictly speaking, we cannot experience the so-called “aura” of the paintings and other objects from Google gallery but it does “augment” the reality in some sense. We can juxtapose two piece of arts on computer screen and read information and do comparison. We can zoom in and see the details of them, to a degree that I assume that we cannot see when we are literally standing in front of them. I think from the interdisciplinary point of view, we are less interested how those kinds of technologies IMPACT our culture because they are part of our culture, but more interested in asking questions like: how do we help those technologies to present and transmit culture better? I guess it is still an abstract question. I think more specifically, the question can be, is it possible to include every art all through the world into this gallery and what is our political and economical barriers that block us to do so?

I know I am talking too much about something we WILL talk about in the future. But this post for me, is a way to make my thoughts clearer and hopefully, will help people who read it, a way to think through those readings.