iPhone: a non-stop developing metamedium – Wency

iPhone: a non-stop developing metamedium – Wency

It seems to be something happened just yesterday where people wake up in the morning, carrying an MP3 on their way to work, going all the way to a company 10 miles away from their office for a conference, buying a newspaper or magazine from a newsstand after business, call their friend on telephone and complaining about what happened in the workplace, turning on the TV and crying for missing their favorite show.

People at that time might never have a chance to imagine that less than 20 years later, all the things I mentioned above can be done on a single, portable, fashionable device: the iPhone.

Take myself as an example, I listen to music on Spotify, apple music on my iPhone where I can almost access all kinds of music I can imagine. I have video conference or class on some extremely bad weather where I can enjoy the real-time face to face conversation just like what I have in person. I check newsify, twitter, Facebook and even Instagram everyday to see if there’s something new happened in this world (of course, not only news but a ton of gossips from a lot of celebrities). I snapchat my friend everyday with photo, video and add some words and emojis to draw their attention. I never wait in front of the TV in case I might miss the TV series or reality show because I’m sure that the same version would still be release on, for instance, YouTube, within a few days.

Never would those people imagine that those applications existing today are releasing new version almost non-stop: New functions, new GUI (like one application I’ve been using has just changed the way of displaying users’ profile recently), new interfaces added to connect to other third-party applications and new competitors offering similar but extended or refined functions emerging every day.

The emergence of these new media (digital, or software-based media), thus brings out a new word, i.e., metamedium, while according to Manovich, computer is the first metamedium, all these digital devices including smart phones, PC, iPad, etc., can be defined as metamedium which is a combination of existing new, and yet to be invented media, a media for presenting, transforming other media (Manovich, 2016, p. 335; Irvine, 2014). The fourth mode of interface, i.e., graphic user interface (GUI and the first three are electrical, symbolic and textual), turns today’s digital computer into a remediation machine which continues the bridge connecting the previous media and computational media and further, users can control this graph to display different amount of information (Manovich, 2016, p.58-59, p.73).

The beauty of the idea to use software to implement and realize the function of media is the flexibility and high efficiency: we can add new properties or even invent new types of media by simply changing existing or writing new software, therefore, new media is new because new properties (i.e. new software techniques) can always be easily added to it (Manovich, 2016, p.92). Besides, the definition of medium, in terms of software, is now turned into the sum of algorithm and a data structure (Manovich, 2016, p.207), in other words, all previously existing and newly invented mediums share some common properties, they rely on a set of common software techniques for data management, authoring, and communication (Manovich, 2016, p.123), therefore, the material itself of different media becomes less important, it is rather the universal media machine that makes all seemingly different platform happen easily, just as in the conversation between Apple and Microsoft when they both share a same rich uncle, it is thus the same source which is later reimplemented that makes the magic happen (Manovich, 2016, p.70; Irvine, 2014). Besides, since the manipulation of data, code is much faster than that on the physical materials (although the actual operation of computer is relied on the physical hardware), the update and release of new version of media on the computing devices is thus much faster than it used to be, the whole sequence from user, user interface, algorithm and database is highly organized and connected which thus enables multiple factors and contributor to participate into the design and updating processes, such permanent extensibility thus enables software-based media to always be new (Manovich, 2016, p.156).

Besides, as Engelbart mentioned in the earlier years when he believed that properly trained and with the right computer tools, we could raise out collective IQ, namely, computer is not simply a tool, but also a medium through the interaction with which we are therefore able to gain an increased capability to approach a complex problem system (Englebart, n.d.). As a metamedium, computer not only offers us an integrated platform involving all the previous medium, but also, it detects the affordance latent in the environment which was used to be considered impossible. Meanwhile, with the constant update of technology and interface, users are also required to adjust and work with the technology which in turn helps them develop the augmentation means (Englebart, n.d.).

Another interesting point about computer as a metamedium is based on its technical aspect where the interaction between user and computer is becoming more and more important in that the application layer lies on the top of the hierarchy of computer. According to Murray’s explanation of HCI (human-computer interaction), users are not merely consumers or audience, but also are invited into the participatory design process (Murray, 2012, p.64, p.71). This, on the other hand, introduces the situated action theory where it is not enough to merely see users as interchangeable processors of information, who all behave the same way, but as uniquely positioned, complex actors whose frames of reference is shaped by the surrounding social and material world (Murray, 2012, p.62). Take Twitter as an example, while we are checking the news on Twitter, our opinions are not only easily affected by our friends, families, schools, workplaces, but also those real time interactive comments by other users which to some extents serves as another source of information and shapes our interpretation of the news. Thus, computing devices, together with the whole complex social, technical network, makes such metamedium not only an umbrella which contains and manipulates all other kinds of media, but also a hybrid one where information is exchangeable and inter-related (Manovich, 2016, p.170).


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