Author Archives: Shuqi Liu

Self-Presentation on LinkedIn: From the Perspective of Mediation

Shuqui Liu

Abstract

LinkedIn, as the most popular and reliable social media platform in the field of professional career, exerts an increasingly indispensable influence on social network establishment and jobs’ applications. The paper focuses on the role LinkedIn plays in the process of it from the perspective of mediation. Technically speaking, LinkedIn is an innovative remediation of previous media and technologies and affords more scenarios and allows bilateral communications online. As a meta-medium representing other media, LinkedIn has personal portraits, online resumes, and homepage as tokens to convey meanings of professionality and reliability based on default social consensus. Online presentation on LinkedIn is a simulation of authenticity essentially. Self-presentation on LinkedIn has to face a severe issue that who the audience is.

Key Words: Self-Presentation; LinkedIn; Social Media; Mediation


Introduction

LinkedIn, launched in 2003, is the largest online social media that mainly focus on professional networking, job seeking, and recruitment (Girard & Fallery, 2010). It targets those who have needs to seek jobs or employees. It is a platform both for employers to promote themselves and post recruitments and for job applicants to demonstrate their resumes to leave positive impressions. In addition, people take advantage of LinkedIn to build their new social network and gain more social resources. For example, they search for someone who works in their ideal companies or industries and send messages to them via LinkedIn to grasp useful information.

Out of these unequivocal purposes, users of LinkedIn are playing the roles that they expect to be seen in order to achieve their occupational goals. In other words, they are making self-presentation. It is “the use of behaviors to communicate some information about oneself to others. (Baumeister, 1982)” With the word, Erving Goffman stated in his The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life, people are making “impression management” on a front stage, LinkedIn. According to Goffman, a self is a dramatic effect, which is revealed from demonstrative scenarios (Erving Goffman, 1965).

Though interaction on social media is still based on humans, coincide with the alteration of a whole interactive framework, skills, and consequences that individuals interact and present themselves vary obviously as well. Because of the virtuality of social media, all information expressed on it is symbolic and meaningful, which can be differentiated from reality in real lives’ performance (Hogan. B, 2010). At the same time, it is due to the fact that social media is equipped with abundant symbols and meanings that it becomes a popular platform for individuals to show themselves.

Extant research on self-presentation mainly concentrates on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, which cover a broad range of people’ lives. By comparison, fewer papers are about segmented or vertical social media, such as LinkedIn in a professional field. Moreover, the majority of studies focus on psychological or social factors influencing self-presentation or placing it in the context of social constructionism. Therefore, this essay starts from the perspective of social media design, trying to combine media theory, semiosis, and information theory to explain roles that LinkedIn plays in the formation and demonstration of users’ performative self. That is to say, it is necessary to de-blackbox LinkedIn as a social media in the context of self-presentation. What are design principles LinkedIn follow? What’s the characteristics of it as a profession-oriented social media? How does it mediate performative self?

Understand LinkedIn as a Social Media

Tracing back to the origin of the term “medium”, it means “in the middle” or “in between” (Martin Irvine, 2018). It connects two or more things together and establish mutual relationships, such as carriers and content, or signifiers and signified. Depending on the development of technology, forms of media evolve simultaneously, from paper, telegraphs, radios, TVs, to the Internet and so on. Various media forms result in various systems of expression, transmission, and consumption. Thusly, de-blackboxing LinkedIn might be necessary to better understand it as a unique social media which is relatively new compared with preceding media.

Affordance. Prior to the emergence of LinkedIn, there still existed strong needs to both hunts for occupations and personnel, and thusly generating other intermediate actants to bear the same duties. Some newspapers or magazines have a whole page for recruiting advertisement. Offline career fairs or meet-and-greet events are of great necessity as well. Nevertheless, these existing approaches still have disadvantages. For instance, newspapers’ advertisement is a linear transmission of information, lacking sufficient communication between employers and applicants. Career fairs have limitations of time and space, which constrains the scale or increase the costs of searching for matched candidates.

With LinkedIn, whereas, these drawbacks diminish in a sense because it enables bilateral communication and transcends time’s and space’s limits based on the popularity of the Internet. It affords more scenarios than conventional approaches that serve the same functions. Affordance is introduced by perceptual psychologist James Gibson and used by Donald Norman to describe the action possibility perceivable by an actor (Norman, 1999). In the case of LinkedIn, LinkedIn is the actor that takes the responsibilities of newspaper and career fairs.

From the perspective of self-presentation, LinkedIn provides two specific affordances for users. Firstly, we can exhibit or demonstrate our digital imprint (Tufekei, Z., 2008). That’s to say, if we don’t delete or hide our information on our own initiatives, our homepage can be accessed to all visitors all the time. Besides that, self-presentation on LinkedIn often lacks specific contexts, so information is fragmented and isolated without underpinning of an understandable environment. Some scholars named it as “cue-reduced environment” (Walther, J.B., 1996), and some researchers entitled it as “context collapse”(Marwick. A. E, & Boyd, D., 2011).

Remediation. With the boost of multiple online social communication platforms, what we usually name “social media”, such as Facebook and Twitter, increasing amounts of segmented and professional social media emerged, like LinkedIn. It is designed to simulate or re-mediate earlier forms of media that already existed for a long time in human history, such as paper resumes, blogs, instant-messaging tools. In this sense, there is nothing new about LinkedIn. It doesn’t invent anything but merely figures out an innovative to organize modules that we have and make them better to serve its purpose. As a result, with the help of knowledge and using principles that ingrained in people’s cognitive system, LinkedIn is very user-friendly. Even a new user can be familiar with and handle LinkedIn in short time. Besides that, its remediation of previous media forms also turns it into a meta-media which represents other media, such as writing, images, videos, and intercommunication tools.

LinkedIn’s Design and Its Career-Oriented Meanings

Based on what we discussed above, LinkedIn acts as a social media bearing multiple media forms and functional modules. Why does it apply these media and functions? How do they enact influence on personal self-presentation? Charles Sanders Peirce’s trichotomy of signs can be applied to explain that.

Personal Portraits. On LinkedIn, the most direct way to showcase oneself and leave a profound and positive impression on others is personal photos. A professional and attractive photo can catch people’s attention instantly and incite their interest in you at the first glance in the absence of any other background information. Usually, those who have desires to make appealing impression take photos especially for seeking employment.

There are a couple of characteristics of such photos. First of all, it is universal that most people wear formal attires or professional uniforms to take pictures. Obviously, dressing decently make people look more reliable and intelligent, even though it’s hard to tell how strong the correlation is. But it is like a default setting. People follow social norms sometimes unconsciously. In the process of socialization, such as receiving education and affected by mass media, concepts like business formal, business casual, and causal are implanted in people’s mind. Relations between dress codes and appropriate occasions are not established naturally but went through a long history of fashion development and social agreement. According to Piece’s theories, these are symbolic tokens that are built upon social consensus. Aside from dress code, facial expressions and background images are also strictly and potentially regulated (Sigal Tifferet, Iris Vilnai-Yavetz, 2017). The majority of people choose smiling or serious expressions instead of exaggerating or hilarious ones. Background images are usually of pure colors or meaningful representamens.

From these latent norms, an apparent difference of personal images between LinkedIn and other common social media is that photos on LinkedIn are objects which are supposed to convey meanings of professionality and reliability. The meanings behind photos are socially constructed. On the contrary, users can utilize whatever photos they like as their personal images on other social media. Because in that case, they can reveal their personalities and uniqueness.

Online Resume. A resume is the main arena for self-presentation in LinkedIn. It condenses all relevant background information of a job applicant in one page, which sometimes plays a decisive role whether an employer is interested in you. There is a popular saying that, “an employer doesn’t spend more than 5 seconds to scan through a resume.” It could be a little bit exaggerated, but it sheds light on how significant it is to present oneself via resume.

A resume is not a creative invention at all. However, putting resumes on a social media and make them available to all can be another story. An online resume is the most popular and useful modules of LinkedIn. On the one hand, it is for users to present themselves. They dive into all experiences they had before and try to figure out a few spotlights from them. They list their educational and working experience, skills and honors, volunteer history, and other interests, in order to meet requirements that an ideal job sets. On the other hand, headhunter firms or human resources departments are able to have a basic understanding of possible employees efficiently. Compared with online searching and browsing resumes, traditional ways to recruitment are easier to miss people with talents.

In these dual processes, symbolic meanings of resumes reveal. Educational experiences show how intelligent or hard-working a job applicant is. Working experiences reflect competence and experience. Skills examine whether one is equipped with essential skills that a position requests. Nothing is meaningless, because of limited attention of potential employers. All information is based on a default social contract that everything mentioned on resumes is of priority when considering if one is qualified.

Homepage. Technically speaking, the homepage on LinkedIn is similar in appearance to counterparts on Facebook and Twitter. It is a subsidiary platform to exhibit oneself. It allows posing texts, photographs, and videos on your homepage that anyone following you can see.

Though social media mentioned above share analogous functions, they are placed in distinctive contexts so that contain different meanings and purpose. Self-presentation on common social media vary greatly depending on what genres of images one wants to present. In the case of LinkedIn, whereas, the goal is quite clear that everyone wishes to demonstrate an enterprising and responsible self. In consequence, nearly all content posted on one’s page is picked up and organized delicately for the potential audience.

For instance, someone might upload a couple of photographs with working overtime to show how diligent he is. According to information theory, photographs here are encoded with hidden meanings. However, the audience might decode these photos into a completely different meaning that the person is inefficient. What distorts information in the process of transmission is noise. Anything interfering the accuracy of transmission can be regarded as noise, such as cultural barriers and personal understandings. It is due to the clarified purpose in this case that any misunderstanding can be deadly disastrous. No one is willing to take risks to detriment his career life. Thusly, in order to avoid the distortion of information, most people on LinkedIn will take up relatively conservative strategies to promote themselves. That is to say, what they pose usually are with clear expressions and direct connotations.

Characteristics of Self-Presentation on LinkedIn

Essentially, from what stated above, self-presentation on LinkedIn is a self-promotion campaign. LinkedIn acts as an online social platform for users to reconstruct and renovate their self-images to establish a social network and to hunt for jobs. It is similar to a traditional interview, but the most distinguished difference is that LinkedIn is like a comprehensive interview with no time and place, so applicants have no choice but to wear masks to perform professionally whenever they are using it. Once you log in your LinkedIn account, the curtain opens, and the show gets started.

Some previous studies examine self-presentation on social media from the perspectives of perfectionism, narcissism, and personality traits. Undoubtedly, these aspects also affect how individuals present themselves on LinkedIn, but it doesn’t have the strongest explanatory power. Self-presentation on common social media results from needs of self-fulfillment and self-appreciation. Those who immerse in self-presentation usually set high criteria for themselves and attempt to achieve the ideal images via social media. Nevertheless, self-presentation on LinkedIn is out of certain pressure, because people have needs to enhance social resources and lay foundations for a future career. Even if you are not outbound or articulate, profession pressure still urges you to stand on the stage. Therefore, Ervin Goffman’s dramaturgical theory might be more appropriate in the case study of LinkedIn.

Simulation and Authenticity. In early studies of self-presentation, Goffman spotlights interpersonal interaction via languages’ symbols or non-languages’ symbols in face-to-face communication in real lives, which can be compared to live shows. For example, that a waiter smile at his customers doesn’t imply he is really welcoming them but just a universal ritual. He acts as a waiter so that he has to smile.

In the circumstance above, self-presentation fades out in a few seconds and cannot be recorded and reproduced by cameras in most occasions. Unlike its counterparts on LinkedIn, if the subject doesn’t delete it specially, its data can remain for a quite long time. Though there exist some differences between what Goffman said and what we experience on LinkedIn, concepts he provided can still be applied to online communication.

From the perspective of Ervin Goffman, self-presentation is a daily performance. On LinkedIn, whereas, it gets closer to the demonstration. Bernie Hogan argues that self-presentation on the Internet evolves from performance to self-exhibition (Bernie Hogan, 2010). When considering this issue, there two layers to be discussed. First and foremost, the whole process of simulation has to go through at least three procedures, which are categorizing facts about oneself, sorting by importance, and making decisions. Some less crucial information or something equally critical but the owner wants to conceal will be omitted. A job applicant can hide his recent failure in a project but just show what he succeeded in. Hence, an HR might judge his competence inaccurately. Beyond that, in the absence of contexts, such as the coordinate of time and space, it can be vague or even misleading for the audience to understand. That’s why Benjamin argued that “sphere of authenticity is outside the technical [sphere]. (Walter Benjamin, 1936)” Although Benjamin put forward this concept by stating the reproduction of artworks, it is beneficiary to understand the insurmountable gap between one’s image on LinkedIn and himself. Lacking actual and direct interaction, the aura is eroded. Posing information on LinkedIn can be seen as a kind of reproduction of self. No matter how much information a job applicant gives, it is still hard to know him genuinely.

Audience Isolation and Imagined Audience. Daily self-presentation must be placed within certain boundaries. In other words, people adopt various strategies to manage their impressions in a different context. The reasons why context exerts such an indispensable effect is that it involves role plays and imagined audience. Everyone plays multiple roles in the world, such as a father, a citizen, a worker, and a Marvel fan. It’s difficult for one person to play more than one role at the same time because the requirements and expectations sometimes are completely different. Each role has its corresponding responsibilities and thusly personalities. People have designed a set of behavioral patterns for a certain group of audience. If anyone else interrupts the balance, situations must be awkward. That’s what Goff call “audience isolation”.

But audience isolation has two premises. Firstly, the audience must be identifiable. However, in the case of LinkedIn, that who will visit your CV is beyond your control. It could be an HR, an old friend, or even a stranger. The audience of your homepage is not identifiable anymore but merely a kind of “Imagined audience”. Secondly, the audience can be isolated. On LinkedIn, you can adjust the privacy setting to insulate visitors, which is workable. But meanwhile costs of time and energy consumption is so high, and this action precludes the possibilities of some potential social resources from getting touch with you. As a consequence, users have to choose the tactic of “lowest common denominator” which is to perform neutrally and conservatively to avoid any possible troubles.

Conclusion

LinkedIn, as the most popular and reliable social media platform in the field of professional career, exerts an increasingly indispensable influence on social network establishment and jobs’ applications. For the sake of self-promotion, the majority of users present glorified selves on it selectively. This paper focuses on the role LinkedIn plays in the process of it from the perspective of mediation.

Firstly, technically speaking, LinkedIn itself is an innovative remediation of previous media and technologies, such as blogs, CVs, and instant chatting tools. Before the emergence of LinkedIn, the needs to hunt for jobs and talents also exist but were satisfied by other forms, like career fairs and recruitment advertisements on newspapers. Compared with these prior forms, LinkedIn affords more scenarios and allows bilateral communications online. Although these forms remain today, LinkedIn assumes their roles to some extent.

As a meta-medium representing other media, LinkedIn has a lot of modules designed for self-presentation. The paper emphasizes three of them, personal portraits, online resumes, and homepage. By applying Piece’s semiotic theories, these three modules are all tokens to convey meanings of professionality and reliability based on default social consensus. But they also have nuanced differences based on their own characteristics and function as a whole to set up a positive self-image.

Extant studies mainly engaged in Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, so it is worthwhile to examine what uniqueness LinkedIn has. This paper has a conversation with Erving Goffman’s dramaturgical theory briefly. Online presentation on LinkedIn is a simulation of authenticity essentially, which unavoidably exits a gap between a real person or real interaction. In the word of Benjamin, aura fades away in this process. Beyond that, self-presentation on LinkedIn has to face a severe issue that who the audience is. Because the audience becomes unpredictable and thusly uncontrollable on LinkedIn, users might be more inclined to perform neutrally and safely.

Reference

Baumeister, R. F. (1982). A self-presentational view of social phenomena. Psychological Bulletin, 91(1), 3e26. https://doi.org/10.1037/0033-2909.91.1.3.

Erving Goffman (1965). The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life

Girard, A., & Fallery, B. (2010). Human resource management on the Internet: New Perspectives. Journal of Contemporary Management Research, 4(2), 1e14.

Hogan, B. (2010). The presentation of self in the age of social media: Distinguishing performances and exhibitions online. Bulletin of Science, Technology & Society,30(6), 377-386.

Martin Irvine (2018). Introduction to the Technical Theory of Information. https://drive.google.com/file/d/0Bxfe3nz80i2GblNSalRIS2N5R28/view

Martin Irvine (2018). Introduction to Signs, Symbolic Cognition and Semiotics. Retrieved 2018, May 2, from http://faculty.georgetown.edu/irvinem/CCTP748/

Jakub Macek (2013). More than a desire for text: Online participation and social curation of content.

Joe Cox, Thang Nguyen, Andy Thorpe, Alessio Ishizaka, Salem Chakhar, Liz Meech (2018). Being seen to care: The relationship between self-presentation and contributions to online pro-social crowdfunding campaigns. Computers in Human Behavior.

Norman, D. A. (1999). Affordance, conventions, and design. interactions, 6(3), 38-43.

Marwick, A. E & Boyd. D.(2011). I tweet honestly, I tweet passionately: Twitter users, context collapse, and the imagined audience. New media & society, 13(1), 114-133.

Kitrina Douglas & Dacid Carless (2008). Nurturing a Performative Self. Forum: Qualitative Social Research, 9(2)

Walter Benjamin (1936). The Work of Art in the Era of its Technological Reproducibility.

Walther,J. B. (1996). Computer-mediated communication:Impersonal,interpersonal, and hyperpersonal interaction, Communication Research, 23(1), 3-43.

Sigal Tifferet, Iris Vilnai-Yavetz (2017). Self-presentation in LinkedIn portraits: Common features, gender, and occupational differences.

Google Art: Reality and Reproduction

If you can replicate all properties of a drop of tear, including its chemical components, temperature, shape, and so on, can this drop of water be named after “tear?” After read through this week’s articles, this question jumped into my mind and intrigued me to think about the relationship between reality and simulation.

What impressed me most about Google Art & Museum is that it is not only a meta-media that represents other media, but also simulation and reproduction of artworks and their surrounding milieu.

Users can find a lot of well-known and valuable paintings, sculptures, or other artworks from various museums on the Google Art & Museum. Basically, it is a collection or a platform of artifacts, but it is beyond that as well. By transcends the boundaries of the limitations of space and time, it enables audiences to appreciate artworks at any museums at any time. That’s what it is called “the museum without walls”, which is beneficial to art education to a larger audience. With high resolution, users can zoom in photographs of artifacts showed in Google Art & Museum and even can clearly observe details on a real painting, such as stokes and pixels. On the contrary, sometimes when visitors appreciate a painting in a gallery, they are required to stand behind it to prevent potential damages.

Moreover, Google Art & Museum does not merely take a photograph to demonstrate images but create its scenarios as well. According to Nancy Proctor, “the stories and relationships revealed by the way objects are hung in the galleries offer as much insight into the works as any catalog or other document authored by an expert.” For instance, its “street view” 360-degree mimics the experience that visitors pay a visit to museums by revealing surrounding images with 360-degree.

Nevertheless, some controversies remain considering the simulation for “the real”artifacts. Even with Google’s 360-degree. Based on my user experience, whereas, it is not very smooth to manipulate yet and fails to reconstruct real feelings when visiting museums. As Smee stated, “you may see more, but most agree that you feel less in front of these virtual paintings.” Even when people wear the whole set of virtual reality instruments that technology could reach out nowadays, there still remains distances between reality and stimulation, let alone 360-degree “street view”. In a museum, all sensing organs are activated to immerse the owner into the atmosphere, involving eyes, nose, ears, and even touch, which is a unique experience that people cannot have with simply viewing a painting in front of a cold machine.

I do think that in the case of Google Art, museums play the role of source materials of images for Pinterest-style selection and arrangement. It is due to a sea of valuable objects in these museums that make online demonstration possible. Based on these source materials, Google Art categorizes them into several sub-sets, such as feature-theme, feature stories, artists, and collections. Likewise, Pinterest utilizes classification to arrange its materials.

Bibliography:

  1. Agostino, C. (2015). Distant presence and bodily interfaces:” digital-beings” and Google Art Project. Museological Review, (19), 63-69.
  2. Beil, K. (2013). Seeing syntax: Google art project and the twenty-first-century period eye. Afterimage40(4), 22.
  3. Benjamin, W., & Underwood, J. A. (2008). The work of art in the age of mechanical reproduction (Vol. 10). London: Penguin.
  4. Proctor, N. (2011). The Google Art Project: A new generation of museums on the web?. Curator: The Museum Journal54(2), 215-221.
  5. Irvine, M. (2018). Malraux and the Musee Imaginaire: (Meta)Mediation, Representation, and Mediating Institutions.

Human-Computer Interaction

Once a friend of mine told me that when she changed her laptop from Windows to Apple, she suddenly realized PC is just a computer, but MacBook is a tool for humans. How did she jump to this conclusion? The main reason was that of the strong bond of human-computer interaction, especially various gestures applied to a touchpad. According to her, it was much easier to manipulate a touchpad on MacBook than on other PCs, and she didn’t even need to use a mouse anymore. This is a small daily example to show how the design of human-computer Interaction influences users’ senses of control.

Recently, I was dealing with HCI for a period of time because my group in 506 picked a projection keyboard as the technology we focused on. Basically, a projection keyboard enables users to type on any flat interfaces at any time they want. It can be applied to more using scenarios, such as when hands are dirty or high portability is required. It is evolutionary and pioneering in transcending the boundaries of a physical keyboard and its typing function and realizing typing freedom to a larger extent.

The reason we chose this technology is that we regard it as a representative of a tendency of HCI, which is to liberate users from more and physical devices and empower them senses of control. However, it is no need to overstate how deeply a projection keyboard alters ways people interact with computers. A projection keyboard is not successful or universal as we expected, which might be due to the abundance of other means of interaction, like voice recognition system, motion capture, or facial recognition. These ways amplify strengthen and amplify the connections between humans and computers, making “we are always interacting.” to become true. In addition, the rate of typing accuracy impedes a projection keyboard to gain more market share. Therefore, a projection keyboard is an intermediate product in the development of HCI. It is not influential enough, but it does indicate its symbolic meanings.

An interesting fact on a projection keyboard is that when users type on the virtual keyboard, it will emit sounds mimicking real typing sounds to make users have a better experience.  This design can also be seen as a basic example of  “Augmented Reality“. Though it is not a real keyboard, it can make you feel like it is by augmenting different dimensions of senses.

Like the case of projection keyboards, Graphical User Interface shows how the design of interfaces increasingly concentrates on user-friendliness. In most occasions, they stem from the desires or requests of users or are good at discovering users’ potential needs. For instance, the evolvement of ways of interaction is from electrical, symbolic, textual to graphical. During this process, the thresholds of interaction fade away and it becomes more direct and suitable for people’s using habits after socialization. This alteration also fits with the trend to diminish the barriers of human-computer interaction and to make users play more positive roles in it.

Alan Kay’s design principles on meta-media, such as computers, still deeply affect big companies’ decision-making process, and make user experience design a significant and broad aspect that they need to concern about. UX design not only includes HCI but also involves a large range of users’ feedback and multi-dimensions of enjoyment. It could be another issue that we might need to dive into.

Programming Language & Computational Thinking

Due to the inefficiency, obscurity, and complexity of natural languages people use in daily lives, people develop computation which is “the outcome of centuries of cumulative human symbolic thoughts for representing abstract patterns and processes”. Nowadays, we have programming languages for computers to understand easily and clearly, such as Python, JavaScript, and C++. Some of these languages are closer to machine language, such as assembly language, and some get closer to natural languages, such as Python.

Someone might regard that Python is more superior than assembly language and misunderstand that programming language itself is computational thinking. However, programming language, like natural language, is a system of symbols and meanings instead of thoughts. Hence, using natural-like language for coding is not an important direction. The purpose of a programming language is to solve a problem, to interpret an ambiguous and realistic question, so the most significant part of a programming language is how to realize it.

When humans are thinking a problem, the image emerges in their minds are complete and abstract. For instance, to fix the problem of a malfunctioned laptop, people who know nothing about programming might figure out its evident symptoms, such as the black screen or uncontrollable mouse unconsciously. But experts in it at least go through three steps: abstraction, automation, and analysis.

Thinking at multiple levels of abstraction plays a vital role in computational thinking which translates a specific problem into a series of representants. Basically, abstraction is to use symbols to represent meanings and build a theoretical model to handle a practical task. When I was learning Python in WomenCode group in Georgetown University, before we started to code formally, the first step the tutor required us to do is to draw a flow chart which assisted us to separate a specific task into a few steps. I think it is always the most crucial part to do this work because it practices people’s capabilities to think like a computer, abstracting the real task out of a vague description of the problem, establishing a set of procedures step by step to solve it and enact your idea. This process is also called Pseudocode. It is not exactly coding, but for humans to understand. Moreover, there could be various ways to complete one task, such as using if/else or while loop. Despite many feasible ways, we need to figure out which one is the most efficient and direct.

Therefore, programming language itself is not the panacea to entangle a problem but is a system of symbols to represent meanings and describe the whole problem. I have learned basic Java, Python, HTML, and CSS in CCT, which was unimaginable for me before because I had the stereotype that programming languages are for those who major in computer science. But now I realize that everyone needs to have a fundamental command of coding because of its underlying logic and ways of thinking.

Just as Douglas Adams said, “A computer terminal … is an interface where the mind and body can connect with the universe and move bits of it about”. Computers, or even higher level of artificial intelligence, are the extension of humans. They enable humans to build more connections with the truth and knowledge of the universe.

Reference:

  1. Evans, D. (2011). Introduction to Computing: Explorations in Language, Logic, and Machines.
  2. Hillis, W.D. (1999). The Pattern on The Stone: The Simple Ideas That Make Computers Work
  3. Wing, J. (2006). Computational Thinking. Communications of the ACM 49(3). pp. 33-35
  4. Irvine, M. (2018). Introductory video.
  5. Irvine, M. (2018). An introduction to Computational concepts.

Understanding Televisions

“Understanding technologies, especially our media and computational technologies– as part of our cultural and social systems, and not as a separable domain.” This statement is easy to be taken for granted. Technologies do shape our lifestyles, environment, and perspectives to view the world, but the more important question is how this process happens? And what role do technologies play in a shaping process? According to Latour, technologies are not “instrumentality” which was my thought before reading articles this week, but an “inter-agency” emphasizing the interaction between human and machines. To view technologies as “inter-agency” is to reexamine their functions and symbolic meanings in the whole socio-technical system.

I would like to take televisions as an example. Television is a vital medium in the history of human beings, or in other words, in a sociotechnical system, which largely alters people’s habitual behaviors of absorbing information, spending their time with their families, and so on. As a black box, technologies inside a television are opaque and invisible, which requires us to decloak of its normal invisibility. I would like to follow the instructions organized by prof. Irvine to de-black box televisions as a medium technology.

First of all, a digital television consists of three major parts, the front-end, transmission and allocation, and the terminal. Each of these parts has its physical and symbolic functions.The front-end is responsible for dealing with sources, transmitting original signals, and dealing with the transmission in order to gather data and signals and digitize analog signals. The transmission and allocation involve satellites, cable wires, network or microwaves, and cable broad bands. The terminal is what we usually call a “television”, which adopts a screen and a set-top box (a receiver). Simply speaking, they play the role as a source, an encoder or transducer, and a receiver.

Moreover, television as a sociotechnical artifact, delegates what should be done by humans to itself. For instance, before the era of television, people have to go to a theatre to watch a show, sometimes they also need to wait for the troupe to come to their cities. But with television, they can simply just sit at home comfortably without wasting time in transportation. In the process stated above, television plays the role of an actant which substitutes humans to do something.

As McLuhan says, “medium is message”. Television is one of the most powerful and popular media in 20th. Its characteristics, such as immediacy and hypermediacy, result in new forms of the message based on televisions, like TV news, TV series, and reality shows.

In addition, a medium is also an environment which cultivates certain genres of culture, value, and social function. For example, the first debate between president’s candidates on TV was between Kennedy and Nixon. Kennedy reversed his disadvantageous situation by showing on TV with decent clothing and excellent speech and won the election eventually. This example is often used to illustrate the magic televisions have to shape audiences’ impressions. Based on this observation, we can tell that televisions are not only transmitting “content” or “information”, but also “a two-way interface for mediating social-cultural authority, value, meanings.”

Although with the emergence and popularity of laptops and YouTubes, the importance or power of television eclipse, it is remediated into these new-coming media in a way with the redistribution of value and power. Besides that, remediation affects the scenarios televisions are used and their symbolic meanings. Television often represents the union of a family because it is placed in the living room where people spend their time together. If people are alone, they incline to use laptops or other media to watch videos instead of televisions.

Reference:

1.Irvine, M. (2018). Media, Mediation, and Sociotechnical Artefacts: Methods for De-Blackboxing.

2. Latour, B. (1994). On technical mediation. Common knowledge3(2), 29-64.

3. Latour, B. (1990). Technology is society made durable. The Sociological Review38(1_suppl), 103-131.

4. Zhang, J., & Patel, V. L. (2008). Distributed cognition, representation, and affordance. Cognition Distributed: How Cognitive Technology Extends Our Minds16, 137-144.

YouTube as a Medium

To understand the role YouTube plays in the information communication system, it is indispensable to de-blackbox YouTube. Simply speaking, it is a vide gathering and distribution website that users or agencies upload videos spontaneously and audiences can search for video resources in need. Obviously, videos are the content of YouTube while videos themselves are a form of medium. From this point of view, YouTube is a carrier of videos which are generated by users.

Hypermediacy. A video is one of the most universal and powerful medium forms in carrying information nowadays, though Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality also extend the sensors of human beings. It is not merely the simple combinations of other media, such as scripts, sounds, and images, but it also takes advantage of these media organically and develops a brand-new form of media.

Immediacy. As Bolter Grusin stated, “they are all attempts to achieve immediacy by ignoring or denying the presence of the medium and the act of mediation.” From this perspective, video largely shorten the psychological distances between scenes and audiences and realize great immediacy in a way. However, it is worthwhile to notice that inevitably, medium plays a dual role in communicating the authentic information and its audiences. On the one side, it conveys messages and enables users to have a basic knowledge. On the other side, a medium can only demonstrate a few aspects of the truth which can be misleading, and it can also be manipulated or distorted intendedly. Hence, even though videos achieve immediacy to a larger degree than newspapers, broadcasting, and photograph, its reliability remains to be investigated carefully.

“Medium is Message.” Marshall McLuhan’s innovative statement enables us to re-examine YouTube itself as a medium. As what stated above, YouTube is a carrier or a platform that provides the connection between videos and audiences, but it is not neutral. Its characteristics can result in the boom of the messages it prefers, even becoming a cultural phenomenon. For instance, Youtuber is a group of netizens who shoot or edit videos themselves and attract according followers. They make various genres of videos, among which vlog is one of the most popular ones. Why “Youtuber” and vlog emerge from the platform of YouTube instead of other forms of media? Some apparent characteristics of YouTube might explain this question, such as high in participation, fast speed of spread, strong interaction and immediacy.

Hot or Cold Media. This pair of concepts assists us to understand YouTube’s high in participation and strong immediacy. According to McLuhan, “hot media are… low in participation and cool media are high in participation or completion by the audience.” Moreover, hot media extends one single sense in “high definition” while cold media is in low definition. Whereas, in the case of YouTube, the clarification is a little paradoxical to me. YouTube provides higher participation by uploading videos and commenting beneath a video when it is compared to television, another carrier of “videos”. But meanwhile, it is in “high definition” as well because it shows what things are directly and multi-dimensionally beyond adequate room for imagination like novels.

 

Reference:

Marshall McLuhan (1964),
Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man.

Jay David Bolter and Richard Grusin (2000). Remediation: Understanding New Media.

How the Physical Components Taking Abstractable

Readings in this week offers me innovative connections between semiotics what we learnt before and communication system together, which broadens the boundaries of these seemly separate concepts and creates a more comprehensive theoretical framework. I would like to try to answer the second perspective prof. Irvine put forward, how the physical components of symbol systems, are taking abstractable into a different kind of physical signal unit for transmission and recomposition.

In 506, we learnt a concept “capture” which means conversion of human behavior and real-world data into machine input. The “capture” process includes humans& world, sensor, transducer, encoder, and machines& computers. It is consonant with Claude Shannon’s transmission model. Needless to say, they both involves information sources and destination. In the case of capture, transmitter and receiver are transducer and encoder, which transduce physical signals to electricity and then encode it into machine-readable language. Noise source can also play a vital role in this process. Noise source refers to any disturbances affecting the accuracy and certainty of the information transmitted. When it comes to the “capture” case, noise can be unstable Wi-Fi connection, typos, or out of electricity. Shannon even applied a physical term “entropy” to explain noise source better. Entropy means disorder and messy state in physics originally. The messier, the higher entropy. Things have the tendency to flow from low state to high state, in other words, which means that things tend to be from tidy state to messy state.

Though we have basic ideas how information gets transmitted from physical components to digital symbols in computing systems, meanings have not been mentioned in the whole process, which is the very dilemma Peter J. Denning and Tim Bell put forward. If meanings are separated from the information transmission model, how do meanings get transmitted? They concluded that sign-referent interpretation that “information consists of both signs and referents” can resolve this paradox.

According to Peirce’ model, there are three basic elements in semiosis: a sign, an object, and an interpretant. Simply speaking, a sign is representamen which can be interpretable. An object is subject matter of a sign and an interpretant. An interpretant is a sign’s actual meaning. They connect with each other tightly form a complete meaning system together. Meanings do not exist in each one of them but in the whole process of it.

In addition, meanings are not isolated but largely depend on meaning communities. They are built upon social common senses and agreed rules. For instance, a religious group has shared symbolic systems, such as rituals, clothing, or diet. Meanings are embodied in these symbols and get transmitted when symbols are enacted. Therefore, meanings are not independent from information transmission system, but instead deeply inside the information transmission process itself. Just as prof. Irvine stated, “Meaning is not ‘in’ the system; it is the system.”

When written here, I am not sure whether I truly understand how to solve this issue or not. I feel myself have obscure understandings but still in a mess and fail to organize myself logically. Hope this problem could be went over in detail in class.

 

Reference:

  1. Denning, P. J., & Bell, T. (2012). The information paradox. American Scientist, 100(6), 477.
  2. Irvine, M. Introduction to the Technical Theory of Information.

Andy Warhol in Pop Art

Andy Warhol was a representative artist in pop art movement during the mid- and the late 1950s. His artworks are filled with colorful repetitions which are quite distinctive. Because of his obvious personal characteristics, I would like to take his work as an example to illustrate Bakhtin’s theories.

First of all, almost all works of Andy Warhol share a strong connection with existing elements. Or, in other words, most of his work is built upon existing symbols, such as Marilyn Monroe, Zedong Mao, and Campbell’s Soup Cans. Each symbol shares its unique meanings in its context. Whereas, Andy Warhol recreated them by coloring and placing them in certain orders. With repetitive patterns, the previous meanings of these elements are overturned or added with more hilarity, and therefore conveying a brand-new attitude towards arts and modern life. Some critics regard pop art as a passive and indifferent attitude to commercial society and industrialization, but I view it as a restatement and dilute of seriousness. Hence, from this perspective, Bakhtin’s dialogism comes in. The work of Andy Warhol is not isolated but has a close dialog with other symbols. His “utterance” was produced in the process of interacting with “otherness”. Although other genres of arts can also develop from extant patterns, pop art makes the best use of them and maximize its own effects.

As Prof. Irvine said, “anything we express in any sign system presupposes that any addressable expression can, in turn, produce an answer. (Martin Irvine, 2018)” Pop art movement is a response or rebellion to elites’ art. Pop artists, like Andy Warhol, proposed that popular art should gain equivalent respect as well. Popular culture is not as vulgar or superficial as someone criticized. On the contrary, city culture and commercial culture can be excellent ingredients of art performances. Therefore, pop artists created pop art movement. What more interesting is that in the late 1960s, people feel tiring with complicated elements and colors and turn to minimal art which is to abandon unnecessary elements and merely remain indispensable ones. Both of these two evolvements of art indicates the answerability of meaning systems, and it is the answerability that keeps the dialog to continue without the end.

From what stated above, it is not uncommon that the genres of art seem to suppose to emerge in the right era because of its previous genres and ongoing social milieux. In other words, it is a process of continuous dialogs and responses with otherness. The circulation of art movement indicates that the expression itself is always “embedded in the history of expressions” till it is activated by social changes. Besides that, there is never an end of the art, just like there is nothing conclusion has taken place.

Questions help us to analyze:

What features make you tell the artwork belongs to pop art?

How do you comment when you encounter an unfamiliar painting with features stated above in a gallery?

What emotions or attitudes artists want to represent by these paintings?

How do critics comment on these works?

Reference:

https://www.warhol.org/andy-warhols-life/

Martin Irvine (2018). Dialogue, Dialogic, Dialogism; Addressivity/ Answerability; Intertextuality

Martin Irvine (2018). Remix and the dialogic engine of culture

Emoji, a Symbol System in Online Communication

 

Emoji, in the era of social media, is an indispensable symbol system in daily communication. People use these little faces to represent, emphasize, or clarify their emotions and attitudes. Almost every netizen knows emoji, and among them, a lot of people know how and when to use it properly. They never learn emoji professionally, but the whole process comes naturally and unconsciously. I would like to try to utilize semiotics to explain the role of emoji in the process of online communication.

Why do we need emoji?

When people chat face to face, it is not quite possible that people misunderstand each other not only because of the content they say, but also resulting from the assistance of facial expressions, gestures, and tones. These elements are of great necessity that direct talkers to clarify the right context and atmosphere. For instance, whether the talk is relaxing or formal and whether what just said is a joke or not.

The emergence of online chatting, however, blocks people’s sensors to assume others’ intentions directly, which might increase the possibility of misunderstanding. To avoid such a phenomenon, graphics of facial emotions were created. At first, they were just some basic alphabets and punctuations, such as 🙂 and :D. In Japan, there is a popular symbols’ system called “Facial Language”, to name a few, o(╥﹏╥)o for crying and (*^▽^*) for laughing. On the basis of these simple graphics, emoji evolve to be more universal.

How do we understand emoji?

The characteristics of all sign systems can also be applied to emoji. First and foremost, meanings of emojis are “acquired and learned in specific communities”. Although people do not need to attend a school to command it officially, they do learn its meaning while using. Sometimes meanings of emoji are easy to guess, such as smile or anger, but sometimes deeper emotions, such as jealousy or regret, largely depend on context. Secondly, emoji system is also “rule-governed”. Each emoji has an according description to showcase its emotion briefly, and the meaning of it is based on people’s common senses. Thusly, users cannot explain its meaning simply out of their moods, but also need to take the rules into account. In addition, meanings of emoji are “collective and intersubjective”. Individuals have no rights to explain an emoji, though they can use it whenever they want. Nevertheless, popular meanings are still formulated on the foundation of sub-culture of the Internet where people share consensus and form the symbol system.

Emoji, as a symbol system, is not a static thing but a dynamic process. It is developing all the time with increasing numbers of users. They find it difficult to express their complicated feelings with extant emojis, so the company produces more vivid emojis to compensate. Hence, emoji becomes more and more comprehensive, complex, and even abstract than its original version.

From the Perspective of Ferdinand de Saussure’s Basic Model of the Sign

Signified: Emotions or feelings users want to express via emoji.

Signifier: Emoji itself.

From the Perspective of Peirce

Representamen: The relationship between emoji and its according meaning, such as smile and happiness and cry and sadness.

Interpretant: Brief description of each emoji can be its interpretant which is to explain the meaning of emoji graphics.

Objects: Emoji itself is an object abstracted from real facial expressions.

 

Reference:

Martin Irvine. The Grammar of Meaning Systems: Sign Systems, Symbolic Cognition, and Semiotics

Martin Irvine. Meaning Systems, Communication, Media, and Technologies

Daniel Chandel (2002). Semiotics: The Basics

Language and Thoughts – Shuqi

What interests me most is the saying in the lecture that “language is not thought itself, but a way of expressing thought”. He argued that babies and other mammals can also communicate without speech, and types of thinking go on without languages, such as music and images. These explanations make sense to me, but I start thinking about whether language affects people’s ways of thinking. If so, then how does this process happen? Are the bonds with language and thoughts strong or not?

When I looked up materials, it was unsurprising to find that a lot of linguists had argued this issue for a long time. One of the most prevalent hypothesis is called Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis. It includes two kinds of relationships of language and thoughts. The first one is linguistic determinism which regards that language plays a decisive role in people’s thoughts. Whereas, such a point of view has been proved incorrect. It is obvious that people with different mother languages share a large number of common senses, emotions, and principles. Bilinguals, especially those who learned two languages as the first language, do not feel divisive themselves simply because of two languages they command. The second hypothesis of Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis is linguistic relativity. It said that the structures of languages, such as grammars, semantics, and phonology, can influence people’s ways of thinking or behaviors profoundly and unconsciously. This hypothesis is still controversy in academia (at least according to the limited materials I found). In a classic experiment, people with mother languages emphasizing “east, south, north, and west” inclined to use these words to describe directions while people more familiar with “left and right” use these two words more frequently. Hence, this experiment might prove that the hypothesis makes sense to some extent.

However, it is still tricky to determine whether ways of thinking affect the evolution of language, or in reverse. It is the question “which came first, chicken or eggs?” Language is the product of human beings’ desires to express, communicate, and share. It is built upon specific cultural contexts. When there was a need, there came an according to word to satisfy it. It is a meaning-making system and a mediate agency to help people express. The routine way of humans to say or write something is that we come up with our thoughts, organize them in a logical way, choose appropriate words and grammars, and then express them. Therefore, if a thought doesn’t exist, certain words or expression will not develop along with it either.

Based on my experiences, I am more in favor of languages are just approaches to express thoughts. I am trilingual, Mandarin, Cantonese, and English, and I am learning French and know a little bit Japanese. In most occasions, when I learn a language as a foreign language, the first step is the translation. Only by translating unfamiliar words to familiar ones can I understand these meanings. Nevertheless, with the deepening of studying, it is easy to find that translation fails to work all the time. For instance, a joke being translated can be not funny at all. A beautiful poem being translated can lose its rhyme and aesthetic enjoyment. Inevitably, some latent meanings eclipse via the process of translation.

From my perspective, the majority of gaps among the translation of various languages result from social and cultural context. People growing in a specific social environment can be cultivated or socialized with a specific culture, and thusly develop specific thoughts, such as religions, nature, arts, and sports. In this sense, it is because of the differences among social environment that people have different thoughts. And based on thoughts, people create their own language systems.

To sum up, I doubt how language can affect people’s ways of thinking and need more experiments to underpin this point of view. My opinion might be conservative and traditional, which is that thoughts come from daily lives and culture instead of languages and drive the birth and development of languages.

 

Reference:

Steven Pinker (2012),  Language and the Human Brain,  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q-B_ONJIEcE

Cardiff (2013), Twelves Weeks to Learn Linguistics, https://www.douban.com/note/322570822/

Whorf, B.L. (1956). “The Relation of Habitual Thought and Behavior to Language”. In Carroll, J.B. Language, Thought, and Reality: Selected Writings of Benjamin Lee Whorf.