Category Archives: Week 2

Why do we look into the subtlety?

Before I started on the reading for this week, the differences among all these words – media, medium, mediation, mediology has never been a concern to me. It seems that they are more or less the same.

But it’s obvious that what’s behind each name has rather different orientation and the term “mediology” is the one that gets my attention.

The word mediology was coined by Régis Debray in the 1990s (Gagnon, 2004). It “would like to bring to light the function of the medium in all its forms, over a long time span (since the birth of writing), and without becoming obsessed by today’s media.” (Debray, 1999)

As a superhero fan, I once looked into the different representation of superheroes on different medium under different historical background. A good example could be the transformation of Captain America. As a war-time hero created during the WWII period, Captain was an iconic patriotic comic character at the time.

With the end of the war, such a figure was no longer needed, people’s growing demand for better recreational satisfaction became the booster of a more sophisticated entertainment industry. TV, games, and movies saw the dramatic change in the depiction and management of Captain America as a superhero and a virtual figure.

But this is not a one-way effect, the different medium has a different style in delivering the message of Captain America while the character has its own vibe to shape the tone of depiction in general. On the other hand, the interaction between the audiences and the media is another aspect of how different stakeholders could get involved in this mediology setting and has an impact on the outcome.

“The Medium Is the Message,” is not an empty statement but the start of a meaningful journey. I would like to find out more about this new field.

Information and communication technologies (ICTs)

Today we hear the word media in different fields. We hear about Mass media, Multimedia, Social Media, Digital Media. But when was the term Media first used?

As Irvine says, the term media/medium comes from a Latin word, meaning something in the middle, and in an extended sense it means something public. From a human symbolic system, in speech, language, performances, music, the term Media serves as in between perceptible and interpretable elements of a shared, collective, symbol system.

In order to understand the different ways that these terms are used in different disciplines, there are two important things to keep in mind, as Irvine suggests it:

  1. The question of understanding media systems and technical mediation
    as historically based socio-technical systems.
  2.  The question of media and communication technologies as developed
    from and serving human meaning systems (sign and symbol systems in
    any medium).

Keeping these two things in mind, it is easier to understand the context behind each term used in different disciplines. Every term is part of a system, a system that has changed based on the social and technical factors from one historic period to another. And the second point is, that any term related to Media/Medium refers back to the sign and symbol systems, serving human meaning systems.

But what is the field  that explains these concepts?

Semiotics is the science of meaning-making processes and symbolic systems. Symbolic systems are used and recognized in many different disciplines, where all human communication, language, learning process and knowledge are based.

In Debray’s approach, media always function in an ongoing socially reconfiguring mediasphere, the whole social distribution of media technologies and genres and how they take on authority, influence. The digital media environment refers to the different types of medium, text, images, video, sound and different combinations of them. 

As McQuail explains in his Mass Communication Theory book, there are different actors (time, place, power, social reality, meaning, causation and determinism, mediation, identity, cultural differences, governance) that play a significant role in social origins and communication, whether this is done on a personal level or that of a whole society.

As being introduce to the socio-technical systems, the field of communication and media is easier to understand if I think of it as part of this socio-technical system, and different factors as mentioned above, played different roles for the society at different times.

The main idea is that humans can successfully communicate, exchange information using different kinds of mediums. Different technologies were used in different times.

If we think about one aspect of communication, the one through images we can see different technologies being used in different times.

This is one of the many examples that in different periods of time, different technologies were used to communicate meanings, and these technologies change with the society, hence they are part of a socio-technical system.

I am interested to learn more about these transitions, different media, different ICTs, from one historic period to another and the differences in different interdisciplinary fields.

References:

Irvine, Martin Media Theory: An introduction

McQuail, Denis Mass Communication Theory. 6th ed. 2010.

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

 

 

The possibility of interpreting metamedia contents by semiotic means

In the theory introduction part, it is mentioned that telecommunication and other means of media are converging, and the concept of meta media that is designed to delegate other forms of media. This new level of media convergence and integration enabled by incessant business activities and profit-pursuing motivations of big global media conglomerate has enabled the representation of the same story across multiple platforms. For example, the ‘Star Wars’ series have already developed from the film saga made by George Lucas in mid 70’s to a trans-platform storytelling framework involving film, novel and video games, which help kept older fans and attracting new fans through an abundance of creative works.

In terms of semiotic analysis, I am extremely interested in what this level of convergence, and the metamedia it derives from such practices that media convergence relates to can create new meanings or alter the older meaning system. Metamedia in no doubt enriches the original narrative, however, with the emergence of new storytelling branch, and other interactive media type as video games, how would the meaning of a whole series such as Star Wars change? How much role will audiences play in deconstructing and reconstructing the symbols created by the author from the beginning? That is the most intriguing part for me.

Reference:

Irvine, M. (2018). Media Theory and Technologies of Mediation: An Introduction.

The “Irreplaceability” of Technologies of Meaning

As is mentioned in Professor Irvine’s works, technologies of meaning are different in kind, design, and purpose from other general technologies (Martin Irvine, 2018). As far as I concerned, another character that distinguishes the media and computational technologies from general technologies is the irreplaceability, or to be more rigorous, the relatively low pace of replacement.

I’m not sure if I have come up with a scientific and reasonable idea or not, but basing on my own observation and feelings as well as the historical track of the development of the media technology, what I am trying to talk about is that when a new invention of general technology appears, the old one who is dealing with the same problem may be taken place quickly. For example, if an advanced mechanical tomato harvester with low price and high efficiency is introduced to farmers, the old, heavy, inefficient sickle that need to be used with hands when reaping tomatoes might be given up quickly. However, even questions about “Is print dead?” has been buzzing around the world for such a long time, the paper media still keep alive. Nowadays, more and more people are getting used to the fragmented information and we can reach the news media for latest news easily through portable digital devices like smart phones and laptops. However, printed newspapers “continue to be a successful and highly competitive industry and individuals in America still spend an average of one hour reading their Sunday paper” (Nielsen Scarborough 2016).

So, why?

A conjecture that I would like to put forward is that whether the “irreplaceability” is relevant to the stability of the linguistic and non-linguistic system that human use to communicate with each other. New vocabularies or writing styles appears but the linguistic system keeps. The way audiences coding and decoding information through language, image, voice and sounds maintains as is shown in the graph about Medium, Mediations and Media Technologies (Martin Irvine, 2018).

Besides, enlighten by the famous statements of McLuhan which is “the medium is the message”, I’m also considering about whether it can be an explanation for the question. As the medium itself, except for taking the role of “ a neutral channel or conduit for ‘content’ ” (Martin Irvine, 2018), is also part of the contents influencing what actually will be delivered to the audience. Different medium is shaping the information with different effects, so, it might be hard for one medium to take place of another.

As most of the contents that we will talk about this semester seem to be quite new to me, I think I still need to build up a better understanding on different concepts and terms in order to join in the topic and clearly point out my own opinion.

References

Irvine, M. (2018). Media Theory and Technologies of Mediation: An Introduction.

Nielsen Company. (2016). Case Study: Newspaper in a Competitive Market. http://www.nielsen.com/us/en/insights/reports/2013/case-study-newspaper-in-a-competitive-market.html

McLuhan, M. (1911). Understanding Media : the Extensions of Man

How social media affects language

How social media affects language

Written by Shuqi

The first course I took in college, Intro to Sociology, was the first time I learned symbolic interactionism. Conflict theory, structural functionalism, and it, as three different perspectives to interpret mechanism of society, were considered three main theories in the system of sociology. Symbolic interactionism conceives a society as numerous meaningful symbols which people utilize in different scenarios to interact mutually. Human civilization is also built upon such a huge meaning system. Conversations, behaviors, or cultural elements like festivals or customs are parts of it.

Language, as one of the most significant parts of the meaning-making system, appeals to me so much that it contains abundant meanings for people to dig into. There was a practice before that we paid attention to what we talked and how we talked in one day and recorded the contents, it was easy to find that the whole process was to transfer messages via symbols. For instance, that we happened to meet someone and had a small talk quickly was to show friendliness but meanwhile to hint that “I gotta go now”. The explanation of a certain symbol can be completely contrary when it is placed in different cultural environment or scenarios. A joke is a vivid example. When people are close and familiar enough, they tease each other to demonstrate and promote their intimacy. But if the same joke happens among strangers, it can be totally offensive and impolite.

Apart from that, language evolves with the development of era, especially the emergence of new media facilities its process. Joshua Meyrowitz explicates that media as an environment, it “has characteristics and effects that transcend variations in content and override manipulations of production variables (1999, P48)”. In this way, media fosters a specific environment and atmosphere that influence people’s behaviors and language. In the example of social media, we can easily see language’s system has been reconstructed in a brand-new way.

Buzzword, created by popular culture, subculture, or hilarious news, is the entrance ticket to social media. People used buzzwords in social media to showcase that they actively participate in the economy of the Internet, while people who get confused with these words are regarded as outdated or laymen (Stuart Hall, 1949).

Language inflation is another common change. People used to express emotions by simple words like “happy” or “sad”, but nowadays simple words fail to demonstrate the intensity and power of drastic emotions. When you say “hungry”, no one will take it seriously. You have to use “starve to death”. And “good” is not good anymore because “awesome” is equivalent to previous “good”.

A strange phenomenon I find is the vulgarization of language. Dirty words become increasingly common in social media. People may feel uncomfortable to say bad language in daily lives, but while in social media it can be another story. Dirty words dilute and deconstruct the seriousness of language, leading it to a trend of superficial and vulgar culture.

As I stated above, I hold relatively pessimistic view towards the trend social media brings to our language. Some may think social media as a new form of the public sphere to discuss politics rationally, and I do believe it brings a lot of new elements to language constantly. However, from my point of view, it is a breeding ground for information and knowledge of fast-food style. It encourages to deliver emotions directly without deliberation. It cuts down the connection between modern people and elegant language and makes it unbearable. Social media is encroaching our language.

Reference:

Stuart Hall (1949), Encoding, Decoding

Joshua Meyrowitz (1999), Understanding of Media

 

Medium as an “in-between” from micro to macro aspects

Medium as an “in-between” from micro to macro aspects

I would start the discussion this week from the earliest meaning of the term “medium”. By thinking about medium as something “in-the-middle” or “in-between”, we can therefore depict an image containing two dimensions in our mind: space and time (Irvine, 2018, p.1).

I would like to start with the spatial axis. To be sure, as for me, the concept of space is more generalized. It is on the one hand object-oriented including the wires as a “media” of physical signals and waves, the assembly language as a “media” between the electronic locations and the lowest level of computer systems, or if we want to step closer to human beings, the newspapers lying “in-between” the readers and the textual, visual information, the TV screens standing in the middle of audiences and dramas and TV shows, or the cyberspace that cross the geographic broader, connecting people in every corner of the world with multiple forms of information, etc. On the other hand, it could be also imaginary, it contains a well-structured top-down layer with technical infrastructure at the bottom and social-political-cultural environment at the top while there are mutual relationships between each layer (Hall, 1999, p.510). I will consider the application of the concept of medium, media and mediation in three layers from bottom to the top: Technical infrastructure, Audiences’ meaning system and Social-cultural-economic-political context.

The earliest concept of medium, or media in technical infrastructure is relatively purely physical (e.g. the copper wire used as a medium for conducting electrical current) (Irvine, 2018, p.1). This knowledge fits well into the first metaphor of medium (i.e. medium-as-vessel/conduit) according to Meyrowitz where the content delivered is analytically separated from the particular presentation of it in a particular medium (Meyrowitz, 1997, p.44-45). However, today there is no way we can separate the operation of electrical, telecommunication system with computer science. Therefore, during the mediation from the physical and hardware onto the computer system, assembly language, initially using the binary system to represent physical location with electrical energy, becomes a medium, or interface (Personally I think interface is a more imaginary or less material explanation of medium). The concept that everything computational and digital is an artefact of and for human symbolic cognition stands out here, while for example, programmers can choose basing on their preference about whether use 0 or 1 to represent an off status, there is already human meaning system interacts here (Irvine, 2018, p.8). Besides, digital media nowadays becomes one of the most popular way for us to access information as the receiver and deliver information as the transmitter, the OSI layer model in TCP-IP showing a bottom-up structure from physical layer (where those physical signals flows) to application layer (where human beings get their final touch of this system) greatly explains how technical infrastructure, with components inside which as micro media object and itself as a macro media object, is serving as a critical proxy in the whole media system and is used importantly in many fields including information and communication, new media and software studies. (Irvine, 2018, p.4)

If we then have a glance at Hall’s figure describing the process of encoding and decoding (Hall, 1999, p.510). It might not be a bad idea to consider the second layer, i.e., the meaning system, as the medium of the user interface (it can be print books, newspapers, TV, radios or the screen of your iPhone) and each person as an entirety. While there are lots of studies here applied to the semiotics field, one concept I want to bring here is that media do not neutrally communicate or transmit some equally neutral information content (Irvine, 2018, p.15). If we consider meaning system of human beings as the medium here and think about the semiotic system theory, it might not be hard to explain. According to Peirce’s successive interpretants in his model of the sign, an interpretant can always point to another representamen with a relatively degree of randomness (Chandler, 2007, p.32). Stuart Hall mentioned a related concept called connotation where in Barthes’ s example of sweater, multiple connotative levels emerge including ‘a cold day’, ‘informal fashion styles’ or even ‘long autumn walk in the woods’. The same information sent from the transmitter, therefore, can experience lots of possibilities and changes at different receivers (i.e.: our meaning system). Therefore, the codes of encoding and decoding is usually, or always, asymmetrical (Hall, 1999, p.510).

The top layer, i.e., the political-social-economic-cultural context, from my perspective, affects we as the audience in two steps. First, it regulates directly towards the information we receive. Today in a digital world, usually the first step has a lot to do with the technical infrastructure where for example governments’ censorship, control on the domain name system, working with search engines such as Google to take the advantage of algorithms invisible to ordinary users to create fake news or affect the elections (there are good purposes though); Second, it makes the audience (probably unconsciously), to reproduce the dominant, or preferred meaning which will in turn affect our later perception and judgement of the following information by imputing the preferred information to us. This serves as an explanation of why audiences from different cultural backgrounds perceives the same information differently. According to McLuhan, one way where social and political power is wielded is through control over communication media (Meyrowitz, 1994, p.51) and media are thus forms of social-political-cultural mediation, and presuppose institutions dedicated to cultural transmission over time (Irvine, 2018, p.15).

Finally, if we look horizontally through the time line, medium is also an “in-between” through the temporal axis of history, affecting and witnessing the social changes. According to Meyrowitz, there are three phases of civilization that could be well matched to three major forms of communicating: Traditional oral societies, Modern print societies and electronic global culture. The society is first integrated (i.e. in the nomadic society) in face to face communication, followingly segregated and fragmented with the emergence of print media and libraries and re-integrated within digitalization where intimacy is brought back and simultaneously a geographic barrier in the first state is broken (Meyrowitz, 1994, p.53-58). The social roles assigned to male-female, adults-child, leaders-followers are also travelling from unitary to binary and gradually back to unitary (Meyrowitz, 1994, p.63-69). If we think about this in a Postmodernism way, there is endlessly revolution and revolve and we, as audiences, are luckily also in-the-middle in the communication and media history.

 

References:

  1. Chandler, D. (2007). Semiotics: The Basics. New York, NY: Routledge.
  2. Hall, S. (1999). Encoding, Decoding. New York: Routledge.
  3. Irvine, M. (2018). Media Theory: An Introduction.
  4. Meyrowitz, J. (1997). Understandings of Media.
  5. Meyrowitz, J. (1994). Media Theory. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.

 

 

The Influence of Medium to Social Class

I am quite interested in how medium influences social class after surveying this week’s reading. In the early human origins, namely ancient times, both productivity and tools were in the low level, systematic words had not been invented. However, people living in small societies needed to use gestures and facial expressions to express their opinions. In ancient times, gathering and hunting were the main ways of productivity, and there wasn’t significantly class consciousness in Matriarchal society. The medium was not proficient as well, and it lacked normalized and systematic channel of communication. The goal of communication and medium was not about improving the development of culture, but for the need for survival.

The existence of language improved the development of medium and human communication was more subjective. With language, it’s more convenient for people to memorize, transmit, receive and understand information. The storage of information depended on memory of people in different societies. As Joshua Meyrowitz wrote:

       “In oral societies, the presentation of ideas and mores depends upon the living memory of people. A great deal of time and mental energy, therefore, must be spent in memorization and recitation. This form of “living library” ties people closely to those who live around them.”

The society is small because communication in oral societies was limited by geography. Also, people’s memory was limited. Both restricted the range and ability of communication.

The invention of words and printing marks the new communication era. However, in the early time, the carrier of words was too heavy and it’s difficult for communication. The invention of paper improved the efficiency of words communication and they made memory available to be stored for a long time. At that time, social class became distinct. As Meyrowitz wrote: “Writing and reading are not “natural” means of communication. They require much learning and rote practice, and they have full effect only when they are learned at a very young age.” However, book still integrated into people’s daily life and became the main tool for news and communication. Although the effect of this medium is limited to the minority of the society.

Printing also stood out as one of the notable landmarks in the development of medium and communication. Information and knowledge could be stored at the greatest extent and transmitted at the maximum speed. The more important meaning of printing is accelerating the speed of global communication and breaking the limitation of space. Printing provided copies for words and these copies could be transmitted to any other places in the world. People in different places of the world could be connected to each other and resonance by words. This led to the global communication of the culture. Papermaking technology and printing accelerated the Renaissance. Papermaking technology made the ancient Greek source materials be better stored while printing made these materials transmitted to civilian population and made the culture of ancient Greek popular in Europe. Furthermore, it promoted the reform of social structure and made ideological and cultural preparation for the bourgeois revolution.

Then electronic technology became the main medium. The generation of recorder and camera stored human’s auditory and visual function and broke through the limitation of time and space. The generation of radio and television pushed human communication to enter the stage of three-dimensional propagation. During this period, people could receive information with sense of auditory and vision. 3-D communication made people more convenient to receive news information and became the most important tool for human beings to contact the society, entertainment, etc. Electronic medium further broke the limitation of space and location and promoted the globalization. Especially during the second Industrial Revolution, the formation of the world market depended on the global information transmission network. Electronic medium also further promoted both the reform of the society and the second Industrial Revolution. The society had turning into two big classes, namely the industrial bourgeoisie and the industrial proletariat.

Then it comes to the era of mass communication with modern science and technology, using digital network as medium. Before, people received information passively. Now, with the computer and digital network, everyone has recording and publishing information tools. This makes it possible for anyone to send pictures, sounds and text messages from the scene to the world at the first time in the event of a news event. The current mobile phone message and Internet communication are the embodiment of the natural equality of primitive state in the primitive society, which is both the propagator and the receiver. This kind of communication is popular with the public due to its rapid dissemination of information and freedom and equality of information release. The emergence of blog and BBS messages and online commentaries meet the desire of the public to pursue equal communication between news and information. The public can participate in the collection, dissemination and reception of news information. It has become a symbol of social equality. This is the distinctive feature of this era, which is different from all the previous times, which means the social class is more equal.

Bibliography:

1.McQuail, D. (1983). Mass Communication Theory: An Introduction.

2.Meyrowitz, J. (1994). Media Theory.