TripAdvisor – My thoughts about mediation

The TripAdvisor website firstly came to my mind when thinking about an example on how I understand about mediation under the context of social-technical artifacts. When I used the website several years ago, from a user’s point of view, I found it really user-friendly because it not only provides online booking services, but it also enables users to browse travel experiences that other users posted through that interface. After reading about Latour’s ideas of mediation, I was inspired not to merely regard user-generated content as something derive from online users that are dichotomized from the design/function of media technologies. Instead, it can be a tool, or an agent, that plays a role in technical mediation and has a function to provide useful traveling information.

Latour introduces four meanings of mediation in his book. In the meaning of interference, he states that the translation is symmetrical. In his “gun-man” example, “you are different with a gun in your hand; the gun is different with you holding it”. On the TripAdvisor interface, suppose one’s original intention is to book a cheap hotel room during a 3-day trip to D.C. He could hardly figure out the available hotels unless he fills in the destination, the number of days and travellers into the search boxes. Similarly, the interface, as an actant, displays its searching function if effective information is provided. As a result, the personal may have a full list of hotels on the website that are available for his trip and he might find out a most desirable one. According to Latour, “Reponsibility for action must be shared among the various actants.” This idea overthrows the separation between subjects and objects. Neither the user nor the interface is able to come to the final goal without combination.

The composition of mediation suggests that “action is not a property of humans but of an association of actants”. Under such circumstances, programs could be dispersed into various subprograms. Still taking the previous scenario as an example when all searching results of hotels are displayed. The user could narrow down the results by choosing preferred amenities, location, hotel class and ratings, etc. from the columns on the left of the interface. Each of these choices is a subprogram with particular filtering function. Moreover, “Actants offer one another new possibilities, new goals, new functions”. There’s a huge difference of outcomes if one only chooses the location filter while the other chooses all filters for the same results. Compared with the former outcomes, the latter is a combination of the function displayed by all filtering choices, thus have fewer number of much more precise results.

When it comes to the folding of time and space, I’m not sure that I could explain the interface of TripAdvisor correctly with this meaning of mediation. In my point of view, the interface would be like a black box out there that the associations of humans and nonhumans are usually opaque. Digging into multiple parts inside, we could think of the prolonged process of coding and digital archive collection from the very start of the point from the time aspect. From the space aspect, it is composed of various user-generated content and the real-time updates of booking status from all over the world.

The last meaning indicates that mediation crosses the boundary between signs and things. Delegation is introduced under the condition that “an action has been translated into another kind of expression”. My inspiration of the user-generate content reminds me to shift the roles between user and maker. TripAdvisor has a unique “Travel Forum” that allows users to write posts about their travel experiences and leave comments about their opinions to others. At this time, these active users are no longer users, they are absent makers of those actants displayed on the interface. Other users could still browse or even interact with the posts and comments. As Latour decribes, “Humans are folded into nonhumans in the midst of technical delegates”. Once a user participates in the forum, a new absent maker emerges, delegating active functional acants associated with future intentional users on this interface.

Reference

Latour-Pandoras_Hope-Technical-Mediation-excerpt.pdf. (n.d.). Retrieved October 4, 2017, from https://drive.google.com/a/georgetown.edu/file/d/0Bxfe3nz80i2GUVVITFhpa3N4dnc/view?usp=sharing&usp=embed_facebook