Animoji and Co-mediation System

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Huazhi Qin

According to Professor Irvine, culture and media technologies are co-produced or co-constitutive and thus form a necessary system of co-mediation. This idea reminds me of Apple Animoji technology, which I believe a great access point to understand the process and meaning of co-mediation system.

Animoji is a new function Apple first launched in 2017. It allows users to customize their own talking emojis by mirroring their facial expression and using their voice. This kind of personalized animated stickers makes a great contribute to improve users’ emotional expressiveness by integrating facial expression into mobile communication.

As what Latour mentioned in Pandora’s Hope, a first sense of mediation is “the program of action” (Latour, 1999). Animoji is smoothly run according to a series of actions. When people want to create and share an Animoji, they just need to open iMessage app on their iPhone and tap the Animoji icon at the bottom of the contact page of a friend. Then they can choose or create a new figure and animate the with facial expressions. Their voice is recorded at the same time. This new-born Animoji can be shared to the friend or saved in video version.

The whole process can also be described from the perspective of mediation, especially in the layer of interface. Both human and nonhuman agents exist in this system and each of them has a goal. As human agents, the designers of Animoji might originally want to expand the ways to express or bring more fun to improve the user experience. Meanwhile, the users might desire to express and share their emotion in a more direct and interesting way. As for nonhuman agents, touchscreen is the physical material users can actually “operate”. Camera and voice in-built recording works for mirroring facial expression and recording voice. Animoji software provides existent and new pieces of emojis to select and assembly as well as . Anyway, just like what Latour said, responsibility for action must be shared among the various actants (Latour, 1999). All these elements work together and stick to one common goal – creating a customized animoji.

When analysis goes deeper, the idea of composition, the second meaning of technical mediation, should be mentioned. Goals are redefined by associations with nonhuman actants, and that action is a property of the whole association. (Latour, 1999) The goal to create a animoji can be divided into several pieces. The first one is to capture one’s moving facial expression, which means Animoji seeks for face detection technology. And then in order to make this technology work, the True Depth camera and the Depth sensing technology should be included which could track over 50 facial muscles of one’s face. (Info, 2017) Besides, the second smaller goal is to integrate captured facial expression into the existent or new-created emoji in real time. Thus Animoji need support to immediately analyze the recorded data which has been accomplished by its A11 Bionic chip. All actants inside offer one another new possibilities, new goals, new functions. (Latour, 1999)

Also obviously, the whole process and technology mentioned above can be seen as a black-boxing. Users can successfully create a animoji without mastering any of its complicated technology. In addition, the animoji that one create and share with friends can also be seen as his or her avatar. And through iMessage, no matter where a person actually is, other people can receive that animoji and sense his or her present emotion. It somehow displays the third meaning of technical mediation – the folding of time and space. (Latour, 1999)

Just like what Latour said, techniques modify the matter of our expression, not only its form.


Martin Irvine, “Understanding Sociotechnical Systems with Mediology and Actor Network Theory (with a De-Blackboxing Method)” PDF. 9.

Bruno Latour. “A Collective of Humans and Nonhumans — Following Daedalus’s Labyrinth,” in Pandora’s Hope: Essays on the Reality of Science Studies. (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1999), 201.

Info, A. (2017, November 17). IPhone X Animoji Technology – Animoji Info – Medium. Retrieved from