Category Archives: Week 5

Tablets and re-mediation of communication

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Communication, whether verbal or written, has never derived its value or meaning simply from the symbols employed. Rather, these auditory or visual symbols gain meaning when they are used to translate the thoughts or emotions of one individual for the understanding and consumption by one or more others. In this manner they are the medium for the machinations of the human mind.

Over the course of history symbols have been used for human expression through ever evolving series of medias, from fixed-in-place cave paintings and stone obelisks, to transportable papyrus and printed books, and presently through keyboards and electronic signal based formats. Yet, while the physical manifestation and method of consumption of the symbols has changed, the creation and understanding of them remains firmly rooted in the norms of social interaction.

Take as an example the uses of a modern tablet computer. Beyond the physical similarities to early surfaces used for visual communication, the rules that dictate how humans operate IRL translate to this seemingly independent product. First lets think about the interface. The touchscreen removes the artifactual keyboard interface in favor of a medium that ideally responds in a seamless manner to human desire. Analogous to an office desktop, the swipe motion to clear the screen of the current document in favor of seeing the core tools on the user’s desktop feeds into the basic human action of using their hand or arm to clear away space in front of them to work on something new.

The tablet is fundamentally one more tool in the family of stone tablets, papyrus, and typewriters for forming symbols with the goal of long-form communication. However, they are more frequently used for instant outgoing communication with other people via chat, email, audio calls, and video calls and incoming communication via all of these channels plus video and audio broadcasts, and written news media. I would like to touch on a few of these that seem more modern than they actually are in practice: Video Calls and news broadcasts and alerts.

Video calling has been a dream of technologists since long before early sci-fi comics depicted such communication. In practice, while it is used more frequently, we have found that certain rules and social norms surround it. First, the times when I can or will answer a video call are more limited than the times I will answer a phone call or text. Looking back into early history, where a phone call or text would be analogous to leaving a note under the recipients door or passing a message through a neighbor, a video call out of the blue is akin to running up to someone in the street and yelling “Hey! Hey! Will you stop what you’re doing and talk to me?” Just as there has always been a time and place for that sort of impromptu meeting, there is a time and place for video calls. The method of communication has changed but the fundamental social context has not.

As we are bombarded by buzzing alerts and screen pop-ups by news agencies, we might be prone to gripe about the invasion of modern technology into our lives. But is this really a new feature? How is this different from the days of paper boys standing on street corners shouting, “Extra! Extra! Read all about it!” We may have to deal with the issue of a misallocation of importance to certain news items but fundamentally if the news is relevant to us we appreciate the notification and if it isn’t we are a little annoyed by the disturbance.

In summary, all of the functions of the technological artifacts we use today are re-mediation of age old social behaviors and forms of communication. This blog post is the print at home pamphlet shared amongst a small group of thinkers. The medium has changed but the social behaviors fundamentally have not.

Translation of Régis Debray, “Qu’est-ce que la médiologie?”
Le Monde Diplomatique, August 1999, p32.
By Martin Irvine, Georgetown University

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

A Motherboard for Museums: Mediation and Meta-information on Google Arts & Culture

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Banruo used the notion of saying (or texting) our names as a mediator to communicate more information- kind of like a “hidden code” if you will. I will propose that mediation not only occurs in communication but also through one’s physical appearance/ characteristics. How one dresses and their mannerisms can give a substantial amount of information about that person. Even though this is considered “judging someone by their looks”, it has been inculcated into society as a common idea.

Of course, mediation also happens digitally- as is the case with Google Arts and Culture. In “What is Mediology”, author Debray extrapolates that mediology calls for “showing that the origin is what arises at the end; that the external medium/environment [milieu] is internal with the message, and that the periphery is in the center of the core; that transport [of a message] transforms…” (p.32). One can apply the same methodology or mediology, to the interface of Google Arts and Culture. For the purposes of this blog post, I will focus on one of the characteristics of this platform- the paintings themselves. I will specifically be looking at Il Molo verso la riva degli Schiavoni con la colonna di San Marco in the “Milan is For Art Lovers’ online collection, on display at Castello Sforzesco di Milano. My analysis will be a bottom-up approach, with the goal of extrapolating different layers of mediation that are hidden beneath the pixelated surface.

The first layer is the painting itself.  A brief description of the painting is on Castello Sforzesco’s website and some of the language is also seen on Google Arts and Culture’s website;

The 1995 purchase of the large canvas and the pendant Il Molo verso la riva degli Schiavoni con la colonna di San Marco has given a qualitative leap to the testimonies of the Venetian school preserved by the Pinacoteca. The two views offer an unsurpassed narrative synthesis, and set in harmonic balance the virtuosistic reproduction of the famous monuments of the lagoon city and the affable representation of a busy humanity in everyday life. In order to arrive at this truthfulness, the artist used only partially the mechanical instrument of the optical chamber, succeeding in constructing the views mentally. The elegant carved and gilded wooden frames accompany the paintings from the time of the commission, promoted by 1742. The perfect state of preservation and the absolute autograph frame the two views of the masterpieces preserved in the Castello Sforzesco.

The second layer is the painting within Castello Sforzesco di Milano:

The painting is one interface and one can make an argument that the room itself that holds the painting could be another layer of mediation.


The third layer is the digital representation of the painting on Google Arts and Culture: 

The platform creates a visual museum for you to explore all aspects of the painting on your screen. One of the limitations of Google Arts and Culture is its lack in rendering artwork using 3D technology so the viewer can get a sense of the space the painting takes up (mainly how big or small the painting really is). Yet what is very intriguing (and indeed helpful for any art aficionado) is the platform’s capability to zoom into the details of any painting. As someone who took at least 15 art history courses, I wish I had this platform while studying for exams. Such a capability reduces the space between viewer and digitized object- allowing the interface to almost go into one’s personal space. Through such capabilities, Google’s “digital museum” is taking advantage of pre-existing interfaces through layers of mediation and abstraction.

The fourth layer is the digital interface of Google Arts and Culture- housing a meta-information of all the artworks available online.

By combining the forces of all of the museum websites in the world, Google has inherently created an effective dialog among museums and their artworks. Such an access allows viewers to create meaning not within the vacuum of one museum website but within a motherboard of museums, creating what Malraux calls a “museum without walls”. Housing each piece of art in the same digital (and maybe physical) space, Google is breaking down the walls of art history textbooks and individual websites. Through such layers of mediation, Google Art and Culture’s digital touch screen has become a modular design, housing symbols of artists and creative activity- ultimately creating an interconnected web of “meta-information” that results in a “museum without walls” for distribution across the ethernet.



Irvine, Martin. 2016. “André Malraux, La Musée Imaginaire (The Museum Idea) and Interfaces to Art.”

Facebook is Built off the Contribution of the Commoner

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It is imperative that people understand the systems they use to govern their daily lives. With the rampant productization and blackboxing of “consumer technologies,” many people use products and software everyday without knowing what the products do and how they use data. Because users are ignorant of their devices and software as parts of a larger system, they are prone to shared misrecognition of the part they play within a mediated system. In this state of “shared recognition,” media technology is viewed as deterministic and given from a company to a user.

If people more openly recognized devices and software as sociotechnical artifacts, they would have more agency and independence over the uses and capabilities of devices and software. This increase in user/member power would come from realizing that each member/user of a sociotechnical artifact provides more meaning, power and value to the network of which they are a part. What effect does this collective misrecognition have on the common user?

Let’s use the Facebook Feed as an example. Generally, people view the goal of the Facebook Feed as keeping up with friends and family. Speaking incredibly simplistically, we can divide the process of value creation via Facebook into three actors with distributed agency: the users, Facebook’s interface, and the algorithms that serve content on Facebook. Under the false presumption that Facebook is simply a technology product served from a company to a user base, Facebook has all the power over its systems, while users have virtually none. However, as we can see through distributed power, the interactions between users create a large portion of the mediated process of “keeping up with friends and family.”

Once the user realizes that he or she is a large part of this distributed agency, he or she will be able to demand more of the software. Until we, as users, can recognize our agency in the process of value creation on Facebook, we will be prone to myths of “deals” in which we sell our myriad personal data as a trade off to the “value” that Facebook says it supplies to users. Granted, this unfair trade-off is probably not born of malicious volition, but rather because both human parties, users and software engineers at Facebook, have a view of media technology as creating effects for users. Thus, users and engineers need to destroy the “wall” that exists between technology and culture so that we can see that technology does not exist as a fixed system.

Mediology of a Broken Washing Machine

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When reading about mediology, the first experience that came to mind was extremely recent: my broken washing machine. Last week, my washing machine began malfunctioning and almost immediately my roommate and I began anthropomorphizing it saying things like “the washing machine is making a weird sound”. Subsequently, we quickly assigned the blame for the malfunction to our landlords and their poor upkeep of the apartment’s electronics (we also struggled with a broken microwave for about a month). This conversation immediately reminded me of Latour’s proposition of technical delegates, my roommate and I distributed the agency of the technology malfunction to that of our landlords. We quickly assigned not only blame but intention on our landlords, when the problem with the machine was unattached to their interactions with the washing machine. Latour explains why my roommate and I were able to come to this conclusion in the quote,”In artifacts and technologies we do not find the efficiency and stubbornness of matter, imprinting chains of cause and effect onto malleable humans.”(Irvine) In our opinion, it was clear the fault of the malfunction did not lie within the machine, it was caused by the humans managing it.

Retrospectively, I can understand why my roommate and I assigned intentionality to our landlords to explain the causality of the machine malfunction. This thought process is explained by Rammert, “concept of agency opens up a wide range of possibilities to identify and to classify kinds and intensities of agency without regards to the substantial character of the unit that is in action.”(Rammert 2008). In laymen’s terms, mediation is the ability to assign agency over the broken machine to the landlord’s intentions or lack there of , rather than to simply say that the machine’s malfunction is singular and unattached to the actions or ideas of our landlord. The malfunction of the machine in this sense is representative of our landlord’s lack of conformance to the societal norm that in rental properties, technologies should be operational. In mediology, the machine doesn’t brake simply because it is an imperfect technology in need of routine maintenance.

Further deconstructing this example, I can also describe the function of the washing machine and its interface through mediation. Most obviously, a washing machine’s function is to uphold the sociocultural norm of wearing clean clothes. At it’s most basic function, a washing machine connects its user to an efficient method of cleaning clothing and maintaining its users position in society as a person who values cleanliness. A more complex view is that the culturally established levels of dirtiness have impacted the levels of cleanliness that can be achieved through different settings on the washing machine, This value is rooted in many cultures and is not unique to Americans; however, efficiency and the value of time combined with the value of cleanliness has contributed to the phenomenon that washing machines are almost ubiquitous in proximity to American homes. The desire and acquisition of washing machines is inseparable from the cultural significance of having clean clothes. In my example, a broken washing machine was not merely a nonfunctional machine, it was a momentary disruption to my upkeep of social norms.


Martin Irvine, “Understanding Sociotechnical Systems with Mediology and Actor Network Theory (with a De-Blackboxing Method)” [Conceptual and theoretical overview.]

Werner Rammert, “Where the Action Is: Distributed Agency Between Humans, Machines, and Programs,” 2008. Social Science Open Access Repository (SSOAR).


Week 5 Reading Reflection

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Tianyi Zhao

The statement that technology and culture are inseparable from each other is quite refreshing to me. I was the one that tried to explain how technology had affected our society or culture, and now I can not only stand on the opposite and argue against this traditional cognition in “system view” after this week’s reading.

A sociotechnical system, according to Professor Martin Irvine, “is a system of interconnected agency and co-dependency.” It is irrational to treat technology and culture as two distinct domains in systematic view. Similarly, Bruno Latour contends that even the simplest techniques belong to sociotechnical group, and the most primitive level of forms of organization cannot stand alone without technical gestures. For example, fingerprint registration has been quite universal on citizenship identification. Whenever going to renew the ID card or applying for a visa, recording fingerprint is needed and becomes one of the most significant method for identification. Here in the example, the fingerprint scanner is technological, which is meaningless until utilized in identification in social level. Another example is the Face ID on iPhone, which is a black-box that only user’s face being scanned and the corresponding functions being activated, like unlocking the iPhone or online payment. Any usage of technology follows a social goal.

(Face ID needed when log into the bank account mobile app)

Furthermore, technology is never neutral or independently determinative. (Irvine, 5) By forming a network system, technology is not isolated from the organization. Régis Debray also argues that “one can stick to the interaction within a system.” Amazon Kindle is a typical instance. Kindle is a technical artefact through which the process of search, download and read can be achieved, while the contents of user has read is in the cultural aspect. Likewise, camera serves as a mediation which is in charge of the technical part, and the photos, the outcomes, reflect cultural phenomenon or the user’s purposes in society.

The sociotechnical thinking requires the comprehend that “culture and media technologies are co-produced or co-constitutive” and finally form a co-mediation system. (Irvine 2) The technology/society dichotomy that separates them into two different nodes is needed to be transformed, as both are indispensable components in our cultural and social systems.


Works Cited

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

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

Latour, Bruno. “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, pp. 174-217.

week 5

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Anna Yu

Mediology can be really hard to be understood for daily people who doesnt have a philosophy background. It, according to Debray, doesn’t only focus on one specific thing, but more about analyzing the “higher social function (Debray 1999)” and aiming to find the relationship between these functions and mediums. Thus, the relationship between general basic technologies and the culture.

I’m not quite sure if I understood it right, but I think mediology can be applied to examine how people’s behavior and thoughts changed or improved when they were introduced to new technologies. An idea that I can think of, based on my understating, would be a ancient understanding of the world in China, the “Tinayuandifang”, which means “the sky is a round and the earth is a square”. This idea was developed about two thousands years ago, which is far before the invention of technologies. But with the modern technologies, we nowadays wont think about the earth is the same way. We learned that we are not alone (as least not the only planet) in the space, and we learned about the outer space.

With this example in mind, I read about Professor Irvine’s idea that “culture and technology  are co-produced or co-consitiutive, and thus form a necessary system of co-medication (Irvine)”. Nowadays people believe the existence of “space” and “science”, as see them as normal, necessary factors in our lives, at the same degree that we believe in culture and religions. So, in some way, isn’t it possible to assume that we modern humans are created by the technologies we created?

And, the mediations would have no meanings if they are not back up by culture and societies. For example, the cross symbol wouldn’t be the “Christian cross” if there is no culture nor religion background behind it. Which caters to the co-medication system. Thus, it’s important for us to consider both the culture and the technologies in design thinking progress.

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

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

Week-5 Response

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Latour’s system thinking is applicable to any studies of sociology or science. The term socio-technical system is to describe the system that involves a complicated relationship between people, machines, and context. Quoted from last class, “Any division between ‘humans’ and ‘computers/machines’ or ‘culture’ and ‘technology’ is false”. Similarly, any division between “human societies” and “technologies” is false. Even though computers or machines have “instrumental” function that makes them be used as a tool, we could hardly detach them from our collective life, which consists of interconnections of various parts but exists as a wholeness, a continuity, a technical social lived environment. “…within a sociotechnical system, artefacts and technologies are not inert objects, but become part of networks of distributed agency or interagency”.

Here I want to share my favorite paragraph in Dr.Irvine’s article: “The mistake of the dualist paradigm was its definition of humanity …They deserve better. They deserve to be housed into our intellectual culture as full-fledged social actors. They are us.” The debate between technology vs. society dualism and integrative views always reminds me of Blade Runner ( Ridley Scott, 1982). It depicts the symbiotic relationship between human and technology by representing it through the existence of replicants–human-like androids created as workers, slaves, living among human, but who adapt themselves to social context and begin to have feelings, memories, and emotions. Machines intermingle with human, and blade runners have a real hard time hunting them for they have their own life history and become difficult to distinguish from human beings. “They are us”. Detecting technological doubles could somewhat be viewed as a self-detection. Disturbing discussions upon the relationship between technology and human society are omnipresent in sci-fi films.

Blade runner, 1982

Back to the sociotechnical system. The most essential premise of socio-technical thinking is that system designers should consider both social and technical factors that might impact the functionality and user experience of a computer-based technology. Or to put into another word, designer should take socio-technical approaches otherwise the system they design will probably not reach the expected goal of the organization. If we separate technology and the environment as opposite domains, we will neglect the complex relationships between the organization, the people enacting business processes and the system that supports these processes, which lead to the failure to deliver expected support for the real work. Thus, an integrative system view is necessary to avoid possibilities of that failure.


Basically, every technology we are using today were initially born as an interagency and extended or distributed cognition. It will not be that perplexing to understand if we take a closer look at our daily life. Cleaning robot–the very first thing off the top of my head. My mom is a neat freak and she bought various robot cleaners to clean our house. She always thinks they are one of the greatest inventions in the world because those robots can literally travel through any room any corner and are small enough to fit under the couch or beds. And most of all, they are easy to operate. Every time she wants it to stop, she will say “go home” as an instruction which could be recognized and processed by the cleaner. Then the robot returns to its home–a charging station, and my mom would say “good boy/girl”. I always find the interaction between my mom and her robots ridiculous because she kind of views them as her pets or something alive. Yet It is also undeniable that robot cleaners are really good helpers in several ways: solving mundane tasks, refreshing my mom’s knowledge of latest technology, and being a member of my family:) Anyway, socio-technical ideas are increasingly applicable in home technologies, particularly smart home technologies which are developed for the design of inter-dependable domestic systems. They deeply adopt a socio-technical view in which the system comprises the user, the home environment, and the installed technology. Celebrities homes are perfect examples of what personalized smart home system can look like. In Oprah’s high-tech home, there is a radiant heat system keeping the driveway completely snow free. Bill Gates has a system to connect visitors’ devices to the smart house technology, which includes controlling temperature, lighting, and music.

One more word about the cleaning machine. If it is a techno-centric robot, without a friendly human-machine interaction (voice recognition), symbolic interface (like perceptible icons that direct to separate functions), my mom will never feel close to a “cold” machine. Another example is my 4-year-old niece fell in love with her robotic toys and can’t leave it even for one moment because, as she claims, they are best friends. Her baby toy performs therapeutic functions to give the girl intimacy she needs: singing songs, telling stories, comforting feels, doing funny moves. For her, all these automatic functions means something. Similar to my mom’s case, the interaction process seems to be like the robot sends messages, and the girl receives them, make a response and becomes happy. The robotic characters seem to cause people to have a relationship with technology. The robot is no longer a machine but the emotional sustenance for the girl. Is it underlying mediology here? Can we view robot as a new form of media? Can it represent a radical new form of mediated information and agency?

Credits to:

Martin Irvine, “Understanding Sociotechnical Systems with Mediology and Actor Network Theory (with a De-Blackboxing Method)” [Conceptual and theoretical overview.]

Pieter Vermaas, Peter Kroes, Ibo van de Poel, Maarten Franssen, and Wybo Houkes. A Philosophy of Technology: From Technical Artefacts to Sociotechnical Systems. San Rafael, CA: Morgan & Claypool Publishers, 2011.

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.

Week 5 Essay-Digital Interface of Taobao

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After moving from China to the United States for nearly two months, I realize that what I miss most is “Taobao”— the biggest online shopping website in China. The application’s digital interface is far more customer-friendly than most of the E-commerce giants of the US. I believe that the US shopping websites, such as Amazon, will obtain more profits if they absorb advantages from Taobao.

When I say “customer-friendly”, it not only means the customers can search products information more conveniently and thoroughly, but also trigger them to purchase it more easily.

In the “searching” mediation, there are multiple ways to do that: scan, search key words or its brand store, utilize photo recognition or AR (Augmented Reality) recognition. If you want to buy a cup, you can just search “cup” and a list of information of cup will show up — most of shopping websites are capable of it. But what if you want to buy the exact cup you see online? You have nothing but its photo. In Taobao, you can search the picture in your album or take a photo directly to search it. More conveniently, if you just save a photo to the album, like five seconds ago, Taobao will remind you “picture you may want to search for” automatically, which means Taobao is constantly detect your album. I have also read several blogs from social media that the bloggers claimed that after they told their friends what they want to buy in Wechat, Taobao showed related products on their home page. It is fascinating while also horrifying, since Taobao might detect your personal communication, by which violate users’ privacy. For now, there is no evidence showing Taobao read private chat, but I did read some users claim that.

In the “information” mediation, Taobao’s interface is superior than any other websites I have ever used, because it provides vast amounts of information of the merchandise. Only if consumers gain enough information, shall they know what they want and determine whether to purchase it or not. There are four parts on the interface for each commodity: item, evaluation, detail and recommendation. In detail part, you can get massive information, usually dozens of pages, even if it is something trivial. Besides, if you have any issues — e.g. you want to change the delivery company, apply for refund or even urge them ship your products quickly — you can turn to customer service assistants in working hours and you may get response immediately. Every Taobao sellers hire people to do the job, because the speed of response is one of the evaluations of the products, which influences the sales performance directly. Moreover, users are able to track the exact position of package in current on a digital map, relieving anxiety of waiting for packages to a great extent.

In the “recommendation” mediation, Taobao undoubtedly utilize big data to infer customers’ interests to recommend products. Take me as an example, my shopping preferences include beauty, clothes, shoes, etc. I have increasingly realized that Taobao knows me better and better — she knows my taste, my consuming level, my favorite store. So even if I do not have something to buy, I would love to see what Taobao recommends. It becomes a habit and habits can be terrible.

Besides, it is simple to collect stores users want to catch up on Taobao. Every time there are new products coming or sales event, it will be shown together on “follow” page.

There are plenty of functions that Taobao has but I haven’t mention in this article, especially the tight relationship between Taobao and Alipay. Admittedly, the superiority of Taobao cause shortcomings that other websites do not have. But I believe it is a great case study to analyze digital interface for E-commerce websites.


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

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

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.

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

Weekly Writing for Week 5

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Banruo Xiao

Instead of saying that “Hi, I’m a human being,” most people probably will introduce themselves by their name when firstly meeting someone. From my perspective, name is the mediation represents who I am. People can get an initial sense of people’s family by seeing the last name and can even know one’s nationality. There are many personal information hind behind the simple name. More than that, one can present his/her name in different ways, through voice or through text. Extending from the shallow example, I would like to take YouTube as an example and to try to de-blackbox it.

Regis Debray (1999) introduces a method with four steps of how to know about the combinatoriality which is the structure and technology behind the interface and the system model underlying mediology. Following his method, firstly, I can recognize the website page of YouTube is the interface of the whole system.

Second, the whole interface can be segmented into elements. It has link, video topic, video image and function lead to a new web-page or a new interface. More specific, different texts have separate meaning. For example, text can be a link to a new website page, and it can also be the reviews that people who watch the video leave. The image can be an episode of a video, and it is also the link of the video. Symbols have more meanings, and each symbol has its own function.

Thirdly, n element can be an interface of a network. For example, the symbol of “×” means close a window. Behind the symbol, it represents a row of code on a node. In fact, everything we see on YouTube is created by a line and a line code. The words we can read are not directly typed on the website. When we leave a message, the words are automatically transmitted by a row of code.

Thinking beyond the YouTube platform, the meaning of a cross symbol “×” is plentiful. Except representing the close of a web-page, it can also mean something false and finished. There is no need to learn how to close a web-page for people navigating the web-page, because the symbol has already had its meaning indicating the viewers that “this is not what I want.”

This is just a very straightforward process to systematically think about the platform. There are many extensions that individual can create for themselves’ use. Google Developer gives a lot of examples. The details behind the platform are complicated. However, the idea is simple: a user friendly website is composed by numbers of elements, element combinations, and cultural implications.