Category Archives: New Media

McLuhan, Understanding the Media, the Extensions of Man, Part I

Marshal McLuhan introduces his piece by writing of how today we’ve managed to extend ourselves in a global embrace, but cannot understand the extensions of ourselves (bodies, nervous systems) without realizing that all these extensions work together in their affect of the psychological and social contexts. He says that people act and react simultaneously in modern day society, which was contrary to how things once were (mechanical age had slower actions and, in turn, slower reactions), but despite this instantaneous reaction, we still think as if we’re in older, pre-electric times. This mindset causes us to still think in fragmented time and space, which is not necessary in the electric age.

McLuhan gives an example of how this fragmentation worked well for a surgeon who was able to detach his emotions by not knowing the patient and, thus, able to perform the surgery with ease. However, he shows that with the electric age, detachment is impossible as we are extended technologically through mankind by all of our actions and reactions, so one should not have the mindset of being fragmented in time and space.

With the technological extension of ourselves, we have the ability to reach our message worldwide. McLuhan gives examples of how human awareness has been heightened by the phenomena of electric speed, where minority groups such as African Americans can no longer be forced into limited societal interaction and, instead, involved in our lives do to this electric age and fast speed of such a medium.

In examing the medium as the message, McLuhan has reexamined imposed patterns of perception and has decided to interpret technologies as if he knew nothing about them. He says it’s not always important what a media produces, but the fact that it produces is always important because this is the message. He gives the example of how automation itself provided (or communicated) roles, but whether it produced “cornflakes or Cadillacs” had no affect on the message itself. He also gives the example of how an electric light is information in itself. So, whether it was used to light up a room to make a logo visible or to make a person visible, it performs the same message of lighting a room. The outcome of the lit room (visible logo, visible person) are contents of the media and are just more forms of media. In other words, the content of a medium is only a possibility because the medium itself is a message that delivers this content to be a medium.

After examining the thoughts and theories of economists, authors, and other politcal and historical figures, McLuhan has ultimately concluded that “program and content analysis offer no clues to the magic of these media or to their subliminal charge.” (Pg. 19, Par. 3). Again, he reiterates his belief that media is the message and the content resulting from it cannot provide the message of the media.

McLuhan also writes of how media is separated into hot and cold. Hot media is any media that stimulates the senses in high def and is imbibed with data that requires minimal audience participation. He gives the example of a photograph as hot media. Cold media is of low def, provides very little visual information, and requires high participation/completion by the audience. McLuhan gives the example of a cartoon or even hieroglyphics as opposed to the alphabet (hot medium as it leads to typography, speech, etc.). Lastly, he writes of how the succession of hot media to cold media may sometimes cause negative consequences. McLuhan provides the example of Australian natives and the stone axe being a symbol of status and masculinity, but once this scarce, hand-made cold medium had been succeeded by the manufactured and readily available sharp steel axes provided by missionaries to women and children, men began to feel their dignity affected.

Bush, As We May Think

Bush, Vannevar. As We May Think. The Atlantic. July, 1945

Dr. Bush writes of the complications that plague life in the time frame in which he has written the essay and how these complications could be remedied in the future.  He writes of how scientists (and science) allowed for the swift communication between individuals of information and ideas, but how this information was not fully taken advantage of because society lacked the means of properly distributing it.  He gives an example of how Mendel’s law on genetics was lost to most of humankind because the people that were able to understand and make use of this law were never able to access the law.  Bush states that the problem society faced was not so much the lack of information and records available, but the lack of being able to access the significant amount of records available.

As We May Think was definitely a fascinating look into what Dr. Bush has envisioned that the future will hold.  When Bush spoke of how Leibintz’s invention of a calculating machine was unable to be fully effective due to the economics of producing and distributing the material, I couldn’t help but relate this to Turnley’s article on the dimensions of media.  This helped reiterate the fact that economy is, without question, a huge aspect in the way in which media is distributed.  After all, if a great invention is not cost effective, then there is no way the bulk of society will gain access to the utilization of the technology and, in turn, never be able to see its potential.  Touching on the economy of a great idea, Bush then moves on to how technology (photography, encyclopedias, etc) could be improved by making current technology more efficient and economical.

The last major part of Dr. Bush’s article was his idea of the “memex.”  He thought accessing information would be so much easier and more efficient if one had the ability to search based off of association as opposed to selection.  He described the modern day computer to a T.  He said it would be so much easier (and more useful) if a person had the ability to search for something specific as opposed to having to search through a myriad of different texts.  He described how there will be a history trail where typing in just a few strokes will bring a listing of previously searched items.  Also, he mentioned the ability to load multiple texts at once and, once finding the articles of choice, being able to annotate them.  What’s great about this essay is that everything Bush suggested (in regards to functionality) of the memex exist today.  In fact, most of what he suggested in his article exists to some extent.  He mentioned early on in the essay how the future will probably see dry photography and today’s digital photography is as dry as you’ll get.

Campbell, Giving up my iPod for a Walkman

Campbell, Scott. Giving up my iPod for a Walkman. BBC News Magazine. 29 June 2009

This article was rather amusing.  I mean, I was born in 1987 so I saw my brother and sister use Walkmans and think they were so cool walking around with their tape players listening to their antiquated tapes.  As a side-note, I think my sister’s first album was a Paula Abdul cassette…  In fact, I remember seeing an MC Hammer tape not too long ago whilst rummaging through a junk drawer at the house.  But, anyway, Walkman Vs. iPod? It’s obvious that Scott would find the iPod to be the victor, but what wasn’t obvious is that he actually found something he liked about the Walkman that the iPod lacked- A and B headphone jacks where two pairs of headsets could be plugged into the Walkman at once so friends could listen to the same song. 

I liked the fact that Scott came up with a way to shuffle by just clicking forward and then randomly clicking the play button.   It shows that even with old mediums, once new media is introduced, people will do what is necessary to assimilate to and incorporate new media characteristics to old mediums. 

This experiment, though, is a bit peculiar to me because it seems as though Scott is completely ignorant of tapes and tape players.   The article was published in June of this year, and Scott is 13, so I’d think he’d be slightly familiar with tapes.  I mean, my mom’s 2001 Camry came with, both, a tape player and a CD player.  When I was born, the 8-track was definitely obsolete, but growing up I knew of the technology because my parents still had an entertainment system that played, both, 8 tracks and tape cassettes. Times are definitely changing.

Turnley, Towards a Mediological Method

Turnley, Melinda. 2009. Towards a Mediological Method: A Framework for Critically Engaging
Dimensions of a Medium.

Melinda Turnley’s paper was a lot to (and harder to) digest than what I’m used to reading.  She presents a thorough examination of the dimensions of media and breaks these mediums up into the following 7 categories:

-Technological
-Social
-Economic
-Archival
-Aesthetic
-Subjective
-Epistemological

In short, this is my understanding of these 7 categories.

Technological- Anything that makes the medium work. For example, the iPhone would not work without the touch screen. I believe Turnley is saying that mastering the technological components of a medium and implementing them to the best of their abilities will allow for that medium to ultimately excel.

Social - Anything that allows for the communication of an idea via the use of a particular medium.  For example, I’ve just finished watching an episode of MTV’s True Life  where a woman self-proclaimed as New York Giant’s girl was followed around.  Her website, NYGiantsGirl.com, has allowed her to establish a persona that is viewable worldwide.  This persona has gained immense buzz and controversy, where not only is Reby (or NY Giant’s girl) getting called in to do radio interviews, but she has also gained mention in articles for magazines such as Sports Illustrated.  Without the website, she would have no mode of communicating her persona across a large audience, and she’d be another ordinary NY Giant’s fan.

Economic – The allowances that make a medium widespread.  For example, when the first computer was made, not only was it ridiculously expensive, but it was ridiculously massive filling rooms upon rooms with just ONE computer (I’m speaking from my recollection of various books and articles, so feel free to correct me if I’ve forgotten or miss-spokenwritten).  However, once it was made more economical in size, power, and price, pretty soon every middle-class household owned at least one computer.  This is primarily due to the fact that it was less expensive for a manufacturer to produce one computer once the size was drastically reduced.  At the same time, with the decreased size came small microships that produced much more power.  The availability of a medium once it has become more efficient and economical increases in every aspect (more produced, more consumed.)

Archival- Anything that records and preserves a medium.  Digital mediums have a tendency to make a better preservation than old mediums.  For example, an actual photograph will disintegrate over time, but a digital photograph has the potential of lasting forever.  Another example would be  the world wide web which preserves information indefinitely and, sometimes, much to a person’s chagrin.  Turnley points out that archival of media will inevitably reap certain consequences.  Hypothetically, perhaps in your younger days you took a bunch of inappropriate pictures for a blog/site that you didn’t control or have access to editing.  Well, 10 years have elapsed and you completely grew out of that stage and regret it has ever happened.  Unfortunately, one’s digital footprint may follow (and haunt) a person forever.

Aesthetic- The way in which a medium is perceived.  For example, color schemes, formatting, interface design, etc.  Turnley points out that the standardization of aesthetics will make the medium more conventional, but doesn’t garner creativity.  I don’t necessarily see this as a bad thing for things such as online journal/newspaper articles because staying true to the conventions of old media (print journals and print articles) is what will yield the most readers.  However, for mediums such as digital portfolios versus print portfolios, I believe the use of unconventional aesthetics will garner wider audiences.

Subjective- Anything that has a preconceived idea for the nature of a medium.  For example, a hearing aid designer will (rightfully) assume that the recipient of the aid will be hard of hearing and, thus, design for this target audience.  To give another, less obvious example- chances are that the website of this manufacturer’s product will include minimal (if any) sound waves because they know their target audience is hearing impaired.  Turnley says that mediums are not neutral because they target specific audiences and these audiences have specific cultural norms.

Epistemological- Any presupposition regarding the way in which ideas (information, knowledge, etc)  is received via particular mediums.  Various mediums can yield various reactions.  For example, YouTube allows for information and knowledge to be received through videos (vlogging, documentaries, trailers, etc). Some of these videos may detrimentally affect a particular group (i.e. videos of being against peaceful coexistence between various religions and why one should be against such coexistence) but, at the same time, can empower the same group (i.e. videos of being in support of peaceful coexistence between various religions and why one should be for this coexistence).

The Machine is Us/ing Us

To put it succinctly, this video sums up how technology presently interacts with our lives.  Where people were once forced to obtain any information via tangible, hard copy prints, and older mediums, all of this information is now readily available via new, digital mediums due to the increasing popularity of Web 2.0 technologies.  We can edit the content of information on pages (i.e. wikipedia, wiki, etc.), change the aesthetic of the page (HTML/XHTML/CSS, etc.) and have it readily available to share with the world within minutes.

So, are WE using the MACHINE? Or, is the MACHINE using US?  It depends.  We’re definitely responsible for the popularity of the technology.  Had we never shown an interest, then new media would have never evolved into the powerful force that it has become.  Conversely, if we have become so dependent upon new media that we’ve forgotten how to obtain the same information via old mediums, then we’re definitely being used by the machine.