Last week we introduced the idea of mediation and the function of media as a symbolic process of meaningful interactions. We used processed food as an analogy. This week I wanted to extend the idea of media as a technology so that we can build-up a picture of, as Jones and Hafner consider, how technologies have the capacity to change what we can do; what we can communicate; how we can relate to other people; what we can think, and perhaps even who we can be. I’ve thrown in some music videos that I like as a way of demonstrating how media and media technology change over time and reveal in the ‘rear-view-mirror’ the concerns we’ve had as different times in the past.
According to Jones and Hafner, a medium is “a material or abstract artefact used to communicate between things or people” (p.196). Mediation therefore is “the process of communicating between one thing or person and another using media” (p.196). And as such a “medium is something that stands in between two things or people and facilitates interaction between them…all interaction – and indeed all human action – is in some way mediated” (p.2)
The derivation of the term can tell us something about the way that we think of the concept of mediations. In Latin the word mediare means to ‘to go between’, and medium is a substance of phenomenon that provides those things that are in the ‘middle’. In tis sense we can also think of mediation as an intervention, something that comes between us as agents and the world, providing us with the [reality – (symbol) – viewer ] distinction.
Jones and Hafner explain how all social actions are mediated through cultural tools, and that some of those tools are technological (e.g. computers, telephones, wristwatches) and some are psychological (e.g. languages, counting systems). What is important to think about in relation to these tools, is that they all have applied affordances and constraints (i.e. they make some things easier and other things more difficult). This will be a theme that will run across the module, to think about the way that different forms of media give us the affordance to do things, while simultaneously constraining some of the things that we have so far been able to do.
So, we can summarise our starting points thus: mediation is a social process that is enabled through symbolic tools; mediation is the process through which we make sense of the world and each other; mediation is something that stands in between us and the world; media affords us the capability to engage and understand the world.
When we look at the mediation tools and techniques that we are using, and particularly when we look at the way that social media functions, we probably want to note the high degree of creativity that is inherent in their operations and the meanings that we get from them. This is because the way that tools make some things easier and other things more difficult influences what we can do, but does not determine what we can do.
We use tools in creative ways to adapt them to new situations or new goals, and sometimes, these tools can be used together so that it is easier to do something that each individual tool constrains. For example, in the 1980s music television gave rise to the pop video. We saw the techniques and style of television and film making come together to form a new art form based around the pop song. These videos established a tradition of creativity and self-awareness about the communication process, and have retained their characteristic inventiveness ever since.
According to Thomas De Zengotita “mediation means dealing with reality through something else…mediation refers to arts and artefacts that represent, that communicate – but also, and especially, to their effects on the way we experience the world, and ourselves in it” (De Zengotita, 2005, p.8). Nick Lacey adds that “technology is the medium through which a text is communicated and it clearly mediates between sender and receiver…[Therefore] cameras mediate reality by re-presenting it. How this is done, however, is determined by conventions which are obviously created by people” (Lacey, 1998, p.221).
We live, it can be argued, in a world where so much of everyday life is mediated. In which the ‘circulation of meaning’ (Silverstone, 1999, p.13) can be understood as a process of participation in the production and consumption of media. This process involves the constant transformation and circulation of meanings on the basis that we are all mediators acting in this process, crossing the thresholds of representing the world and our experiences of it. As Andrew Tolson suggests, the “way media structure our experience” (Tolson, 1996, ix): gives rise to a sense of media saturation and interpenetration into our everyday lives which means that the mediated world is our world.
If we are thinking about the process of mediation, then, we also have to consider that we do not just use the mediation tools functionally, but we are creative in the outlook and approaches we employ media for. This involves taking artefacts and objects and re-making them, and using technical devices to enhance and amplify our ability to communicate and mediate. We therefore circulate meanings in and through our daily routines and practices, and as such our understanding of the world and of each other is structure by experience of media and through our symbolic interactions.
So, if we keep in mind that “new media are constructed on the foundations of the old.” And that they “do not emerge fully fledged or perfectly formed” (Silverstone, 1999, p. 20). We can seek out the was that, as Bolter and Grusin suggest mediation (remediation) works in “both directions” as “users of older media such as film and television can seek to appropriate and refashion digital graphics, just as digital graphics artists refashion film and television” (Bolter & Grusin, 2001, p. 48). According to Bolter & Grusin, “it would seem, then, that all mediation is remeditation. We are not claiming this as an a priori truth, but rather arguing that at this extended historical moment, all current media function as remediators and that remediation offers us a means of interpreting the work of earlier media as well. Our culture conceives of each medium or constellation of media as it responds to, redeploys, competes with, and reforms other media” (Bolter & Grusin, 2001, p. 55).
In this sense, and according to Roger Silverstone, “mediation in this sense is less determined, more open, more singular, more shared, more vulnerable, perhaps to abuse” (Silverstone, 1999, p. 15). For some the process of mediation is a way of corrupting the intentions of the author, whereas for others, the meanings that are circulated and recirculated by the audiences of a text or a media product are to be celebrated. We might ask: is remediation an act of abuse or a creative appropriation?
As Jones and Hafner point out the “process of mediation, then, is not just a matter of media controlling people or people controlling media. It is a matter of the tension between what technology wants us to do and what we want to do with it, between the limitations it imposes on us and our ability to get around these limitations by ‘hacking’ it” (Jones & Hafner, 2012, p. 101). This is hacking in it’s positive sense. In the sense that we can take media artefacts and we can repurpose them and use them in different contexts and make new meanings with them.
In the 1970s and 1980s an aesthetic and literary movement was popular in social theory, postmodernism. One of the most widely used concepts was that of Hyperreality, which can be thought of the process or the state of meaning which is caught in a feedback-loop on itself. Umberto Eco’s famous ‘Faith in Fakes’ or ‘Travels in Hyperreality. There is a story which has been used many times to open up these ideas, and is related again by Bolter & Grusin.
“Walt Disney once gave Billy Graham a tour of his park. When Graham observed that Disneyland was a mere fantasy, Disney is supposed to have replied: ‘You know the fantasy isn’t here/ This is very real… The park is reality. The people are natural here; they’re having a good time; they’re communicating. This is what people really are. The fantasy is – out there, outside the gates of Disneyland, where people have hatreds and people have prejudices. It’s not really real’ (cited by Bryman 1995, 169-170)” (Bolter & Grusin, 2001, p. 171).
Postmodernists spent a lot of time discussing and thinking about the process of mediation, and how there is a function of media that is circular, in the sense that media does not relate to the real world, but instead related and remediates ideas about media itself. So, ‘in the early 1970s Jean Baudrillard [a famous postmodern thinker] defined mass media as ‘speech without response’.” These days, according to Lovnick, “messages only exist if they are indexed by search engines, retweeted with shortened URLs, forwarded through emails and RSS feeds, liked at Facebook, recommended through Digg or, we must not forget, commented on the page itself. Media without response seem to be unthinkable’ (Lovink, 2011).
As Bolter and Grusin explain “Baudrillard (1983) has contended that (American) television is preoccupied with itself as a medium and only pretends to be offering events as they happen: that television is a cultural device for covering up the absence of the real. The shock value of Baudrillard’s claim rests on an old-fashioned premise that there should be a strict separation between the medium and the reality and that therefore media should be transparent to reality. Baudrillard expects us still to believe that the Renaissance logic of transparency is the norm from which our culture has diverged” (Bolter & Grusin, 2001, p. 194).
The process of mediation and remediation poses some interesting problems for us then. In what way do we face the future? Are we looking at the rear view mirror as Marshall McLuhan suggests? In which case repurposing media and meanings is essential to moving on? If remediation works both ways, and we refashion the media in response to the media, then this becomes an open and contested process with no fixed points of reference. So, while the technology imposes limits, it is entirely possible with the right know-how for us to break or ‘hack’ those boundaries. Hyperreality, therefore, is the sense that the ‘real’ has stopped making sense, and only images make sense. Welcome to the Desert of the Real.
So what does this mean when it has become common for people to engage in this transformative process of remediation as part of our every-day practices and lived experiences? What happens when this process of transformation becomes the reason that media is produced and circulated? As Daniel Chandler suggests: ‘in using any medium, to some extent we serve its ‘purposes’ as well as it serving ours. When we engage with media we both act and are acted upon, use and are used’ (Chandler, 1995). People, therefore, can have very different responses to media transformation
In which they are left feeling either in or out of control.
If there is any newness associated with the development of digital media then can be found in this extension of the ability to experience new forms of remediation, particularly those associated with social networking and our ability to remediate our own lives on a greater scale than ever before.
- Creativity – a ‘surprise first wedding dance’ becomes an elaborate ‘surprise wedding entrance dance’ as a live event and recorded ‘music video’.
- The video was uploaded to YouTube a month after the wedding to share with relatives who couldn’t be there.
- Within a week, the video had been viewed 10m times.
- The copyrighted track used in the video is ‘Forever’ by Chris Brown.
- The track began as a jingle for Doublemint chewing gum and then a product placement music video
- Prior to the Heinz’s wedding, Brown had been charged with assault of his then girlfriend, Rihanna
- Two days after the wedding, Brown pleaded guilty to the charge
- Sony monetized the video with ads and links to buy the track which re-entered the charts
“Once uploaded to YouTube, however, the Heinz’s video became an object that could be commercially exploited by the‐rights holder, while denying the couple any right to direct commercial benefit from their own creativity. A piece of music that began as a musical ‘hook’ for a chewing gum commercial became the soundtrack to a mediated DIY musical wedding ceremony, which itself became a ‘music video’ working for the profit of a media corporation. Around the grey, largely untested legal area of fair use, practice is actually unfair and iniquitous in terms of the power relationship it institutes, whereby commercial culture exploits sharing culture using prohibitive copyright law – a practice that YouTube supports and implements with enthusiasm” (Clay, 2011, pp.223-224).
“Mediation is so pervasive that mediated reality is our reality and we are ‘mediated selves’ who are being encouraged to learn how to use new media and experience the participation culture of electronically-mediated communication (De Zengotita, 2005).
There is simply more and more media vying for your attention. “Ask yourself,” suggests De Zengotita, “is there anything you do that remains essentially unmediated, anything you don’t experience reflexively through some commodified representation of it? Birth? Marriage? Death?”(De Zengotita, 2005, p.9). With the tools and services of network media you can now mediate your life’s performance and share it with others
Essential questions to consider are:
- How much control do we have over the process of remediation?
- Digital media affords us the ability to re-echo and remediate like never before.
- We make sense of who we are through a process of ongoing mediation.
- Is anything not mediated these days?
- How do we use the tools of mediation in our daily lives?
To sum up, we live complexly with traditional and digital media operating continuously in a mediated world where there are some significant shifts towards self-mediation as part of the effects of networks for social media. So much of our lives are experienced second-hand through media, and now increasingly as a form of production as well as traditional consumption. Therefore, it should be possible to think about and analyse our everyday lives as products of a process of mediation, thereby recognising the affordances and constraints of your cultural tools make possible or deny, and how we use them to extend ourselves, and facilitate social interaction?
Chandler, D. (1995) Processes of Mediation [WWW] Available from: http://www.aber.ac.uk/media/Documents/short/process.html [Accessed 06/10/06].
Clay A. (2011) ‘Blocking, Tracking, and Monetizing: YouTube Copyright Control and the ‘Downfall Parody’, in Lovink, G. and Somers Miles, R. (eds.) Video Vortex Reader II. Institute of Network Cultures: Amsterdam.
De Zengotita, T. (2005) Mediated: How the Media Shape Your World. London: Bloomsbury.
Jones, R. and Hafner, C. (2012) Understanding Digital Literacies: A Practical Introduction. Abingdon and New York: Routledge.
Lacey, N. (1998) Image and Representation. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.
Rheingold, H. (2012) Net Smart: How to Thrive Online. Cambridge Mass. and London: MIT Press.
Silverstone, R. (1999) Why Study the Media?. London: Thousand Oaks, New Delhi, Sage.
Tolson, A. (1996) Mediations. London: Arnold.