quantumedia - Greg O`Toole



quantumedia - Greg O`Toole
Gregory O’Toole, Ph.D. (ABD)
All contents in this book are the intellectual property of the author, Gregory O’Toole. Copyright 2010.
http://www.otoole.info. ISBN Number Nine Books on file, March 2, 2010. Cover art adapted from the United States
Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) division of the United States Department of Transportation pedestrian highway
sign. Copyright Gregory O’Toole, 2010. All rights reserved. No part of this document may be reused for any reason
without consent of the author.
In contemporary society and culture — postindustrial society, postmodern culture — the grand narrative
has lost its credibility, regardless of what mode of unification it uses, regardless of whether it is a
speculative narrative or a narrative of emancipation. (Jean-François Lyotard)
Consciousness is an extension of man that dims the bliss of union in the collective unconscious. Speech
acts to separate man from man, and mankind from the cosmic unconscious. (Marshall McLuhan)
Table of Contents
ABSTRACT ................................................................................................................................................... 7
AUTHOR’S NOTE........................................................................................................................................ 9
Media and Metaphor.............................................................................................................................. 9
Prevailing Condition............................................................................................................................ 11
Methodology ........................................................................................................................................ 13
QUANTUMEDIA: THE PROLOGUE ..................................................................................................... 17
MEDIA & CONSCIOUSNESS: THE MESSAGE-CONCEPT .............................................................. 23
The Medium as Message-Concept Transportation Entity ................................................................... 23
Medium as Circuit................................................................................................................................ 24
The Traceable Paths of the Message-Concept..................................................................................... 27
Origin of the Message .......................................................................................................................... 28
Future of the Message.......................................................................................................................... 31
MEDIA & CULTURE: THE UNCANNY INVERSION......................................................................... 32
The Overload and the Image................................................................................................................ 33
The Mediated Triad.............................................................................................................................. 34
Inversion of the Internet....................................................................................................................... 35
The Principle of Mediated Knowledge Inversion ................................................................................ 36
Social Inversion ................................................................................................................................... 37
MEDIA & CONDITION: THE POST-POSTMODERN ........................................................................ 39
MEDIA & LABOR: THE COMMODIFICATION OF TIME............................................................... 43
Marxist Idea ......................................................................................................................................... 47
Labor Volume....................................................................................................................................... 48
Virtual Labor ....................................................................................................................................... 51
Media and Time ................................................................................................................................... 52
Media Determination ........................................................................................................................... 53
MEDIA & EDUCATION: THE CRITIQUE OF THE CLASSROOM................................................. 55
Toward Harmony ................................................................................................................................. 55
Online Classroom ................................................................................................................................ 56
New Media Pedagogy .......................................................................................................................... 57
MEDIA & ART: THE MACHINED WORD ........................................................................................... 61
Kerouac, Typewriter, Symbolic............................................................................................................ 64
The Memoir .......................................................................................................................................... 69
Black Ink .............................................................................................................................................. 71
The Big Song ........................................................................................................................................ 73
Kerouac’s Scroll .................................................................................................................................. 75
Kurt Vonnegut’s Death ........................................................................................................................ 76
Musicology ........................................................................................................................................... 78
Image Cognition................................................................................................................................... 79
MEDIA & CONTENT: THE INFOTAINER ........................................................................................... 81
Dividing Line ....................................................................................................................................... 85
Two Types of People ............................................................................................................................ 85
Advertisement....................................................................................................................................... 85
Simulacra ............................................................................................................................................. 86
Sincere media vs. insincere media ....................................................................................................... 89
Hollywood-town ................................................................................................................................... 90
Representational .................................................................................................................................. 92
MEDIA & POLITICS: THE POWER, WAR, AND INFORMATION................................................. 99
Human Economic Evolution .............................................................................................................. 100
The Role of Nationalist Militarism .................................................................................................... 101
The Motivators in the Transitional Phase ......................................................................................... 102
The Cycle of Influence ....................................................................................................................... 107
MEDIA & SELF: THE SOCIAL ELEMENT ........................................................................................ 109
The Social Self.................................................................................................................................... 109
Anthropocentrism, Why...................................................................................................................... 111
888,681,1311 Individual Digital Worlds and Counting ..................................................................... 114
Intended Resonance: The Inner Voice as Recipient .......................................................................... 116
The Subjective Storyline..................................................................................................................... 118
Flusser & the Outright Dis ................................................................................................................ 121
MEDIA & AGENCY: THE REFLECTION AND DETERMINATION............................................. 125
Function and Content ........................................................................................................................ 126
MEDIA & EUDAEMONISM: THE VISION FACTORY .................................................................... 128
Changing Signifiers ........................................................................................................................... 130
MEDIA & CONSUMPTION: THE INDIVIDUAL RESPONSIBILITY ............................................ 134
The Introduction: Setting the Stage ................................................................................................... 134
The Historic Condition: Power Structures, Media, Inactive Audience ............................................. 137
The Current Response: Power Structures, Media, Active Audience ................................................. 152
The Conclusion and Solution: Critical Necessity .............................................................................. 154
CHARTS, ILLUSTRATIONS, IMAGES ............................................................................................... 161
STUDY GUIDE ......................................................................................................................................... 162
Statistics ............................................................................................................................................. 162
Book Outline ...................................................................................................................................... 162
Major Ideas ........................................................................................................................................ 162
Referenced Philosophers, Writers ..................................................................................................... 166
Communicative media have always had the power of being an affective force on our
social and psychological lives. Media are not only an extension of the self, as McLuhan
stated, existing and functioning as an outer human central nervous system, between all
people and social groups, but they simultaneously work to reflect and determine the self
and society. This relationship has inherent in it an undefined set of benefits and dangers.
It is the goal of this analysis to unearth some of these qualities. It is the aim of this book
to theoretically investigate some of these effects in order to further our understanding of
the role of media in relation to the self and the organization of society by drawing these
observations against other important behavior and media theories such as Aristotle’s
concept of function and ideas of the Frankfurt School thinkers as a few examples in
addressing the question “How is identity constructed, defined and maintained in a media
saturated existence such as the one(s) we experience every day?”
At the outset we have the self. Beyond the self are the environment and the
outside social world. How do our media communication technologies fit into this
equation? Media, by affective nature and definition, are situated directly between the self,
society, and the environment, and, at the same time, are indistinct of all three, existing at
a “quantum” social level, a phenomenon termed Quantumedia. No longer can media be
separated out from the individual, the community, or the environment. Further, media act
as a multi-layered communicative force field, an informational membrane between the
three entities, and serve not only to reflect the self back onto the self, society back onto
society, but also, and perhaps most importantly, as a point of interactive inversion where
the self becomes part of society, and the society part of the self. The same relationship
occurs concerning the environment. This occurs only through a vast, complex layer of
reflective light rays, analog signals, and binary code. It is in this way that a principle of
mediated knowledge inversion comes to be.
To elucidate the reach of this affective nature of media, this study examines a
range of political, cultural venues and events across history. Through these examples the
work attempts to answer the questions: When did this inversion phenomenon begin?
What are the signs of it taking place? Can or does community exist and how do we
achieve and retain a satisfactory level of civil literacy in the midst of our current mediabased mass individualization and information glut, or are we going another route?
Due to reification, this principle occurs with a suggestive value on or emphasis of
the self (“ideology of the self,” McLuhan, The Gutenberg Galaxy), and, more
specifically, the image of the self in order to promote commodification. Simultaneously,
it is necessary to emphasize that, in our growingly dynamic and information-saturated
world one must put their own care into remaining attentive, focusing on the self as a vital
and pertinent atomic particle in the much larger picture as defining element to the postpostmodern.
This study in no way claims to be exhaustive in naming the effects of mass media
on culture, but is an investigative process of observation and recording of some of the
perhaps less quotidian phenomena. Its purpose is to share these ideas with the wider
fields of the humanities, social sciences, and beyond to promote further understanding of
our growingly complex human-technological interactions.
Author’s Note
Media and Metaphor
I am a skeptic by nature. I was holiday shopping at the mall and a stranger approached
me and said, “Hello, I am trying to do a nice thing for people because it is the season of
giving.” The person then handed me a finely wrapped bag of perfectly good-looking
sugar cookies. I nodded, smiled, and thanked them, and walked on my way knowing full
well there was no chance I would eat them. The thought was nice. The needless act of
kindness was appreciated, but never many years would I eat something handed to me,
unasked for, by a stranger. Maybe when I was younger and not so careful this would have
been accepted, but not now. Now, I may offer them to an adult friend or someone in the
family along with the verbal warning “These came from a stranger. They seem perfectly
delicious by appearance. You can have them if you wish to eat them.” This adult, then,
could make up their own mind on the matter.
The food metaphor fits so well in discussing media studies because it is the foods
we consume physically which nourish the body, sustain the body, and give the body
everything that it needs. The overall health of the body is determined in many ways, at
least in part, by what goes into it. Save for other factors, if the body is given the proper
foods to function optimally, optimization occurs. Conversely, if the body lacks the
necessary nutrients that it needs a less than healthy physiological condition results. When
discussing the functionality of the self in communication studies, the intellectual, mental,
emotional and sometimes physical nourishment is the information the brain consumes
through a vast array of communication technologies. It is well known that the state of the
brain can affect the body in many ways. Changes in brain chemistry will generate
physiological effects, mental states can affect the way a person will feel about them self,
the way they see themselves, a person’s self esteem, and the image they portray of the
self in a community setting. Of course nature plays a large role in all of these cases which
constitute a person’s personality. Many elements of the personality are embedded in the
DNA and formed in the womb. But from the moment a personality is born until the
moment they are put back in the ground, countless outside influences will have a limitless
range of effects. This, too, makes up a large portion of the personality en total. An
influential percentage of this nurture phase is the information, in any form, the individual
is exposed to during these years. The information that the mind is exposed to is the same
information that the body consumes.
War is another good metaphor when talking about media studies. It would not be
untrue to say that the existence we have today is one characterized by chaos. From
Lyotard we know that the metanarratives which guide us, which gave us life structure
across the centuries, have been eradicated. Currently we are experiencing a lack of these
overarching storylines against which one can gauge their own successes, failures,
behaviors, and their own truths. The identification development process is undefined. It is
in this way that the lives we are living are undefined and unstructured. With no clear
order a type of chaos or cultural cacophony occurs. An application of life in chaos, to a
certain effect, is the event of war. To look across history is to find countless examples of
individuals who have gone off to fight in wars. The level of participation in physical or
hand-to-hand combat varies, but in all wars, some soldiers return unchanged and many
return drastically altered. For these soldiers who were changed in some way by war, the
predominant variable is the act of war, and being involved in this chaotic act. It is the
force of this chaos and the unstructured environment that inflicts the change(s) on the
individual. This change results from the individual being exposed to an external chaotic
environment which, in turn, creates individual internal change. My skepticism, then, is
focused on the media. If we could devise a ratio that illustrated parts of media
information a person consumes in a day to parts food consumed each day we would see a
much higher number of mediated messages being consumed. This, at the very least, calls
for a much more watched information diet.
Prevailing Condition
Culturally and socially, as well as politically and economically, it has been said, the
world is in a curious state. Mankind had its primal period when survival was not just a
top priority, but, perhaps, the only priority. The qualities that grounded the self in primal
life were relatively simple and easily understood. The necessary life skills were limited,
mastered, and passed on in a mentor to apprentice model from parent to offspring. This is
how things remained for millions of years. As the centuries rolled on and man evolved,
life became more complex. It was the American literary critic, author and teacher Lionel
Trilling who, during the 20th Century, pointed out that the property which grounded the
self during the Romantic period of history was sincerity. In the Modern period, Trilling
wrote, the grounding property changed yet again to authenticity. The modern condition
has been described as an attempt to recover lost meaning.1 It is this theme of ‘being lost’
that is pervasive in the observations of this paper. But what is it that is lost? We had
something and during the Modern epoch we realized we did not have it anymore. Or,
perhaps, in the past, we thought we had something and then began to wonder what it
possibly could have been. Whatever the case, it can be agreed on that the Modern period
was a time of major transition and a changing of gears for humanity – this much we know
if for no other reason than by the recognition of the “Postmodern” – the time after the
Modern. Across history we see the movement from “sincerity” to “authenticity” to,
perhaps, this search for lost meaning and, finally, to what we experience today.
Moving ahead even further, the identifying property for the self in the Postmodern
is visibility.2 The postmodern condition is an infinite excess of meaning without anchor
or foundation.3 The “implosion of mass individualization through the reification of the
individual” is a natural symptom of our current economic, cultural, political and social
condition. Mass culture is the lens through which this phenomenon is refracted.4 What
does this mean? It means that increasingly now, as a group, we are moving farther and
farther from what McLuhan called the collective unconscious when he stated that speech
was the first crack in the crevasse between mankind and the cosmic collective: the one
unity inherent and genuine to the human race. My concern in writing this work is simply:
If we began to loose this universal contact with the introduction of speech, where are we
now? Jean-François Lyotard taught us that in our post-industrial society the grand
narratives that we have relied so heavily on for hundreds of generations, those
Surber, Jere. “Beyond Postmodernism: Philosophical and Theological Perspectives.”
Deresiewicz, William. “The End of Solitude.” The Chronicle Review. 30 January 2009.
See note 1.
Brown, Seth. 4 December 2009.
metanarratives that have held us together, for better or worse, throughout the changes
they themselves have incurred, have lost all credibility. Where to we go from here?
In its construction, this book uses conventional standards concerning the gathering of
data using empirical research, methods of citing sources (MLA 2009 footnotes), chapter
organization, proper spelling and grammar, etc. At the same time the analysis is
otherwise somewhat experimental in its structure, form, and content. The first person
narrative is used at times to allow for a certain level of accessibility by the reader. The
book is about the observation of contemporarily applied media theory and, I believe, the
use of the first person extends the narrative element that is characteristic in this search.
The media landscape this book attempts to describe is changing all around us every day.
This change and evolution is occurring so rapidly and so drastically that new strategies
for assessing it, and new ways to attempt critique of it, are also required.
As we know, the newspaper claimed it would retain its traditional format of
informing the public with investigative, “hard” journalism, printing the stories (on paper),
and delivering them to the readers’ doorsteps each morning. In this format the
newspapers’ content was driven (in best cases) by this hard news and investigative
journalism. The real and credible news being reported was there to promote an informed
citizenry – and the better the reporting, the better the readership, and the larger the
circulation. The people came, and the high-priced ads were placed accordingly. This was
a working business model. However, in the past 15 years, as the world has largely turned
digital, the newspaper continued to promise (and attempted to deliver) a sustained
operation based on these traditional practices. For years, since radio, television, and the
Internet, increasing numbers of leading circulation newspapers across the United States
have reported declines in ad sales5 – the newspapers’ main source of revenue. In 2009,
the Minneapolis Star Tribune, The Philadelphia Inquirer and The Philadelphia Daily
News as well as The New Haven Register,6 published by The Journal Register Company
in Connecticut all filed for Chapter 11.7 The Tribune Company, which owns 23 television
stations and 12 newspapers including the Los Angeles Times (739,000 circulation as of
09/30/08) and the Chicago Tribune (542,000 circulation as of 09/30/08), two of the eight
largest newspapers in the United States by circulation, filed bankruptcy in late 2008.8
There are a variety of reasons for these events. At the same time we see the statistics of
digital media use going through the roof. Why? Because to humans, at least, information
is a stimulant. With each generation come new technologies to deliver this drug.
Generations have preferences, have identities, and new and changing trends to define
them. In the past 15 years these trends have grown to include computer hardware and
software. As technology advances, so does the quantity and availability of data
transmitted. And the later of these generations get their news and information online. To
stay afloat and continue to retain a newer, younger readership, the newspaper has had to
change its once proven model. Newspapers have no choice but to elect for (at least) a
“NYT, Tribune Report Ad Drop.” MediaWeek 16.38 (2006): 5. Communication & Mass Media Complete.
EBSCO. Web. 25 Nov. 2009.
“Philadelphia Newspapers Seeking Bankruptcy.” www.nytimes.com, 22 Feb 2009.
“Journal Register Seeks Bankruptcy.” http://www.nytimes.com. 23 Feb 2009.
“Tribune Company.” http://www.nytimes.com. n.d. Web. 25 Nov 2009.
hybrid version of themselves, contrary to what they may have projected for themselves
and the industry 15 years ago. There is too much ad revenue to be earned not to go
electronic and not enough not to.
But this changes the game for the newspaper: money is made differently online
than it is in print. In the online environment ad content and placement is generated by key
words in the main content of the page. So, for example, if a viewer is reading a story
online about the weather in San Francisco and there has been a lot of rain lately, the ads
that populate on this web page are dynamic. They change. They appear as this ad or that
ad dependent upon the content of the story. Now that the viewer has had a lot of rain in
San Francisco and this is the denoted message of the story they are browsing, ads for rain
coats and umbrellas, or sunny vacation spots might populate the margins of the page.
They also may appear in the body of the story as images or hypertext links to Eddie
Bauer slickers or Jamaican Vacations Limited.
Hard journalism doesn’t sell online ads. Target ad placement and clicks sell
online ads. This makes the newspapers and news companies their necessary revenue.
Investigative journalism, in fact, is expensive for newspapers and in an online model,
does not pay for itself very efficiently. News companies are even starting to write stories
that will generate key words, called “trigger words,” that will bring up the right ads in
hopes that readers will click on them. The content of newspapers, then, could be driven
by potential user clicks on ads, not by hard news. This is the conventional newspaper
trying to save itself -- trying to stay afloat in the online environment. Regardless of what
was said in the past, a new model, a new approach has been created to deal with a new
condition. The news industry does not have a choice in the matter because everything is
an economic relationship in this late stage of our globally dominant economic condition.
What does this mean for this analysis? This is only one example of an older
format not able to survive in a changing climate. We see the effects of digital media on
politics, education, and our relationships to our communities. In order for the newspaper
as it was to propagate itself, it had to evolve into something completely new. This is the
effect that results in a non-conventional, empirical study of this media on self and society.
This book is the result.
Quantumedia: The Prologue
For the first time in the history of mankind, the world and many millions of its
inhabitants are physically, and intellectually, connected. This network, as most of us
know well, is called the Internet. The network is constantly transmitting messages: code,
information, and data. It is powered by electricity. The Internet transfers electricity.
Therefore, we can safely say this: the Internet is a message-concept transport entity.
My wife sold her 1995 Jeep Wrangler. She’d had it for a couple of years. It was
her main source of mechanized transportation before we met. Since then, she’s mainly
been using my newer, safer, smother-driving Ford Explorer to drive herself back and
forth to work everyday. The Jeep just sat in the driveway using up space and a couple
hundred of our hard earned dollars each month in loan payments and insurance. In order
to market it, she posted it online for free. She used a widely utilized, populated and
trafficked Web site. She put up a few photographs. No one called. Months later she
decided the $55.00-until-your-car-sells package on more commercialized automobile
Web site might be more the way to go. It was a Saturday afternoon when that decision
was made. By Saturday evening the advertisement was up and running with six
photographs and a few brief selling points. On Sunday she got her first calls of interest.
On Monday a gentleman said he’d like to come and see the Jeep in person. On Tuesday
morning he bought it.
As I was walking home from work at a small, private university in the Rocky
Mountains on Wednesday evening, the day after the aforementioned sale. I was thinking
about what my wife had said about how this man had been behaving since he had agreed
to purchase the vehicle. He’d been running all over town, she told me on the phone from
my office, Tuesday afternoon, making sure the title transfer and license plates and DMV
paper work were all in order. He was excited, she confirmed, and very obviously did not
want to loose hold of the situation that would allow him to secure this purchase. You see,
the title transfer was set to happen on Friday, the guy knew he was getting a deal with the
agreed purchase price, and he was not about to let it slip away. The whole thing made
perfect sense to me.
So, I’m thinking of this guy as I’m crossing the street on campus. I’m thinking
about the serendipitous events for everyone involved of getting the Jeep sold, out of our
hair, saving us money, and being alleviated of these bills. I’m thinking this was a good
thing that happened for us. I’m thinking how my wife said the guy got a good deal,
knows he’s getting this good deal, and how I am happy and pleased that he got his good
deal. As I was walking I wondered if he was the kind of guy who gets lucky with things
in life often. If he’s good to people and so gets treated well in return. I wondered if he is
used to getting good deals.
I’m walking and considering this. I’m approaching a woman on the sidewalk that
seems to be a young mother escorting her two daughters into the athletic center where I
imagine they will be attending their weekly gymnastics lessons, or swim team meet, or
something else along those lines. Daughter A, who is maybe eleven years old, is dancing
up ahead of her mother and sister, B. A is looking to me like she’s amped up. She’s
hyper, as a lot of eleven year old girls, I would imagine, are. She’s dancing, and skipping
and twirling and singing a good ten paces ahead of Mother and her sister, B. B, on the
other hand, is tired. She seems so, anyway. She is holding back, not dancing or singing,
but leaning in to her mother, mother’s right arm cradling her in comfort. They are
walking slowly. I hear Mother, possibly, consoling her daughter, saying something nice
to her, something encouraging. Perhaps B was not in any state to be entering into yet
another session of high-diving, treading water, flipping on the floor mats, balancing on
the balance beam. It seemed to me that B was just plain old tired. I was tired, too. I bet
Mother would have taken a nap if one was offered her. A, however, was like Man O’War
on Red Bull.
Just as I was passing the threesome to their right, I witnessed A take note that
Mother and B were coming to some conclusion. A stopped in mid plies, turned around,
and walked hurriedly back to her sister. She took her sister’s hands and said this: Let’s
transfer some energy.
A, with all her pent up activity, knew that her sister, B, was not feeling up to par,
and it seemed what was generally agreed upon, complete with Mother’s encouragement,
was that not only should they try this remedy, but that, for them, it was proven to work.
Hold your sister’s hand and close your eyes until you get to the door: Mother said,
arm still around B’s shoulder. You have to think about it, she said, you have to want it to
happen. By then I was too far past the family to hear anymore conversation. I started
thinking about this family and how they’d probably learned this at some point: energy
transference and that they’d been practicing it when needed from time to time; this being
one of those times.
When I got home I told my wife about Mother, A, and B and what I’d heard them
say and how it made me think about energy transference and the internet and how I
usually felt after sitting at the connected computer for so many hours. I usually felt oddly
energized, sitting there at the keyboard. I also felt slightly dazed, and somewhat
disoriented. But neither of these latter two symptoms ever arose in a computing session
until after I got up from the machine, until after I was no longer connected. I wondered, I
told her, if the internet was possibly transferring more than just data. I wondered if the
internet could be sending and receiving not only electronic energy, but life energy the
same way that a sister in high spirits can uplift her downtrodden sibling.
In Buddhist philosophy, my wife informed me, the transference of life energy
from one person to another is called Tonglen. For many, it’s been known to work.
Tonglen, transferring energy, has been a practiced methodology of human compassion
for thousands of years. Most of the people in Asia, it turns out, might look at you funny if
you believed that this did not work. McLuhan said that media are simply an extension of
our selves. What if the internet is allowing for global, long-distance Tonglen? This would
be Tonglen on a massive scale, sort of an ontological version of a massive multiplayer
game: potential energy transference from 888 million people 24 hours a day, seven days a
week. It would be a secondary symptom of the network, a use that was never planned for
but yet emerged from the involvement of the users. What if the Internet is transferring life
energy, as well as jpgs, XML, and spreadsheets, and we just don’t yet know it? This
study is a theoretical analysis of these secondary symptoms of mass media on culture.
Communicative media have always had the power of being an affective force on
our social and psychological lives. Media are not only an extension of the self, as
McLuhan stated, existing and functioning as an outer human central nervous system,
between all people and social groups, but they simultaneously work to reflect and
determine the self and society. This relationship has inherent in it an undefined set of
benefits and dangers. It is the goal of this analysis to unearth some of these qualities. It is
the aim of this book to theoretically investigate some of these effects in order to further
our understanding of the role of media in relation to the self and the organization of
society by drawing these observations against other important behavior and media
theories such as Aristotle’s concept of function and the ideas of the Frankfurt School
thinkers as a few examples in addressing the question “How is identity constructed,
defined and maintained in a media saturated existence such as the one(s) we experience
every day?”
At the outset we have the self. Beyond the self are the environment and the
outside social world. How do our media communication technologies fit into this
equation? Media, by affective nature and definition, are situated directly between the self,
society, and the environment, and, at the same time, are indistinct of all three, existing at
a “quantum” social level, a phenomenon termed Quantumedia. No longer can media be
separated out from the individual, the community, or the environment. Further, media act
as a multi-layered communicative force field, an informational membrane between the
three entities, and serve not only to reflect the self back onto the self, society back onto
society, but also, and perhaps most importantly, as a point of interactive inversion where
the self becomes part of society, and the society part of the self. The same relationship
occurs concerning the environment. This occurs only through a vast, complex layer of
reflective light rays, analog signals, and binary code. It is in this way that a principle of
mediated knowledge inversion comes to be.
To elucidate the reach of this affective nature of media, this study examines a
range of political, cultural venues and events across history. Through these examples the
work attempts to answer the questions: When did this inversion phenomenon begin?
What are the signs of it taking place? Can or does community exist and how do we reach
and maintain a dignified level of civil literacy in the midst of our current media-based
mass individualization and information glut, or are we going another route?
Due to reification, this principle occurs with a suggestive value on or emphasis of
the self (“ideology of the self,” McLuhan, The Gutenberg Galaxy), and, more
specifically, the image of the self in order to promote commodification. Simultaneously,
it is necessary to emphasize that, in our growingly dynamic and information-saturated
world one must put their own care into remaining attentive, focusing on the self as a vital
and pertinent atomic particle in the much larger picture as defining element to the postpostmodern.
This study in no way claims to be exhaustive in naming the effects of mass media
on culture, but is an investigative process of observation and recording of some of the
perhaps less quotidian phenomena. Its purpose is to share these ideas with the wider
fields of the humanities, social sciences, and beyond to promote further understanding of
our growingly complex human-technological interactions.
Media & Consciousness: The Message-Concept
The Medium as Message-Concept Transportation Entity
Despite the onslaught of his 1964 publication Understanding Media: The Extensions of
Man, the book’s strangely overwhelming and nearly immediate academic acceptance,
metamorphosis into Holy Scripture, and the ensuing run of celebrity status years on
television talk shows, corporate lecture circuits, Warhol canvases, and Hollywood movie
sets, the man who had the air about him suggesting a firm belief “that it was the business
of prophets to bring prophetic news”9 and a scholar who retained “the charisma of a
haruspex with the irresistible certitude of the monomaniac”10 Marshall McLuhan’s rather
ubiquitous hypothesis that The Medium is the Message, denies the condition where the
more consistent message is not only prior to medium, but exists independently of it. The
medium, not only plays a vital role in the transmission of a message-concept through
Thomas Wolf
time and place, but serves as primo-translator, manipulator, and even possible interpreter
of the message-concept, and its content, from its preexisting and preemptive incarnation.
McLuhan was concerned with emphasizing the role of the media over that of the
writer and held that literary works came to designate certain media effects rather than
authorial intent or purpose. It is with this idea that this chapter is concerned. It is this idea
of McLuhan’s that separates machine from user. Perhaps this thesis takes this idea one
step further and additionally separates message-concept from machine and user (that
messages are constituted by three cohesive elements: hardware, software, and author, or
apparatus, information, human).
It is the theme of this chapter that the message-concept does stand on its own as
an independent entity. It seems to me that the message-concept, given a malleable energy,
is a force that is bounced around the cosmos from influential medium to manipulative
technology, and from crafting writer to attentive reader, and perhaps, back again. The
message-concept, as I see it, is an ever-changing, multi-generational process. If the
genealogy of the message-concept can be accurately traced as an element of existence
both before and after coming in contact with the medium of focus, it stands to reason that
the message-concept be not an inherent trait of the medium itself, as McLuhan would
attest, but of its own accord, will and lineage. The medium would then serve as a
message-concept transport entity of the message and not as the message itself.
Medium as Circuit
Fundamental questions arise when considering the origin of a message. A pivotal point is
one of the message being in the composers mind -- however, wherever, and whenever it
got there. The possibility exists that the message-concept was manifest of ambient
energies, shocked together into coherent structure through the neurons of the brain, but
then the question arises still as to where or from what were those energies derived. For
centuries, artists have held that their messages and ideas come not from within
themselves, but through themselves, arriving of an outside, sometimes spiritual or
mystical force. I have a certain faith in the potential for such a concept to have much
relevance in the art world, especially when examining the roles of media as extensions of
our selves.
If it is accepted that the classic and the contemporary composer can be a bridge
for delivering new ideas and works of art and science from the divine to the lay, it is
accepted that the composer uses a technology of some type to express and manifest these
message-concepts. It is precisely here that the questions on the part of media arise.
Where, then, do these technologies fit in? And what are the modern roles played by the
typewriters, gramophones, and films in this timeless odyssey of expressionism?
In Gramophone, Film, Typewriter, Friedrich Kittler’s exploration of “media
discourse analysis” is greatly motivated with the theory that there needs to be a necessary
pursuit toward the development of Medienwissenschaft, the science of media, pressing at
the intrinsic obligations of a hard science, to arrive at the potential of investigative efforts
into its own inherent natures and behaviors. Kittler writes that if this call-to-duty is not
attained by contemporary scholars of media in a way more directly involved than cultural
practitioners who “know higher mathematics only from hearsay,” what will be carried
out, essentially, is nothing more than an exaggeration continuum of the mere history of
media. “Just as the formalist study of literature should be the study of literariness, the
study of media should concern itself primarily with the mediality and not resort to the
usual suspects—history, sociology, philosophy, anthropology, and literary and cultural
studies—to explain how and why media do what they do. It is necessary to rethink media
with a new and uncompromising degree of scientific rigor, focusing on the intrinsic
technological logic, the changing links between body and medium, the procedures for
data processing, rather than evaluate them from the point of view of their social usage.”11
To study these media completely, we need to study all parts of the mediated system.
A message-concept has a history, a past, a traceable path of origin beyond that of
the brain center of the composer, if we start with the message-concept in the mind of the
composer and trace it backwards or forwards, it is possible to understand the messageconcept truly has its own inherent circuitry. Suffice it to say, one has no beginning and no
In this particular view, media, then, are not only a launching pad or springboard
of influence on the message-concept, but a channel or an idea path as well. It would not
be imaginatively superfluous to go even one step further in offering an analogy of
electromagnetism, which is relevant in elucidating the transitory nature of the messageconcept in respect to the medium of influence. (It is also one that, due to parametric
considerations of this paper, will not be factualized in scientific terms.) The idea here,
however, is that media are like an electro-negative force which, when confronted with the
proton of the message-concept, the medium will never absorb, or even completely accept
it. To the contrary, the medium will influence the message, act upon it, and send the
message spinning off into the cosmos where it awaits later recognition, transmission, or
Winthrop-Young & Wutz, 1.
interaction. Media are message-concept transportation entities, a technological conduit
between the words, thoughts, images, and frequencies—the context of the message—and
its intended audience.
The medium, therefore, is an instrument of conductivity on a lexicographical
level, or LexiConductor for short. This is a hybrid term: a concatenation of two more
familiar words to our everyday speech. The word “lexicon” is used as an environment or
institution of linguistic communication, and the meanings of the symbols, ideas,
utterances, etc. on which this expression is based. “The vocabulary proper to some
department of knowledge or sphere of activity; the complete set of meaningful units in a
language”12. The term “conductor” then completes the linguistic hybrid as the substance
through which this communication of the message-concept travels: “A medium having
the property of permitting the passage of heat, electricity, or other form of energy”13.
The Traceable Paths of the Message-Concept
In considering the message-concept in the immediate context of influential media, it is
important to contemplate the genealogy of the message-concept with respect to its nature
as a philosophic axiom. If we start with the major pivotal point in the lifespan of the
message-concept—the mind of the composer—we can ruminate in two directions. First,
we can trace the path of the message-concept backwards and examine the messageconcept’s full potential in respect to its point of origin. It is relevant to at lease make an
attempt at understanding the variables of where a message is born. In its earliest stages,
Oxford English Dictionary.
See note no. 11.
where does a message come from? What path does it take? And under what conditions
and obstacles is this path founded? As important as it is to trace the path of a message
into its past in order to interpret the role of the media with which it comes into contact, as
media scientists in search of these rather invisible truths, we are obligated to also go the
opposite way, and project the message-concepts intended, useful, or perceived path/s into
the future, focusing on the role of each influential medium through which the messageconcept passes.
Origin of the Message
If we start from the mind of the composer-artist, we can trace the idea from the
immediate brain center, back one step to the place from where the message may have
originated. If the message-concept sits presently in what we refer to as the conscious
level of the mind of the artist, we say it is an idea of the composer. As all energies, the
idea energy follows the laws of physics in that no matter can be created or destroyed. The
message, then, must have come from somewhere to reach its present state—a place and a
time, which we have already designated as the pivotal point of the message concept— the
composers collective conscious. If we continue on and trace this lineage back one step
further, we come to the sub-conscious of the composers mind. Perhaps the messageconcept comes from a dream, drug-induced, hypnotic, or deeply meditative state. The
famous physicist Albert Einstein journaled his own habit of taking periodic, two-minute
naps during the course of his day. He claimed this method temporarily spanned the
crevasse between the tangibility of the collective conscious and the intuitive capacities of
the unconscious; a place, many spiritualists believe, which retains the potential to set man
more directly in contact with the intrinsic, harmonious knowledge base of the human
psyche and the universal wisdom of the cosmos.
McLuhan wrote that “Henri Bergson, the French philosopher, lived and wrote in a
tradition of thought in which it was and is considered that language is a human
technology that has impaired and diminished the values of the collective unconscious. It
is the extension of man in speech that enables the intellect to detach itself from the vastly
wider reality. Without language, Bergson suggests, human intelligence would have
remained totally involved in the objects of its attention. Language does for intelligence
what the wheel does for the feet and the body. It enables them to move from thing to
thing with greater ease and speed and ever less involvement. Language extends and
amplifies man, but it also divides his faculties. His collective consciousness or intuitive
awareness is diminished by his technical extension of consciousness that is speech.
Bergson argues in Creative Evolution that even consciousness is an extension of
man that dims the bliss of union in the collective unconscious. Speech acts to separate
man from man, and mankind from the cosmic unconscious.”14
Going still one step further back in the lineage of origination of the message
concept from the collective unconscious of the composer may require a certain leap of
faith, in that the energies of the message may have been subject to floating around in the
cosmos, aloft in the atmosphere, before being channeled into the subconscious of the
composer via the human central nervous system. The Oxford English Dictionary offers
its reader an array of thoughtful definitions of a key element in this process. “Any person
who seeks by contemplation and self-surrender to obtain union with or absorption into
McLuhan, Marshall.
God, or who believes in the spiritual apprehension of truths which are beyond the
intellect; a person who has or seeks mystical experiences; Having a spiritual character or
significance by virtue of a connection or union with God which transcends human
understanding; Relating to or dealing with spiritual or transcendental matters.”15 The
above definitions describe the idea of the Mystic. Some of the descriptions are based on
the Mystic as a type of stellar being, an entity of mysterious significance, and one of
which in “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction,” Walter Benjamin
would call, that which withers in the age of mechanical reproduction is the aura of the
work of art.”16 The most relevant concept in this particular instance is the description of a
philosophical place where a message-concept (including data, information, knowledge,
and wisdom) is easily transmitted from its ultimate place of origin, through the state of
the Mystic, and into the subconscious of the mind of the individual who “believes in the
spiritual apprehension of truths which are beyond the intellect” of mankind alone.
To go beyond the Mystic, we go back one more step in the genealogy of the
message-concept to a quantum force, a galactic nexus, a ubiquitous conduit and
omnipresent source, a virtual transmission bank of message-concepts that has not the
choice but to be considered, in this context, the grand wizard LexiConductor of all media,
the energy between the cosmic structure through which all message concepts endlessly
must pass. Again, verging on a spiritual discourse, considering to this extent the origin, or
more accurately the un-origin, or the cyclical nature of the message-concept, as it travels
along the paths of media, one cannot dismiss the matter as one unlike that of an all-
Oxford English Dictionary.
Benjamin, Walter.
knowing force—that of God: everything that has ever been, is, and ever will be. “In the
case of the art object, a most sensitive nucleus—namely its authenticity—is interfered
with whereas no natural object is vulnerable on that score. The authenticity of a thing is
the essence of all that is testimony to the history which it has experienced.”17
Future of the Message
With respect to its nature as a philosophic axiom, the mind of the composer becomes a
starting point once again to trace the path of the message-concept, this time from the
present forward.
As established above, we refer to the message-concept as the idea. As the idea is
manifest, it passes through and is manipulated and influenced by the media through
which it passes. Like the descriptions above of the message-concept being traced
backwards in time, if we project where, or through what, a message will pass as it is
broadcast or expressed we see a series of various steps being taken. The brain of the
artist, the arms of the typist, the fingertips punching the typewriter keys, the machine
resonating and hammering out the etchy inked letters onto a page, the printed page, the
atmosphere, the eyes of the reader, the reader’s sensory perceptions, the mind of the
reader, the cognitive process therein, the conscious, then subconscious, (possibly
remediated there), into the mystic, and finally back to the grand wizard LexiConductor,
the state of the transmissionary God.
Benjamin, Walter, 2.
Media & Culture: The Uncanny Inversion
We’ve arrived at a place where all metanarratives – the ideas and institutions that offered
places of validation for both the individual and the groups to which we belonged – have
been largely eradicated. In their places we have one story to follow, one venue against
which we can measure our selves in order to gauge our successes, our failures, our
happiness, our worthiness. This singular, last great validator is the screen. For all of its
interactive functionality, the screen is opaque. Even the most interactive of applications
are dense; thick with the one way message of consumer culture constituted by the
“haves” and “have not’s.” Further, all of our actions, our pass-times, and our recreational
events have become a symptom of the mediated messages we digest from an all-you-caneat menu of TV, computers, magazines, billboards, smart phones, and video games.
Shopping and the act of consumption, if not for survival purposes, is an act of emulation,
an attempt to come to terms with one’s self, in unilateral direction of the deified screen
and the modeled, marketed gods that grace them.
In the past the heroes and villains of the story, the book and the radio were held in
such high esteem. Now our collective attention is directed solely to the screen and the
mass produced cultural products therein. This phenomenological side effect results
directly from a cultural obsession with the glitz and glam, the fantasy of Hollywood, and
our want for celebrity.
In the first half of the 20th Century our media work, entertainment, and socializing
acted as a supplement to our personal interactions. The arena was finite, local community
was the extent of a persons’ world. In short, media were a side dish to our cultural life, an
augmentation, an occasional retreat at most. Since this time, the role of media has
changed drastically. Today, concerning our work, entertainment, and social lives, media
has become the main course, and the venue in which we use them has gone from local to
encompassing the planet. The relationship concerning self, media, society, and
environment has been completely inverted. The idea of media as augmenter has been
turned on its head. The old ratio of 1 media to 10 natural, we now have 10 media to 1
natural, or less.
The Overload and the Image
We are currently in the early stages of a transition from a vastly literate culture to one
that has two dominant characteristics: Our mediated communication is becoming largely
based on the visual image, and, simultaneously, we are becoming overloaded with
information. Whether these two ideas are related, it is difficult to say. Whether we know
exactly which of the two came first in this progression is, probably, unknowable. What is
their relationship to each other? At the same time we have to wonder how this fits into
the greater epoch. Internet technology is playing a vital role in this progression. Did it
cause this progression? Is it just propagating the progression?
It is necessary to examine the role of media, specifically the Internet, within the
relationship of the self and community, the local and the global, the immediate and the
hypermediate. The idea is that media act as a type of gray area, a transitionary space
between the singular and the plural. This is where the effective nature takes hold of each.
The self is reflected back on the self, community back onto community. Simultaneously
the media membrane acts as the point of inversion where the immediate interacts with the
hypermediate, the local with the global, and vice versa. It is the emphasis of this chapter
that, in our growingly dynamic and data-heavy world, one must put their own care into
remaining attentively local, staying mindfully present in the immediate, focusing on the
self as a vital and pertinent atomic element of the much larger picture as defining element
to the post-postmodern.
The Mediated Triad
The general illustration that demonstrates the current state of media in relation to the self,
society, and environment is one of a cloud formation at center, this represents a dynamic,
unstructured, uncompromising body of information in all forms and formats which we
refer to as “media”. There are three extensions, bi-directional entities extending directly
from this cloud which can relate to one another, communicate with each other, only by
way of passing through the media cloud. This is a distinguishing characteristic of the
Post-Post Modern where there is not direct knowledge of or understanding of others or
one’s environment. All understanding and knowledge comes as an inference of what is
available in the “media cloud,” the unstructured, changing mass at the center of the
phenomenon. All understanding and knowledge is now drawn from this informational
well. See fig. 1.
Fig. 1 The Mediated Triad model of communication knowledge between self, society, and environment.
Inversion of the Internet
It is interesting that the Internet was developed mainly as a military strategy of
communication. It was originally intended to be a server system for transmitting
messages that, because of its decentralized structure, would be able to absorb explosion.
That is, it was designed to withstand nuclear attack on any one area of the United States.
The governmental information exchange would be upheld because of this network that
would allow for the continued flow of information after such an attack destroys any
server in the system. Interestingly, and, in effect, what the Internet has actually done is to
explode many things: political borders, globalization, international communication, and
information exchange.
The Principle of Mediated Knowledge Inversion
The Principle of Mediated Knowledge Inversion occurs as a result of increasingly
ubiquitous mediated communication. The result is such that, the more direct, actual
communicative contact between two people, say a mother and child, the less there is
mediated knowledge. The opposite is also true: the less immediate, direct connection or
communication between two people, think of a child in the USA and a child in Africa, the
more mediated and indirect knowledge exists. The “space” or distance inherent in this
mediated understanding is constituted almost completely by information: some
instinctual, inherited, or observed for the self, but much of this information, especially in
contemporary society is learned via mass media. Therein the few benefits and many
dangers reside due to the risks of informational manipulation, political agendas, and the
drive for profit, just to mention a few. See fig. 2.
Fig. 2 Shown here is the Principle of Mediated Knowledge Inversion.
Social Inversion
We can look back over recent history and see many instances of social inversion. The
uncanny inversion could have begun in the 1960s with the global instances of cultural
revolt that were happening at the time, and, simultaneously, the emergence of the “spirit
of individualism”18 that emerged in 1968.
Wolfe, Alan. How Revolt Ricocheted to the Right. The Chronicle Review, 20 June 2009.
What happens when you liberate a cultural value? It gets taken to the extreme as a
“hotter and hotter” commodity. From an objective condition, these liberated cultural
values are reified to the extent of becoming the perverse:
Civil rights – Black culture evolves into hiphop and gang culture; drugs as an
acceptable source of livelihood, sexualization of women taken to extremes.
Women’s liberation – Women are liberated from the kitchen and home and are
then relegated to office bureaucracy, and at the same time are made more like
men, to be power-hungry, etc., the popularization of unhealthy, fast food since
there is no one at home to cook, and the children are relegated to day care.
Sex – Evolves into pornography.
Art – Evolves into abstract expressionism, where there is no objective structure
with which to gauge its value.
Literature – Beats start movement of liberation, and everything on the cultural
cusp becomes commodified.
Politics – Separate parties born, media commodifies them; continual fracturing
invites the influence of outside (corporate) interest, corporations influence
Labor – No factory, no office, working 24 hours with the available technology
Consumerism – Consumer society, individual tastes and catering, evolves into the
Friendship –“Faux Friendship”19
Deresiewicz, William. The Chronicle Review, Faux Friendship, December 6, 2009.
Media & Condition: The Post-postmodern
One of the oldest, most ornate places of worship in North America – St. Patrick’s
Catholic Church – is off of the Yurba Buena Gardens in San Francisco, California. It is
absolutely stunning to enter. Unfortunately, for every metered unit of cultural aesthetic it
retains, it seems to attract one equal part of noise. In other words, the inner halls of the
structure are very loud. They are not loud with natural, ambient noises. They are
cacophonic with artificial, man made sounds. At the main entrance, it is confusing to see
a table set up, one of those twelve foot collapsible types used at company picnics and
events. Two elderly women are seated along side in folding card chairs. A handmade
signs signifies that they are there to answer questions from the visiting public. People
congregate there and stroll by in and out of the Church’s front doors they chat and
socialize with one another.
A wide plexi glass divider with community event flyers posted to it is supposed to
create an audio divide between the conversation area and the non, the remainder of the
Church. It doesn’t do much good. As worshipers creak into long wooden pews, one can
hear another woman up front near the Naomh Padraig, the marble sculpture of St. Patrick,
patron Saint of Ireland, along the right side of the altar praying out loud. The ceiling, one
hundred feet up rung and echoed her Hail Mary right back down for all to hear, over and
over and over again: one Rosary’s worth. I counted, leaned back into the hard wooded
back to my bench, and enjoyed the incense and the sense I was back in Pittsburgh at the
church my dad grew up in. The church we went to for Christmas as kids under the cold
gray Pennsylvania sky. The kicker, at St. Pat’s though, came when across the chanting
Hail Mary’s and Amen’s I heard on two separate occasions a very recognized and all too
familiar ring tone from a Motorola cell phone. We’ve come to accept this as the norm.
We are in a Post-postmodern era. The dominant characteristic of the postmodern
was the decentralization and the eradication of a center for, among other elements, the
relationships of the self, society, and environment. The dominant characteristic of the
post-postmodern is the decentralization and the eradication of a center concerning the
relationships of the self, society, and environment where each of the three no longer have
an objective or direct contact or relation to one another. At least in the postmodern, we
were disguised by the hyperreal and contended with mechanical reproduction all around
us. But in the postmodern we were early in this fight. We had the ability to dig deeper,
take more time, and understand what it is we were involved in, what it was exactly that
we created for ourselves. In the post-postmodern we no longer have this ability. For no
matter how deep one digs, how much time one takes, and no matter how much one
attempts to understand themselves, the society they relate to and live in, or the
environment they are a part of, the informational cloud, the dynamic mediascape
described above is the single most influential factor in how one functions, sees oneself,
and understands their role in the greater context.
The Internet largely is a near perfect objectification of this idea. It is fascinating
that the Internet has emerged at a time of transition from the postmodern to the postpostmodern. If we sill resided in a Modern epoch, would the internet have been invented?
Would it be different? It becomes a “chicken or the egg” conundrum at best.
The world we live in now is one that is characterized by a perverse obsession.
This obsession persists to the point of near insanity, driven by three physic predecessors
which are the measuring points for social standards: profit, image, and power. These
three motivators are propagated to no end via the media circuit. If you have money, you
can have all three. Profit begets power, and money allows for the relative quick purchase
of image PR. The three go hand-in hand, and are ultimate goals of most of contemporary
society. This state is both reflected and determined by media outlets of every modality.
Post Modern
Post-Post Modern
Metanarratives in place
Breakdown of metanarrative,
Petite histories
Eradicated metanarratives,
replaced with Produced
Custom truths
“No Metanarrative” is the only
Individual in a larger
No standards
Individual standards
Totalizing structures
Constructed reality
Deconstruct, customize
Political Right & Justice
Reproduced work
Man & Science
Visibility; the mix of mass
mechanical reproduction along
with some authentic (various
assumptions about real and
reproduced continue to coexist
alongside one another), but the
problem is that it is hard to
discern between the two, real
and hyperreal.
Only fleeting amounts of
authenticity left, only the
media “cloud” with triad
parts. There is no contact at
all (no authenticity) left, the
only social contact one has
is via the media cloud no
matter if it is before or after
the actual experience.
Fig. 3 This chart shows a breakdown of the noted characteristics of the Modern, Post-Modern, and Post-Post Modern
Media & Labor: The Commodification of Time
Epistemology is an important idea. It is agreed on that the word stands to define an
investigation into the origin, nature, methods, and limits of human knowledge. This, of
course, brings us to a bigger question: What is knowledge? What, in other words, is the
essence of knowing? Earlier I came to the conclusion that information is everything, or,
perhaps, everything is information. I say to my wife after taking a long walk through the
woods near her parents’ home in the hills of Appalachia, “Aside from time with family, I
think, everything in this world is a brief conversation.” What I mean is that we kill
ourselves (or maybe I just kill myself, but everyone I know is always profusely busy)
accomplishing task after task to create a system of success in our lives. Technology
perpetuates and encourages this and everyday I hear these commercials everywhere and
in every format saying, “Oh, now you can do more in less time with this fancy handheld
information organizer...” and on and on, and I’m driving in my truck, slowly, getting
honked at for doing so, thinking, “I don’t want to do more in less time.” But in this late,
progressive state of our Capitalist economy it is seen as a boon, a benefit, a great goal to
always be doing more in less time. Afterall, time is money. And money is the only
method of validation we have left.
I’m starting to get dizzy from all the activity. So, I’m trying to do less in more
time. The only thing I want to do more of in the time I have is spend it with my family. I
will explain this all to my children when they are ready.
This directly leads to my comment that everything is a brief conversation. What I
mean is, yes, we feel good due to accomplishments made, goals attained, but my question
then is this: “Why?” Why do I feel good when I cross items off of a long list of papers to
write, poems to have published, people to meet, places to go, and things to buy? On one
hand, the accomplishment is something that will grow my ego. On the other hand it may
improve my resume, making me a stronger candidate for a better job. But why do I want
a better job? So I can sit at the next dinner party, or hang out at the pub and say now I
have this better job? This would be a brief conversation. Or I could think I want the better
job because it pays more, I could more easily pay off the graduate school debt that is
luckily or strategically sitting on a zero percent credit card right now. Paying that off is
good. It feels good to say to someone that you have no credit card debt. One would say
this to another person in a brief conversation.
I don’t know, walking through the woods thinking my way out of the rat race
might be the best way to go. At least there my family can come with me and we won’t be
wasting any time. Just the knowledge, perhaps, of this is best. Which brings me back to
my opening question: What is knowledge? And the idea that information is everything,
that everything is information? Everything that you know is information that was either
already inside your mind20 or gained through observation and the use of your senses.21
That’s that. That’s the basics right there. Leibnitz would say you know something
confusedly, and as soon as you get the information needed, only then can you pay the
proper attention to recognize truth. From where then does the information come? Well, I
think, for one, it can come from meditation. It can come from conversations with elders.
It can also come from the Internet. Information or Leibnitz’s point of “attention” is what
you need to find truth. The Internet will provide you with all the information you will
ever need. It is a clearing house for every human idea ever had. This Google can help you
out with, because organization and direction at this juncture is imperative. Afterall, you
do not want to end up with the wrong information. With a bit of experience, your gained
information turns to knowledge and with a bit of age, your knowledge turns into wisdom.
I’ve attempted to document here a practical, four step model:
1. The responsible, individual adult is held accountable for their own inner research and
exploration to distinguish what it is that they love; what it is that makes them happy; what
it is that they feel is of the highest significance in their life.
2. Pursuit of these top priority elements in daily context equates to happiness. Ignoring or
not being able to pursue these top priority elements for a considerable amount of time
each day can lead to fundamental unhappiness.
Plato. Doctrine of Reminiscence.
3. Time management on a grand scale (not on a company scale) i.e. the full compository
context of the individual adult’s life, not just their job, their hobbies, an UEFA playoff
game, etc., is the key to success of point no. 2.
4. It is the individuals’ responsibility as an adult to apply these skills of time management
to the significant elements of point no. 1, therefore pursuing the significant elements of
life (discovered in step no. 1) which, in turn, results in the conscious pursuit and
successful accomplishment of happiness in one’s life.
There is conceptual responsibility around our work and the activities we pursue. It
is not the responsibility for doing the actual work, but the concept around doing the actual
work. This is the idea of labor in exchange for wages, which, in turn, will be exchanged
for rent, groceries, utilities, and other bills, and the responsibility in holding this idea
constant. In a company building or corporate office, this responsibility takes the form of
the objects around the worker, the objects of labor, even the coworkers and boss. The
hierarchy in the business environment absorbs this conceptual responsibility, or is
objectified by it.
An uncanny inversion comes when the worker, as a result of the media
communication technology that is available, works from home, a coffee shop, local
library, or even their car. It is now that the worker is no longer in the office cubicle that
that these otherwise recreational and domestic environments begin to take on the
conceptual responsibility and transform (at least partially) from environments of
relaxation and escape (from work) to the environments of work.
Marxist Idea
In the 1980s and into the 1990s the progressive mantra was “computers will make our
lives easier.” A true Marxian vision holds the machines allowing us to leisurely study in
the mornings, go fishing in the afternoon, and enjoy the theatre, relax with our families,
and socialize in the pubs at night. In regards to our current situation, however, and
pondering a machined simplification, I fully disagree with the former mantra. (And now
that I think about it, I don’t hear people saying this anymore.) That is not to say I disagree
with Marx because, perhaps after I look into it more I will find that this final stage vision
is necessitated by our current, less developed stage, the one we are in now. The
manifestations of Marx’s cognitions seem to formulate themselves in stages, reaching
ascending levels by way of working through the steps that need to take place first. He is
meticulous at this and I would not attempt in any way to simplify these efforts, other
than, of course, for my own understanding of them.
I am thinking of the current work place. Cubeland. What used to be the nine to
five office and quickly (and effortlessly) became the eight to six or seven office without
many people noticing the change. The water cooler, the over-stuffed communal
refrigerator with TGIFriday leftovers, and the bad cheap Maxwell House drip coffee
maker with three burned pots; two regular black tops, one decaf orange. The small talk,
the corporate slang language, unclean conference board dry erasers, and the lying,
laziness, and creative numbers in Accounting. The office where you cannot sit at your
company issued Dell flat screen and browse MySpace because IT blocked it for its
potentially lascivious content. The same server wrack, button down khaki clad folks who
block your grown siblings family photo web site because blocking them all is better than
only blocking a few. I recently have taken to reading Al Jazeera English and am waiting
for the white collar inquisition to start. At any rate, we know this environment well (if
you are unsure, see NBC’s “The Office,” or rent Mike Judge’s “Office Space,” they are
both hilariously accurate).
I am deciding now on a formula of sorts that disproves a machined simplification
in our current times. Below are the time frames depicting through history the media that
have been available to us. I coupled each of these media stages with a hypothetical (but
based on my average work day) number of tasks the worker can be engaged with at any
one point in time. Here is what I have so far. See the sum total for each listing; you
decide if things are simpler now. I wonder how increasing the speed of our technology
will affect these numbers.
Labor Volume
This is a chart organizing the ideas described above. In the column on the left media
being used is listed. The column on the right lists an example number of instances the
correlated media could be used simultaneously with the other media listed in each
Current Condition:
Currently, simultaneously a person working could be interacting with the following media and
instances of each. The total media interactions at any given time point is listed in each section.
Person walking by talking
Before the Internet (w/ typewriter):
Person talking
Before telephone:
Person talking
Before typewriter:
Person talking
Before printing press (w/ written word):
Person talking
Before written word:
1 (making tools, farming, cooking, etc.)
Person talking
Before spoken word:
1 (making tools, farming, cooking, etc.)
common use of the internet for emailing to
communicate and complete tasks at work
common use of the telephone to communicate
and complete tasks at work
Papers, forms, etc. paperwork on the desk as a
way of completing tasks at work
Person (walking by) Talking
coworkers coming by your desk in person to
talk and discuss tasks at work
Making tools, farming, cooking, etc.
tasks humans would be performing during their
Fig 4. Currently, simultaneously a person working could be interacting with the following media and instances of each.
The total media interactions at any given time point is listed in each section.
Virtual Labor
Technomadology is the cross-disciplinary study of contemporary technology-dependent
“nomadic” human culture, the Internet, media theory, and the creative process of
generating art and literature as critical discourse toward a greater understanding of the
prevailing social, economic, and political conditions. The work is centered on the study
and understanding of the role of media -- particularly the internet and (the) image -across human history, present, and future. Related fields are political philosophy, media
studies, critical and cultural theory, history, sociology, psychology, anthropology, and
media ecology. It is my personal philosophy that media affect us in unprecedented ways,
and that it is to our benefit to understand as much of these relationships as completely as
possible. We create theories, test them in research, and apply them in development in
order to educate ourselves with and about the technologies we use daily, and from an
increasingly early age. It is our labor that takes up much of our time, and it is our labor,
among other activities, which are experiencing such a growth concerning media use.
Most people in the world have a primary place to live, a hometown, or a
consistent place to dwell. This is not always the case when working online. There are a
growing number of people who have no primary locative obligation and who work
completely in the virtual. A lack of material forces to dictate these decisions leaves the
individual to unnecessarily “float” and not have roots for any particular reason other than
personal choice. Ironically, this is difficult. We are used to having at least some of our
most basic decisions made for us by material forces in our life. For example, we decide
where to live based on its proximity, or lack thereof, to work, to family, to cultural
venues, to amenities, or to public transportation.
Media and Time
Time changes as a result of late Capitalism.22 McLuhan said that we shape our tools and
then our tools shape us. We can see this is how we are using and reacting to the Internet.
A faster and faster Internet is good for business, so business will see that the speed of our
technology continues to increase. The faster the Internet becomes, the faster we are
expected to churn out work. If a document can be sent in one second to the other side of
the world, people expect it to be done this way. We see this already everyday.
It used to be that money equaled labor time. Technology overrides this because it
crosses what used to be the borders between labor and non-working time, or time with the
family. Now it is such that time equals money. If money stands as objectified value, time
stands as abstracted money.
Marx, Karl. Capital, p. 131.
Media Determination
In Capital, Vol. I Marx wrote that there are two fundamental characteristics of
commodity owners: formal freedom and formal equality. Formal freedom comes as a
result of people’s will over their commodities, their will over their land, for example, if
land is intended as a commodity. An owner has the power to do with his or her
commodity as they see fit. Formal equality, however, takes the form of the relationship
between the commodity owners which is mediated strictly by the commodities that they
have come together to exchange. In other words, in a Capitalist system, it is the
relationship between commodities which mediates the relationship between commodity
owners. It appears on the surface that the relationship between commodity owners inside
the sphere of exchange are autonomous and having self-powered motivations, but in
actuality, these relations are indeed successively determined, that is, human interaction as
a direct result of the need for exchange of commodities owned.
So we have here the view that all social relations in a Capitalist system are indeed
not freewheeling and autonomous, as they first appear, but are of a condition bound by
and to the commodity exchange process. Surely we can agree that this law does not apply
to bonds that are of a familial, neighborly, or communal nature. I do think it is safe to say
that although family relations in contemporary times may still be strong in a lot of cases,
neighborly and close community ties, at least in many parts of the United States, are very
much a thing of the past. Aside from family and close friends, then, in a Capitalist
system, does this render the social relation into one purely of an economic nature? It is in
this way that, aside from direct familial relations, social relationships are at least partially
economic, or, at the very least, economically derived. Media, currently in our post-
postmodern condition, acts in a similar way. There is no understanding that can occur that
is not at the very least partially derived from media.
Media & Education: The Critique of the Classroom
Toward Harmony
All media can be critiqued. We can be critical of all things and analyze all of the time.
But what do we do with this information, these theories, and ideas? What is the point or
reason for all of the critical analysis? It is my opinion that the reason is simple: we
continue to critique in order to become better. Better human beings, more informed, more
content, more intelligent and happier beings. We wish to harmonize. How do you go
from informed to harmonious? By educating. Today its education by way of the digital
media communication technologies we have at our disposal. The classroom is in a state
of flux. They are not extinct, but rarely do we see a traditional, packaged, closed-in
classroom anymore that is not at least augmented with many technologies at once.
Unpackaged, networked electronic content is in and here to stay.
Online Classroom
Someone recently asked me this: “Based on this here article, where do you see online
education heading in the future?” The Ko and Rossen article23 does a good job of
bringing up the obvious, based on historic technological change: The household Internet
will inevitable become exponentially faster than even the fastest T3 some companies run
on today. The entire economic infrastructure and future of our capitalist system depends
on it, and so will make available an ever speed-increased and bandwidth-increased
network on which to thrive. This will clear the path for Ko and Rossen’s ‘video screen /
speaking through a microphone to your students’ scenario. The hand held idea as well
will come to pass. Already has, it just is not mainstream, or nearly as effective right this
minute as a desktop tower with a dual (or quad) processor, or even a decent laptop on
wifi. Hardware and software will become more “intelligent” as well (as the book
mentions), relying less and less on user skill and more and more on the credit card limit
with which the materials are purchased. I think these are changes that will happen soon,
as in right around the corner, like in the next five years, I told them. Ask this question to
an online faculty training platoon next year and the question will have to be different. Ko
and Rossen will have to have an updated book in 12 months. That is how fast technology
is evolving. This is a technology which has not only opened an entirely untouched market
across every aspect of our lives, but now nearly fully supports the already global market
we had. In other words, technology is the basis to our economic system, and the
economic system will continue to support the technologic evolution. It has to. It is a
Ko, S. and Rossen, S. Teaching Online: A Practical Guide. Second Edition. Cengage Learning.
necessary relationship. To separate technology (the internet) from capitalism is no longer
The world depicted in the Bruce Willis film “12 Monkeys” is, in my opinion,
economically accurate and environmentally significant, not because people won’t care in
the future, but because as time goes on, due directly to technological proliferation, the
individual will become more and more segregated from co-worker, colleague, neighbor,
and student; each in his or her own pod with the personal-mass-joined media tools around
them to perform every task necessary to fulfill a day’s work and play. ...And sleep.
This, however, is a dire situation for those world citizens on the far side of the
access digital divide. As soon as we cure AIDS and fix Global Warming, we can focus on
New Media Pedagogy
In Gramophone, Film, Typewriter, Freidrich Kittler’s exploration of media discourse
analysis is greatly motivated with the theory that there needs to be a necessary pursuit
toward the development of the science of media (Medienwissenschaft), pressing at the
intrinsic obligations of a hard science, to arrive at the potential of investigative efforts
into its own inherent natures and behaviors. Kittler holds that if this call-to-duty is not
attained by contemporary scholars of media in a way more directly involved than cultural
practitioners who “know higher mathematics only from hearsay,” what will be carried
out, essentially, is nothing more than an exaggeration continuum of the mere history of
Pedagogy is changing as a result of the arrival of a new type of student. Higher
education today sees a demand and response for augmentation methods of learning
alternative to the traditional classroom lecture, lab, seminar, and colloquium. The change
is relatively abrupt, globally significant, and almost completely determined by the
expanding applications of human communication technology which, in many cases the
nondescript, quotidian citizen has at their immediate disposal. It is necessary to explore
the potential -- via Freidrich Kittler’s three-part model of media in perception, including
“Gramophone, Film, and Typewriter” -- for online education to be at least adequately
comparable to face to face, on ground, traditional college or university level learning.
This essay uses as its context the world of the student born in or after 1982. These are
students who have been immersed in the popular use of the Internet, mobile telephones,
iPods, and real time video games from the simplest hand held Tetris to mass-multiplayer, cross media platforms, interacting through sight, sound, and even touch with other
players around the world.
In the world of higher education, students born after 1982 are considered to be a
new breed of learner. These are students who, from the start, have been immersed in the
popular and daily use of communication technologies such as the internet, mobile
telephones, iPods, and interactive video games. First hand, these students do not know a
world void of these gadgets. Coupled with the quotidian use of these applied sciences,
there exist further distinctions of this demographic.
Roughly 3.2 million students took at least one online course from a degreegranting institution during the fall 2005 term, the Sloan Consortium said. That’s double
the number who reported doing so in 2002, the first year the group collected data, and
more than 800,000 above the 2004 total.
The Sloan Survey of Online Learning, “Making the Grade: Online Education in
the United States, 2006,”24 shows that 62 percent of chief academic officers say that the
learning outcomes in online education are now “as good as or superior to face-to-face
instruction,” and nearly 6 in 10 agree that e-learning is “critical to the long-term strategy
of their institution.” Both numbers are up from a year ago. Barbara Macaulay, chief
academic officer at UMass Online has seen rapid growth in the last year. Roughly 24,000
students are enrolled in online degree and certificate courses through the university this
fall — a 23 percent increase from a year ago, she said.
Nearly all institutions with total enrollments exceeding 15,000 students have
some online offerings, and about two-thirds of them have fully online programs,
compared with about one in six at the smallest institutions (those with 1,500 students or
fewer), the report notes.
characteristics, employs an “incredulity towards meta-narratives.”25
What we are
witnessing at this time is an application to augment where a traditional story, that of the
The Sloan Survey of Online Learning, “Making the Grade: Online Education in the United States,
Jean-François Lyotard La Condition postmodern: Rapport sur le savoir The Postmodern Condition: A
Report on Knowledge, 1979.
Lyotard, Jean-Francois. Introduction: The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge,” 1979: xxivxxv.
book-model classroom, is in a state of flux as a direct result of the media communication
technology that is so often readily available.
Media & Art: The Machined Word
As early as 1947, Jack Kerouac, William Burroughs, and Allen Ginsberg formed a
modernist group of post-academic street-writers around New York City. Aside from
dropping-out—or being kicked out—of Columbia University, a bonding element to the
transitory triad was an intrinsic individualism, the obvious fear and contempt for the
quotidian-esque, and a love of writing—a combination of traits that subjected each of
them to the socio-political conflicts that arise of a greasy gang of literary hustlers beat
down by the conservative conformity that was so prevalent in the underlying grain of a
post-war American woodwork. The Beats, as they came to be known, were a band of
roaming cohorts and counterparts who used mind and personality-altering drugs, alcohol,
meditation, Eastern philosophy, travel, poetry, prose, and transmediated fiction to
spontaneously, and rather single-handedly, spark the ignition of what later would be
recognized as one of the more intuitively experimental, and widely influential, literary
movements in recent history.
These writers often wrote their manuscripts on mechanical typewriters. This is
interesting as it is the tendency of the typewriter to be empowering, like a loaded M16
field rifle, or grabbing hold the neck, feeling the heavy woodwork of a plugged-in antique
electric Gibson guitar, buzzing with electricity, spitting back frequency reverberations
crackling and popping in the amplifiers. It affects the writer instantly to sit down behind
one, flip the power switch and place fingers across the keys, feeling the little raised bump
with the index. If the machine is old enough, and has been used enough, it will buzz and
hum there on top of the desk, and when a key is struck the hammers will hit so solidly
against the page and the carriage behind it, that the base of the machine will shift and
bounce across its surface. If you type fast, the neighbors may fear they hear you’re firing
off a semi-automatic weapon; if you are fast enough, and ready to roll, the folks next door
might decide it’s a machine gun you are after. The innocent little bell chime set to hold
up your right side margin sometimes is the only thing that keeps you from writing right
through the wall. But when that thing goes off, it instinctively sets off a reaction in your
brain, and over goes the right pinky, snap down quick right to the RETURN key, machine
rolls up two lines automatically, whining because it needs oil and the old dust is set caked
its joints. The carriage falls down loudly with a bang, and goes running fast and hard like
a locomotive across your field of vision to the right, taking the manipulated page with,
and slamming itself to a halt, machine buzzing, keys smoking, waiting to take you with
red eyes watering and head full of alcohol to the end of your message. The only thing
that’ll stop you at this point is the end of the page, eleven inches down or twenty-two
returns, because when you’re on the typewriter and you hit the bottom of the page, there
isn’t much sense in continuing on because typing onto a blank roll is like writing in the
air. It comes out of your head, and is gone. So you stop, take out the filled-up page of
rambling road worn prose, stick in a new, clean sheet, cue it up, roll it around to one inch
margin on top, and put your fingers back on the keys…unless you are using an endless
scroll of paper, fifty pages taped together, end-to-end, rolled up along the writing space
floor…in which case, then, you never have to stop, punctuation or not. We see examples
of these ideas in an excerpt of Kerouac’s The Subterraneans.
“...[R]eturning to the Red Drum for sets, to hear Bird, whom I saw distinctly
digging Mardou several times also myself directly into my eye looking to search if I was
really the great writer I thought myself to be as if he knew my thoughts and ambitions or
remembered me from other night clubs and other coasts, other Chicagos--not a
challenging look but the king and founder of the bop generation at least the sound of it in
digging his audience digging his eyes, the secret eyes him-watching, as he just pursed his
lips and let great lungs and immortal fingers work, his eyes separate and interested and
humane, the kindest jazz musician there could be while being and therefore naturally the
greatest--watching Mardou and me in the infancy of our love and probably wondering
why, or knowing it wouldn’t last, or seeing who it was would be hurt, as now, obviously,
but not quite yet, it was Mardou whose eyes were shining in my direction, though I could
not have known and now do not definitely know—except the one fact, on the way home,
the session over the beer in the Mask drunk we went home on the Third Street bus sadly
through night and throb knock neons and when I suddenly leaned over her to shout
something further (in her secret self as later confessed) her heart leapt to smell the
“sweetness of my breath” (quote) and suddenly she almost loved me—” (Kerouac, 31).
These examples show how the message-altering elements and outside influences
of the machines allow for the medium to express itself through an artist’s message, or the
message-concept transport entity. The speed of the medium increases productive flow of
the message-concept from its flight through the cosmos, remediated by the composer,
influenced by the machine (or remediated by the composer, influenced by the machine),
to break down the barriers between message and destination.
Perhaps it is the speed and immediacy of the technology then that act like
Einstein’s brief slumbers, a shaman’s peyote buttons, a jazz musician’s marijuana,
Bodhisattva’s mindful ruminations, and Bergson’s derailment of speech and linguistics as
a direct de-separation of mankind from the cosmic unconscious. We see these
implications only heightened as we move into the time of binary code.
If it is accepted that the classic and the contemporary composer can be a bridge
for delivering new ideas and works of art and science from the divine to the lay, it is
accepted that the composer uses a technology of some type to express and manifest these
message-concepts. It is precisely here that the questions on the part of media arise:
Where, then, do these technologies fit in? And what are the modern roles played by the
typewriters, gramophones, and films in this timeless odyssey of expressionism?
Kerouac, Typewriter, Symbolic
Jack Kerouac is best known for his Benzedrine-induced scroll, alleged in myth
and the pages of literary history, to have been hammered out on an old mechanical
Remington typewriter during the course of three speedy weeks in a small New York City
apartment. The lengthy formless manuscript was written in a breakthrough experimental
style that rambled on, punctuation-free, for over two hundred pages. The scroll was a
string of clean white pages taped together end to end and rolled up across the floor of the
writing space where Kerouac worked, in an amphetamine frenzy, too wired up to take the
time to change out the single pages from his carriage. Upon its completion, Kerouac’s
friend and unofficial literary mentor, Allen Ginsberg is said to have carried the finished
scroll around for nearly eight years pushing it on every publishing opportunity that came
along. Finally, late in the 1950s, the manuscript was published and the now-battered
scroll was manifest to the literary world as what soon became the epic American highway
saga On the Road. The book was an instant success, much like Bob Dylan’s Blood on the
Tracks, where at a time in American—as well as international—modern art history, a
single composer is credited with creating a solitary, yet highly influential work which not
only defines the needs and wants of an entire generation of truth-seekers, but
simultaneously fulfills those desires, if only through a vicarious extension of themselves.
Very few handwritten manuscripts exist from Kerouac’s list of completed works.
Poetry collections, novels, experimental prose, even many notes on writing and
meditation were typed out, emerging from the writer’s mind onto the page in
unpunctuated lines of typewritten ink. There is something to be noted about the lines of
symmetry that can be drawn between the machine, the writer, and the written. Examining
the “ambiguous” typewriting mechanism, as Kittler calls it; we see that it indeed does
take on many rolls during its various processes of influencing the message-concept on its
way through the cosmos. In reading Gramophone, Film, Typewriter we realize a number
of different forms the typewriting machine takes on as an extension of the human central
nervous system since the process of its invention began.
Foremost in this examination is the idea that, as a result of the invention of the
typewriter, we have the opportunity to experience the causes and effects of the machined
word. I use this three-syllable term in an unassuming tone. It is a response to the changes
in gender that arose throughout societies in regards to writing and literature, which—up
until the invention of the typewriter—was completely done by hand with quill, ink pen,
pencil, etc. Hence, the symbolized communicative process was called handwriting, or the
hand-written word. The machined word changes things in the theoretical arenas, and
raises new questions, concerning the extent to which the finished work is influenced by
the medium through which it passes.
Kittler assigns the perspective of the symbolic to the typewriting machine. “An
innocuous device, ‘an intermediate thing, between a tool and a machine,’ ‘almost
quotidian and hence unnoticed,’27 has made history. The typewriter cannot conjure up
anything imaginary, as can cinema; it cannot stimulate the real, as can sound recording; it
only inverts the gender of writing. In so doing, however, it inverts the material basis of
literature”.28 The typewriter renders out distinct markings onto the page. A semiotic
consideration is now imperative.
The speed in which the writer is able to fill up a page with lines of text, the
rhythm of the hammers beating down the inky signs, the hum of an electrically charged
apparatus weighing heavily on the desk, are all factors that effect the state of mind of the
composer, from the fingers up, or from the mind down, in just about any way imaginable.
Heidegger, Martin, On the Hand and the Typewriter, 7.
Kittler, Freidrich, Gramophone, Film, Typewriter, 1.
These elements can work together to mold the buzzing machine into an electric conduit
for the message-concept, ultimately baring great influence on the final work.
Perhaps it is necessary to ask the question: Compared to hand-writing, is the
typewriter more direct in breeching the gap between the message-concept of the writer’s
mind and the mind of the reader? In utilizing the typewriter, the writer never even has to
look at the page s/he is writing. The distance over which the message-concept travels is
shortened, going directly from the mind of the writer, through the fingertips, down the
metal keys, across the tiny hinges, up the hammer, and onto the page. This process is a
breakdown in the barriers through which the message-concept must pass in order to reach
its intended destination. It is the same reason Einstein took his two-minute naps, the same
reason American Indian Shamans use peyote, jazz musicians got turned onto marijuana,
and Bodhisattva sat Vipassana meditation under a tree, the same reason which Bergson
held that speech and language extend man’s abilities, but simultaneously act to separate
mankind from the cosmic unconscious. A hasty and expedited methodology has been a
universal objective of artists for centuries, Kerouac and the other Beat writers are no
The message-altering elements and outside influences on the communicative
methodologies allow for the medium to express itself through an artist’s message. The
speed of the medium increases productive flow of the message-concept from its flight
through the cosmos, remediated by the composer, influenced by the machine (or
remediated by the composer, influenced by the machine), to break down the barriers
between message and destination. It is the speed and immediacy of the technology, then
that act like Einstein’s brief slumbers, a shaman’s peyote buttons, a jazz musician’s
marijuana, Bodhisattva’s mindful ruminations, and Bergson’s derailment of speech and
linguistics as a direct de-separation of mankind from the cosmic unconscious. “Arthur
Kroker once pointed out that media are too slow. The term is no longer appropriate to
express the speed culture of this digital age. Media still refers to information,
communication and black boxes, not to pure mediation, straight into the body. Media,
almost by definition, are about filters, switches, technical limitations, silly simulations
and heartless representations. Focused on particular senses, they still need access and
selection mechanisms. There are only particular media. We should therefore look for
terms that are even more fluid, being able to break through all interfaces, geographical
conditions and human imperfections”.29 When Herbert Hunke first mumbled the word,
half-wrecked in a booth of New York City cafeteria, waning on another heroine nod,
Kerouac heard it roll off the lips, and instantly took a semblance to the rhythm at its
roots: Beat. An utterance significant as a mirror of the times, a sense of the poor and lost,
but not lost of hope. The aura of the word is found too in the visual and literary works of
art that formed a remediation of the streets, the drugs, mystic sidewalk salvation prophets,
smoking cigarettes and running amuck under the rainy city streetlamps glow, burning
along the American highways, bopping in the marijuana cop car Harlem jazz clubs,
slouching down and writing-up toe-tap poetry in the coffee houses—angel youth, full of
jean jacket wino experimentation and cold flat exploration—something-not-satisfied-sowe-gotta-keep-trying blues.
Media inventions themselves get “Beat”. In the attempt to fulfill a past desire that
was left unfulfilled, not just ten years in Post-War Americana, but always, and for
Lovink, Geert. From Speculative Media Theory to Net Criticism. Lecture at ICC, Tokyo, 19.12.96
whatever reason. Holy machine gun typewriters, gramophones, films are prophetic in that
you point toward the future, breaking down barriers like profitable media machines do. It
is your destiny to proselytize and anticipate your own replacement. You do it well.
Always have, always will.
The Memoir
So the James Frey situation is huge now. This minute, I’d bet, he’s preparing in his
$2.55M Manhattan apartment for his interview with Larry King on Larry King Live
tonight at 9 p.m. ET. I think I’ll have to tune in for that. Larry, I would hope, will ask the
right questions. The money this SAE fraternity brother will pocket as a result of first
being groped by Oprah, and then being shot down by just about everyone else is
staggering. I don’t have a bad word to say about James Frey, other than maybe he lied to
people. I think the media mania around this situation is hilariously fitting in our
wondrous 2006.
At the gym yesterday they had one of twenty nine suspended television sets
channeled to the Martha Stuart show. I wondered how long after getting out of prison,
Martha was back making a fat paycheck featuring herself in her own show. Martha Stuart
is a crook and people love her because they believe she can make great tasting and moist
brownies and match bedroom linens like nobodies business. Maybe its not so much that
viewers like Martha, but that the way the high paying network with which she is affiliated
portrays her, makes her appear to be back in the limelight, big important Martha has her
own show, so anyone watching the show thinks she’s big time again and that maybe its
sort of ok to steal from people if you make up for it by teaching them how to sew drapes.
Television does that, it creates a very dangerous, and illusionary, one-way
communication between multi-billion dollar companies and the average viewer who is
usually sitting at home up to their armpits in debt. Dangerous.
My newly wedded and more beautiful than anything in the world wife and I refer
to James Frey -- since listening to the book in digital audio between Denver and Chicago
last week, crossing the glorious and simple flat lands of Nebraska -- as, simply, James.
We felt this was appropriate, as 3.5 million other readers most likely did, after getting to
know him intimately through the pages of his book. He said it was true, Doubleday said it
was true, Oprah even said it was true. And everyone knows whatever Oprah says is to be
taken as sacrament. No question. I mean, she has, nearly, one issue for every month of
every year since the first issue hit the stands in July of 2000 of her own magazine, O. On
every single one of these issues her picture, sometimes full body, sometimes not, graces
the front cover. If that doesn’t scream commanding authority on everything under the
sun, I don’t know what does. (Maybe it screams nauseating narcissism. I don’t know.)
So James’ story was on CNN this morning, but CNN didn’t say anything that The
Smoking Gun didn’t already reveal. The only difference was that The Smoking Gun told
what they found a lot sooner than CNN. CNN just showed pictures of Oprah on her own
show and pictures of Frey at Harpo Studios in Chicago, and the photos that TSG dug up
over the past six weeks during their investigation of the validity of factual events, which
Frey contends are all true, in his dramatic book titled “A Million Little Pieces.” CNN
didn’t even bother to reformat the photographs that they used for their report; they just
stuck their television cameras in front of a computer monitor that was browsing
www.thesmokinggun.com. They used the hand held method, as opposed to putting the
camera on a tripod, as cinematographers are apt to do, to add some sort of dramatic visual
effect to an otherwise extremely counterfeited shot. Bolter and Grusin might call that
“Remediation.” Others might just call it copycat. I call it boring and trite, and think it’s
further evidence that “conventional” (which is now a pseudonym for “American
Corporate”) sensationalism/news broadcasting is on the outs. People don’t need CNN
anymore. People have the internet, they have The Smoking Gun operation, IndyMedia,
Grassroots News, Move On, Google, and a thousand other start up independent
institutions digging up and presenting the facts of our worldly events in a way that
counteracts the facade and the smoke screen that network news has masterfully manifest
for the past ten or so years.
Black Ink
I’ve always loved ink. Black ink. Black ink on canvas is the best. I’ve always loved
Buddha, and the thousands of monk painters that follow the Dharma. I love Katsushika
Hokusai, and a lot of other Japanese scroll painters. But, when it comes to simplicity,
mystery, and ink, nobody beats Robert Motherwell. A few years ago, now, my Brother
and Jennifer lived in Atlanta, Georgia. I used to go down there on the Amtrak line for
street fairs with Blues Traveler, Blues Traveler at the Fabulous Fox Theatre, or to hike
the Appalachian Trail. One time I looked at a volume of the history of the Amtrak lines
while I was waiting for a train near the Madison Street entrance in Union Station in
Chicago. The contiguous United States used to be completely covered by Amtrak routes;
you could go as many places by train back then as you can fly to today. I should have
lived back then. I think I was only two years old when the federal government decided to
cut out Amtrak lines. But I’ve done my share of riding the only lines that still remain, and
one route in particular was my home away from home away from home on the thousand
mile sojourn from Chicago to what they now call “The ATL”.
I used to get on the commuter train line from my Mom’s house out in
Streamwood, Illinois, ride that 45 minutes due east into the Loop, walk to the “long
distance train” depots tucked away at Union, get on there and head to Washington, D.C.
or Philly. There are no direct routes from Chicago to Atlanta, so you have to layover in
one of these two east coast cities. Sometimes the stop can be four or five hours. Four or
five hours goes by pretty quick walking around the Vietnam Memorial, the Washington
Monument, and the National Gallery of Art. The National Gallery of Art could take up a
week in itself. One time I ran (backpack and all) from the Washington, D.C. train station,
also called Union Station, all the way to the NGA, just to make more time for my
otherwise very brief visit. So, I walked in the front doors. And the place is enormous. It’s
one of those white marble foyers that fit you inside of themselves like an ant in a castle. I
walked in about twenty feet and for whatever reason, I turned back around, and there,
hanging over a crevasse to a lower level, was a painting, thirty feet wide, black paint on
white canvas, by Robert Motherwell.
Motherwell’s paintings. Robert Motherwell’s paintings ----- Robert Motherwell’s
paintings are remediated versions of anything else printed, or painted, or signed, or
drawn, or etched or sketched. They are so simple and that is the very point. Draw a line,
or scribble a few, on paper. Now, take a one millimeter square pixel of your paper sample
there and blow it up to thirty feet across. Pay no heed, really, to how high it becomes. I
bet when Robert Motherwell painted from life, in his studio, or en plain aire in the forest
or the desert, he just drug out this monster roll of canvas. Then he pulled out a scrap of
paper from his pocket notebook and a scientific magnifying glass to view his subject
matter. I would like if he toted around a jewelers spy glass on an antique chain around his
neck, and no matter how many people asked if he sold diamonds, he never told them
what it was for. I am into nano-ontology, he could say. I make paintings of things you
cannot see. Motherwell was into criminal forensics. He could paint your incriminating
DNA. You supply the strand of hair from your head. Motherwell was a master illusionist.
Everybody in the world, who stands in front of the painting at the National Gallery of
Art, says to their friend, where did he find paint brushes six feet wide? How did he dip
them into a bucket seven feet across? Once we all decided his brushes must have been to
that scale in order to make strokes of these proportions, we wonder how Robert
Motherwell can get such magnificent detail of the dark side of a molecule with his
paintbrush which we’ve already decided -- in some paintings -- must be six feet wide.
The Big Song
Chris Robinson is the front man and lead singer for the Black Crowes. (For sake of
reference, the Black Crowes are one of the most innovative old-school blues soaked rock
and roll bands of all time. Hailing from the sun scorched hills of Georgia, the Crowes
spent a large portion of the tail end of the 1990s touring the world, enlightening music
lovers with guitar legend Jimmy Page in tow. The sets were predominantly Led Zeppelin
based for obvious reasons. The artistic roots of Chris, then, are obvious, but not simple.)
In an interview I watched a while back, I saw Chris explaining to a journalist his
theory of why he does what he does. His meaning, he said, is simply this: to be a part of
The Big Song.
To explain: the idea of music stretches far back, but is not limited to, the sounds
of the rhythms of rainfall on a cave entryway, or the percussionistic rants of stone on
stone of a bored, excited, or, perhaps, religious and prayerful caveman or woman. Surely
the changes of the high plains wind and the melody of the oceans waves were playing
themselves out (for no person to hear) well before the first humans, and continue today,
along with the rest of the world’s developed music, right up to the present moment. The
Big Song, then, for Chris, is eternal. His purpose, he said to the journalist, is to borrow
from, interpret, and contribute his own visions back to the historic concept of music: to
be a part of The Big Song.
A concept that contains the power to define a persons very existence; one that is
the backbone of their everyday, in one way or another; one that runs continually as the
answer to the ontological “Why?”. This, dear reader, is, indeed, a person’s God.
Mine is The Big Theory: the narrower, but omnipresent overlap of academe and the
creative process. Imagine a white canvas. A big white canvas and in your hand you hold a
ten inch paintbrush. You dip the brush into bucket A containing Cadmium Yellow Hue.
Draw your brush across the canvas. Now pick up brush two of any size, dip it into bucket
B which contains a basic Ultramarine Blue. Paint a simple stroke of blue along side the
yellow and put down the brush. In one area you have yellow, this is academe, higher
learning, the university, and teaching, all of it. And in the other area, you have your blue,
this is the creative process: innovative human thought and its impending manifesto.
Surely it is obvious you can have your yellow areas of your canvas which do not contain
any blue. Inversely, then, and equally true, is the observation that you can have your blue
areas without any yellow. The interest, to me, and the not so obvious, is the much smaller
areas where the blue and the yellow meet, the pigments join together mixing in unequal
parts. The resonance between the two hues. The vibration of the result: Philosophy. The
green area (because mixing blue and yellow pigments makes the color green) creates an
entirely new level to what previously existed. In other words, to me, Philosophy,
ontology, is the overlap of the creative process and academics.
Chris takes one instance of music, the song, to recapitulate and generalize his
purpose. I take one instance of the field of philosophy, the theory, and recapitulate and
generalize my purpose: to take part in The Big Theory.
Now, if I could only get paid for it, or go on tour for it, or contort the history
books with the likes of Allen Woody of the Allman Brothers and Government Mule for
it. All in good time, I guess. All in good time.
Kerouac’s Scroll
I went to see the original manuscript yesterday for Jack Kerouac’s On the Road which
was published in 1957 by Viking Press. The book was actually written six years earlier
and apparently the scroll, as it is referred to in some circles, got pretty beat up in the
process. I read one time that Allen Ginsberg carried it around with him in New York for a
while in his pocket. But Ginsberg was probably carrying a leather briefcase by then. Who
knows really? But the scroll is just that: 20 or so long strips of paper taped together
measuring out 120 feet, single spaced at 100 wpm, chopped out on carriage-rattling
Benzedrine fueled for 21 days on an old, mechanical typewriter. The exhibit, which is
currently in order at the Denver Central Library, explained that Old Jackie hammered the
thing out “on a small river of coffee,” but any self-respecting Kerouac student knows the
truth. Sure, coffee’s good, and it’ll wake you up a bit here and there, but Benzedrine is
whole ‘nother world. I wondered if the DCL was just trying to pass a PG rating on this
show. It couldn’t have been G I don’t think because in one wall hanging, an oversized
black and white photograph, the viewer sees one of Denver’s finest, back in the day,
sporting the 1950s police getup pouring out an uncorked bottle of port wine onto the
curb. A greasy bum cowboy is chasing after him in the background, hand-rolled no-filter
cigarette dripping from his lips.
I noticed the “No Photography” signs posted near the scroll case. I imagined the
copyright holders not wanting any ‘art in the age of mechanical reproduction’ being
reproduced, especially in a digital print-on-demand world. It seems my mobile phone
cam fired itself off as I hovered over the words, reading “I first met Dean not long after
my wife and I split up. I had just gotten over a serious illness that I won’t bother to talk
about&” And on and on.
Kurt Vonnegut’s Death
An old friend of mine just emailed and told me that Kurt Vonnegut died at the age of 84
in his home in New York. Today is Thursday the Associated Press reported that he died
on Wednesday. I think that Vonnegut was old, smoked unfiltereds his whole life, drank
heavily for a lot of it, and wrote shelves of more creatively critical work than anyone I
can think of off the top of my head. To sound trite, he had a great life. But I don’t really
think that’s trite. I think he had a great life, a big family, lots of children, grew old, and
now he is dead; naturally dismissed. I don’t pay homage nor subscribe to anything of the
supernatural. However, I do think it is rather odd that I had a dream last night where my
brother told me to “...go on, tell them about your ice-nine theory.” If you are a
Vonnegutian (I just made that word up, I think, but I can Google it to make sure) you will
see my curiosities immediately. If you’ve no historic context in your life for the writer,
however, this statement will come off, probably, as horribly boring. That’s OK. I am of
the former. Among other mid-century American heavy weights a long row of Vonnegut’s
novels bore the foundation very early on to my expanding library. But back to the dream.
In the dream my brother was referring to my agreeing with Marshall McLuhan
that the first World War was a war of the railroad, meaning, the railroad was the most
influential of media, the effects of the railroad on the war were immense; the second
world war was a war of the radio; and right now we are in the third world war and that it
is a war of guerrilla information tactics and great propaganda. It is my inference that we
are nearing the end of capitalism as it’s been known to us. It is foundational in capitalism
the idea that the faster and faster technological advances in the ways we work in this
system are, according to Karl Marx, rendering the individual tasks we perform within set
labor-time, less and less valuable. If the technology moves into infinitely faster realms
(and it will with the demands of global profit), the value of the work we do inversely
becomes infinitely less valuable: Poof, capitalism gone.
But, I said to my brother in an email after reading about Kurt, “ice-nine” was an
interesting choice of words in the bigger context. Now let’s see how much air time CNN
gives to Vonnegut seeing as though he was an avid speaker-outer against and always
critical of the war machine we see in our late state of George Bush’s Capital.
Musicology... if you have an interest in contemporary lifestyle, culture, the mash-up
techniques that were going on in rock, country, and folk music in the late 1960s and early
1970s in this country and in Europe, (folks like The Highwaymen, Waylon Jennings, Kris
Kristofferson, The Band, Merle Haggard, Willy Nelson, Johnny Cash, Bob Dylan, etc.)
you will have to do yourself a favor and check out a film I just found called “Guy
Terrifico -- The Life and Hard Times.” I knew nothing about this story until the house
was dark and quiet last night and I dropped the DVD into the machine: I’d never heard a
word, which, of course, added to its mystique. The film is an excellent (con)fusion of
legend, song writing, filmography, and narration in the current popular genre: the
dramatization. A honky-tonkumentary to a tee. The music that should be there is great. I
say should only because the who’s who list of greatest song writers of all time tell the
tale, but never really get around to singing much: a disappointment in my book. There is,
however, one short performance toward the end by Guy Terrifico alone on stage with his
acoustic. The crowd is rowdy and drunken, the lighting is smoke and blue, and Guy very
sincerely tells the masses frankly from center mic, sitting on folding stage chair this: “A
couple years back I ran into a wasted friend of mine a hotel lobby in Amsterdam. He was
just shy of death and I wondered why. Then a song by Kris Kristofferson came into my
head. I’m happy to tell you folks that my friend isn’t wasted anymore and he has himself
a good lady. This is called The New Mr. Me.” And off he goes into gentle song: six steel
strings and a small voice softly out from under a blowsy mop head of hair and thirty
years of bar fights and booze. Pins dropped. Jaws dropped. The patrons went completely
flat. The only shame is that the song is short and, unfortunately, it is the only one he does.
I replayed it seven times, went off to bed, and slept like a tired child.
Image Cognition
There is a significant semiotic difference in the image cognition during writing and
Fig. 5 This illustration shows the Image cognition relationship in a painting vs. the written word.
1. Benjamin, Walter. The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction.
2. Bolter and Grusin. Remediation.
3. Heidegger, Martin. On the Hand and the Typewriter.
4. Kerouac, Jack. The Subterraneans.
5. Kittler, Freidrich. Gramophone, Film, Typewriter. Translation w/introduction by Geoffrey WinthropYoung and Michael Wutz.
6. Lapham, Lewis H. Introduction to Understanding Media: Extensions of Man.
7. Lovink, Geert. From Speculative Media Theory to Net Criticism. Lecture at ICC, Tokyo, 19.12.96.
8. McLuhan, Marshall. Understanding Media: Extensions of Man.
9. O’Toole, Gregory. Electromania: Observations from Inside A Media-Rich Culture, Jack Kerouac to the
Present. Forthcoming from Black Lawrence Press, New York.
10. Oxford English Dictionary.
11. Reddell, Trace. Class lectures and dialogue notes. University of Denver. 2003.
Media & Content: The Infotainer
In this paper, media, as a dynamic, information-based phenomenon that exists in the real
world, in our minds, is used as a looking glass to try to understand the leading
characteristics of our current condition. It is used as a gauge to try to understand the
overarching characteristics that define the world today. This type of examination can,
perhaps, be carried out using other types of looking glass methods, such as economics, or
politics. In using media as this gauge, it gets a bit more complex because it is true that
media itself as a data-image-impression-filled entity plays a major role in being one of
these main affective elements causing the changes to our world and the ways we exist
within it. Media is a strong affective element in the social and cultural condition, just like
the equation showing mass media campaign added to common person equals celebrity,
so it is true in this equation: mass media campaign plus common criminal equals outlaw.
So, not only is this paper using media as a looking glass through which to examine and
gauge these changes, but that media is one of the leading change factors itself to us as
individuals, us as small group participants, and us as members of the human race across
All historic account is possible only in the past several hundred years with the
advent of relatively easily created, accessed, shared, and stored media. These records are
a method of transferring information which allows for, among other things, the
knowledge of human migration and of past politics. Thinking back to the days before
Gutenberg’s printing press with moveable type, how could people, on a mass scale, know
anything from the past, except what was passed on orally? We are told to “know what is
going on in the world” but this is a relatively new idea, and people in the past could not
have utilized this to be “good citizens”. However, since the days of the community rags,
and early newspapers the question has existed whether these media reflect or help to
determine real world events.
Yellow Journalism is a term used to describe the competition to sell newspapers
between William Randolph Hearst’s New York Journal and Joseph Pulitzer’s New York
World. The owners and publishing moguls used sensationalism, melodrama, romance,
and hyperbole to sell millions of newspapers. The New York World had a popular cartoon
called “Hogan’s Alley,” which included a character that wore yellow clothes. In a
competitive move, Hearst hired the cartoonist, R.F. Outcault, away from Pulitzer’s paper.
Pulitzer then hired another artist to recreate a similar character. The battle went back and
forth. At the time the U.S. battleship, the USS Maine, was sunk in Havana Harbor.
Without proof of blame, Hearst published stories that the Spanish had sunk the US ship.
This caused not only a great number of papers to be sold, but a general change in attitude
of the American people about going to war.30
The Spanish-American War of 1898 was a pivotal conflict and has been referred
to as “The Newspaper War”31 It is an ongoing discussion to this day whether the actions
of newspaper publisher William Randolph Hearst, his New York Journal, and the other
“Yellow Journalism”32 at the time were more of a reflection or determinant to the U.S.
going to war with Spain.
A Nod Toward The Commoner
On April 16, 2007, murderous events took place at Virginia Tech. According to his oneman interview on CNN, Jamal Albarghouti, the 23 year old graduate student at Virginia
Tech used his Nokia N70 to record the police running around outside, reacting to twentysome gunshots ringing out from inside of Norris Hall - something we’ve all see many
times by now. Pandemonium is an accurate, descriptive word. And Jamal’s hand swung
around a bit as he ran to get closer to the action. The whole thing reeks of precarious
unintentionality that the directors of The Blair Witch Project would have, well, killed for.
I don’t mean to make light of the deaths at Virginia Tech. It is horrible and scary and for
the first time I really wonder exactly what is tangibly wrong with the people populating
this world. Everyday there is something new, not to this caliber in this country, but in
PBS. http://www.pbs.org/crucible/journalism.html.
Baker, John. Effects of the Press on Spanish-American Relations in 1898.
other countries, and we, as Americans, vaguely bat an eyelash at another car bomb killing
ten more people in Beirut.
My fascination here is with the media, though, and the fact that Jamal sat
interviewing on CNN, a quote-un-quote news channel that dominates our 24 hour cycle.
He talked about how he’d been early on the scene (he was attending a meeting with his
academic advisor) of this awful crime, recording as much as he could with his mobile
phone camera. Sure, the PR people for the Tribune Company will quickly tell you that
newspaper sales are not dropping due to the internet, that blogs and podcasts need content
on which to comment, and that this needed content necessarily comes from traditional
news sources. This is true, partially, I’d agree, but only at this moment. What about the
fact that CNN has now relied heavily on Jamal’s N70 in order to do its coverage the way
it sees fit? What about CNN interviewing Jamal on television in order that he talk about
his citizen journalism? Has Jamal not generated at least a large portion of CNN’s content
for this story? People will argue that a transition is in place, that people do not need CNN
anymore because they have the internet, mobile media, and concerned Democracy. Well,
this may not have been so accurate right at that moment, but it is changing. And what we
are surely seeing (right before our eyes) is a transition from the dominant corporate
selection of what is broadcast and therefore considered news, to a more gracious and
inclusive nod toward the citizen, an admittance of the importance of the commoner and
the potential of his/her mobile capture: an element that did not exist in the old order.
Dividing Line
No longer can media be separated out from either the individual or the community, and, I
suspect, neither wishes it to be separated anyway. The available multimedia and high
definition digital infotainment has become a golden god in and of itself, and the global
consumer it’s disciple. Unquestioning, unstoppable in it’s devoutness, and self-motivated
to continue in this modality of existence. It is a self-sustaining entity that goes hand in
hand with the western industrial explosion of the 20th Century and continues on to today,
and will continue well into the future.
Two Types of People
The world is full of two generalized categories of people: those who place themselves in
and understand that they are a part of a larger context, and those who do not. Again very
generally, the former seem to prefer reading, the latter television and other quick
changing images.
Mass media today, whether its self claim is to be informative or entertaining, is
charged with the responsibility to justify its own spectacle.
Advertising today does not focus on the product that is being sold or presented.
Advertisement today focuses not on the features of a product and how it might make the
consumers’ life better. The leading message goes further to indicate a projection on the
viewer of the viewer. If the viewer takes center stage in a commercial “about” a product,
really, then the viewer takes center stage in commercial about a viewer. The message of
today’s commercial advertisements focuses on an ideal image that is being sold, not a
product. The product is used as a vehicle into the mind and the imagination of the viewer.
The projected message onto the viewer is one of telling or informing the viewer for the
viewer of how to fulfill their ideal image of themselves (by using this product). The
advertisement uses emotional and / or rational means to reach this end, but the end itself
is not rational. By definition there is no ideal to be actualized. The ideal is completely
lacking in actuality. But time and time again, the ideal strings are pulled and the viewer
accepts that, perhaps this time, this product will work the magic required to, in actuality,
reach the projected, imagined ideal.
Jean Baudrillard established three distinct orders of simulacra: Medieval Feudal,
Industrial Revolution, and the Postmodern / Hyperreal. The “image or representation” of
one person hitting another person with a stick is used here to attempt to exemplify these
orders. A violent act is used because it is sometimes easier to illustrate -- for people to
understand the separation between a violent act and the underlying meaning, than, say,
someone walking in the park and its underlying meaning.
1. Medieval feudal – “signs representing nature”33 – if I see a person hit another person
with a stick in the town square as I am walking by, it is mostly likely a highly unique
occurrence and I am highly dramatized by it. There is no separation between my viewing
of the act and the reality that underlies it, or, put in another way, the way that I react to it,
the way it makes me feel. There is no distinction between the real and the represented
because there is no representation.
2. Industrial Revolution - “mass production of sign-systems which still retain underlying
meaning in reality”34 – I see a person hit a person with a stick in a newspaper photo or on
the television news (on a station I can trust to be delivering objective reporting). Maybe I
am affected. I see it again later in the day, then again tomorrow and 10 times every week.
When I first saw it happen I was intrigued, somewhat shocked, but down the road I don’t
pay much attention to it, I see it happen, flip the channel to something else, think about
my laundry in the machine when I see it the next time, etc. Maybe later I wonder about
why or what caused that person to be shot. So there is still some connection between
witnessing the image / representation of the violence and the underlying reality, but due
to the mass production and mechanical reproduction, the crevasse between the two is
very distinguished. There is the real and the representational, but the difference is clear.
Baudrillard, Jean.
See note number 33.
3. Postmodern / hyperreal – “any reference of signs to a reality outside the order of
signification disappeared entirely”35 – Now I see this image on the television news,
television talk shows, infomercials, an Unsolved Mysteries dramatization, billboards,
newspapers of all kinds: leftist, right wing conservative, independent, etc; movies which
are pro-war and anti-war; “Cops” type shows, civil rights situations, the Internet in every
context imaginable, and of course the unending choices of first person fighting video
games with surround, etc…and on and on. We become so entirely saturated by the image
/ representation that any meaning it once had completely, or nearly so, vanishes. In fact,
we begin to relate to these multiple images as the reality of a person hitting another
person, and therefore the new reality of a person hitting a person is only the idea or
representation of the act, which contains absolutely no underlying reality or consequence
of its own.
I would have to disagree with the extent to which Baudrillard takes this
characteristic of the postmodern. To say that postmodernity completely eliminates the
real with representation is taking it too far. It becomes, from time to time, difficult to
discern this difference between real and representational in the postmodern. This is a
highly defining characteristic of the postmodern. But in the postmodern, the real is not yet
completely eliminated. I know this because my wife asked me a great question that I
could not answer when I was talking to her about Baudrillard: She said, “Well, what
would he think if I say I feel differently when I see someone get violently hit with a stick
on 24 than I do when I see someone get the same treatment – or I am told someone was
treated this way – on City Confidential (a television program featuring narrative docu-
See note number 33.
dramas of true violent happenings in the U.S.)?” It could be that not until the postpostmodern, do we experience the result of a gradual dominance of reality by
representation to the point where the former completely disappears into the latter (or the
difference is obliterated).
Sincere media vs. insincere media
Media constantly push for creating spectacle out of the moment to moment unknown:
sports, dramas, situation comedies. Plot suffers or at least takes a back seat to action. The
wildly popular television show Sienfeld, famous for being a successful show about
nothing in particular, is one postmodern example of insincere media. The idea here is that
there is media that is good, beneficial and serves a purpose to humanity that is for the
common good. This is Sincere Media: some forms of art, music, instructional technology,
Insincere Media, mainly economic in nature, for profit. Perhaps here the metaphor
is design vs. Art, which would be ‘sincere’. Marketing, advertising, television shows of
most kinds and brands. Pop music. Economic forms of music (rap, hip hop, etc.).
Consumer driven trends and all propagating media texts.
Into the Wild. I like the article, the book, and my interests lie in the actual
documentation of the actual events. The movie as driven by integrity as it tries to be,
sticking to events, it is still Hollywood and does not further document the actual events,
and it takes away from the Real. It romanticizes the events, and must justify the cost of its
own spectacle: $15.00 US for a movie requires big excitement to draw people in.
Celebrity has shifted, has been redefined, and, perhaps, nearly reinvented. The
Golden Age of Hollywood, and the stars that shined on the silver screen, are no more.
This much we know. Celebrities, as they always have, require agents; IT specialists, RNs,
and graphic designers now can have agents as well, they are called head hunters,
placement specialists, or any number of titles. Celebrities have large, fancy houses, but
the average American home size has also doubled in recent decades from what it was in
the mid-20th century. Celebrities walk around in the latest fashions, expensive t-shirts
made to look worn, over sized sunglasses, and a cell phone; the same attire weekend 30something suburbanites maintain. Celebrities create MySpace pages, Facebook profiles,
and Tweet their most recent activity. This describes a majority of pre-teens, high school
students, college students, twenty- and thirty- something’s across the world.
Celebs are no more, now, than some of the content of flickering, fleeting images
(which they don’t create or generate). Celebrities are largely two dimensional digital
images that flash across the visual field, exponentially. They are of the imagination and
nothing more. One can experience the celebrity of their choosing on a mobile phone,
computer screen, soda ad, reality television, a magazine page, even in the newspaper.
You can pay $20.00 US to have them sustained on a movie screen.
HBO has a show called Entourage. It’s labeled as a comedy, and rightly so. The plot
generally plays directly into the All-American wet dream. It is such that, basically, four
male friends from New York City move out to Hollywood. One of the guys, Vince, is the
star. He’s on the fast track, as they say, riding the waves, of American Movieland
infamosity. Infamosity is a word I just made up. It retains all of the etymological
convention of the lovely and more familiar “infamous”. Additionally, (and this is where
the customization comes in) it includes all of the extras which the average reader would
guess come along with the original meaning, augmented by or with the contextual intent
in which the word is used. An example: “Vincent Chase is harboring and exploring the
various elements of (both imagined and real) Hollywood infamosity.” In this sentence,
the reader can assume safely that the composer (writer) is telling them that old-boy Vince
is involved in the current successful actors scene of Los Angeles CA, including, going to
wild parties with other fame-desirers; reading and considering manuscripts mailed to him
and “E” (Eric, Vince’s so-called manager and cohort from NYC) as they lounge around
in sunglasses near their pool; socializing and trying to impress the female stars; causing
Hollywood-level drama; making millions on title offers; dreaming of working with James
Cameron; etc.; all the while dancing the well-thought-out and consciously-planned script
(in front of as many cameras as possible) intending to write himself into the twisted and
artful history books of Hollywood.
The characters are all funny and amusing and, since it runs on HBO and people
(not us) pay HBO to watch HBO, we don’t have to sit through, or better yet, flip through,
mute through, whatever you want to do through, and commercials.
Another character, Turtle, is one of the cling-ons. He does odd jobs for Vince’s
crew: totes posters, finds weed, things like that. He succeeds as a twenty-something in
Movieland with his oversized football jerseys, NYC slang (hilarious), verbally bashing
everyone who comes on screen with him, all the time wearing backwards the fitted
baseball hat of the episode. Turtle single handedly personifies a New Hollywood run by
ordinary, motivated American rats, the drones of your High School, on Starbucks, iPods,
and Hummers. It’s the exact same scene I see crossing campus at the University of
Denver every day. Technology allows for that. Gerbner’s Cultivation Theory ensures it.
The only difference between Turtle’s character on Entourage and the smart ass Junior
sitting in class is that Turtle gets paid exponentially more than Smart Boy could ever
hope for. That is, unless at some point he finds himself the subject of the keen eye of the
producers of some aspect of (what the late great Edward Abbey refers to as) The National
Lobotomy Machine.
I watched the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. I was baffled by its message. Only
baffled, that is, in comparison to the parades I remember watching on TV when I was a
kid, at home, probably wearing my super hero pajamas.
The hosts, the people from the NBC Today show, were lined up all three across
the screen with the Macy’s front door behind them. NBC bought the rights to be the
network showing the event. NBC paid a lot of money. NBC, then, in all efforts Adam
Smithian, chopped up the timeslot by the second, scripting out as many one-word
advertisements over the course of the parade as possible.
This was all too depressing. I remember the hosts, when I was younger, just up
there, holding a huge microphone, 1970s hairdos in the cold November breeze, just
yapping away, commenting free-form about the floats, the dancers, the clowns, and the
bands. Just like that. Simple. Talking. Describing the cultural manifestos as they rolled
down the block. Matt Lauer, however, read verbatim off a teleprompter that, of course,
we the audience at home couldn’t see. But you sure could hear it in his voice. Trying to
sound conversational and witty and off-the-cuff out in the cold rain and snow, eyes glued
to a translucent message in front of you in front of millions takes skill. Matt, yesterday,
did not have it. But neither did Al Roker or (I think her name is) Meredith Vieira, the
blond woman who said she was teary-eyed when Santa Claus came out. Jesus. Their
monologues were ripe with ads, referencing everything from the pop-stars on stage’s
record companies to brand name appliances.
When the Scooby Doo balloon came down the street Matt Lauer went on and one
how Scooby was the “crime fighting dog” in the so-and-so new film from so-and-so
studios, and when the movie was coming out and how Scooby fought with “hi-tech
Scooby snacks” that, if they were to feed the balloon-size Scooby, would be “the size of a
brand new 40 inch flat screen plasma TV.” I turned it off and laughed. Adam Smith is
rolling over in his grave.
Law + Order-ing the Icono-Crash of Television
Two nights ago, Law and Order did quite a splendid job of implementing the old “rip it
from the headlines” technique in coming up with a storyline for yet another great episode.
Last week I read in Wired36 about lonelygirl15, the serial video blog that is taking in
millions of hits via YouTube and its own web presence online at www.lonelygirl15.com.
It has become an online phenomenon, this blog, making the culturally accepted leap of
employing the token hack videographers to pull tens of thousands of views on their own
works, posted too on YouTube, making fun, asking critical questions, and using the
detournement process of taking original lonelygirl15 footage, altering its message, and
reposting these semiotic twists back onto the world wide web, often times right next to
the originals on YouTube. Ah, the democratization of media. It truly is a beautiful and
sometimes very over-tiring actuality.
Law and Order had these fictional (fictional, that is, on the show, but not
necessarily in the show) bloggers called themselves weepingwillow17. They rallied their
millions of viewers religiously on a post-your-own-videos web site called YouLens.
There was a staged kidnapping and ransom plot of the stars of the blog. This, of course,
was all caught on tape and available for the already converted millions of fans, which, of
course, the blog pulled in, day after day after day. The kidnappers claimed that 100,000
of weepingwillow17’s disciples needed to pay their share of a “download fee” (digital
millennium ransom) of $1.99 each. They got it, but not before the adventure took a sour
turn and one of weepingwillow17’s stars lost his left ear a la straight razor, tied to a chair,
Quentin Tarantino-style (think “Reservoir Dogs” minus the lighter fluid bath).
As they tend to do in TV, the cops eventually got smart and used their Internet Forensics
Specialist (that should be the job I get!) to Way-Back a Craig’s List posting (which was
cached on a Google server, of course) for an apartment-for-rent classified ad which
retroactively became Studio 1 for the early days of the filming of weepingwillow17.
From there the incarcerations ensue.
The remainder of the show was spent orally examining the characters - some
dead, some still alive (but maimed) at this point - to decipher what was real and what was
scripted, and if it was scripted was it illegal and if it was illegal who was going to pay. It
was all very dramatic and the ear guy never got cleaned up and so played out the entire
second half with a huge bloody bandage stuck to the no-ear on his head. Riveting, I say.
Like Shakespeare. Or Blake. Only Modern. AND utilizing the communications
technology available to the everyday citizen on an everyday basis.
To further blur the line between American Corporate Commercialism, reality,
virtual reality, and who makes how much where, NBC announced after the show that
there were “additional weepingwillow17 video blogs available to download at
NBC.com.” Someone, too, (probably NBC but I don’t care enough to find out) actually
made a functioning video blog site at www.weepingwillow17.com. See for yourself.
I pondered a theory the other day positing the demise and eventual crash of
television sometime this century. We see it in the lack of quality (due to lack of finances)
in the current shows airing across the spectrum. People use the internet now to get their
information, not the network news. People use the internet to get their weather, financial
updates, interpersonal communications, gossip, and entertainment essentials. TV can
keep you company, the newspaper is nostalgic at the coffee shop, but nothing compares
to the speed, omnipresence, and user-friendly accuracy of Vint Cerf’s love child.
People have Tivo or get their favorite episodes on iTunes or YouTube. They skip
through the commercials. The advertisers know this. They see it in their spreadsheets and
talk about it in the grey conference rooms across the world. No advertising on TV means
no money in TV. No money in TV means no actors, no extensive, interesting plots or
stories or stages or anything. Just crap like Survivor and Dancing with the (B-movie and
child TV) Stars and that garbage game show with a bald-headed Howie Mandel. Jesus.
The stuff is scripted fast-food. It’s the entertainment equivalent of Target and Walmart
and the worthiness inherent - whether considered before or after the subject object
relationship - is completely non-existent.
Idolization Is More Than Acceptable.tv
I found a show on VH1 the other night that was interesting to me for one reason: its selfadmitted shtick that they cater to the short attention span. Acceptable.tv is a show that
airs five very short videos, and then allows viewers to cast their votes for their two
favorites via mobile phone or the acceptable.tv web site. The top two shorts then come
back, three get cancelled, and three new shows appear next week in their place. Just
before the host explains this process he states something along the lines of “The five
films you are about to see are all under the average attention spanning length...” I guess
this is to keep folks from remote controlling right past the show. In the internet world,
according to a BBC published study, most online viewers spend less than sixty seconds at
an average site. “The addictive nature,” the study claims, “of web browsing can leave you
with an attention span of nine seconds -- the same as a goldfish.”
As I got bored with video number two on their list, I changed the channel again. I
came across Desperate House Wives and stayed there for a minute. Some underwearmodel-type “housewife” was pulling a bag of groceries out of the hatch back of her SUV
minivan hybrid -- that silver color everybody likes these days. The groceries she needed
fit precisely into one brown paper bag. You could make out some French bread and some
kale sprouts sticking above the top. A kid rode by on a bike wearing a helmet in the
background. The woman’s GQ style ex-husband pulled up in his slightly sportier SUV,
they argued for a minute, he drove off. She sighed really big, life is tough. Then the
commercial break broke and a string of advertisements in this order ran, bee bopped,
sang, shone, and spectacularized themselves silly for twelve full minutes: Chemlawn; deaging, glow-enhancing, skin-tightening cream; Lexus; and, of course, the grand finally, a
mock runway show of winged Victoria Secret queens with seven foot legs and enormous
breast showing off the latest and greatest motion picture digital imaging techniques. I
now felt I had at my disposal all of the necessary ingredients and consumer wants to
successfully turn myself, too, into a perfect house wife, running the perfect family,
driving the perfect car, having the perfect weed-free lawn, with not a single outward sign
of one visible flaw. Afterall, my drinking buddy McLuhan once said to me. “Life is
perfect in commercials.” I agreed. Baudrillard laughed.
As usual, this morning on my way to work I was walking down a perfectly
manicured row of large 2800 sq ft houses backed up to some Boulder Colorado Open
Space. The lawn hydro-systems were spraying full glory onto dewy, mowed yard at eight
o’clock a.m. The sun was shining. Most of these houses seem to hold an average of three
people, three cars, and come constructed with a three car garage. Makes sense to me, I
though: roughly one thousand square feet of living space, one car, and one garage space
for each person involved. I mentally spent three seconds on each person which added up
to nine seconds -- apparently, the same amount of time as a goldfish spends ruminating
on things.
My attention was caught by an egg that lay on the sidewalk in front of me. I
imagined the egg being transported from its nest for some reason, and then being
accidentally dropped in transit. I felt bad this had happened, unholstered the Sanyo
VM4500 mobile phone camera and snapped a few off for digital memory’s sake.
Not Big News, Conceptually Speaking, Of Course
CNN has implemented what I knew was coming. Maybe I should work for CNN and
shoot them emails about new media news gathering methods I come up with. I could do it
from the east coast of Mexico while swinging on the bar swing seats at 4:00 happy hour
time when they ring the little brass bell and any stress you may have taken up during the
breezy, Caribbean day now really goes away. I could write a story about that, make that
news. Send it in on the old Treo 750 with a couple of Quantumedia pics. Then again,
maybe I shouldn’t.
They’ve gone and done it. The colossal giant, the scaly corporate monster who
single-talonedly fire-breathed the twenty-four hour “News” cycle into our world has
admitted a great deal of value in user generated content. And they’ve dedicated a brand
new show to just that. “News to Me” debuted on Headline News on Saturday, May 19.
Now anyone can go to CNN dot com and submit what they call an “iReport” made up of
videos, photographs, and commentary. Maybe it will air, maybe it won’t. Indy DIYers,
keep to your guns and don’t waste your time -- the filters are still run by the powers that
be. Cheers once more to Father Vint Serf. I wonder what Tom Wolfe would have to say
about this; I better include him on my next blog.
Media & Politics: The Power, War, and Information
All war and terrorism (especially Muslim and the West) results from globalization and
from late-Capitalism. This is normal and healthy considering the condition.
Power is constituted by money and access to information, as well as control over
the dissemination of that information to those without this capability. Today’s
informational technology allows for those without to access, create, produce and
disseminate their own information.
In April 1917, the United States entered World War I, also known as The Great
War. It is known that U.S. citizens largely held a stance of neutrality and saw no reason
to become involved in a European conflict1. President Woodrow Wilson came up with a
plan to change public sentiments. With Executive Order 2594 the President established
the Committee on Public Information, otherwise known as the Creel Commission. The
function of the committee was to change the public’s opinion about the conflict: from
pacifist to pro-war. The committee used newsprint, radio, telegraph, cable and movies to
broadcast its message. For the portion of the public who could not read, or did not listen
to the radio, the Division of Pictorial Publicity (DPP) was created to generate visual
artwork - posters - that would attempt an influential transmission of the same pro-war
messages to the masses; those U.S. citizens whom Alexander Hamilton earlier referred to
as “the great beast.” On 6 April 1917, with the German Zimmerman telegram in hand, US
Congress accepted Wilson’s call for war. In the eighteen months it was active, the DPP
produced “more than 1,400 poster images that were seen by millions throughout the
country”.37 With the signing of Executive Order 3154 on August 21, 1919, the
Committee was abolished.
Human Economic Evolution
Karl Marx wrote in the Communist Manifesto that the process of human economic
evolution has transitioned from an original, primitive communal structure, to the feudal
structure, to the Capitalist system, or the Free Market. He wrote that in order to attain the
fully realized type of economic and social system that is the destiny of human beings we
must work our way through this last phase of Capitalism before reaching that of
Socialism, and, ultimately, that of Communism.
It is a thought of mine that perhaps this is accurate, that we are indeed capable of
reaching this ultimate state of Communism. First, of course, if Marx is correct, there is
the need to transition ourselves from the current Capitalist state to the Socialist state. It
seems today that particularly considering the way in which the United States is handling
The Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library, “The Art of War: Posters in World Conflict”
itself concerning foreign and domestic policy that United States Imperialism and the
spread of the Free Market (Capitalism) around the world to every corner of the world,
may, ironically be the way toward Marx’s envisioned Socialism. I think this for two
1. The spread of United States policy, economics, politics, and culture around the world
is now seemingly inevitable considering it has been going on since the Europeans came
to the continent and settled the colonies (historic examples to come). The United States is
the epitome of the Capitalist state. (Its level of Democracy is in question.)
2. If this spread of capitalism and U.S. foreign reign is successful in reaching every one
of the 194 countries on the planet, it will eventually, when this occurs, be much easier to
make the transition from Capitalism to Socialism if the whole world is in the same type
of Capitalist structure.
The Role of Nationalist Militarism
A social phenomenon will occur during this continued spread of Capitalism. It will be a
political division among the people who are driven to eventually make personal, political
decisions about themselves. This division will be driven essentially due to nationalistic
militarism -- largely in part of the United States -- and its implications of taking away
from domestic issues like education, healthcare, local businesses, and homelessness. The
far right, the conservative right will continue down its current militaristic path. The lying
and breaking of Constitutional and international law will continue as is. More and more
independent media outlets will continue to expose these happenings. Big business, media
owners, and government leaders will continue in the role they currently run. Much in the
same way that recycling was not an issue ten years ago; this imperative, personal,
political decision will have to be made by individuals. That is to say, ten years ago people
could have gotten away without recycling their paper and not have been looked at as
environmentally and socially irresponsible, that is not the case in 2007. There is some
semblance of group dismay when an individual throws paper into the wastebasket. Down
the road, and I do not know how long this will take to pan out, the individual in this
country will be driven by popular knowledge of what militarism is doing to the world. At
this time, a person will not be able to get away with not choosing a side without looking
politically – socially – humanistically irresponsible. Sides will emerge which will diverge
further and further into one Far Right (Capitalist Nationalist Militant) and one Far Left
(Socialist). These two opposing and polar political positions will become the only two
sides to reasonably inhabit. This atmosphere takes us into the later transitional phase.
The Motivators in the Transitional Phase
At this time of an economically unified planet there will still be national boarders and, of
course, the existing Capitalist system. Perhaps the national political boundaries will
become blurred and irrelevant, and replaced, to an extent, by corporate boundaries?
Perhaps these corporate owned boundaries will become virtual boundaries, competitive
profit driven boundaries. English will continue to be the international language, but local
indigenous cultures and languages may still remain around the planet.
Global warming will persist. Perhaps at this time progress and the Capital machine will
have devoured the rainforests and, ultimately, the human population will begin to drop
(See figure 6).
Progress is the continuation of the Capitalist system. This continues to increase as
time goes on. The destruction and removal of the rain forests around the world, which are
the development areas for clean oxygen and antibiotics, also increases. For this theory,
we’ll say the destruction of the rain forests align somewhat equally as Capitalism
progresses. At a certain point in time, the rain forests will be gone, totally wiped out, and
progress continues. With the loss of the rainforests of the world, the decrease in oxygen
and antibiotic production, the human population of the world is devastated and maybe
even begins to decrease rapidly in numbers. Perhaps this will be the physic, the catalyst
which begins to take effect in human beings and a de-emphasis occurs globally on
monetary profit. Capitalism has reached its end. A large scale, conscious shift toward
Socialism is now in effect.
Hypertext Global War Prose
It’s recently come to light, and I think that it is important to note, going along nicely with
my Black 2010 prediction of energy annihilation, global war, etc., that, after the
American President’s speech yesterday, in part claiming that there is proof that Iran is
supplying weapons to the Shiite insurgents in Iraq, we, like it or not, as citizens of this
country, are well on our way to being dragged through yet another wool-over-the-eyes
attempt by the current administration to reason-lite the country’s way into a “preemptive
Fig. 6 Progress is the continuation of the Capitalist system. This continues to increase as time goes on. The destruction
and removal of the rain forests around the world also increases. With the loss of the rain forests of the world the human
population of the world begins to decrease.
War” with Iran. Oh, it will be grand, and this, far short of any speculatory insistence, will
be the end of man-kind -- truly -- as we know it.
Imagine this: the few leftover troops that can be siphoned from their nine-to-five
nanny households across the United States will be summoned, a broken, middle-aged
platoon will deploy to Iran by air, (because reaching Iran any other way is not possible...
think Tehran 1980) the first signs of which are taken by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard,
the Ayatollah’s faithful and well-positioned, and will be quickly radioed back to
headquarters where President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad will slide up his hand, cock the
nod, and blammo! JASON (the computer from the movie War Games) has gone ahead
and left us without the trouble of deciding how we’ll pay for our kids’ tuition.
“The first major effort by the George W. Bush administration to substantiate its
case that the Iranian government has been providing weapons to Iraqi Shiites who oppose
the occupation...” It is interesting to note how a large portion of the subjects in this article
are actually power point presentation slides.38
Baudrillard for President
I read in the media today that the media is losing interest in the war in Iraq. I find it
interesting that the no-story has become a story. Not that I think Iraq should be taken off
the front page. In fact, my feeling is to the contrary. In 2000, the Seattle-Post
Intelligencer reported between “400,000 - 800,000” Iraqi children died as a result of UN
sanctions. The sanctions were set in place as a strategy to make life “uncomfortable”
(New York Times) for civilians. In turn, was the hope, the people would oust Saddam.
The plan failed, Saddam stayed, the kids died. I never saw this story in the news. I’m not
sure what happened there. If a bomb dropped in California and killed half a million
children, I think I may hear about it. I don’t think there would be a person on Earth who
would not. I am, however, a better man for knowing now that Brittany Spears’ sixteen
year old sister is pregnant (CNN, December 19, 2007; New York Times, December 19,
2007; Reuters, December 19, 2007; Los Angeles Times, December 19, 2007; Time
Magazine, December 19, 2007; MTV News, December 19, 2007; Chicago Tribune,
December 19, 2007; MSN.com, December 19, 2007). But these are the decisions being
made by six corporate Boards of Directors; the six major media companies that control
most of what every American hears, sees, watches, clicks, every hour of every day. This
is our news.
The other big topic right now is the Presidential race. CNN is running a new
slogan: “CNN = Politics.” I think it should be “CNN = The View.” 24 hour content (read
“entertainment”), as opposed to 24 hour news. (Unless of course you host an “on
demand” news radio station like WBBM in Chicago where the same stories are repeated
over and over again every four minutes. That means they have four minutes of news
content. Not 24 hours. But I digress.) The media coverage of the Presidential race is
interesting. I am no expert on Baudrillard’s “hyperreal” but I know some. The
Presidential coverage is hyperreal. Right now, you turn on this coverage, you hear the
runners saying all this stuff. They stand for this and they stand for that and they’ll make
things right and bring troops home and fix the mess we’re in and that is how it needs to
be so vote for me, Iowa, and you’ll be ok, too. That’s it. They all do it that is their job.
That is fine. But there is a separation, as we know from history, often times between what
a politician says and what a politician does. Candidates for bigger offices, I would say,
are no different. That means we also know from history that we cannot necessarily trust
what these candidates are saying, can we? There is, for all intent and purpose, right now,
a separation between what they are saying and what they may or may not do once office
is taken. All we can do is watch and decide who we think may be the most honest one up
there. We gamble. We guess. We use intuition and think: “This person might be more apt
to do what they say, that one seems less honest.” etc. That separation distinguishes the
reality from the hyperreal. What the media sends our way is the hyperreal. It is hyper
because it doesn’t really exist, or, it exists beyond or separate from the actual events that
will take place once one of them becomes the next President and either does or does not
do what they are saying now. It is great show, a monstrous media facade, and we are told
endlessly to buy into it as if it really exists.
The Cycle of Influence
Identity construction is an important part of the life of the individual. It is important both
as a defining element of the individual and to the realization of the individual in the
greater context. In understanding the makeup of the current condition, it is essential to
understand the relationships each dominant element of the current condition has on other
defining elements. The institutions and venues which continually play a role in shaping
our identities and the processes of their constructions are government, media, (both “the
media” as well as the general informational cloud discussed in this paper including all
images and messages), the public, the process of livelihood or consumption, and industry.
By nature the cycle does not start or end at any single point, but includes the relationship
and the flow of influence including all points. Government is the body which declares or
is involved in conflict and war. War is a phenomenon that generates a great deal of
content for the media cloud which, as we know, is constituted by an endless supply of
images and messages of all kinds. The media is a major influence on how the public acts
and reacts. It is the public that drives consumerism (or perhaps industry is the driver?)
which in turn churns the wheels of industry. In the current condition where lobbyist
activity is so advanced, it is industry that pushes increasingly on the motions of
government. This cycle is significant because within it, we can understand where the
process of identity construction occurs, and, then, what other elements ultimately play a
role in this development. These ideas are based on and influenced by the idea that in a
democratic society, the mass media is necessary to control the public and that western
culture is dominated by the image.
Fig. 7 This graphic illustrates a potential cycle of influence that characterizes the current condition highlighting where
identity construction takes place.
Media & Self: The Social Element
In the 17th Century Philosopher Thomas Hobbes taught us that the individual is a
relatively recent construct.39 Before Hobbes the individual did not exist, that is, as a
consideration in the political context. Today the individual is exploited in every possible
The Social Self
Fragmenting the human mind is not a good thing. The Bodhisattva’s aim has always been
a quiet, singular, focused mind. Once attained, the contemplative mind is possible. In
fact, only then is clarity of contemplative thought, an understanding of the real, possible.
The opposite of this clear mind, if it can be stated at all, would be a largely fragmented
mind. In medical terms we call this schizophrenia. Because of our intense exposure to all
Hobbes, Thomas. Leviathan,1651.
types of electronic and digital media today, the average user experiences a type of
fragmented consciousness or fragmented awareness.
For example, I was out running. I passed over the bridge at the park. A bridge that
doesn’t really even need to be there because it doesn’t really span any water. But there
are lots of large rocks that might cause the average person some trouble without the
arching wooden hilt. So I run over this thing again and again I see another walker of dog
crossing the playground, one arm being yanked from socket by a large, excitable
Labrador breed. Their other hand is holding a cell phone (of course!) to their ear. It
occurs to me that this big dog is more present than his or her person. The person, I think,
as the sweat runs down my face, is neither here nor there. Literally.
A person is a person’s mind, yes? A person’s mind is where it is, yes? “Wherever
you are, there you are” as the bumper stickers say. Physically, this person is being pulled
across the hot grass by an animal. Mentally, emotionally, intellectually, whatever, this
person is with the person on the other end of the phone conversation. A person cannot
fully be in two places at the same time, can they? This person, therefore - the dog and cell
phone person - is neither here nor there. The dog, on the other hand, is like Buddha.
You know who isn’t like Buddha? Luis Figo. On the television Figo just scored
one hell of a goal for Portugal, which aided in their win over Angola. Afterwards, he was
elected, American Idol-style, as T-Mobile’s Man of the Game by text-messaging fans
dialing in their votes from around the world. Interactive global television is an embryo
just yet. Good game, but its hard to be like Buddha with 50,000 screaming fans over your
head. But, that’s ok, I think, who needs to meditate and play football (soccer) at the same
The emphasis here is that the individual has become the most important element
in global culture. We are catered to, told our votes count, and can access all of the
information in the world in a custom format. The media today offer so many outlets that
there is one for everyone. There are news outlets that offer the events of the day with a
bent from each point in the political spectrum: socialist to neo-conservative, there is a
venue that broadcasts the news per individual taste, hence “customized” news: news how
you want to hear it. This is further testament to the ongoing phenomenon of the
importance of the self.
Anthropocentrism, Why
As a collective, we humans act as if we are at the center of the universe. We have drilled,
killed, developed, and multi-tasked our way to the moon and back, Mars and back, and
have – in the course of 100 years – altered the climate of the Earth as a direct result of our
But, ask anyone. They will probably say we are not the most important thing in
the universe. Who, at this day in age, could be so naïve and stupid to think so? Many
people are making efforts in their daily lives to reverse global climate change. Defenders
of Wildlife, the Sierra Club, and countless other wilderness and environmental firms have
millions of supporters around the world. There are even a good number of people who
believe Al Gore. So why do we still act and, often times feel, that we are the central
concern of the universe?
This paper intends to examine an idea that could be the single reason we feel this
way. Perhaps the reason for the vastness of anthropocentrism has to do with our
perspective. It is important to look at our existence as a phenomenological event. That is,
we view the world based on a two part equation. Part one is the consciousness of the
events that constitute our life. The second part comes from the attitude or speculation we
put to those events.
Based on the world as phenomenon, our existence follows a model. To the
individual human being, our daily lives follow a course where the world is set up to
appear that we are the center of the universe. We then act accordingly.
The sun – the power of the sun is unfathomable, however, it is so far away that it
appears small to us. It appears minor, insignificant. We do not often think of the sun
during our day because we don’t have to. It is there every morning and gone every
evening. It is of usually no concern to us. However, it is the only reason we are alive.
Without the sun, there would be no life. This example shows that even the sun, the bearer
of life, is set up so that we can easily write it off (and go about our human progress). The
sun appears to us to be rather insignificant during the process of our human progress.
The polar bear – We have nearly killed the polar bear off. We’ve done this because
the bear has simply gotten in our way of development and human progress. We don’t hate
the bear, we don’t even dislike the bear, many people (me included) love the polar bear
for many reasons. It is easy, in fact, to have far more respect for the polar bear than for
the average human being. But if you pitted a man against a polar bear, the bear would
win every time. The bear is stronger, more adaptable, and less destructive than man. But
the fact is the bear cannot talk to us, give us a sales and marketing pitch, offer us funds so
as not to encroach on its territory, raise the temperature of the oceans, and kill it off. It
cannot tell us that if we do not stop the encroachment, it will send an army of soldiers our
way to defend its homeland. The bear is simply subject to human progress. Yet, because
the bear cannot offer us a deal, the progress continues, and will continue until the bear is
no more. This example shows that even the life of the polar bear, one of the most
beautiful creatures ever to roam the planet, is set up so that we can easily write it off (and
go about our human progress). The polar bear appears to us to be rather insignificant
during the process of our human progress.
These and other examples show that the world is not set up so that we are able to
see that we are at the center of the universe – that would only be further
anthropocentrism. These are examples of the idea that -- due to a series of accidents, a
divine creative plan, or another type of supernatural model, the fact still stands that -from our point of view, the world is set up to appear that we are the center of the
universe. We then act accordingly.
Additionally, if the world is not good, if the world is corrupt and things cannot
benefit all, why then do we as humans have the ability to imagine it that way? Why do
we have the ability to wish it was that way?
If you are rich do you think the world is good? Does economic standing affect
one’s outlook on the world?
888,681,1311 Individual Digital Worlds and Counting
Although speaking on the telephone — especially now that it is so common to own a
mobile phone — and speaking to people in person, face to face, are two forms of oralaural communication widely practiced, in the context of the internet, email, chat forums,
instant messaging, and all other electronic text-based media technologies, culturally, we
are experiencing an exponential increase in literary-dependent (or literary-based, as
opposed to orally-based) interpersonal communication methods.
Through these applications, hereafter in this paper referred to as new media, we
have available to us the option and availability to remotely interact with anyone,
anytime—from anywhere, to anywhere. The implementation of electronic text and its
wide acceptance as the norm, forces individuals of the cultures most subjected to these
media to move to an even more predominantly literary communication structure than we
ever have experienced in the past.
We saw in the times of Plato’s Academy (4th century BC), and Socrates’
Phaedrus, and, of course, the invention of the alphabet, a transition from primary oral
cultures to partially literate, or what Walter Ong refers to as secondary oral, cultures. It is
my observation, but not mine alone, that documentation of a society’s events, folklore,
and storytelling has played the role of major catalyst in this phenomenon from the very
“As Alexander Marshack (1972) puts it, humans are a story-telling species. We
can be defined in contrast to other species by the fact that we weave ourselves in
narratives; and we can be distinguished, among ourselves, by the kinds of narratives we
weave. We take as our raw materials for these incessant stories however much or little the
external environment has to offer, and leaven it with amounts—large amounts if the
external stimuli are minimal—of our internal expectations, conceptions accurate or not,
sufficient to complete the narrative in our heads.” (Levinson, The Soft Edge, 86)
From its earliest inceptions, storytelling as a means of communication and sociocultural continuum has been predominantly oral. Since the inclusion of the written word
into our communicational tool shed, a shift has occurred toward the literary, for many
reasons, and not just as a way of recording various events, but in a way allowing humans
to create their culture as it progresses through time. Today, in the context of electronic
text and the digital image transmitted over the internet, we can know anything, go
anywhere, be exposed to unlimited elements at any time without ever being outwardly (as
opposed to the inner voice we use when reading and writing) verbal, without ever talking
to another soul.
It seems, in our cyclical socio-technological progression, we have reverted to the
“global village” we once were, as Marshall McLuhan famously testified in stating “the
new electronic interdependence recreates the world in the image of a global village.”
(McLuhan, 1962). Perhaps we’ve also taken on the laconic3 behavior characteristic of our
own vocal, or auditory, evolution, in that once upon a time early man did not speak to one
another at all, but out of necessity, eventually moved beyond the visual signal in order to
transfer message interpersonally and to a large group (i.e. the tribe, or the village which
was its community).
“Previously in the evolution of primates, it was only postural or visual signals
such as threat postures which were intentional. Their evolution into auditory signals was
made necessary by the migration of man into northern climates, where there was less
light both in the environment and in the dark caves where man made his abode, and
where visual signals could not be seen as readily as the bright African savannahs. This
evolution may have begun as early as the Third Glaciation Period or possibly even
before. But it is only as we are approaching the increasing cold and darkness of the
Fourth Glaciation in northern climates that the presence of such vocal intentional signals
gave a pronounced selective advantage to those who possessed them. [...] The central
assertion of this view…is that each new stage of words literally created new perceptions
and attentions, and such new perceptions and attentions resulted in important cultural
changes which are reflected in the archaeological record.” (Jaynes, 1976).
Could it be that we are creating a new “global village” structured so that no one
ever has to speak to another person, but yet allowing us the luxury of consistent
interpersonal (and mass) communication via instantaneous electronic and digital media
transmission? Could our human-technological evolutionary state actually be more
communicatively efficient than an earlier oral-aural communication-based system?
Intended Resonance: The Inner Voice as Recipient
The way we communicate in this fashion is determined by how the content (and how it is
portrayed) will resonate inside the viewer’s/receiver’s mind—everything is looked at,
read, and then processed by the viewer/receiver’s internal voice (as opposed to how the
content sounds when spoken or listened to out loud).
Whether the average internet surfer considers it or not, we can see this idea
illustrated in the design and development processes of the virtual “pages” that, together,
make up the World Wide Web. As a graphic designer, web designer, and web developer,
I have come to realize that the internet is designed, piece by piece, as to how the
individual elements will resonate inside the individual viewers mind. This makes perfect
sense, considering internet content is viewed on an individual basis, for the most part. But
even when viewed in groups, the messages are resonant in different ways when
considered at the individual level. I suppose this is true of much advertising, and
information management of many kinds, but it is an intrinsic part of the www—
everything is looked at, read, and reverberated and then processed by our internal voice
when using the internet, as opposed to how they sound when spoken, or listened to “out
A “smiley face” or any other emoticon in electronic text expresses an emotion of
the author. We would never read any modicon out loud by vocalizing the words “smiley
face” (though, simultaneously, we do not have any other option) when reading the text.
We simply understand, perhaps say to ourselves in our internal voice even, or let it
internally resonate, that the writer is kidding around, being funny, smiling at us, or
whatever other message or emotion such a symbol may imply.
The title of a media project I built JOURNALISM (new2) MEDIA is not meant to
be said out loud, but to visually suggest by way of appearing iconographically in the
viewers’ mind a relationship between new media and new journalism which overlaps
each ones realm. It also insists there is some sort of mathematical association in the
relationship, which, aside from the binary code necessary to run a digital application, it
may be required for the viewer to investigate the project in order to find out. To read the
title (or attempt to do so) out loud, or vocally, would make no sense what so ever to an
audience standing by. Electronic text (both sending and receiving), one could say, is a
constant symbolic investigation, mainly on the individual level.
The Subjective Storyline
“The reader of hypertext thus has an array of associative options literally at hand,
programmed and actually waiting to be implemented, which for the reader of traditional,
flat text on inert paper are usually purely ideational or confined to the mind.” (Levinson,
At first glance, this idea seems almost too obvious to make worth mentioning, but
simultaneously, it states the essence of hypermedia, especially linked electronic text, so
well that it becomes, at least, fundamentally important. And when looked at along with
this following idea from I.A. Richards it poses the question of validity of any works
posted on the internet.
“I.A. Richards (1929) recognized the importance of unintended interpretations,
mutation in meaning, when he warned of the “intentional fallacy” — and stressed that the
meaning of a work flows not from what its author intends but what its readers derive
(…). In Richards’ schema, we thus have even the traditional reader beginning to emerge
as author, by supplying the relevant interpretations of a text.” (Levinson, 140).
It seems—when examined in the context of the internet (as compared to other,
older, or simply non-hypertext linked media) — that the process of the reader “filling in
the blanks” is increased exponentially. The virtually infinite number of resources to
navigate through acts as a continuum of stimuli to keep the viewer in the role of author,
an element to interpersonal or mass communication heightened by the use of new media.
It seems, as a result of these major points, that the investigation of new media’s
long term effects on our interpersonal communications, social interactions, or cultural
evolutions is warranted. Could it be that we are fast approaching a time when no relations
between fellow humans will go unmediated in some way? When the need or use for the
traditional novel will no longer be, due to readers having a technology where they are
constantly in the virtual “drivers seat” and the works of artists are no longer necessary?
Can technology someday extend out central nervous systems to render us completely
void of the need for human contact because the contact these technologies offer is just as
good, or most concerning to me, better…?
Inverted Propaganda and the Perfect American Bubble
I had an issue of Newsweek at headquarters, some time late last year. The front cover was
an emotionally serious up-close photograph of a beautiful little black child, sad look on
his face, a tear even maybe, I cannot exactly remember. The headline was starvation and
AIDS in Africa, and how rampant it was and how unholy it was and how it was not going
to just go away. People need to do something. A lot of people are. Bono and
www.one.org are two good places to start. The magazine sat there, after I read it - or what
of it in which I was interested - for quite a while. It got pushed around the house, as
things do in our fast paced modern world. Once or twice it maybe fell on the floor.
One morning on toward the flip of the New Year, I came out of the kitchen with a
cup of coffee. There, on the wooden, hand carved, passed-down, antique mahogany table
was the issue. It lay spread-eagle as if it had been tossed there casually. Carelessly, I
guess. The back cover and front cover of the multi-million dollar magazine, lay facing
each other, in stark contrast of their respective content, and I could not help but notice
how perfectly American this contrast was. It said loudly: “Have the heart (and money) to
buy this magazine and read about sick kids around the world who don’t even have
parents, and if they do happen to have parents, the parents don’t have enough pennies to
scrape together some grain to feed the crying child. However, as soon as you are done
having your heart strings tugged by our articles, you can check out the tempting ad to get
yourself something that is totally and undeniably necessary: the iPod. And not just the
regular old 40GB iPod from last year, but this brand new, credit card sized, slick version.
In fact, you can use your credit card right now to buy it. It only costs three hundred
American dollars.” What Newsweek doesn’t spell out is that this one iPod costs more
than enough than it would to feed the child on the front cover’s entire family for months.
But by the time you see that cool-ass advertisement back there, man, about the starving
people around the globe you’ve long forgot. Oh, the inverted propaganda and the perfect
American bubble are tricky in that way.
The Limelight of a Letter to Montana
If you are upset and discouraged about there “not being any prospects for dating” because
of where you live, you want to be dating people, and you cannot change where you live,
then you would do well to create something that takes the place of the good that would
come out of dating; or, simply, be innovative with the dating. I know you already know
this, so I didn’t bother preaching it when you stated what everybody already knows is
true: that the potential for meeting a quality mate is poor at best when the extent of your
nightlife and other social environs remain in the back woods of Montana. So, in exchange
for beating the proverbial dead horse, I simply took the opportunity to make (what I
considered to be) a satirical, ironic statement about the dump of a bar in which we all
used to hang out, and the rather nefarious, somewhat Dionysian goings on therein.
Most of you who read this will wonder what in the world I am even talking about
here and that is quite alright. Just know that in keeping in touch with old friends, even an
assumingly familiar “tone of voice” or “vocal” inflection in an email can be readily
misunderstood and taken to new dramatic heights. I prefer to be on the ‘non-dramatic’
side of the design of things, and, only when necessary and fitting, stand back in
amazement when a certain formation takes shape.
Flusser & the Outright Dis
The a-synchronicity of electronic mail to a complete stranger strips out all requirement of
social obligation and, in turn, relies only on content to motivate the receiver in their
response. In other words, when using text based communication -- with a person whom
you have never met -- that person is not socially obligated to respond to you: they can
easily delete your message, toss your letter in the recycle bin. Conversely, they may feel
they are obligated to offer a response when standing in front of you or listening to your
voice on the other end of a telephone call. Audio: it is what Freidrich Kittler aligns with
the real.
If you, the conversation initiator, walk up to or call up a stranger in their office or
home and introduce yourself, this person, the initiation receiver, is immediately involved
in a socially obligatory situation. Sure, if you use the telephone the person could hang up
on you. If you approach them in a hotel lobby they could look you in the eye and walk
straight away. But for the most part it seems that normal, social beings accept this social
fate and, in some way, attempt to deal with it whether they have a genuine interest in it or
not. Aside from the beggar-in-the-street, the outright “dis” of another human being is
The a-synchronous nature of text based correspondence allows for this removal of
social obligation. Therefore, the remaining element to determine if a person will respond
to your letter, electronic or otherwise, seems to be the content of your writing: If what
you wrote to a stranger is interesting, they may write you back. If it is not, they probably
won’t. I find this to be particularly interesting, especially in what I call The Age of
Image, the prevailing cultural condition in which we all currently survive where image -the image, an image, your image, their image -- is often times all that matters. Or, at least,
that is what a lot of people think (or don’t think, because the image gives them their
answer.) Flusser said ancient image (sculptures, cave paintings, etc.) marked our place in
the world and acted as map points to orient ourselves in the real. Then text came along
and tried to explain image, decode it, make it linear, and organize the magic. Later the
mechanical image, the technical image has further removed us from the real world and,
perhaps, in its tertiary position, has created the hyper real, an image of the real where the
image is taken as the world instead of the uncoded message that it really is.
So, maybe we should hold on to text a bit longer; read it, think about it a bit more.
Write more, People! Write well, write often, and, depending on how well you do -- and if
whether or not what you write is interesting -- someone, somewhere may just write you
Supersize EXXtreme Automotive Media
I’ve been reading Dr. Whybrow’s American Mania and Dr. Frankl’s Man’s Search for
Meaning and Eric Hoffer’s Thoughts on the Nature of Mass Movements. I am putting
together a research and theory paper which posits Media Providing Counterfeit Meaning
in Contemporary Life. I find particularly interesting the way everything in our ongoing
consumer imperialism is now not only “bigger and better” than before, but must include
the letter “X” in its title, most often punctuated in an obnoxious type face, usually
italicized in some way, and always very boldly used, in the single most overused,
overprinted, and over-broadcast idiom these days: this word: “Extreme” (i.e. “Dance
Dance Revolution Extreme” video game; “Extreme Garlic Parmesan pretzel” at the AMC
30 theatre complex; “Extreme Dating” show on the WB; “Extreme Shock Radio” making
waves all over the world; even iPod has an “Extreme Arm Band” to conceal and transport
the mini mp3 player apparently in case the lesser carrying case just isn’t doing it for you
On my way across campus this morning, I found a new parking sign across the
street from where I now sit. In the Great American Context, I thought it was oh-so
fittingly worded. Someone ought to throw in a couple of X’s in there to really drive the
point home.
Levinson, Paul. The Soft Edge. Routledge.
The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition Copyright ©
2000 by Houghton Mifflin Company.
McLuhan, Marshall. 1962, The Gutenberg Galaxy.
Jaynes, Julian. 1976 Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind.
Houghton Mifflin: Boston.
Number of individuals using the internet in the world, 13.9% of Earth’s 6,412,067,185
population. Source: http://www.internetworldstats.com/stats.htm, on 5/4/05.
This is actually part of the project title. I wanted to clarify this by not using the
superscript number two for an actual footnote which may have been confusing.
of the Greek Lak nikos. The English word is first recorded in 1583 with the sense “of or
relating to Laconia or its inhabitants.” Lak nikos is derived from Lak n, “a Laconian, a
person from Lacedaemon,” the name for the region of Greece of which Sparta was the
capital. The Spartans, noted for being warlike and disciplined, were also known for the
brevity of their speech. (American Heritage)
Media & Agency: The Reflection and Determination
We are moving quickly into a new era where we no longer will go out seeking
information to process and use. We now are in a state where we are not actively seeking,
but actively sifting through and filtering the information that is coming at us. In stead of
going out to get it our information, we sit back and are pelted with it, and must hold up
the critical filter so as not to be completely inundated straightaway. To be motivated and
active and pursue content is for media to reflect society; to do the latter, and function as a
content filter and deal predominantly with that information is for media to be more of a
determinant than a mirror. One might say, “Well, I chose any web site I want to view,
this is my decision, and I am actively seeking it.” True, however, to tilt your gaze slightly
one degree to the left (i.e. point your browser to your favorite web site) is only this slight
alteration, and once you land on this site, you are usually bombarded with all kinds of
content, ads of all sizes, formats, and messages, (un)related images, music, video, and
external links to elsewhere on the web. Now you are filtering once again. It is not the
same condition as going to the book store and picking up a copy of “Finnegan’s Wake,”
where every time you open the pages and read you are focused on Joyce’s (Post-modern)
novel: one thing, so to speak. The electronic, digital environment is one of continual
multiplicities, there is rarely a time when a user is focused on this now-nostalgic “one
Subjective Design
We are moving to a period of relative style independence, meaning, with all of the
hardware and other media coming about -- and its ubiquitous application -- designers
may need to allow for user determination of style issues.
Thinking more on this, we eventually should reach a point where we not only
decide what we want to access (i.e. RSS 2.0), but how we access it as well... Perhaps
content providers (designers, producers, developers, etc.) will simply output unstyled
content and our iPhones will do the styling for us....just how we program it to.
Function and Content
This idea stems directly from a combination of two sources. First, the 20th Century
American architects Louis Sullivan and Frank Lloyd Right established an architectural
premise which they applied to many of their building projects. This idea is that “form
follows function” and explains that the physical shape a thing takes is influenced most,
over all other variables and influences, by the function which it should serve. Since
Sullivan and Lloyd the premise has become world famous and has been applied to design
of nearly every field.
The second leading element here is the second part to the model. This second part
comes from McLuhan’s Understanding Media where the theorist based the extensions of
man on the idea that content follows form.40
I put this puzzle together and come to the conclusion that, in a cyclical model, if
form follows function and content follows form, then it is at least with potential that
function follows content (see figure 8). We witness the application of this idea as
mentioned earlier in subjective design and the customization of information technology
to the individual. This is a phenomenon increasing in magnitude in the current condition.
Fig 8 Function following content in the current condition.
1964 Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man; 1st Ed. McGraw Hill, NY; reissued MIT Press,
1994, with introduction by Lewis H. Lapham; reissued by Gingko Press, 2003 ISBN 1-58423-073-8.
Media & Eudaemonism: The Vision Factory
Media are so ubiquitous that in the current condition, their byproduct, the image, is
implemented on all things and all people everywhere. No matter whom you are, what you
are, or where you are, your social existence is both reflected and determined by
television, newspapers, ratio, magazines, Hollywood, and now the internet. No matter if
you live in a cave in the most remote parts of the Earth with absolutely no contact with
any person or media communication technology, you still have an image, even if it’s not
one that you yourself constructed, there is one constructed for you and about you by those
exposed and interacting with others and our media. In trying to escape this homogenerated force, the best one can do is to develop, nurture, and project an image for
themselves, essentially, of “no image”. Therefore, in the social world as always, if
everyone has something that something ceases to exist for the sake of argumentation.
And in this particular case, image ceases to exist and all that we are left with is the pure
information that, at one time, created the image.
This chapter is about is summing up the topics discussed and bringing the ideas
together in an audit of the role of happiness therein. The topics discussed arise out of the
fundamental infusion of media into the relationship of self and society. As Aristotle states
in Nichomacean Ethics, in order to establish the good in something, a function is
required. For example, seeing is the natural function of the eye; therefore, an eye is a
good eye because it can see. If an eye cannot see it is not a good eye. The natural
harmony is removed in this case. In our culture, the individual needs to understand the
relationship they are in concerning the self and society in order to understand their own
happiness, or lack thereof. The construction of identity can be integral in the function of
the self and happiness. We learned from Aristotle that virtue has to do with the proper
function of a thing – which we need to understand our function in order to achieve a
harmonious good. To fulfill the purpose nature intended for us. To play our true role is to
achieve and maintain happiness. How influential are media in this condition?
Sometimes when I think about it, I wonder if theorists are doing any good here,
wondering about the effects of technology and information on the human race. I believe
that these changes that are happening now are a part of our evolution, just as much as
tadpoles crawling onto the muddy bank or monkey climbing down from the trees. Did the
tadpole stop to congregate and ask the question: Is coming out of the water a good thing
or a bad thing for us? Did the monkey wonder if the ground was safe territory? Does it
In trying to alienate the major issues of our current condition, I've moved beyond
thinking there is even a problem in the historical sense of what a problem even is.
Meaning, to call something a problem is to be able to agree on a definition of the issue
entire. And, eventually to have the capability of proposing a solution that has some hope
of being agreed on. The current condition as is (economic, political, social, etc) of this
country and how it is entangled in what happens across the rest of the world, is something
that cannot even be defined. I've been thinking about this lately, and cannot see how it
can be defined. For starters, it's too big of an issue, and the more you think about it, the
more it grows. It's foolish even for folks in think tanks, government groups, private corps,
NGOs, etc. to think that putting people in a room is toward a solution for any of this.
McLuhan is famous for letting us know that we do the work of shaping our tools, and
thereafter our tools shape us. We see this all around us. What we are experiencing now
and will from here on out is the result and evidence of true human ability and capability:
that is, this is what we are, this is the best we can do. This is what we have to deal with
now. And, as history shows, the condition not only repeats, but worsens with every
It is sad to think this is the full potential of human beings. Not on individual or
small group levels (we can all do nice things, live compassionately, live rightly, etc. give,
give give, help, etc.) but in the sociological sense, I think, in many significant regards,
humans have failed. Sure, we split the atom and walk on the moon at will, but what about
the rest? Part of the reason I like Marx and Chris Hedges, are that they consider the rest
over progress.
Changing Signifiers
We have changing signifiers in the current condition. The house is one well known by
many. Today we see a proliferation of what are sometimes referred to as “McMansions.”
These oversized homes crowding suburban environments are being built in great
numbers. The old model would have that one of these houses is a clear indicator of
wealth, of financial success, and of social stature for the owners. This is clear and was
universally understood. The current condition has a shift in the signified of a big house in
the suburbs. The new message may be the same as the old, but often times it is far
different. Often times, the big house in the suburbs can signify a mountain of debt,
bordering on or in bankruptcy, high or variable interests rates and a financial (and
otherwise) instability. Often times today a big house signifies exactly the opposite of
what it once did. In the old model a big home in the suburbs stood for a sustained well
being on many levels. Today, the same home can easily signify unsustainable livelihood,
and uncertainty in many regards, mainly for the owners of the home.
The Vision Factory
Image as God & the Apostilization of the Self - It has been known for hundreds of years
that the mass media is a required tool for sustaining power and control in a Democratic
system. If you cannot rule by the sword, you must rule by influencing opinion41. The
ideas of information flow and influence, and the relationship between power and mass
media play a key role in this political structure. (I would say ‘media’ here, to imply the
importance of personal media as differentiated from mass media, but in current culture,
personal has become mass.)
The Vision Factory is an illustration of the unparalleled historic levels of
consumption prevalent in today’s society: buy, buy, buy and you can be happy, too, we’re
told through an onslaught of images, commercials and ads, again and again. But, with
some help from Vilem Flusser I came to the realization that the commodity is not the end
in this process, but the means to an end. The end goal of this largely philosophical
movement toward outer “happiness” is the right image -- the image, an image, your
image, their image -- as long as things appear to be shiny, new, hip and cool, that is all
that matters: you’ve made it. If you appear as if the only thing differentiating you and
your favorite TV star is the TV, then, you’ve made it -- Or have you?.. Theodore Adorno
called it The Culture Industry. Jean Baudrillard gave us the term hyper real. Flusser
clarifies the role of imagery in popular culture today with his revolutionary method of
aligning the ancient image, linear text, and technological image as an uncoded, posthistoric media text, not as a window to what is happening in the world around us42.
This project attempts to show the pervasive power of image and how, in today’s
culture, it has become the thing we go to for answers, how it is omnipresent by our own
accord, and, how, for some, it has become like God. The Vision Factory explores and
records some of the dynamism of essential cultural contexts and attempts to illustrate the
ways in which the media contrive and control information in order to influence public
opinion in the areas of art, literature, education, politics, journalism, entertainment, and
labor. These instances are not often obvious amidst the prevailing condition, but they
indeed impact us all as citizens of our global planet.
These comparisons and conclusions are drawn from a process of investigating the
relationships between power and the use of image as part of the current cultural
Noam Chomsky, “The Myth of the Liberal Media.” Media Education Foundation (Documentary video interview).
Vilem Flusser, “Toward a Philosophy of Photography.” Reaktion Books, London.
phenomenon we are witnessing of not only a decrease in the emphasis on civics, but, to
the contrary, and indeed -- through the use of digital media -- a clear focus, if not
emphasis, on the self. With this in mind, the question arises “Can community exist in the
midst of mass individualization?” As the foundation of its argument and investigation,
the research project references popular culture from the early 20th century to the present.
In late capitalism we have the media, with this media we have emphasis on self,
beyond “individual”. How do social sites fit in this question? MySpace is perfect example
of this: “My”Space. Not a social community (virtual one), but a collection of emphasis on
the self in one accessible, virtual place. This is a mirror of what is happening in our
culture, or, perhaps a determinant of the same.
McLuhan was right up to the point that he took his term “global village” – we are
connected but not as indigenous tribal people were. So, “global village” as McLuhan
asserted the term is not accurate as a description, but it is accurate as a metaphor: we are
“like” a village, only, however, in the connected sense, as in we can communicate easily
with anyone in the world. What is absent – and what McLuhan may or may not have
intended is the sense of community first, individual second, or a part of community.
Today we witness the explosion and extreme sense of self first and foremost (which is
beyond even “individual” which assumes a part of group, and obviously beyond
Media & Consumption: The Individual Responsibility
The Introduction: Setting the Stage
Everything is information. The good news is that in our current information age we have
convenient, fingertip access to continual, global content; the bad news is that in our
current information age we have convenient, fingertip access to continual, global content.
At first the free flow of information seems convenient, empowering, and endlessly
beneficial for those world citizens with access to it. We take great pains to bridge the
social agency and access digital divides. Companies are continuously inventing and
marketing smaller pocket-sized devices with which can communicate instantaneously and
in a variety of ways. We spend vast amounts of money every day for more connections,
faster networks, and ubiquitous wifi. All of this can only be a good thing, right? Not so
fast. Upon a closer look, we have to wonder if more content can ever be too much
content. Are we mentally, emotionally, critically, politically, and techno-psychologically
prepared to deal with the amount of information that comes at us once the flood gates are
opened wide, and continue to open ever wider? Who is in control? What are the
consequences of information overload and how do we deal with this properly?
Historically, information production and distribution has always equaled a certain
amount of power for those in control of these processes: in the one-to-many relationship
of mass media producers control what the inactive viewers see, hear, and read. It has been
shown that through the event of broadcast, news outlets have had the power to shape the
relative importance a viewer may apply to certain content1. This process can even
influence which issues are thought to be most serious and most important to the viewing
public. This historic imbalance between the agencies of media producers and those of
media consumers is changing as a result of our available media communication
technology, creating a new type of media consumer: the active viewer. As a result of this
influx, as media consumers in the Internet age, we are in need of a critical regiment to
control and understand what we choose to digest as part of our own media diets. Through
experience we know that too much of anything is not a good thing. As with the overconsumption of sugar, fat, cholesterol, and salt for our bodies, today, as media
consumers, we have the individual responsibility of our media diets and in dealing with
the potential for information glut.
Further, there is a media outlet available for every point of view that exists. Sure,
we can find a blog entry on just about any topic, including posts that fall on both sides of
any story. How do we know where to find the facts that the American media is supposed
to provide for us in order that we become and remain informed, knowledgeable citizens?
Where is the objectification that the media is supposed to lend us in order that we make
informed decisions on our own? There is any number of bloggers out there, but which
one is correct? CNN runs their content distribution twenty-four hours a day, but is what
they are pouring into our living rooms, our computers, our cell phones really important
for us to know? If not all of it, how much of it? Today, in the Internet age, these are the
questions that can only be answered by each individual as a living member of planet
Earth. Gone are the days of a “good,” informed citizen needing only to subscribe and
read the local newspaper each morning, and the evening edition at night. In our current
information epoch we have many more decisions to make, and the power to make the
right ones. With a little thoughtfulness and effort, we can do this to the benefit of
ourselves and our communities: The good news is that in the information age we have
continual, global information content at our fingertips. The bad news is that in the
information age we have continual, global content available at our fingertips.
In our contemporary media-rich world, there is now, more than ever, the need
for an applicable theoretical investigation on these questions which involve the ideas of
past thinkers like Karl Marx, renowned psychiatrist Dr. Victor Frankl, self-educated
sociologist Eric Hoffer, and other writers whose work on the nature of media, power,
information and mass movements contribute to an advanced academic foundation in
media theory and can help us to understand the effects of the prevailing condition of our
world today.
Our cultural condition, as it is, certainly is a difficult one to navigate. Known to
be in a Post Modern era, as individuals in a larger community, we can no longer rely on
the grand narratives we once could to show us the way. When the nuclear family has
broken up, where do young people turn for guidance? When our religions cause wars and
endless controversy where do we turn for spiritual guidance? When our community
leaders, politicians, and company CEOs spend more time defending themselves from
fraudulent and other illegal charges, who can we trust? When a daily avalanche of
consumerist messages point us toward consumption as the way to happiness from where
do we find the strength to resist?
As Professor Sut Jhally of the University of Massachusetts at Amherst points out
that “today’s hyper-consumerism is driven by ever more sophisticated advertising and
public relations techniques. The specific product is secondary. What they’re really selling
is lifestyle (and) ideology…2” It is essential for us in these investigations to look at the
wide potential for acceptance of the messages of mass media texts. It is equally important
to inquire into how, as a culture, we have the potential, consciously or otherwise, to allow
these mediated messages to actually, in many ways, become at least part of the
significance of our daily existence, and to keep in mind that ultimately we the citizen
need to remain in control of the information we access, how we react to it, and what we
hold dear and true. One might warn the audience member to do their best to think
critically on every topic they consider and do their best not to be swayed in any way by
beautiful actors, big budgets, slick graphics, or political agendas: a task that is much
easier said than done to be sure. The objective of this chapter is to offer these thoughts as
theory and as a catalyst to a larger discussion.
The Historic Condition: Power Structures, Media, Inactive Audience
In a subsection called “Ruling Class and Ruling Ideas” of The German Ideology, Karl
Marx (1845) held that “the class which is the ruling material force of society is at the
same time its ruling intellectual force.3” Historically, those members of a society that
retain the means (i.e. money, power, ability) to create and distribute intellectual content
hold influence and sway over those who do not. Simply put, historically, a class struggle
has always existed between two entities: media producers and media consumers. The
consumers, most of us, are those readers and viewers who are subject to the intellectual
force of the other, the production class. Today, we may witness the truth in this theory
when examining cultural hegemony in the context of mass media messages and their
production processes. Further we see that “the class which has the means of material
production at its disposal has control at the same time over the means of mental
production, so that thereby, generally speaking, the ideas of those who lack the means of
mental production are subject to it. 3”
Within this historic context we cannot help but wonder if it is possible that the
messages – the shows, advertisements, and news – of mass media conglomerates have
become so prevalent today that they are influencing their viewers to the point of affecting
what is and what is not an important and significant part of viewers’ lives? Can the
omnipresence and wide-ranging establishment of a message in turn affect its own
relevance? Is it true that “the mass media in general, and especially the electronic news
media, are part of a ‘problem-generating machine’ geared to entertainment, voyeurism,
and the ‘quick fix’4” and not necessarily as a tool for distributing truth and fact, and as
means of generating social change? And finally, in the Internet age, does the advent and
availability of today’s media communication technology obliterate Marx’s ability to
define a class which lacks the means of material production?
Fig. 9 This chart illustrates the ideas of consumer control.
Altheide and Grimes authored that the “Iraq War challenges sociological theorizing about
social change and policy, and raises fundamental questions about the role of knowledge
and critique in social life when public discourse and agendas are partially shaped and
communicated through entertainment-oriented mass media. ” An industry of culture
arises out of this type of environment and in the end, audience and viewer control may be
at risk. Theodore Adorno writes that “the power of the culture industry’s ideology is such
that conformity has replaced consciousness .” Every day in the United States these
distractions come to us via mass media in the form of television shows, entertainmentnews channels, multimedia advertising, the Internet, radio, mobile telephones, personal
media, and film. This creates what Adorno and co-writer Max Horkheimer refer to as a
culture industry in their Dialectic of Enlightenment. The culture industry is a sociological
condition where reification, or the commodification of everything, has set in and culture
is bought and sold as is any other commodity. Uniquely, the process is one which “fuses
the old and familiar into a new quality. In all its branches, products which are tailored for
consumption by masses, and which to a great extent determine the nature of that
consumption, are manufactured more or less according to plan .” It is through such a
process that the content of media enters into our daily lives. Through such an assessment
of historic, cultural-sociological studies we see that “media contribute to (…) people’s
perceptions and interests in everyday life. ”
Victor Frankl and his renowned Logotherapy posit that the existential void is
only filled by the will to meaning, that all persons have an inherent need to feel
significance of some kind . At the same time, self taught sociologist Eric Hoffer, who
studied and wrote about the nature of mass movements, suggests that in order to satisfy
basic human social needs we may need to be a part of a social movement – regardless of
the ways in which the movement is constituted . This participation can substitute for a
lack of personally developed significance in our lives. This replacement is key to this
chapter, and shows that when individuals are not capable of satisfying themselves, that
their existential void can be, and often times is, filled by joining the movement in order to
give them not only hope, but substance. Spoon fed ideologies across hundreds of
television channels, magazine ads, billboards, newspapers, personal media, and all types
of Internet web sites can be pretty convincing to the individual, especially the individual
who is susceptible to mass movements or one who is not satisfied with their own results
in the ongoing philosophical pursuit to fill their own existential vacuum.
George Gerbner’s cultivation analysis in the late 1960s turned out a Cultivation
Theory based on human reaction to prolonged television consumption. The theory states
that, after time, a person will begin to perceive the actual, real, experiential world around
them more and more like the world they see on TV . That is, the ways in which these
media outlets portray the world, are accepted to viewers as the way things in the world
really are. Gerbner’s theory only strengthens the idea that the messages transmitted by
our mass media have great influence on their audiences. This phenomenon cannot any
longer be denied.
Additionally, it is agreed by research scholars David Croteau and William
Hoynes that “the ideological influence of media can be seen in the absences and
exclusions just as much as in the content of the messages. ” Thus we see the strong and
ever present influence of media texts not only in what is presented to us, but what may
not be presented as well. All of these ideas combined show great influence of what we
see and read in the media can have a great effect on our lives.
Theodore Adorno’s warnings of the authenticity of culture – mediated culture –
comes into play now, as we view these less active mass audiences as groups of
individuals who are pummeled by and hence distracted by the consumerist messages we
are bombarded with every hour of our days. Corporations and private sector think tanks
are formulating their own agendas, year after year, while the people are numbed with
twenty-four hour coverage of material goods, pop stars, television heroes, various social
phenomena, conceptual national enemies, unending talk of every frazzled end of a natural
disaster, or a kidnap victim in Aruba. It is in this state of distraction, Adorno says, that
the inactive, non-critical viewer is duped into consent. When current ideologies are
presented through mass media as hegemony there is little discourse about what is right
and wrong, about what is significant and what is not.
Karl Marx’s idea that the dominant class is the ruling class, which is the class
that defines, is also important. Because corporations are the powerfully influential force
in global commerce today, the American corporation is not only a part of, but largely
makes up Marx’s dominant class of the current day. If CNN is of this description, which
it is, than the CNN television channels and their Internet news site are their clarions. It is
both relevant and important, then, to examine how these news outlets convey meaning of
ideas to their audiences.
If cultural sociologist Emile Durkheim is correct, CNN has the power and very well may
be utilizing their potential to inform the general public on how to live, on how to
understand, and in what ways they may be successful in their pursuit of happiness.
According to Durkheim, this collective representation followed by a mediated identityforming process informs us of what to wear, what to eat, how to speak, how to spend our
time, how to spend our money, and even what to believe is important. From birth we are
enmeshed within a “whole system of representations by means of which men understand
each other. ” And if, time after time, we are told by CNN, MSNBC, Fox, HBO,
Hollywood, NBC, and People.com what it is we need to know, and -- according to these
producers of media content -- how we are to feel about what we are being told, does this
not influence our daily lives? Kinder and Iyengar show that media “news shapes the
relative importance Americans attach to various national problems” and that media
outlets for news “powerfully influence which problems viewers regard as the nation’s
most serious” . The question then must be asked: Can the same affective empowerment
be attributed to the advertisements these media outlets run?
The same premises that Adorno outlines in “On Popular Music” in 1941 are not
only applicable to popular music but to all mass media today, including American
corporate owned Internet web sites as sources for news and the high paying
advertisements they project. As structure for this argument, we look here at how Adorno
outlined the negative effects of pop music in three main points. One, the music, once it
reaches an audience, has been highly standardized, and gives off an ideal of pseudoindividualism where the art of the process, the creativity that makes art unique, i.e. the
individuality, has been removed. Second, the popularity element promotes what Adorno
calls passive consumption and consent to adhere without critical thought on the part of
the consumer or listener. Third, the negative psychological consequences: rhythmic
obedience and emotionality. Rhythmic obedience, as Adorno explains it is the distraction
of the rhythm of the music, not paying attention to the words, not caring what the actual
message of the media text even is, or if it contains a message at all. Emotionality is the
distractive qualities of the text, an obsession with the impassioned drama, tugging on the
heart strings, and a replacement of the state of affectivity in place of critical examination.
This process creates “a society of children who are only concerned with their own
immediate, emotional, and physical gratification.”
What is important to keep in mind is that the media industry and the marketing
firms of American corporations work together as a highly profitable business
relationship, and the top players in these corporations are the ones making the rules,
doing the distracting, and pulling the proverbial wool over consumer America’s eyes. Is it
possible then that the result is a nation largely constituted by Adorno’s ill-advised sheep?
Because it claims to be a hard news and trustworthy journalism-based
organization, without being critical of its content, viewers can and will accept what is
playing on the major media outlets as an important event; and act, speak, and live
accordingly. The National Leadership Index completed each year at Harvard University
shows dramatically steep decline for 2007 and 2008 in the trust viewers have toward the
journalism of American media . Often times we don’t even trust the news we’re getting,
however, it still has an impact on our lives. What we are talking about here is the content
being broadcast and how, by default, it becomes fodder for our daily thoughts. Radio
research has shown that in the United States 72% of mass media audience members will
take the content they are given as valid information as to what is going on in the world;
11% will seek out independent sources, look for a more fair media environment,
construct their own content, or self program; and 17% will self program eventually .
Based on this study then the numbers are largely in favor of mass media audience
members accepting whatever content their favorite stations, channels, or sites are
supplying. Finally, with the lines in place, private sector think tanks and other
corporation-based profiteers on all levels are capable of carrying out their agendas: to
make profit via mass consumption.
Professor Noam Chomsky of MIT points out that ideally, for the corporation, the
population has to be “turned into completely mindless consumers of goods that they do
not want” let alone need. In developing what are called created wants the corporation’s
goal is to impose on people a “philosophy of futility,” to “focus them on the insignificant
things of life, like fashionable consumption” in order that they desire these things for
life’s improvement and, in turn, purchase these products for this reason.
McLuhan posited that media aid in creating a “sensory environment that produced
Western capitalist societies – an environment that was bureaucratic and organized around
mass production.” This process suggests a great influence of social structure and some
but very little human agency. It is not to say that this theory falls into the realm of
technological determinism, that “people exist only as rational employers of technology or
pieces of the proverbial chessboard who will be moved by the requirements of the
technologies,” but a moral life, outside of the grasp of these influential media messages
is difficult to attain. Chomsky makes it clear that “people can be very moral, but they are
acting within institutional structures, constructed systems which only certain options are
easy to pursue, others are very hard to pursue.”
Today, we see accessibility, influential power, and God-like omnipresence of
mass media, which, to the unsuspecting mind can provide Hoffer’s necessary ingredients
required to “satisfy the desire for self-advancement” in those who “find a worth-while
purpose in self-advancement.” Additionally, those “who see their lives as irremediably
spoiled cannot find a worth-while purpose in self advancement. The prospect of an
individual career cannot stir them to a mighty effort, nor can it evoke in them faith and a
single-minded dedication.” To these individuals, the counterfeit meaning of mass media
offers its ability to quench the underlying “passion for self-renunciation,” or the potential
to be “reborn to a new life.” We can see from Professor Altheide’s “fear” paper that
“from the standpoint of media content as cause, researchers ask whether news reports can
“cause,” or “lead” people … including the extent to which relevant values and
perspectives may be “cultivated” From this perspective, the mass media play a large role
in shaping public agendas by influencing what people think about , and “encourage,
perhaps even dictate, particular ways of talking and thinking” .
Indeed it seems that it is the media and the ensuing onslaught of messages which
are somehow falsely filling Victor Frankl’s existential vacuum – an existentialpsychological phenomenon which he describes as the void which occurs in the absence of
an individual’s will to meaning. A new web site, recent “reality” television, another
record-breaking attempt at the next fascinating PlayStation2™ game are easily
accessible, but highly temporal filler for the void, and therein lies the samsaric distress,
and the instamatic placebo elixir for Frankl’s existential vacuum. From the advertisers’
perspective, ideally we as media consumers will constitute a society made up of
“individuals who are totally disassociated from one another. Who’s conception of
themselves, the sense of value, is just how many created wants can I satisfy?” To
counteract this process, we must be mindful of what we read, critical of what we watch.
Historian Daniel Boorstin studied the effects and relationships of media images to the
viewing audience who regularly interacted with these media. He found that the
“pervasiveness of visual images was changing the very meaning of “reality.” That news
and entertainment images are becoming “so embedded in our consciousnesses” that it is
repeatedly difficult to discern between image – what we are given by media producers as
reality – and the reality we know to be actual: Reality.
Emile Durkheim’s collective representation idea may perpetuate this nowembedded system, allowing for a cultural practice that unites its practitioners. We want to
feel – some scholars say we have to feel – that we belong to a community, like we are a
part of something. This collective memory (How are we to be good Americans in our
global society?) of how we are supposed to act, feel, speak, and carry on furthers the
idea, and the difficulties, of what Durkheim calls fragmented identities. We are living in a
postmodern, post journalistic society where mass media formats and information
technology make it difficult not only to distinguish between journalist and event , but
even more so to retain our own identities.
In accessing news of the day we have to deal with “spin,” the added layer of subjectivity
to fact. In accessing news, spin is the killer and everyone denies having a hand in it. Then
there is “hype.” How do we navigate through the hottest story of the day? The more you
look into Post-modern information theory, the more you see that at this late stage of the
game, there are no centers from which to stand and make an objectively informed
Today’s news organizations are posters for exploiting the spectacle. During the
O.J. Simpson “white Bronco” event of 1994, as an example, 95 million viewers tuned in.
When the trial was over 142 million people listened on radio and watched television as
the verdict was delivered, an astounding 91% of viewers . Some say this was the event
that took television news shows and magazines from the role of news informer to news
maker and created a new genre of television content: Infotainment. Although this may
make the news more fun to consume, in considering our dilemma, this type of news
coverage overloads the viewer with content.
What some of these shows are good for is having an obsessive operation of
posting and broadcasting a high amount of coverage on what is happening around the
world, and using new and innovative methods of dissemination and delivery. This high quantity of data
is not all bad, all
of it is information, it’s just that there is an outlet for everyone nowadays,
no matter what your point of view is.
There is a lack of, or absence of what philosophers like
Fredrick Jameson call the “meta narrative,” meaning there is no big picture by which to
structure our observations and assessments.
In the past we’ve had our world religions for moral and spiritual guidance. Today
we have enough information to inform us of all the wars and endless controversy
religions have caused. Where do we turn for this moral and spiritual guidance? In the past
we’ve had our community leaders, politicians, and maybe even business executives to
offer political and economic advisement. Today are bombarded daily with stories
breaking of these so-called leaders’ who seem to spend more time defending themselves
from fraudulent and other illegal charges than they do being leaders. In this type of
environment, who can we trust? These are some of the meta narratives which we once
had as a resource on how to get by and how to live happily. Now we see the emphasis on
the self and the only meta narrative that we are offered on a mass scale is consumerism.
When a daily avalanche of consumerist messages point us toward consumption as the
way to happiness, it becomes increasingly difficult to sort through the content and find
real significance, after all, it seems we are unable even to agree on what really matters.
So what happens? We find ourselves floating around taking in all of this
information. And what Fox says might be somewhat factual, and what CNN posts is
somewhat factual, but another issue is the angle they choose, the words they use, their
terminology. For example: Considering the conditions in the Middle East, a major news
network was found to use the word “terrorist” when talking about the deaths caused by
Palestinian militants. When talking about the deaths caused by Israel militants the same
network used words (i.e. euphemisms) such as “fighters,” “soldiers,” “army,” etc. When a
news broadcast acts in this way, it is skewing the data. The question we have to ask is
why are they doing this? Is it for their own interests? Are they being influenced by
national hegemony?
To get a more complete set of facts one must go outside mainstream media.
Today, often times, this can be as easy as turning on the television as long as you know
which channel to dial in. Democracy Now!, the television and radio current events and
news shows produced by the Corporation for Public Broadcast can be far more
informative and, simultaneously, far less biased in their content and delivery. For
example, I often cite Professor Chomsky who has appeared many times on the
Democracy Now! network. Chomsky explains the law of concision on mainstream media
news. To be concise is very important to commercial media. Because of the advertising
time that pays the show’s bills, the content a show airs must fit well between commercial
time slots. In most mainstream media outlets in the United States, this can mean
anywhere from two to ten minutes. Within that two to ten minutes a story, weather
forecast, sports update, or guest speaker must be able to introduce their topic, make their
point, and conclude clearly before it is time for another commercial break. That is why,
Chomsky points out, you see over and over again these news stories and reporters
“towing the party line.” I don’t believe that it is ABC who sets out to fool anyone, or to
neglect an important point of view on a controversial topic, but it is what McLuhan refers
to as our mediated sensory environment and Western capitalist rules of the free market
that helps to create this bureaucratic system which results in this way. Viewers miss out
on the full story on commercial media. This is an important difference between
commercial media and public media. Because public media are not reliant on commercial
breaks, they are not restricted from reporting more of a longer-winded, discussion format
account of news events.
If a news outlet has the time to tell the full story viewers have a much better
chance of getting the full story. It is from Noam Chomsky which we learned that George
H.W. Bush, for example, sold Saddam Hussein the chemicals he used on the Kurds, one
the deeds, according to the George W. Bush administration, which Saddam was vilified
for and which served as catalyst to invading Iraq. Etc. This important information was not
talked about on and of the major media outlets in the United States. But this is key
information. They will start their reporting after the fact, stating the administration wants
to declare war on Iraq and Saddam in order to save the Kurdish people from this villain,
which could be true, but which is only part of the whole story. But, with only part of the
story, the “good” part, people think “Yes, this is good. War is necessary. Saddam is a
killer.” And maybe he is. He was. But the problem with American corporate media as we
witnessed over the second half of the 20 century is that they won’t tell you how Saddam
became a killer: he was a killer in part because the United States leadership sold him the
weapons to do so, to carry out his plan. The entire story lacks concision and cannot be
told between commercial breaks.
We see this over and over and over and over with US corporate media news and
issues they cover. It’s a business plan. They say they give you what you need to be
informed, but they give you what you need to be informed unless it could be bad for their
profit margin. How many United States citizens are aware of the fact that the United
States Department of Defense has over 200 military bases in foreign countries? That is
incredible, considering there is roughly the same number of countries in the world. Left
leaning entertainment talk shows are starting to use the term “empire” in referring to what
has historically been referred to in other Presidential administrations as our campaign of
responsibility which works hard to spread Democracy around the world.
That is what we are dealing with: multiple points of view and a media outlet for
anyone who cares to listen. That is the difficulty in getting the “whole story.” With the
outlets we are bombarded with every minute, you will not ever get the whole story. The
whole story lacks concision, and if the story does not fit nicely in between commercial
breaks, you won’t see it aired. That is one reason you see all the talking heads up there
towing the party line: their arguments have concision.
The Current Response: Power Structures, Media, Active Audience
Thanks in large part to Web 2.0 we are living currently in a world which is growing in its
numbers of active audience members. However, we still can imagine, within an everincreasing population, a large group of less active individuals who are not taking
advantage of these more personalized and useful media platforms to create and transmit
and share information, but sit back and take what is handed them.
The traditional mass media format of conventional newspapers online offers an
example of the more passive one-to-many relationship of transmitting information much
the same way television and radio have functioned for decades. The blog, on the other
hand, and many other applications of the Internet, are examples of the many-to-many
relationship of information transference widely available on the new media platform. It is
a central thesis to this chapter that a more open exchange of information occurs as a result
of the Internet, new methods of journalism, and personal media development, particularly
the attributes of Web 2.0. The Internet is the first widely used communication technology
to provide two-way interaction on a truly mass scale. The one-to-many relationship of
radio, television, film, and newspapers that has been enjoyed for so many decades by
business and its advertisers is coming to an end. This is not to say that these media will
go away, in fact, I don’t think they ever will, but there is now a strong alternative which
has been and will continue to influence these other media, their producers, and audiences
in significant and fundamental ways.
This multi-directional flow of communication is the blueprint for the success of
a coming democratization of information. This movement includes the combined uses of
emerging personal media communication technologies by individuals, grassroots
organizations and independents. These processes are applied across the World Wide Web
and the Internet largely on web sites and personal mobile media devices instituting allmedia blogs, podcasts, and geographic information systems to allow for what Dan
Gilmore calls “Citizen Media” or “Citizen Journalism.” We see this emergent from the
youth of the global culture.
Currently, through educational institutions across (but not limited to) the United
States and Europe, and emerging media studies departments, we are experiencing a
growth in education to promote a new generation to retain the skills required to contribute
to the new media landscape of blogs, photo blogs, podcasts, vlogs and other emerging
forms of personal multimedia production, interaction, and delivery. Specifically, the
integration of wireless, mobile hardware such as cell phone capture and publishing, Palm,
Blackberry devices, video cams, still cams, laptops, Wiki’s, and XML formatting RSS
2.0 broadcast are changing the vary formats in which individuals can and do receive their
information about the world around them. These numerous digital devices and services
are now changing the ways in which individuals express themselves and participate in
their communities. Through these changes, we see the impact of personal media on the
fields of journalism, publication, mass media broadcasting, and alternative media. We are
witnessing first hand a new mode of citizenship and participatory politics.
As Marx wrote in 1845, “the class which has the means of material production at
its disposal has control at the same time over the means of mental production, so that …
the ideas of those who lack the means of mental production are subject to it … therefore,
as they rule as a class … (they) rule also as thinkers, as producers of ideas, and regulate
the production and distribution of the ideas of their age: thus their ideas are the ruling
ideas of the epoch.” Perhaps we are seeing the transformation of “the class which has the
means of material production,” of who really has the power “as producers of ideas … and
distribution of the ideas” of our age. What we still refer to as “new” media, it is the
current and emerging media communication technologies which enables this transference
of the power of the voice.
The Conclusion and Solution: Critical Necessity
In Buddhist philosophy, the word samsara is defined as “the total pattern of successive
earthly lives experienced by a soul” and is supplemented often with the idea of the
individual’s experience of daily life harboring this “cycle of ignorance and suffering”
without the relief of enlightenment, a significant reason for being, and a break from the
purposeless circuit. It is the goal of a Buddhist to achieve enlightenment and to escape
from samsara. “The Vipassana meditator uses his concentration as a tool by which his
awareness can chip away at the wall of illusion and cuts him off from the living light of
reality. It is a gradual process of ever-increasing awareness into the inner workings of
reality itself…It’s called Liberation…the goal of all Buddhist systems and practice.” It is
my thought that this idea of samsara, well studied by Buddhists and scholars around the
world, and documented for millennia in Eastern texts, which characterizes the
progression of an overwhelmingly large percentage of Americans today. Today, as media
consumers with endless resources at our fingertips, it is the content with the highest
distribution budget, the loudest audio, and the most famous celebrities that garner our
attention. It is constant and it is nearly absolute in the ways it consumes our attention.
This is the cycle that needs to be broken. We are thinking individuals who have the
means to do just this.
There is a lot of accurate news, important information, valuable content
available to us, but how do we sift through the quantitative avalanche and discover what
we need to? How can we function most efficiently in our data rich environment without
allowing for all the content of the Internet; television characters and shows; mp3 players
and podcasts; magazine, web, and television ads; and mobile message soliciting into our
lives to act as “substitutes either for the whole self or for the elements which make life
bearable and which the individual cannot evoke out of their individual resources.”
I am convinced that there is just too much information in the world: far too much
ease of production and distribution, too much easy access to some of it, and too much
with mediocre, time-consuming access to it, to make much of a good judgment call on
any of it. We know that even “the most trusted name in news” needs to be examined
closely before we take what it says to heart. In today’s world, where the emphasis is on
the individual in nearly every way we need to devise a plan to stay critical and to stay
afloat in a virtual stormy sea of information, bias, and influence.
I suggest taking the time to seek out those scholars, institutions, and organizations
that you feel are being straight. Always ask yourself “who might benefit?” from a story or
news cast and what the relationship might be to those paying the bill.
The Internet is loaded with easy access methods to good, informative information.
Many site now employ a “what’s new” type of data feed. RSS makes it easy load in
widely used Web browsers like Firefox. Also, people have to listen to NPR more,
Democracy Now! more, Robert McChesney at the University of Illinois is doing tireless
work on issues such as media and democracy, something we all need to know more
about. His web site offers book links, articles, and the updated podcast to his weekly
radio talk show “Media Matters” in which he holds discussions with leading cultural,
intellectual, political, and business figures from around the globe. Find these resources,
be critical of why you choose them, and be creative in how you access them. For
example, I usually listen to McChesney’s audio podcast while running.
Additionally, my suggestion to everyone is to never think of TV (especially the
news shows) as anything but pure entertainment. Read a big newspaper a few times a
week, regularly, and use the Internet to look into issues using university domains,
Amnesty International, the UN, on and on. That is what I meant about some outlets being
“Mediocre” in accessibility and time-consuming as well. It is very time consuming to get
the whole story and most people cannot do it, or don’t know how to do it. I know how,
now you know how, and I spend a lot of time researching this for Ph.D., but I still don’t
have a lot of time for it. That is a big, big factor on why the current model continues to
pervade. And, I think it is only going to get worse. Obama cannot do anything about this.
Does a mass media machine like CNN and its constant bombardment of these
types of messages have an effect on the culture which is subject to it twenty-four hours a
day? Many scholars would say it does, in the form of mass movements, and that to satisfy
basic human social needs joining the movement – no matter what the movement is – can
substitute for other personally developed significance in our lives. Instead of seeking out
religion, community, or moral sustainability, today’s individual far more easily acquires
the corporations created wants. This replacement of what is of value is a key to the
premise of this theory. Hoffer states, and I question in the context of mass media, when
individuals are not capable of satisfying themselves, that their “existential void” – their
drive to find reason for being – can be, and often times is, filled by joining the movement
in order to give them not only hope, but substance. Spoon fed ideologies across hundreds
of television channels, magazine ads, billboards, newspapers, personal media, and all
types of Internet web sites can be pretty convincing to the individual, especially the
individual who is susceptible to mass movements or one who is not satisfied with their
own results in the ongoing philosophical pursuit to fill their own existential vacuum.
We can hope that this somewhat blind consumption is not the case, and that
people of the world purchase and consume only the things they need to live a simple and
content life. However, simple observation will show that, with a limited number of
exceptions to the rule, this is not how American society operates. With the advent of the
Internet, it may be the best of times and the worst of times for the accessibility and
importance placed on information. Perhaps a new socialization is evolving as a result of
this emphasis and the mass media devices available to us. In an environment that contains
such omnipresent media – and their messages – turning up the personal information filter
is not an option, but a requirement, where the individual needs to be highly critical to
keep afoot of a search for truth in a vastly hypertext – and image-based – world.
1. See Gerbner, George. “Towards ‘Cultural Indicators’: The Analysis of Mass
Mediated Public Message Systems.” 1969.
2. Sut Jhally. “Advertising and the End of the World.” Lecture.
http://www.sutjhally.com/audiovideo. Retrieved on 2009-02-26.
3. Marx, K. (1845-6). The German Ideology. Part I: Feuerbach. Opposition of
the Materialist and Idealist Outlook B. The Illusion of the Epoch. London:
Lawrence & Wishart, 1975.
4. Altheide, David. (1996). The News Media, The Problem Frame, and the
Production of Fear. The Sociological Quarterly: 38(4): 647-668. Interior
quotes by C. Wright Mills.
5. Altheide, David L.; Grimes, Jennifer N.War Programming: The Propaganda
Project and the Iraq War. The Sociological Quarterly, Volume 46, Number 4,
September 2005, pp. 617-643(27) Blackwell Publishing.
6. Adorno, Theodore. “Culture Industry Reconsidered.”
Retrieved 2009-02-26.
7. Altheide, 1996 citing MacKuen and Coombs 1981; Graber 1984.
8. Frankl, Victor. (1959). Man’s Search for Meaning. New York: Simon &
9. Hoffer, E. (1951). The True Believer. Harper & Row, Publishers, Inc.
10. Society for Social Research, The. Department of Sociology, University of
Chicago. http://ssr1.uchicago.edu/PRELIMS/Theory/durkheim.html.
Retrieved 2009-02-26.
11. Croteau, D. and Hoynes, W. (2003). Media Society. (3rd ed.). Pine Forge
12. See note number 10.
13. Iyengar, S. & Kinder, D.M. (1987). News that Matters. Chicago, IL:
University of Chicago Press.
14. Adorno, Theodore. On Popular Music. 1941.
15. Ahlkvist, Jarl. (2006). “Sociology of Mass Media”, Lecture/Class, University
of Denver, unpublished.
16. A National Study in Confidence in Leadership, National Leadership Index
2007, John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University.
20(3).pdf. And also, A National Study in Confidence in Leadership, National
Leadership Index 2008 Draft, John F. Kennedy School of Government,
Harvard University.
17. Davis, M. (2006). “Current Radio Topics”, Guest Lecture/Class, University of
Denver, unpublished.
18. Achbar, M. & Abbot, J. & Bakan, J. (Directors). (2005). The Corporation.
[Motion Picture containing interviews with Noam Chomsky]. United States;
Zeitgeist Films.
19. See note number 11.
20. See note number 19.
21. See note number 18.
22. See note number 9.
23. Altheide, David, see note number four; and cf. Gerbner, Gross, Morgan,
Signorelli, and Jackson-Beeck 1978.
24. Altheide, David, see note number four; and Shaw and McCombs, 1977.
25. See note number 11.
26. See note number 11.
27. See note number four.
28. Kim, Albert. “Pulp Nonfiction”. Entertainment Weekly.
http://www.ew.com/ew/article/0,,302832,00.html. Retrieved on 2009-02-25.
29. Jones, Thomas, L. “The O.J. Simpson Murder Trial: Prologue.” True TV.
_1.html. Retrieved on 2009-02-25.
30. Saiva Siddhanta Church. (2006). Saiva Siddhanta Church. Retrieved June 1,
2006 from source http://www.himalayanacademy.com/.
31. Smith, Ed., J. (1999). Radiant Mind (1st ed.) New York: Riverhead Books.
32. See note number 29.
33. See note number 9.
Charts, Illustrations, Images
Figure 1
Mediated triad illustration
Figure 2
Principle of mediated knowledge inversion illustration
Figure 3
Modernism, Postmodernism, Post-postmodernism chart
Figure 4
Labor volume chart
Figure 5
Visual vs. written illustration
Figure 6
Human progress chart
Figure 7
Cycle of Influence illustration
Figure 8
Function following content illustration
Figure 9
A look at consumer control illustration
Study Guide
161 pages; 40,000+ words; the term “community” appears 22 times;
Book Outline
I. Understanding the prevailing condition(s)
a. Self
b. Society
c. Environment
II. What does it mean to be civically literate?
III. Media “cloud” is a major playing factor…
a. The condition itself
b. How we interact as people, humans
c. Media act as lens through which to view this condition
IV. Instances (chapters)
a. Examples
b. Effects
c. Roles of media
V. Hopeful solution
Major Ideas
Media simultaneously work to reflect and determine the self, society, and environment.
Reflection or determination chapter 10, pg 124
Aristotle’s concept of function
Function of a thing is necessary for the thing to be good, pg 128
We learned from Aristotle that virtue has to do with the proper function of a thing
– which we need to understand our function in order to achieve a harmonious
good. To fulfill the purpose nature intended for us. To play our true role is to
achieve and maintain happiness. How influential are media in this condition?, p
Ideas of the Frankfurt school thinkers
Theodore Adorno called it The Culture Industry. Jean Baudrillard gave us the
term hyper real. Flusser clarifies the role of imagery in popular culture today with
his revolutionary method of aligning the ancient image, linear text, and
technological image as an uncoded, post-historic media text, not as a window to
what is happening in the world around us, p 131
Identity construction
Cycle of influence, pg 106
The construction of identity can be integral in the function of the self and
happiness., pg 128
Inversion phenomenon
Media & culture chapter 2, p 31
Can or does community exist today?
In the first half of the 20th Century our media work, entertainment, and socializing
acted as a supplement to our personal interactions. The arena was finite, local
community was the extent of a persons’ world. In short, media were a side dish to
our cultural life, an augmentation, an occasional retreat at most. Since this time,
the role of media has changed drastically…. Pg 32
Media determination - I do think it is safe to say that although family relations in
contemporary times may still be strong in a lot of cases, neighborly and close
community ties, at least in many parts of the United States, are very much a thing
of the past., pg 52
In late capitalism we have the media, with this media we have emphasis on self,
beyond “individual”. How do social sites fit in this question? MySpace is perfect
example of this: “My”Space. Not a social community (virtual one), but a
collection of emphasis on the self in one accessible, virtual place. This is a mirror
of what is happening in our culture, or, perhaps a determinant of the same. Pg 132
McLuhan was right up to the point that he took his term “global village” – we are
connected but not as indigenous tribal people were. So, “global village” as
McLuhan asserted the term is not accurate as a description, but it is accurate as a
metaphor: we are “like” a village, only, however, in the connected sense, as in we
can communicate easily with anyone in the world. What is absent – and what
McLuhan may or may not have intended is the sense of community first,
individual second, or a part of community. Today we witness the explosion and
extreme sense of self first and foremost (which is beyond even “individual” which
assumes a part of group, and obviously beyond community). P 132
Our cultural condition, as it is, certainly is a difficult one to navigate. Known to
be in a Post Modern era, as individuals in a larger community, we can no longer
rely on the grand narratives we once could to show us the way. P 135
Emile Durkheim’s collective representation idea may perpetuate this nowembedded system, allowing for a cultural practice that unites its practitioners. We
want to feel – some scholars say we have to feel – that we belong to a community,
like we are a part of something. This collective memory (How are we to be good
Americans in our global society?) of how we are supposed to act, feel, speak, and
carry on furthers the idea, and the difficulties, of what Durkheim calls fragmented
identities. We are living in a postmodern, post journalistic society where mass
media formats and information technology make it difficult not only to
distinguish between journalist and event27, but even more so to retain our own
identities. Pg 146
Does a mass media machine like CNN and its constant bombardment of these
types of messages have an effect on the culture which is subject to it twenty-four
hours a day? Many scholars would say it does, in the form of mass movements,
and that to satisfy basic human social needs joining the movement – no matter
what the movement is – can substitute for other personally developed significance
in our lives. Instead of seeking out religion, community, or moral sustainability,
today’s individual far more easily acquires the corporations created wants. P 155
Referenced Philosophers, Writers
Adorno, Theodore
Benjamin, Walter
Chomsky, Noam

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