Networks of Remediation

Chapter Three of Networks of Remediation by Jay David Bolter and Richard Grusin explores medium as what is remediated. Medium is what is appropriated (remediated) from one media by another  media (usually a newer media) and described as being better than the old media or more precisely it is more real than the previous media. This seems to be yet another way of dissecting the history of  media technology or turning the media around and looking at it from a different perspective. It is complicated but I thought it was worth the effort to really consider.

They give the example of ENIAC as a beginning technology that is eventually transformed into a desktop PC and with the addition of a word processor became a new medium. The ENIAC was a number cruncher and the PC was  a writing technology that remediated the typewriter into obsolescence. So the PC actually is more real than either the ENIAC or the typewriter. Some would say that the desktop PC has been remediated by the laptop or sub notebooks and they are now more real than the desktop. 

This has to do with the economic and social functions of the medium and in turn the functions relationship with the content of the media. The authors caution that when studying new media, you must remember to include all aspects of the media, Including economic, material, social dimensions, the viewer and gender. Now on to real.

"Real" means something more than the opposite of fake or fantasy. It encompasses all of the aspects mentioned above and the relationship between the aspects, the viewer and the content of the media. It gets complicated and every time I thought, okay they’ve lost me, they managed to give an example which helped. One that may help here is that of photography. Unlike paintings or drawings, photography offered something more real because it was more immediate. The viewer  experienced something entirely different with photography as opposed to painting. More recently digital cameras have remediated older 35mm cameras into an even more real media or hyper immediacy. You need to remember that you cannot separate the camera from the person taking the photo, from the person  photographed, from the person viewing the photograph, to the immediacy and realness of all of the above, to other things I have not named dealing with any of the social or economic issues surrounding the camera. Certainly made me stop and consider the many layers involved for just one type of media. It’s no wonder we become so vulnerable to marketing and media manipulation. We can no longer just purchase a product, we now are purchasing an entire social system.

This for me was the most interesting idea, that you cannot study any of the media and its aspects separately. The authors mention something about not being able to tease apart the media from its aspects. This makes sense and by doing this you obviously end up with a more balanced and nuanced examination of the media. It is rather laborious and time consuming but if we all just did this even a little, we would probably be a more thoughtful society but that’s not going to happen. I also think Friedman could have used this model and come up with a more provocative flattened earth.

The following are a few of the examples I found amusing:
A media will improve on the old but often appropriate something from the old – Photoshop allows one to modify an image with a "paintbrush"

A new medium that supplants another, those that work in the new medium also supplant the older  mediums workers – Web designers are considered more valuable than tech writers and paid more

Remediating of material is inseparable from the remediation of social arrangements, those of a     new medium want to claim the status of those who worked in an earlier medium – film stars wanting to be considered artists. If you saw the movie My Favorite Year, you may remember Peter O’Toole has a great line: "I’m not an actor, I’m a movie star," just had to throw that in. Another example of this is the photographers of the 19Th century, they wanted to be considered more than artists, some of them wanted to considered social historians.

Meg McGough



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