Category Archives: arts3091

The Generosity of New Media



Most media students would hardly consider science, let alone the way new media impacts progress in science. This week’s topic, the generosity of new media, brought to light the way in which new media has contributed to scientific developments.

To be honest, the idea that new media helps in scientific discovery makes complete sense, in the same way we have realised that we depend on new media for a variety of things. It’s not an entirely new idea. However, we never really think specifically of how it would be without new media. Elizabeth Pisani’s article in the Guardian comments on the differences.

“In the early 1980s, geneticists worked away in their different labs, racing to sequence genes and patent them before the neighbouring lab could. The result: duplication, very slow progress and a huge bill. ”

“Nowadays, gene sequences get posted on the web daily and scientists build on one another’s work. The pace of discovery has increased exponentially and, as a result, so have diagnostics and cures.” (Pisani 2011)

The title of her article, “Medical science will benefit from the research of crowds”, hints at micropolitical theory – the power of the people. Most importantly, we see how new media enables scientific knowledge to be quickly discussed and shared. Being a worldwide platform, we also experience efficiency that a printed journal or published document doesn’t provide. But scientists are hesitant to accept these new methods, and scared of the dangers that lurk beneath. Pisani explains that while there is efficiency and the benefit of collaboration, there are fears of people stealing research and claiming it as their own.

Seed Magazine states:


The fear that Pisani mentions holds scientists back, but in order to progress and have the same impact in the world, it has to change. Andrew Murphie drew upon Keller Easterling’s approach to infrastructure has what controls and defines the past, present and future.  This is the idea that our infrastructure, particularly in terms of new media, is determining our future.

I feel the idea that scientists are forced to interact with new media or their research is irrelevant and ineffective is similar to the social status of someone without Facebook. So many people are forced to join Facebook and the social network to stay connected with social activities; if there’s an event on they won’t know about it unless they are invited on Facebook. Andrew Murphie used the example that facebook wants to determine the future of social networks, and this is similar in the science world.

New media once again sticks its nose into everything.

Pisani, Elizabeth (2011) ‘Medical science will benefit from the research of crowds’, The Guardian, January 11, <>

Big Politics – The Fate of the State


In looking at State 2.0 and challenges to government, Paul Mason’s ‘Twenty reasons why it’s kicking off everywhere‘ struck me as an interesting commentary on the tension between new and social media and government discourse.

We have heard and seen many instances where social media such as Facebook and Twitter have played a crucial role in organising riots and protests. Charles Hirschkind examines the situation in Egypt and the role of social media: “The seeds of this spectacular mobilization had been sown as far back as the early 2000s and had been carefully cultivated by activists from across the political spectrum, many of these working online via Facebook, twitter, and within the Egyptian blogosphere. Working within these media, activists began to forge a new political language, one that cut across the institutional barriers that had until then polarized Egypt’s political terrain, between more Islamicly-oriented currents (most prominent among them, the Muslim Brotherhood) and secular-liberal ones.” (Hirchkind 2011)

Hirschkind identifies new methods through media as ‘forg[ing] a new political language’ separate to the already existing discourse. Mason examines the social and the political, and and claims that these new methods that are used mainly by young people create a danger of a growing divide between the young tech-savvy, new media-using generation and “the values and language of the state” (Mason 2011).

Basically, young people are engaging in politics through network technologies, but not in the traditional mainstream politics. Mason suggests that young people can’t tune in to mainstream politics, and likewise officials and older generations are not yet in the loop with network technologies. The popular suggestion that young people are apathetic to politics is in a way disproved, but also strengthened for they are involving themselves, but not in the usual way.

Perhaps it’s the notion of power that overcomes any apathy that is attributed to younger generations. “Young people believe the issues are no longer class and economics but simply power: they are clever to the point of expertise in knowing how to mess up hierarchies and see the various “revolutions” in their own lives as part of an “exodus” from oppression, not – as previous generations did – as a “diversion into the personal”” (Mason 2011)

But I think Mason makes a really interesting point; how do we get these two generations to interact with each other properly? Mason questions whether social network methods could be employed by ‘opponents’ or the other side of the argument. “Also we have yet to see what happens to all this social networking if a state ever seriously pulls the plug on the technology: switches the mobile network off, censors the internet, cyber-attacks the protesters.” (Mason 2011)

What would happen if the state took away our freedom and power to organise ourselves and interact with each other? The power would be out of our hands and back into the institutions people resist, the apathy would be back and a feeling of helplessness would replace the empowerment we experience  now.


Mason, Paul (2011) ‘Twenty reasons why it’s kicking off everywhere’, Idle Scrawls BBC, <>

Hirschkind, Charles (2011) ‘From the Blogosphere to the Street: The Role of Social Media in the Egyptian Uprising’,  Jadaliyya<>

Virtual Reality


Chris Grayson in Augmented Reality Overview discusses how augmented reality is interwoven with technology, allowing for the integration of the virtual and the real. He argues the potential technology has to improve our work environments. The key aspect of augmented reality is that it is a more a mediation of reality as opposed to virtual reality which replaces the real world. For example, a conference on skype can be taken to be augmented reality as it is in real time, but people aren’t physically in the same place for the meeting.

In understanding the readings for the week, many issues arise some with positive impact and others with danger signs. Just as much as augmented reality and mediation has the potential to benefit us, it can also be dangerous. In Slavoj Zizek’s Perverts Guide to Cinema, he makes this statement:

“Our fundamental delusion today is not to believe in what is only a fiction, to take fictions too seriously. It’s, on the contrary, not to take fictions seriously enough. You think its just a game? Its reality. It’s more real than it appears to you. For example, people who play video games, they adopt a persona of a sadist, rapist, whatever. The idea is, in reality I’m a weak person, so in order to supplement my real life weakness, I adopt the false image of a strong, sexually promiscuous person, and  so on and so on. So this would be the naive reading… But what if we read it in the opposite way? That this strong, brutal rapist, whatever, identity is my true self. In the sense that this is the psychic truth of myself and that in real life, because of social constrains and so on, I’m not able to enact it. So that, precisely because I think it’s only a game, it’s only a persona, a self-image I adopt in virtual space, I can be there much more truthful. I can enact an identity which is much closer to my true self. “

Zizek raises a very interesting point; the mediation of reality doesn’t change the person, but it often puts them in a position where they do things wouldn’t ordinarily do. And this can be seen a wide range of augmented realities; from the teenager talking on MSN to their crush who they wouldn’t dare approach at school, to Zizek’s example of a brutal rapist using technology to behave in a socially unacceptable manner. Murphie says this idea is “in any given moment of individuation there is an excess over the actual expressions of this individuation. This excess – the real network from which real potentials arise – is the virtual”. Individuation and the idea of true-self comes out of these augmented and virtual realities but to a certain extent confuses things.

The potential that Chris Grayson describes in augmented reality is exciting, and will no doubt be further developed as technology advances. However, the idea of individuation and the dangers that lie behind giving people too much freedom and taking away social values in mediated realities is questionable.

This has some relation to the memory topic we looked at last week, and is potentially something to pursue for the research assignment – the role mediated realities play in the externalisation of memory.


Grayson, Chris (2009) ‘Augmented Reality Overview’, GigantiCo

Murphie, Andrew (2004) ‘The World’s Clock: The Network Society and Experimental ecologies’, Topia: Canadian Journal of Cultural Studies, 11, Spring


Global Mnemotechnics


Mnemotechnics describes the externalisation of our memory. Upon first hearing this, the notion can sound daunting and almost like some Frankenstein experiment where our they extract our brains and memory. But really, we’ve been externalising our memory for years through even the most simple of things like writing. Bernard Stiegler labels these forms as mnemotechnologies:

“Ideogrammatic writing springing up after the neolithic period leads to the alphabet – which yet today organizes the agenda of the manager, but this calendary object is henceforth an apparatus : the personal data planner; and it is no longer a mnemotechnic, but a mnemotechnology”. (Stiegler n.d.)

We write notes to ourselves and use diaries to plan our weeks because our own minds cannot keep track of it all. Stiegler’s claim that to write these memories down makes it knowledge. This gives it great value for if a piece of paper with important notes is lost, that knowledge is also lost.

Stiegler describes our growing reliance on technologies: “Now, these cognitive technologies, to which we confide a greater and greater part of our memory, cause us to lose an ever-greater part of our knowledge. To lose a cell phone is to lose the trace of the telephone numbers of our correspondents and to realise that they are no longer in the psychical memory but in the apparatuss’s.” (Stiegler n.d.)

The more we understand this, the more we can recognise how reliant we are on external objects to hold our memories and knowledge. Andy Clark and David Chalmers consider this in their book The Extended Mind and look at our cognitive processes and external objects as a system. This reminds of me of the European theory of media ecology and the idea of complex systems, interdependent upon each other.

Do we become more dependent on mnemotechnologies and external objects because our own memory can’t contain it all and we need to be, or because it’s easier for us? In the movie Memento, Guy Pearce’s character suffers from short term memory loss and can’t create any new memories. Instead he takes polaroid photos of people he meets and writes notes about them, and tattoos important information on his body. Here is forced to rely on external objects to help him remember, but at times his short term memory loss is dangerous.

Perhaps we need to consider whether our dependence on mnemotechnologies means our memory is not getting the credit it deserves and we could find ourselves in situations where we need to rely on our own memory but can’t.

Final Project: This has got me thinking about how new media extend our memory potential, and our relationship with them because of this.


Stiegler, Bernard (n.d.) ‘Anamnesis and Hypomnesis: Plato as the first thinker of the proletarianisation’ <>

Chalmers, David (2009) ‘The Extended Mind Revisited [1/5], at Hong Kong, 2009’, <>


Dynamic media ecologies


Of all the aspects and interpretations of the term ‘media ecology’, the idea that has struck me most is the notion of dynamism. Fuller captures this when he says, “The term ‘ecology’ is used here because it is one of the most expressive language currently has to indicate the massive and dynamic interrelation of processes and objects, beings and things, patterns and matter….” (Fuller 2005)

Lance Strate’s definition, where the focus is on the idea that “technology and techniques, modes of information and codes of communication play a leading role in human affairs,” is crucial in understanding that media ecology does express a sense of dynamism. How can something that is so closely connected to humanity be static and unchanging?

In looking at the different elements (particularly in Strate’s definition), it becomes clearer that ‘ecology’ is indeed the most appropriate term. To a certain extent we can call it a network but it fails to capture the dynamic essence of the way media and society interact. Nor is ‘chain’ accurate enough, for we established last week that each element has an influence upon the other. I can’t say that the technology and techniques are what create new modes of information and codes of communication alone. ‘Ecology’ illustrates the complexity of the system.

But why is it so important to use the term ‘media ecology’ and understand it? Tomas, in his blog A Great Becoming, sees the term ‘media ecology’ as “an approach that offers us new ways of viewing the world.   Once you start to see media as networked – connected – then the realisation of this confluence changes how you approach design.” I think he makes a really important point; understanding how we are connected to media either through influence or being influenced, will change how we respond to it.

Therefore, it’s important that we see look at media, society, culture, technology, techniques, communication, information, etc., all as part of media ecology and understand that they all feed off each other and play a vital role in the evolution of media and society.

Final project: In terms of the final research paper, understanding the complexity of media ecologies is something I need to keep in mind when choosing a specific topic, because everything is in some way interrelated.


Fuller, Matthew (2005) ‘Introduction: Media Ecologies’ in Media Ecologies: Materialist Energies in Art and Technoculture Cambridge, MA; MIT Press: 1-12

Media Ecology Association ‘What is Media Ecology’ <>

‘Media Ecology’, Wikipedia <>

Technological determinsm or Cultural materialism?


“Necessity is the mother of invention”.

It’s a well-known phrase that is often quoted by people, and while the meaning is clear to all who use it, no one really knows where it comes from. (Click here for possible origins) Academics like Raymond Williams and Brian Winston have built upon this notion in supporting the idea that technological inventions emerge from social needs. Winston suggests that ‘supervening social necessities’ play a large role in directing the process of innovation (Murphie and Potts 2002). Williams used the term ‘cultural materialism’ to describe this idea that economic, political and institutional factors influence cultural change out which comes technology.

Canadian philospher and cultural theorist Marshall McLuhan proposes an alternative idea:

“Invention is the mother of necessities.”

Found on Marshall McLuhan’s website, this phrase is a “McLuhanism“. McLuhan believes that our culture is dictated by the technologies we have, all which are merely extensions of our human capacities. But in response to this, Williams says that: “if the medium is the cause, all other causes, all that men ordinarily see as history, are at once reduced to effects.” (quoted in Murphie and Potts 2002).

But why can’t it be both? I think we can see the ways where technology does influence culture and create new values, but there are also times where necessity has influenced new technology to fill the gap that is required. Stephen Hill says, “Technological change…is not, by itself, productive of social change. Instead, the direction of change is a product of the particular alignment between the technological possibilities and the society and culture that exists (1989:33).” (quoted from Murphie and Potts 2002)

I think Hill’s claim captures the reconciliation of technological determinism and cultural materialism. This suggests that the context in which technological advances are made influences how it impacts society and culture.

Saskia Sassen in “The Internet as Playground and Factory“, talked about  Forest Watch and and Indigenous group of people who had their own form of communication. Their communication is determined by the technologies they have. Likewise, in the last few years our forms of communication are changing. It used to be that phones were the best way to get in contact with someone, then mobile phones and now it’s often quick and more effective to e-mail someone or message them on Facebook. But Hill is saying that the existing culture is an important factor, it’s not an effect, which is what McLuhan implies.

For instance, if (and you have to ignore a lot of impractical and illogical factors in this ‘if’) the iPad was invented over 100 years ago, how would it have impacted the culture that existed then? They don’t have the same experiences that we have now to help them understand the impact. It’s not just the fact that technology is created, but rather it builds upon a previous version of itself. There are very few technologies that just appear having no base technology at all.I think to a certain extent that’s one of the distinctions that can be made when looking at technological determinism and cultural materialism. You can’t really argue one without the other.


Murphie, Andrew and Potts, John (2003) ‘Theoretical Frameworks’ in Culture and Technology London: Palgrave Macmillan: 11-38

Saskia Sassen (2009) ‘The Internet as Playground and Factory’ <>