Monthly Archives: January 2010

Free Manovich Reading

For those of us who just discovered that the bookstore isn’t open on Sundays:

Some more Thoughts on the iPad…

As with any new technology, the iPad has created quite a buzz in the media these past few days as consumers and experts start to analyze Apple’s new product. As we discussed in class, the iPad will definitely have an impact on the publishing industry, which has been suffering lately. According to this article on CNN,  index.html?hpt=Sbin many publishers have already made content deals with Apple to sell their books and magazines to iPad users.

Sarah Chubb, president of Conde Nast Digital thinks that the device will encourage sales, saying:

“It’s become clear over the life of the iPhone that people love consuming information like this on their phone — the people who buy Kindles buy more books than before they had a Kindle.” Adding that, “Machines like this make you want to consume more media, which is good for us.”

Personally, I think the iPad will provide a boost for the publishing industry, however I do think there will be some downsides to the device. In many ways, I think reading a book on the iPad could be too much of a distraction, especially with all the other applications and content that is only one touch away. One senior writer put it this way:

“I’m not sure how I feel about being on the iPad and reading, because then I’m too connected,” said Jacqui Cheng, a senior writer at the tech site Ars Technica, who believes her thoughts might be disrupted by the constant pings of e-mail.

This comment reminded me of our discussion in class about being “too connected” and the potential dangers of having such advanced technology. We may have (and enjoy) the convenience of having multiple forms of media in just once device, but what about the things we might be loosing in the process, such as having personal interactions with other humans or the experience of holding a book? Will the introduction of devices like the iPad start to weaken our culture? Or will the change be less significant?

The Happy Medium

Ong’s discussion of the (im)permanence of oral speech and writing made me think of a memorable experience I had as a freshman at Sarah Lawrence. My Spanish Literature class visited the Hispanic Society in Harlem to look at original copies of Don Quixote. Every copy of the book in the museum’s collection was mutilated in one way or another during the Spanish Inquisition to protect the feeble minds of the literate populace. The Jesuits used chestnut oil/ink to wipe out entire sections of racy or sacrilegious text. Despite their best efforts, however, complete editions of Don Quixote exist to this day.

This anecdotally concretizes Ong’s assertion that “there is no way directly to refute a text.” He goes on to explain that this is the root of book burning’s former popularity, yet as Don Quixote shows, even physical destruction cannot always serve as refutation.

The rise of comment culture in the digital age seems to have created a means of refuting the written word. The authors of blogs, op-eds and even news articles can be reached with only a few clicks on the keyboard. The digitally written word is no longer permanent nor synonymous with truth. That said, digital writing does not hold the same permanence as books; it is semipermanent and often open to refutation and editing. Have we reached a happy medium between orality and literacy in the digital age?

How Literal is Ong?

Although there were several controversies in Ong’s Orality and Literacy, I enjoyed reading it. I found many similarities to a course I took years ago in Language and Culture. Perhaps the most interesting and challenging passage for me was the one in the introduction “In recent years cetain basic difference have been discovered between the ways of managing knowledge and verbalization in primary oral cultures and in cultures deeply affected by the use of writing.” (p. 1) This introductory paragraph really got me thinking about the effects on knowledge whether your communication is oral or written. I guess it would be like learning what it is like to become literate as an adult, or discovering the magic of reading even as a child. I wondered if the media really has such as strong impact on the message?

Some of the points I disagreed with him on, were the age of Homo sapiens being 30-50,0oo years ago, when the more accepted dates today are between 150-200,000 years ago (big difference!). Secondly, he states that the Sumerians were the first to develop writing, yet there are Egyptian archaeological records of writing which predate Mesopotamia (p.82-83).  Perhaps the one that bothered me the most was the statement he makes on p.88, “The most remarkable fact about the alphabet no doubt is that it was invented only one.” WHAT??? Where? he mentions some of the early alphabets yet claims that they all share a common ancestor. Ong conveniently leaves out other alphabets like the Maya. I do agree with him about the limitations of the alphabet, as explained later on (p.90) and I found the section titled The Onset of Literacy to be interesting as it describes writing as a secret and magic power. Overall, it was an interesting overview of Orality and Literacy.


Apple introduced a new product recently, their version of the Kindle, the Tablet.

“For now, at least, the technology and media industries are looking at the brighter side. “Steve believes in old media companies and wants them to do well,” said a person who has seen the device and is familiar with Apple’s marketing plan for it, “He believes democracy is hinged on a free press and that depends on there being a professional press.””

This is from the article in the NYtimes.

Two questions came up regarding this article: What do you think Steve Jobs is talking about when he says democracy relies on a free press which depends on a professional press?

Also, the article talks about how Apple changed the music industry with iTunes and may change the book publishing industry if this new product is sucessful. Do you think people will read more with this technology? Or will it change how we consume media?

I think the biggest change will be seen in how we consume magazines and newspapers. NYtimes and other companies are already developing applications for the Tablet, similar to applications that can be run on an iPhone.

I was also wondering how this might affect the author. With publishers, they already take a big cut from the authors. Maybe the Tablet will allow authors to directly sell their work to iTunes to be distributed, similar to new artists putting thier own music up on itunes. This could be a positive thing.

Digital Darwinism

Marshal McLuhan in the chapter “The Gadget Lover” explores the concept of the physical body and emerging technology in ways that draw upon biology and physical sciences in unique ways.  McLuhan’s explains his idea that technology is an “extension or self-amputation of our physical bodies,” and simultaneously our bodies, emotions and technology are working to maintain a sense of equilibrium inflicted by external shocks and disruptions. (45)  This circular concept of technology responding to the body’s need and then the self also responding to this newly formed body part to maintain a the proper ratios for existence, provides an interesting perspective on how media can not be separated from ourselves in the physical and emotional sense.  McLuhan’s entire idea that the medium and not the content is what holds the power to affect social norms and senses is most easily understandable in the physical context.

Media does follow patterns of evolution into the human body and psyche, we develop technology and then create a dependence on it because it solves the problems we frequently encountered.  Following this occurrence the technology becomes a staple of our society –  in economic terms as well – and the body and this new media has evolved from a foreign extension into something commonplace.  The biological metaphor works well, but in practical terms because it isn’t truly a physical extension only a theoretical, there is the issue that some people remain unable to evolve with the emerging technology.  It is as if there is this technological concept of natural selection, those that can understand the sensory and practical effects of new technology adapt the ability to use it for their benefit.  Those that don’t adapt, remain using their old bodies for the same problems the new technologically developed bodies have eased the difficulty in solving.  This concept is also interesting because it draws from the notion that technology is always moving an a progressive and beneficial line.  So in the information age with the knowledge of McLuhan’s work, I wonder where in this digital evolution one stands when they resist technology, or even if in a mass social movement cultures and people resist the evolution of their bodies through technology.

Attention Deficit

““Rational,” of course, has for the West long meant “uniform and continuous and sequential”…Thus in the electric age man seems to the conventional West to become irrational” (15). Technology is not comprehensible through this limited understanding of rationality. Likewise, McLuhan’s arguments are more like the concentric spiral overlays in Frank Lloyd Wright’s Guggenheim Art Museum than your standard play-by-play writing formula. McLuhan’s attention to multitudinous forms of expression – from ballet to physics to political theory – emphasizes the complexity of the world he observes. To focus on a particular medium would introduce purity where it does not exist; “no medium has its meaning or existence alone, but only in constant interplay with other media” (26).

But then again such a broad scope of attention demands too much from the reader, the viewer, the audience, the citizen. As McLuhan concludes, “The price of eternal vigilance is indifference” (30). This resonates with me more than any other part of Understanding Media because I do not just understand it as a concept or a theory, I feel it. My constant battle against the incoming tides of apathy could be the result of “eternal vigilance,” of trying to know and understand too much at once.

Overall, I found McLuhan entertaining enough to hold my brief span of attention.

“Understanding Media”

I have to admit, it took me a while to break through the surface of this reading.  At first I was intimidated and thrown off by Mcluhan’s overly verbose and semi-schizophrenic writing style.  But there was point after his mantra “the medium is the message” was repeated for the nteenth time, that I finally began to understand.

I looked at his writing as a set of dichotomies, all of which can only truly make sense to the reader when set in opposition to one another. When he first introduced the concept of electric light and instantaneity, I didn’t quiet see where he was going, but once I saw it in contrast to idea of sequence, I was able to place his metaphor into my understanding of his work.  Mcluhan challenges the reader to look at the whole instead of the process, the instant instead of the sequence.  Looking at the significance of interrelated events in contrast to fragmented sequences.

While Mcluhan’s examples seem contradictory at times (I was initially confused by TV being “cold” and radio being “hot”), but his repetition and use of abstract examples helped me to conceptualize his concepts that were initially alien to me.  I also couldn’t help but make the correlation between his own writing style, and one of his many examples stating, “the entire message is then traced and retraced, again and again, on the rounds of a concentric spiral with seeing redundancy.  One can stop anywhere after the first few sentences have have the full message” (pg 26). It is obvious that if only the “first few sentences” of Understanding Media where read, not only one the reader miss the full message, they would not have much of a message at all.  You would know that “the medium is the message,” but have no way to conceptualize or contextualize this statement.

I also tried to think about how Mcluhan’s choice of a hot media, a book, effects our reading of him.  I’m still mulling over this, and not quiet sure what I think.  Overall, I found Mcluhan engaging and extremely relevant despite the fact that this was published in the mid 60s. His ideas are easily transferable to the current age, and I do not think he would be surprised by the current state of media.

“Break Boundaries”

I have read forms of this reading many times, including the version with pictures. However McLuhan never ceases to confuse me on some level, especially when reading further into his observations. One comment that I would like to discuss further in class is his argument that: the medium is the message. Yet, the way that the medium affects us is not in our control. My question is: Is McLuhan advocating for us to take back this control? Or are we to admit that we relinquish all control over the effects of media?

The reading delves into discussion regarding the effects of media on the users. However, I thought the discussion on “break boundaries” and the interplay between two mediums was particularly interesting. McLuhan quotes Kenneth Boulding and defines break boundary “at which the system suddenly changes into another or passes some point of no return in its dynamic processes” (38). This discussion of a break boundary fits directly with what we will be discussing in this class, namely how literature is rapidly changing and mixing with electronic mediums. The question remains, has this change in the system of literature resulted in a point of no return?

Besides looking at one medium and its point of no return, we can understand the power and effects of media by understanding the way that two or more mediums can play off each other. There are many current examples with Web 2.0 occurring after the publication of this article. The way that we consume video has fundamentally changed with its relationship with the internet. Sharing video, watching shorter segments, the ease at which we consume a video in a 3 x 5in box, and the introduction of comments to video, has changed the medium of video as well furthered the possibilities offered by internet technology. Especially with the introduction of Web 2.0 technologies, before we can ask how a medium as affected us, I think we should ask how different mediums have affected each other.

Hot and Cold Revisited

While reading Understanding Media, I was really grateful for KF’s tip about not trying too hard to make logical sense out of McLuhan’s arguments. He has a tendency to bury seemingly key points in clouds of weird speculation, and the essays seem booby-trapped with headache-inducing rhetorical turns to confuse the unsuspecting reader.

On the whole, though, I found the reading engaging, thought-provoking, and (dare I say it?) fun. I read a little bit of McLuhan for a class last year and came away frustrated. Now, after slogging through 60+ pages of the stuff, I think I’m finally starting to get it.

McLuhan has a playful, idiosyncratic style, atypical of most academic writing but (I think) appropriate to the argument(s) he’s trying to make. Namely, that the medium is the message, and that form and function are always interrelated. McLuhan’s style isn’t just ornamentation, or worse, obfuscation, it’s important to the substance and rhetorical impact of his writing. However, for all the good work it does in support of the relationship of form and function, style is also what makes McLuhan a frustrating read: there’s a definite irony in trying to describe the pitfalls of print culture in, well, print.

In general, I found it helpful to keep in mind that his weird speculative ideas are just that: speculative. Which is not to say that they’re baseless, simply that he had to do a lot of extrapolating from limited information to develop his theories, well before “media studies” existed as an academic discipline. A lot of the work he’s doing is just trying to figure out how to analyze media. Some of his approaches caught on, while others just seem wacky and convoluted to today’s media-savvy readers.

McLuhan himself argues that “in the electric age there is no longer any sense in talking about the artist’s being ahead of his time” (65). There are, however, many respects in which McLuhan seems very much ahead of his time, especially considering he was writing only about thirty years after the invention of television, and at least thirty years before the widespread availability of personal computers and the Internet.

Interesting side note: As I did the reading this weekend, I periodically updated my Facebook status with odd/funny quotes from the essays. (I’m experimenting with actually “going paperless” for this class and doing the reading on my computer, so it seemed natural to flip back and forth between Adobe Reader and the tab in Firefox I leave perpetually open to Facebook, and I happen to know a few media theory geeks who I thought might be amused. They were.)

I was totally oblivious to the thought that my (distr)action bore any relation to the content of the class or the reading…until now, that is! McLuhan is right: each new technological extension of ourselves significantly but imperceptibly alters our ways of thinking, acting, and interacting. Far from being dated or outmoded, many of the tendencies he observed in the 1960s have been amplified by the Internet, and I’d argue, especially by social media like Facebook.

Would McLuhan consider Facebook (or social networking sites in general, or chatrooms, or any kind of real-time-ish written communication online) to be “hot” or “cold” media? Is the distinction, as described by McLuhan, still relevant today?