Monthly Archives: February 2010


I found Lister’s use of Habermas throughout section 3.8 (Networks as Public Spheres) a little too simplistic and reductionist. Starting with the description of the ‘idealized public sphere’ and following with the notion that the early internet was awash in dialogic democracy to such a point that it had the makings of Habermas’ ideal. (176) The newsgroups, bulletin boards and email groups that Lister mentions doesn’t do justice to Habermas’ notion of administrative power mutually reinforcing the communicative power of these forms of dialogue and communication in the establishment of a democratic salon culture of political thought (176). Lister does reference Habermas quite effectively however, in writing, “mass media had played a key role in the dissolution of a public sphere by replacing a discourse of critical reason with entertainment and spectacle” (177). Its initial effect is only slightly damped the criticism summarized by Garnham on the following page noting, “the public sphere described by Habermas was far from democratic or even public” (178). (Really, you don’t say Garnham, well the pre and post text internet isn’t really democratic or public either factoring in half the world isn’t even on the net… far from ‘ideal’ I would say)  This supposedly culminates in a ‘postmodern triumph’ over universal enlightenment values.

Unfortunately, both Lister and Garnham don’t account for Habermas’ later work in Facts and Norms and other publications available at our texts pressing in which Habermas answers and acknowledges these claims as part of the body of critique leveled at the model of systematic philosophy popularized by the Frankfurt school. I find it a little amusing that the new media text reads in such a way as to hold up Habermas as an egregious example of the modern schism with the post-modern when Habermas himself worked with closely with Derrida in refining his later work focusing on the multiplicity of distinctions between ethics and morality, facts and norms and the power and authenticity structures of institutions. I can see where the Lister et. al. is going by bringing in this infamous philosophical debate as an example but ultimately I believe it to be too flawed an analogy. Anybody else rubbed the wrong way by this?

The Long Tail and the niche it creates

Chris Anderson’s “The Long Tail” proposes three lessons to be learned from the success of high volume, on-demand, online retailers. These rules for success revolve around a central observation: selling a higher volume of niche items can yield as great a gain as selling a lower volume of popular items. (5)  The clearest example of this is that Amazon makes more money off of the books that Barnes and Noble doesn’t sell than what Barnes and Noble does sell. Taking into account the overlap in merchandise offered by both retailers and the Long Tail sales, Anderson suggests that new media has ushered in a shift in the way consumers want and purchase.  If a retailer can offer a high volume of products at a low cost and with easy access, the consumer will make that retailer their primary source for the product.

Anderson makes a compelling argument, one that might even cause some to prophesy a demise to “the store” as we have known it.  However, I believe that Netflix, Amazon, and other such Long Tail retailers operate under a system that makes space for “the store” as a niche market.  Netflix, Amazon, and Itunes heavily rely on lawyer-types to negotiate their distribution prices en masse. (6)  What makes these companies viable is their ability to acquire and distribute 10s, 100s, and 1000s of copies of a product.  A niche store owner, uninterested in high overhead and legal fees, can offer the same boutique-like service (albeit on a smaller scale) and sell the experience of live conversation, dedicated space, and pleasant company and still turn a profit.

An example of one such business is an independent film store in Dallas that offers new releases (though in less quantity than your Blockbuster Video) but specializes in indie, documentary, art house, and foreign films.  For them, successfully adopting the Long Tail strategy means owning one copy of these films and an atmosphere to match.  The staff are versed in their inventory and know the genres, so while they cannot rely on algorithms to predict your film taste, they can ‘geek out” with you over the latest Audrey Tatou flick and lead you to their personal “must see” films.   Likewise, when you want to see a European import film (e.g. Pirate Radio) that is currently playing in the United States but would breach Netflix’ distribution contract, this video store can rent you a copy along with a Region 2 DVD player (at no additional charge).  And if there’s a film that you want but they don’t have, ask them and they will get a copy to keep in their store (probably from Amazon).  In terms of cost per rental, the store can not match your local Redbox or a Netflix subscription.  In fact, verbally making such comparisons will lead to expulsion from the store.  But every time this happens, the staff will say “we don’t want or need your business, and you’re free to shop there anytime.”  The irony of the Long Tail, in this situation, is that the same market forces that cause many businesses to fail has breathed new life into this old family business.

The success and confidence of this store prompts further inquiry, but it makes me wonder about the dynamics related to the deletion,  perpetuation, innovation, and qualification of old media markets given the presentation of new media markets.

The new new media

I found this article relevant to what we have been discussing in class: Thoughts, Comments?

It seems I only have a few more years before I wallpaper my windows with tinfoil to keep the ubiquitous facebook 5.0 out of my brainwaves… thanks for the heads up and of course for all the fish, Douglas Adams.

Toshiba Laptop Commercial

I saw this commercial just now on tv and laughed. Check it out.

what is progress?

The concept of technology as linear progressive versus intersecting, I think is particularly fascinating.  Teleological as both the study of the technology itself and the way we view technology is something that I have only marginally considered.  As someone who is well versed in film studies, but newer to “new media” I think the application of both the study of the object itself as well as the theory of how we view the object is something that I find missing from a lot of film theory.  For example it is mentioned that we have used different kinds of cameras and editing overtime, but you’d have to be more of a “practical” practitioner like a professional cinematographer or editor to really consider technical changes.   Very little happens in the way of discussing the technology of the medium, more what’s on the screen, or as Patrice Flichy discusses the French habit of thinking “cinematographically”.

Questions about technology and progress then take on a more metaphysical aspect when we think of teleology.  Do we believe ideas and technology always build on what came before or do we think a lot of accidental connections and perhaps even reversals happen?  I’m inclined to think of Thomas Kuhn here and say that things progress to a certain point within a paradigm, but an overall direction and culminating knowledge of history creating a kind of destined greater technology is not a feasible.

I also wanted to point out the significant amount of space Lister et al, place in the debate between McLuhan and Williams.  I know that Lister wants us to re-examine McLuhan in light of his dismissal by the more academic media studies circuit who have heavy believers in Althusserian Marxism, who focus more on ideological structure and content.  I do think it is good to consider McLuhan, and ideas about the medium and the technology, as I said previously, are frequently missing from more traditional media debates.  I think of McLuhan as offering theories that help us examine how our thought process or cognition changes with the introduction of a different medium.

While I agree with McLuhan to a degree, that the introduction of technologies changes the way we perceive, I have to point out that McLuhan’s view on primitive cultures and visual cultures seems incredibly Western/Euro centric.  I’m not a history expert or a linguist, but I think 0ther societies writing systems did not necessary progress in the same way  that Romanized languages did, I’m specifically thinking about Asian languages here (Maybe someone can speak to that, about how different writing systems affect thought).  This seems to have a little linear progressive thinking behind it.

Requiem for the Reader

In looking at Jean Baudrillard’s Requiem for the Media, I was struck by his privileging of the monopoly of speech in the guise of conversation par interruption as the medium/message of choice unburdened by the decoding of signs.
Baudrillard writes, “All vague impulses to democratize content, subvert it, restore the transparency of the code… are hopeless – unless the monopoly of speech is broken; and one cannot break the monopoly of speech if one’s goal is simply to distribute it to everyone.” I understand the objection here to making everyone a producer of content and how that still doesn’t solve Baudrillard’s problem of the transmitter-message-receiver model but I think the problem is contained within the model itself (281).  In desiring a ‘symbolic exchange relation’ with a simultaneous response, Baudrillard reasons that the coding of the message will fall away with the dissolution of the transmitter and the receiver (287).
However, I surmise that what Baudrillard proposes is moot since a thick description of the media is a theoretical impossibility by the very nature of the medium. I also found it interesting that in referencing Barthes, Baudrillard doesn’t go far enough and extend the insights of critics like Barthes after his turn to post-structuralism, Gadamer and Iser to the idea that in destabilizing the authorial authority the reader does gain access to the signifying text and the act of reading becomes more than a referendum (281).

Medium is the message

According to Marshall Mcluhan, Medium is the message in operational and practical fact since the personal and social consequences of any medium result from the new scale that is introduced into our affairs by each extension of ourselves, or by any new technology. Also author argues that it is the medium that shapes and controls the scale and form of human association and action. This is still true… Then what is the message ? Author described, for example, the message of the movie medium is that of transition from lineal connections to configurations.

As author mentioned, technology have been lead medium and change medium. Especially these days we have various kinds of medium for our daily life. We create contents every time and open to the public to share information. Also we access the information through medium and it shapes and controls the form of human association and action. I think the technology has been supporting this circulation. Thus the technology should be used for creating good message and we need to have responsibility for creating good message.

Where has all the old media gone?

As I was sitting here reading Lister while waiting for my first class of trhe day to begin, in walk the IT people carting several “Slide Projectors”–we have a sub today. This is quite indicative of how slowly “New Media” and “technologies” are taking hold of our teaching. For me, I would at this point have all those celluloid slides digitized ASAP. Why, as I see it, that technology (the slide projector is becoming so much “old technology” that as the
IT person stated “we almost threw these out last semester–no body ever uses that and they are taking up space. Will those who resist “New Media” for the old be required to cart around their own projector or borrow a museum peice in order to keep teaching… hmmm?

Thoughts on McLuhan

I wanted to bring up some of the aspects of the McLuhan article that I found most intriguing.

After I read McLuhan’s first work, I have to admit I was disappointed. It was his second work, “The Medium is the Message” that got me excited about what he has to say. His abstract take on what media actually is pushed me to think outside the traditional box that popular culture has created to define the term, ‘media.’ When I first read the light bulb example, I definitely had my doubts about where he was going; however, after reading through his complete explanation, I found myself looking for other examples of how one can abstract the traditional definition of media. Is the human thought the most simple and basic unit of media?

I also wanted to point out the Sarnoff (p. 204) quote McLuhan uses with great effect to demonstrate how media is effectively an extension of human thought and action. McLuhan really gets it right when he makes this connection, a connection that the general public needs to grasp. As a society, we villainize media when we deem it responsible for tragedies, public misconceptions, and other negative occurrences. They shout, “Video games make our children violent!” “TV news misleads the public!” “Twitter and Facebook have destroyed personal privacy!”. If society starts blaming the mediums themselves, we step backwards in the movement towards new and subtle forms of communication. We need to start making individuals take responsibility for the misuse of media.

virtual insanity

One thing that stands out for me in this weeks reading was the area of virtual reality.  As someone who spends way too much time on games such as Doom and Myst, I can attest to the attractiveness of virtual reality and associated media.

Two things we have to keep in mind are that one, I believe virtual reality has hit a wall in terms of growth and development.  I am not sure if it is a technology barrier or a lack of interest, but nonetheless, we have seen less of a presence in new media.  Two, we are unable to climb out of the “uncanny valley”.

Uncanny valley, first described by Masahiro Mori says that as artificially created human representation approaches 100% likeness, humans are repelled from them.  It is interesting to see that some of the popular media such as droids from Star Wars and Cylons from Battlestar Galactica all are far from looking 100% human.  On the other hand, movies such as Final Fantasy and Beowulf really look “fake”.

I’m not sure how or if it is even possible to provide total virtual immersion.  3D movies and 3D bluray is just one small step towards that direction but maybe it would take something like Matrix’s direct cerebral cortex connection to truly experience virtual reality.