Turnley, Melinda: “Towards a Mediological Method: A Framework for Critically Engaging Dimensions of a Medium”
We can all agree that different technologies and delivery systems determine the way it is perceived and consumed. The first important academic type quote I remember learning in undergrad was “The medium is the message.” (From “Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man” Marshall McLuhan, 1964) This is as true today as it was in McLuhan’s time.
As far as the creation of media, this passage brought to mind one of my favorite reads as of recently, “A Whole New Mind” by Daniel H. Pink.
“…although some technical knowledge is necessary for multimedia production, writers/designers also must engage in rhetorical practices which integrate “knowing how and when to use appropriate technologies…and how to prepare the material for the context in which it will be used by its intended audience” (p. 130). …Deterministic narratives often reduce media to their technical components, but to be critical producers and consumers of media, we must complicate these reductive framings and situate our practices in relation to multiple mediological factors.”
What this means to me is that creators of new media, in order to publish rich and relevant material, the rhetoric and tasteful use of new technologies must be equally important as technical skill. I rage about flash-heavy websites all the time, as most often, it seems as though a web designer is just throwing the kitchen sink at a project to flex his tech-muscles, ignoring the practical use of said site.
The idea of an “inclusive global community,” as Turnley points out, has been around since the early days of the web. Of course, we see how that all turned out. While the web has become a great tool for social organization and inclusiveness, it’s also served equally as a harbor and medium for hate-speech, rumors, and racism. The social dimension of new media has simply magnified already existing human behaviors. I’m not saying it’s been equally bad and good in that for every good deed there has been a bad one. My point is that the political agendas that are so easily put forth are not always the best intentioned – which is the same as it ever was.
Wikis and other user-controlled content – let’s take Craigslist for example – have again simply magnified traits already existing in western culture. We’ve seen the wonder of a community-enforced arena bringing out the inherent good in people. The lack of a central editor or editors is what makes the entire web unique as a medium. (I could write for pages about net neutrality here.) Aggregators and page rankings are simply a community editing itself via social norms.
Similar to the social dimension, lack of a central editor affects the economics of new media as well. By “challenging this value system through their dispersal of media distribution and production,” digital media has presented itself the problem of sourcing original content and making content creation at least mildly lucrative. I know this is going a little off topic, but the first thing that I thought of was Rupert Murdoch’s announcement during a News Corp earnings call that it was his plan to begin charging for online content on websites such as FoxNews.com and WSJ.com.
The issue that Murdoch (like him or not) raised was that without some sort of economic structure in place for content, we are diluting the quality of journalism and media. His gamble is that 1) a large portion of media outlets will follow suit at the same time, and 2) that users will pay for (arguably) better content.
Turnley’s piece, however, quotes “Traditional Western, print-based economies have privileged individual authorship and ownership (Purdy, 2009, p. 73). So are we taking a step backwards if paid news content really is the future?
Once again, socioeconomic factors are the biggest influence of a medium’s dimension. “The ways in which a medium frames the storage of and access to information…are bound up in relations of power and involve questions such as: who decides what information should be preserved and distributed…, does one have to be an expert…, how is expertise constructed…, and what degree of status or credibility is associate with information…?”
Every medium has allowed for a revisionist history to take place by placing the power and responsibility of archives in the hands of the socioeconomically privileged. New media is no different. Despite the potential for archiving being limitless, access to archival technologies still lie in the hands of those who have the economic means to decide and control where and how this content is stored and accessed.
Right-brain design and aesthetics are the most important features in the creation and development of new media. Again touching on Daniel H. Pink’s book referenced above, aesthetics are much more than just visual. The user experience is a multi-dimensional, living, breathing thing, and as Turnley points out, no medium is doing it better right now than video game manufacturers. I am not a gamer. Never have been, most likely never will be. But I’ve got friends who work for video game companies (Rockstar, Sony), and I’ve got friends who are web designers for firms and independently, and the amount of resources dedicated towards an aesthetically pleasing user experience is astoundingly lopsided in favor of the gamers. Traditional media as well as simpler online media can learn from the development of user experiences in gaming systems.
I call the subjective dimension the “Real World” dimension. As Turnley points out, audiences must navigate the societal norms and assumptions that are generally accepted as necessary to properly use a medium. But when viewing and using media, we often will assign roles and characters based on life experiences and these same societal norms, which is why “…such roles are embedded in assumptions about race, class, gender, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, and other markers of cultural difference,” when media is created. In the age of telling a compelling story, most of the time, we need characters who (we think) we already know some things about.
In that sense, considering that the “Real World” television franchise was created in the early 90’s, reality television was somewhat prophetic for what new media has become today. Not only is the source of media crucial to an individual’s perception, but the medium itself changes how we consume and view it.
Again, socioeconomic factors have a large influence on a particular dimension of media. Since “Fluency generally requires access and instruction” and is “distributed differently along the related axes of race and socioeconomic status…the knowledge systems supported by that medium easily can reinscribe social hierarchies.” The key word here is reinscribe. The social dimension (at least the early stages) and economic dimension have, in some sense, broken down and shifted many of the hierarchies we had come to accept with other forms of media. But what Turnley is really saying is that the more things change, the more they remain the same. The temporary destabilization of these hierarchies are significant enough for study.
The issue of web sites being “relevant sources of information” also brings up a familiar concept of an editor or a gatekeeper. Does a gatekeeper or editor of online content really make it more relevant? Of course it’s less speedy, but in the Web 2.0 era, speed is king. For example, why do we even know who Perez Hilton is? (I refuse to link there. My blog, my rules.) It’s not the quality of the content, but the speed at which it’s delivered vs. traditional web content that makes the pop-trash site so highly trafficked. The breakdown of linear dissemination in Web 2.0 has brought into question the quality and reliability of some content, but again, speed is king.