Week 14: Aesthetics and New Techology


In the era of new technological media, the aesthetic experience is enhanced by engaging multiple senses and creating a message that can more effectively reach the target audience. With the innovation of the telegraph and subsequent telephone, people can now hear media, and with the innovation of videogames and movies, people can simultaneously hear and see media in an advanced aesthetic experience. The implications of this new technology have stretched beyond aesthetics and into human consciousness, perception, and politics.

New technology has allowed media to expand beyond visual representations and provided the ability to hear through media. The telephone offers individuals the ability to communicate messages and make connections across vast distances. Hearing the voice of a loved one has a much stronger aesthetic effect than reading their words on a page. By adding another dimension to the media landscape, the level of interaction with media is increased.

Furthermore, videogames are an example of new technology that combines audio with visual elements to create and aesthetic experience that is even more dynamic. Videogames build on the human concept of storytelling, giving the player great agency in determining the course of the story, whereas other forms of media storytelling are far more static. Videogames build on the foundation of hearing media to allow both hearing (via sound effects) and seeing media to work together and further increase levels of interconnectedness.

In terms of aesthetics, new media is clearly continuing to engage other senses and create a more complete experience. However, the implications of this phenomenon expand to other areas of society as well. For example, with videogames the divide between reality and illusion is heightened as the media forms become increasingly more realistic and develop an alternative reality within themselves. The divide brings the dimensions of reality and illusion into conflict. Furthermore, engaging multiple senses allows politicians to use propaganda more effectively, as it can creep into the alternative reality provided by media. Evidently, innovation is transforming both aesthetics and society.

Week 13: The Aesthetics of Old and New Media

New media is essentially a reiteration of old media filtered through contemporary technology. According to Dewey, nature and expression have always been at the core of artistic practice and strongly shape the artist’s engagement with both old and new media. Brun adds to the discussion by analyzing changing media through the context of music, commenting on the contributions of computer composition to creating music. Since media in both old and new forms serves the same basic purpose of communicating a message, meaning and aesthetic value can be attributed to the intent of the author in all contexts.

In his article, Dewey writes about how the aesthetic experience is derived from the emotion of the artist when the piece is created. He relies heavily on the idea that art acts as a catharsis for the artist to release a range of emotions, from joy to irritation. He says that art is a reinterpretation of nature, expressed through the artist as a form of emotion. He claims that both organic and inorganic art follows this same pattern, since everything is somehow inspired from the natural world. Furthermore, those who interact with the final art product are able to derive meaning and aesthetic significance from both nature and the expressive emotion of the artist. For example, saints painted in cathedrals were a reflection of the cultural environment that embraced a mainstream Christianity. When these saints were painted, the artists were able to release sanctification and reverence that can subsequently be absorbed by the clergy and churchgoers. Dewey would likely say that both old and new media are a reflection of nature filtered through contemporary culture and artistic expression.

Brun looks at the contemporary filter of technology as a means to analyze music as media. In his article, he reviews how the purpose of music is to arrange notes and harmonies in a way that communicates a certain message to the audience, be it a story, an emotion, or a sentiment. One of his key arguments centers on the idea that modern music is often composed via computers. Traditionally, this composition had to be performed with pen and paper, and various instruments had to be accessed to create the symphony. However, with technological advancements, this process is simplified as sounds and scores are replicated on the computer. Nonetheless, Brun argues that the human element is still important in this scenario for two reasons. First of all, it was a human that had to program the computer to replicate musical sounds. Secondly, the person who composes must have musical knowledge working with physical instruments to accurately compose on a computer. Therefore, the aesthetic experience of listening to music composed on a computer can be just as powerful as listening to music composed in an orchestra.

Brun’s concept of modern reinterpretation is applicable not only to the music industry, but to other facets of media as well. Since his article was published in 1973, the means of distributing music have greatly increased with the invention of the internet and streaming services. While the expressive emotion of the composer could originally old be felt by sitting at a concert, now music can evoke emotions through headsets and smartphones. Furthermore, social media acts as a reinterpretation of traditional forms of communication, and acts as a platform for distributing photography, art, and a plethora of other message forms. Both old and new media rely on expression, culture, intent, and distribution.

Week 12: Understanding the Aesthetic Experience

Benjamin and Ranciere believe that aesthetic experiences vary in form and function and offer different consequences contingent on both the intent of the author and the nature of the audience. For example, ancient Greek statues offered a connection with the divine in the time they were created, but were later viewed as heathenistic in a predominantly Christian medieval culture. In addition, Benjamin writes that paintings were used as a means to obtain the intangible, the true representation of authenticity, whereas films were a more basic form of art used primarily to entertain in their mass production.

Benjamin seems to claim that films are a lesser art, that they don’t embody a rich aesthetic experience. While paintings require immense effort and contemplation to make an original work, modern technology has permitted the replication of film in vast quantities. The concept of remediacy is at play in this scenario, because films are able to reinterpret not only the landscapes of reality in a film studio, but technology has also permitted the mass reproduction of original paintings in digital form. In this sense, it is more difficult for the audience to feel the full impact of a work of art, since there are now degrees of separation through the synthetic replication technology has provided.

Ranciere takes a different approach to identifying the aesthetic experience, claiming it is based on the political climate of society and the circumstances surrounding interaction with the art. He notes that there is a difference between form and function, where both could be used as antithetical rubrics for measuring aesthetic success. For example, he inquires whether a chair can be considered good art if it is extremely comfortable. Overall, it appears that the aesthetic experience is largely subjective, with a variety of factors at play.

With such subjective qualifications for understanding aesthetics, authorship takes on a new significance. It could be attributed to the individual painter who composes the painting, but in other mediums the issue becomes more complicated. In film, for instance, it is not one person that creates the film, but the work of a team of individuals who contribute in different capacities to the final product. Furthermore, political leaders could be considered authors as well, since they are influencing public opinion on how to perceive the aesthetics of their time. Finally, the audience itself becomes an author in part, since the aesthetic experience is unique for each individual.

Week 11: Media Forms

Much new media exists in the form of immediacy, hypermediacy, and remidiacy. Immediacy, or transparent immediacy, is the idea that media should be as reflective of reality as possible. Hypermediacy, by contrast, refers to media that is very separate from reality, existing with the clear intention of being viewed as a new and innovative media in itself. The third type of media, remediacy, is the concept of repurposing old media in a new context. It builds on the old in a new and innovative way.

There are examples of all three media forms in new media. Live streaming is an example of immediacy. Through apps like Periscope and other streaming apps that allow video chat and live videos, people are able to connect with other people in real time where the party can be physically seen on the screen in life-like representation. Through live streaming, people are able to have immediate and transparent contact with other people instantaneously, and see what they look like in real life, in real time.

On the other hand, some media exists for purpose and form, an idea known as hypermediacy, which is apparent in smart phone applications. Each application serves a different function, whether to assist or entertain. Nonetheless, few strive to mirror reality and instead exist as functional elements for the user. In addition, just as Bolter and Grusin mention that a computer with multiple windows open in an example of hypermediacy, a smartphone can likewise have multiple apps open at the same time that can be viewed and managed from the home screen.

The concept of remediacy has been rehashed throughout modern media history, but more particularly with the advent of the internet. Many traditional media sources, such as newspapers and blogs, have replicated their content and made it available in an online form. This way, instead of purchasing a paper copy of The New York Times, one can simply enter information into a search engine and view the same headline that were printed in the morning paper. Furthermore, Bolter and Grusin mention Hollywood’s use of remediation by recreating classic films with more advanced technology. A contemporary example of this phenomenon is the parody video, which uses the framework of an existing media form, usually a movie or song, and reinterprets it in a humorous way. Remediacy is apparent in many modern media forms, as old mediums seek to reestablish themselves in contemporary contexts.

Understanding the material form of media is an important step in understanding the nature of their mediation, because as McLuhan stated, “the medium is the message.” The material form is a key element in audience communication, since different demographics are likely to trust certain material forms more than others. When the material form is taken into consideration in constructing a message, it helps to more effectively convey the message. For example, using the immediate form of live streaming may help to ensure truth and honesty, but lack special effects and other elements that could make an argument more convincing. Furthermore, remediated online newspapers are more effective at reaching younger generations. The form is important in terms of audience.

Week 10: Probability and Human Agency

When Hayles suggests that Wiener sees communication as relation, she is referring to the idea that he sees society as a network of interconnected parts. In other words, society is an integrated system, with both humans and technology serving an interdependent role. In terms of human agency, individuals are either able to follow or refute their assigned roles, with significant social consequences. Since in the simplest form both humans and cyborgs are composed of molecules, everything can be reduced to systems theory.

Wiener uses several examples to support his claim that society functions through communication as relation. He uses the analogy of the ant, a small creature who diligently performs an assigned task for the greater good of the community, comparing it to how individuals in society contribute through communication. He also discusses the savage in the woods, who cannot speak the same language as him, but can establish mutual communication through (Weiner, 1948). Hayles criticizes Wiener’s interpretation, arguing that it cannot maintain the tension between the cyborgs and what she calls the “liberalist subject” who wishes to exercise autonomy in a probabilistic world.

Hayles says that Wiener cannot reconcile the concept of human agency with a mathematical interpretation of how society runs. She claims that in Wiener’s perspective, everything in life is a result of mathematical equations and interactions between molecules. Since both humans and cyborgs are composed of molecules, the two are linked together in a social construct that relies on assigned roles for both human and machine. However, in terms of human agency, there is debate as to whether or not assigned roles are forced upon individuals (probabilistic perspective) or whether individuals can choose their own path in life (liberalist human). Since Wiener’s model does not reconcile this divide, she claims that multiple perspectives must be examined to effectively investigate communication as relations. Most significantly, she points out that the savage in Wiener’s analysis is absent from Wiener’s own intellectual though process, and so the true intentions of the savage are unknown to his audience. While Hayles would likely agree that all interactions are a result of systems theory, or the interaction between molecules, she would claim that the world exists as a result of chance and even the best calculations can only result in a likely probability.

All communication is the result of interactions from relationships forged between networks of molecules. Whether these molecules compose humans or machines, they are still functioning and interacting in a way that constructs society. While Wiener relies on principles of math in analyzing these interactions, Hayles points out that such calculations identify probability and not certainty.

Week 9: To Immerse or Embed?

Lahti and Haraway talk about the concepts of embeddedness and immersion through the context of modern technology, namely, cyborgs and videogames. While Lahti believes that technology has the power to transport you to another world, Haraway thinks that technology offers a new perspective and acts as a role model with methods that can be integrated into the current world. Haraway’s ideal society builds on the idea that humans can learn from technology to assimilate into a well-run circuit.

Both researchers focus on different areas of the technological realm. Lahti dives into the capabilities of videogames, and provides a chronology that demonstrates how over the years, they have enhanced the concept of virtual reality. With each reiteration, the premise of another world was expanded. As a result, players are able to escape the reality of the present world and enter into the illusion created by the videogame. From his perspective, technology works as the alternative to reality and is moving humans further into imagined dimensions. On the other hand, Haraway focuses her argument on cyborgs and their anthropomorphic qualities. She views technology as a more advanced being, superior to the human. She connects this concept to feminist ideas, using the bridge that machines do not have gender and thus are all equal. If humans followed this example and disregarded gender, she believes it would be progressive for the feminist movement. Haraway goes on to review how humans can learn from machines to incorporate ideals into society.

Lahti and Haraway have thus developed two contrasting interpretations of the role of technology through their studies. Lahti has emphasized the idea of immersion: the concept that technology serves to completely immerse humans into a different world that is disconnected from reality. However, Haraway thinks that instead of immersing oneself in technology, it would be better to embed it into everyday life. From her perspective, the worlds of reality and technology should not become separate, but instead joined together so that imperfect humans can learn from the example of genderless machines.

Haraway expands her idea of embeddedness in a way that constructs a view of the ideal society. She stresses the idea that each individual should function as part of the circuit that runs society. In this aspect, she includes socialist ideas of equality and interdependence. Her views differ from utopian approaches because she does not advocate a complete restructuring of society, but rather a blending of cyborg ideas with the values of humanity.

While Haraway believes technology should be embedded for ideal socialism and feminism, Lahti believes it serves as an escape into another dimension. Immersion and embeddedness offer two different perspectives on the role of technology in the modern world.

Week 7: Stereotypes and Audience

It is important to understand how media classifies audiences and represents various types of people because media provides information that shapes the opinions and understanding of the masses. Since media has such a profound influence on everyday life, media representations are often taken for fact and seep into the subconscious mind. Therefore, the way that media portrays groups of people is directly related to public opinion regarding that group, whether it be race, politics, or any other demographic.

In the discussions of media and power, we’ve looked at how media is the driving force of society that shapes the public sphere. Media acts as a sort of central authority that dictates everyday life. There may be debate as to who controls this authority, but most agree that it has a profound ability to influence opinions. For example, the recent media portrayals of the struggle of African Americans against the police force has painted each of these demographic groups in a certain light. Although not all African Americans are oppressed by police, and not all police are aggressive towards African Americans, the media has assigned a set of stereotypes to each of these groups that has affected public opinion about them. This has led to social media campaigns including Black Lives Matter, and its counterpart, All Lives Matter, which each seek to restore justice from a different perspective of the situation. Although the perspectives are different, it is apparent that each are shaped by media portrayals of police violence.

In the same way that the media creates stereotypes about certain groups of people, it influences public opinion regarding other issues like politics. While there are clearly strongly contrasting views supporting each side of the 2016 election, media has contributed the hostile debate season by drawing support and opposition for both sides. Each political party seeks to unite their affiliates by targeting content to reach a specific audience of voters. Party leaders have a preconceived notion of what these voters look like, and they use that information to cater their political propaganda in a way that will force their target audience to perceive their chosen candidate in a certain light.

Therefore, audience manipulation is directly related to the way that media represents different groups of people. The creators of media have a certain set of assumptions about the recipients of their messages, and they use these assumptions to make their audience think certain things about other groups of people. For example, those who are promoting Trump work under the assumption that most of his support base is white conservative Christian males. They will use this understanding to build a platform of returning to the Constitution’s original words and embracing Christian values to convince them that Trump is coming from the same perspective. However, not all white Christian males support Trump, nor is Trump necessarily an advocate of Christian values or even supporting the Constitution. However, it is this representation of audience and groups of people that create the framework for such assumptions.

Evidently, media has the power to shape the minds of its recipients. This power becomes dangerous when people tells people what to think about others. The concept of audience comes into play when the creators of media cater their content to the audience they assume will receive it, with the hopes that they will adopt a set of ideas that may or may not be true.