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The Electronic Text. The medium versus the message. The information society ‘blown to bits’.

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The electronic text l.jpg

The Electronic Text

The medium versus the message

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The information society ‘blown to bits’

  • Traditional business structures include value chains, supply chains, organisations and consumer franchises. When the trade off between richness and reach is blown up, there is no longer a need for the components of these business structures to be integrated. The new economics of information blows all these structures to bits. The pieces will recombine into new business structures based on the separate economics of information and things (Evans & Wurster, 2000, 39)

Myra Gurney

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The ‘Information Society’ has been defined as …

... a normative moral and social vision, based on “flow”, interactive flow, as central moral value. It claims that: it is a primary moral duty of humans to exchange information, that it is a primary goal of the state to facilitate this, that culture should value flow of information, and that an infrastructure for information flow should be provided, if necessary by the state.

( is.def.htm 29/25/2000).

Myra Gurney

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How is our world reshaped by technology?

... a century ago the world was remade. We synchronised the clocks for the sake of railroad schedules; we discovered through art and literature new ways to perceive time; the automobile reshaped our notions of distance and adjacency ... Now our world is being reshaped again, as result of computing and communications technology ... (Joy, 2000,5)

Myra Gurney

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Evolution of the meaning of “technology”

  • 17th century – a systematic study of the arts – aligned with arts not science

  • 18th century – a systematic study of the arts, especially the mechanical arts – increasing focus on science

  • 20th century – hardware, software or technique– technique becomes part of the technology

Myra Gurney

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History of communication technologies

  • 1844 Morse code

    • “What hath God wrought?” Samuel Morse

  • 1876 Telephone

    • “Mr Watson ,come here, I want you.” Alexander Graham Bell

  • 1895 Marconiagram

    • “We speak across time and space … May the new power promote peace between all nations.” Sir Edgar Walton to General J.B.M. Hertzog in 1924

Myra Gurney

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History of communication technologies

  • 1968 ARPANET

    • One of the advantages of the message systems over letter mail was that, in an ARPANET message, one could write tersely and type imperfectly, even to an older person in a superior position and even to a person one did not know very well, and the recipient took no offense.”J.C.R. Licklider & Albert Vezza

  • 1971 Email

    • “qwertyiop”Ray Tomlinson to himself

Myra Gurney

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The conflict between form and content

  • Theoretically two positions – medium theory vs content (semiotic) theory)

  • Opposing views of impact of media/medium, content and interpretation

  • Semioticians have been traditionally concerned with meaning within texts

  • Media theorists concerned with impact of media or technologies on culture and human consciousness

Myra Gurney

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What is a text?

  • “Texts are produced through the choices made within systems of meaning making (semiotic systems). A text is a unit of meaning which operates within a context.” Schirato & Yell, 2000,108

  • Texts can be thought of as things, objects or actions

  • Conversations can be texts which unfold and evolve fluidly and which are interpreted by the participants or observers as it progresses

  • Even ‘concrete texts’ (eg letters, annual reports etc) are subject to fluid interpretations depending on the audience and the context in which they are ‘read’

Myra Gurney

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Where does meaning emerge – different theoretical positions

  • Objectivist – meaning entirely in text (“transmitted)

  • Constructivist – meaning in interplay between text and reader (“negotiated”)

  • Subjectivist – meaning entirely in its interpretation by readers (“recreated”)

Myra Gurney

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The role of the reader in a text positions

  • A text cannot speak for itself: it needs a reader as well as a writer … Daniel Chandler “The Act of Writing”

  • Research has shown that reading is a creative activity and readers have a major role in how texts are interpreted

  • Cognitive psychologists explain the interpretative act of reading in terms of ‘schema theory’

Myra Gurney

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Intertextuality positions

  • Challenges the notion and assumptions that texts are fixed, permanent and static

  • Term coined by French feminist, semiotician and psycholanalyst Julia Kristeva

  • Has its roots in Freudian and Marxist theories

  • Has shifted focus of writing scholarship from individual writers and their finished written texts to the contexts and environments that have shaped both writers, readers and the texts

Myra Gurney

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Marshall McLuhan & ‘technological determinism’ positions

  • [t]oday, after more than a century of electric (sic) technology, we have extended our central nervous system in a global embrace, abolishing both space and time as far as our planet is concerned. Understanding Media, (1964)

Myra Gurney

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We shape our tools, and they in turn shape us … positions

  • McLuhan's theory is technological determinism – changes in modes of communication shape human existence.

  • McLuhan extended the work of Harold Innis.

  • No aspect of culture is untouched by communication technology, McLuhan proposed.

  • He believed that every new form of media innovation extended some human faculty.

Myra Gurney

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McLuhan & ‘The Global Village’ positions

  • The telephone: speech without walls. The phonograph: music without walls. The photograph: museum without walls. The electric light: space without walls. The movie, radio and TV: classroom without walls. Man the food-gatherer reappears incongruously as information-gatherer. In this role, electronic man is no less a nomad than his Palaeolithic ancestors

  • ‘Time’ has ceased, ‘space’ has vanished. We now live in a global village ... a simultaneous happening (1967:63)

Myra Gurney

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Communication Inventions: positionsThe Balance Points of History

  • McLuhan divided all of human history into four epochs: tribal, literate, print, and electronic.

  • The changes from one age to the next were rapid and were caused by new communication technology.

  • These new technologies were the phonetic alphabet, the printing press, and the telegraph.

  • The electronic media have created social upheaval.

Myra Gurney

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Communication Inventions: positionsThe Balance Points of History

McLuhan’s media map of history

From Griffin, 2003, 342

Myra Gurney

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The medium is the message positions

  • Our lives are a function of the way we process information.

  • Key communication technologies change the way people think about themselves and their world.

  • A medium has more influence than its explicit messages.

  • McLuhan's pun “the medium is the massage” indicates that the media work us over.

  • In other words, the dominant medium of an age dominates people.

Myra Gurney

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Parsing The Past – positionsa media analysis of history

  • The Tribal Age: an acoustic place in history.

    • The senses of hearing, touch, taste, and smell were more advanced than visualization.

    • “Primitive” people lived richer lives than their literate descendants because the ear does not select.

    • People acted with more passion and spontaneity

Myra Gurney

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Parsing The Past – positionsa media analysis of history

  • The Age Of Literacy: a visual point of view.

    • Literacy moved people from collective tribal involvement to private detachment.

    • Literacy encouraged logical, linear thinking,established the line as the organising principle of life

    • The invention of the alphabet fostered the emergence of a range of other disciplines such as mathematics, science, and philosophy.

Myra Gurney

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Parsing The Past – positionsa media analysis of history

  • The Print Age: prototype of the industrial revolution.

    • The printing press made visual dependence widespread.

    • The development of fixed national languages produced nationalism.

    • McLuhan regarded the fragmentation of society as the most significant outcome of print.

    • “Printing, a ditto device, confirmed and extended the new visual stress. It created the portable book, which men could read in privacy and in isolation from others”

Myra Gurney

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Parsing The Past – positionsa media analysis of history

  • The Electronic Age: the rise of the global village.

    • McLuhan believed that the electronic media are retribalising humanity.

    • In an electronic age, privacy is a luxury or a curse of the past.

    • Linear logic is useless in the electronic society.

    • “The age of print … had its obituary tapped out by the telegraph.”

Myra Gurney

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The medium vs the message? positions

  • Students of McLuhan have questioned what was meant by his famous aphorism. Did he mean that

    • the content is irrelevant … (‘the content or message of any particular medium has about as much importance as the stencilling on the casing of an atomic bomb.’)

    • the degree to which it is relevant is relative … I’m not suggesting that content plays NO role – merely that it plays a distinctly subordinate role.’

  • Either way he believed that the medium changes people more than the sum of all messages of that medium

  • The same words spoken face to face, printed on paper, or presented on TV provide three different messages

Myra Gurney

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Back to the future? positions

  • “The day of the individualist, of privacy, of fragmented or “applied” knowledge, of “points of view”, and specialist goals is being replaced by the over-all-awareness of a mosaic world in which space and time are overcome by television, jets and computers – a simultaneous, “all-at-once” world in which everything resonates with everything else as in a total electric field.” (McLuhan in Griffin, 2002, 347)

Myra Gurney

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Implications for professional comm – intellectual property & copyright

  • McLuhan noted that “typography … tended to alter language from a means of perception and exploration into a portable commodity.”

  • The effect was to create a visual domain for ideas

  • Prior to this, literature was perceived as “a fund of man’s knowledge, rather than belonging to individual authors.” (Drogan, cited in Kleinman)

Myra Gurney

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Criticisms of McLuhan’s approach & copyright

  • Tendency to trivialise content at the expense of technology

  • That his approaches do not take into account the relevance of complex social phenomena

  • Clark-Kozma debate – whether or not particular media influence learning

Myra Gurney

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The development of the notion of intellectual ‘property’ & copyright

  • With the fixing of the printed word, texts could be owned, controlled, manipulated and distributed

  • They became conceptualised as commodities, according to the mindset of ownership and subject to the rules of economics eg free trade of ideas

  • Thepublisher became the gatekeeper between ideas, texts and readers

  • Its value was defined by publishers in terms of time and resources used to reproduce, distribute and promote en masse

Myra Gurney

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The impact of digital publishing & copyright

  • The availability of digital means of distribution raises problems when we try to apply these rules

  • Channels of distribution no longer controlled by publishers

  • Access to creative works and how they can be used (eg music sampling), can no longer be controlled

  • Kleinman argues that copyright only protects the assets of large corporations as opposed to the rights of individual authors or artists

  • New digital technologies require a mindset re evaluation

Myra Gurney

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Exercise & copyright

  • In small groups, choose a particular electronic text (eg email, webpages, sms, pdas etc)

  • Brainstorm the ways in which the technology itself influences

    • A. the way the text is READ

    • B. the way the text is WRITTEN

    • C. the way meaning and/or communication with this text is influenced by the technology (if at all)

  • Write up your thoughts in 500 words

Myra Gurney