sizing up media, technology, and society

Seminar: Mediating Spaces

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The following is the complete research I used in my section of our seminar on Monday. Thanks to everyone for the support and the participation in the discussion!

In keeping with the week’s theme of media: then and now, I have divided my analysis into two broad sections.First, I seek to analyze how spaces and notions of space have been reshaped, transformed, and problematized through mediation and remediation. Whether incorporated into the spaces themselves, or introduced by their human occupants, the presence of mediating technology has played a number of key roles in the evolution of spaces, in both the literal/physical sense, but also in an intangible, experiential sense.

I hope to progress from this analysis into an examination of what Bolter & Grusin (quoting Marc Auge) “non-places”, spaces “defined not by their associations with local history, or even on the ground upon which they are built, but primarily by the reality of the media they contain” (p 179). Non-local spaces such as shopping malls and bars have reached such heights of hypermediation that any examination of their general functioning inevitably leads us to a consideration of their constituent channels of information. My final point of investigation (to be continued in a later post) will lead us to the entrance of what is perhaps the ultimate non-place, known to many as the World Wide Web. Of the WWW, we can ask questions of its radical remediation and the consequences of its unyielding march forward.

Spaces: Transformed

Without too much trouble, we can call to mind some examples of physical spaces designed for the purpose of accommodating a particular activity. In the case where a space lends itself to an activity that involves the experience of a particular media, such as a movie theatre, the physical features of the space cater to the media housed within it. With the advent of (silent) film and the first movie theatres, the design of the theatre space would have considered the acoustics of a live musician(s) playing the soundtrack to the movie, the needed viewing angles (for the proper arrangement of seating), and lights levels (as to not render the movie invisible). This stands in accordance with the theatres of today, filled with hundreds of stadium seats, all of which face a forty-foot screen and are walled with soundboards to equalize the rumbling lows and cancel rogue noise. These spatial features work to increase the immersive potential of the experience.

The development of media also problematizes spaces and/or spatial relationships, as becomes evident when we consider the regulation of mediated spaces such as concerts or restricted areas.

In the example of a concert hall (or another pay-to-enter space), one is required to purchase a token of entry in order to experience the media contained therein, say for instance a Thrice concert. Access to the performance (media) is mediated by spatial means: the concert is happening within a space, and only those who are present experience the performance. With the introduction and permeation of personal recording devices (whether digital cameras, video phones, etc), what one finds is a seeping through of the concert experience into non-spatially regulated channels, such as YouTube, MySpace, and Bitttorent networks. The new recording technologies remediate the concert (previously exclusive to those present within the space) into exchangeable formats, simultaneously removing the spatial requirement of experience and simulating it via a new medium. 21st century spaces struggle in vain to regulate the remediation of the spatially-created experience into digital media. Similar efforts to control this phenomenon can be found in museums, movie theatres, even corporate environments.

Another example of remediation causing headaches comes to mind when we consider spaces that are “restricted”. New media is capable of remediating spaces that only qualified personnel should be capable of accessing, for whatever reasons (secrecy, security, etc), and thus prove to be troublesome to those whose best interests lie in the maintenance of the restrictions. The now infamous Iraq photo controversy (start here and here) is an example of how the transmission of spatially located and censored experiences to spaces outside of the original zone of occurence causes discrepancies in the illusion of honor and justice-serving conduct by occupying forces. Needless to say, the US government and military were not pleased.

As an aside, check out any QuickTime VRs you happen to stumble upon. The (now dated) technology has some very interesting stuff going on, and is likely the closest approximation to literal space that can be constructed from static images. The Wikipedia entry on Missing Map Data for some interesting censorship trivia, including some additional info on the mysterious Area 51. Online access to satellite imagery is perhaps one of the largest examples of the remediation of space, seeing as the majority of the globe is now available as two-dimensional digital images at fairly decent resolutions.

Hypermediacy and Non-places

To continue our tour of mediation and space, I would like to touch on the notion of the “non-place”, and finsh with some thoughts on the emergent new media-kid on the block, the Internet.

On p.177 in Remediation, Bolter and Grusin delve into Marc Auge’s (1995) idea of the non-place and its characteristic (and extreme) degrees of hypermediacy. They take the shopping mall as the main example, but also mention airports, amusement parks, and supermarkets as other examples of non-places. They exist as so-called non-places by virtue of their abilityto detach themselves from their surroundings and become free-floating, hypermediated experiences” (177).

What the individual experiences in these mediated encounters is the hypermediacy of these non-places, which are defined not by their associations with local history or even with the ground on which they are built, but primarily by the reality of the media they contain.” (179) (emphasis mine)

The term media can be applied loosely here, and such a definition calls to mind numerous examples. Other non-places might include

Bars: Minor cosmetic and beverage differences, defined primarily by the music they fill their space with (consider the three floors of Van Gogh’s Ear), the number of TVs and the content they display, and the guests they entertain if we consider people to be locations of hypermediacy.

Sports Stadiums: Positively crawling with advertisements, video screens, merchandise, etc.

Movie Theatres:Hollywood shares the same films with everyone (most of the time, anyway).

Arcades: Such as Sega Playdium, which (miraculously) remediate personal video game consoles into booths and charges you for it!

Increasingly, we can find examples of spaces defined exclusively by the media they contain. Consider your car (my car, my radio station), classrooms, and supermarkets. The widespread adoption of personal media players has even restored some power to the user by enabling them to remediate any space that they enter! I know of many instances and encounters where people’s tolerances for undesirable or non-optimal spaces were greatly enhanced because of the access they had to personal media (whether music, videos, etc). This powerful property of media is at least conceptually capable of rendering all space in a non-place manner.

And so it seems that even space itself is not safe from the engines of remediation and perhaps, with the advent of globalization, virtual realities, and Wire/Matrix-esque technologies, in danger of being consumed entirely, only to be born again in some new, hyperreal form? I am aware of my apocalyptic tone, but I am sincerely interested in your take on the future of spatiality in the face of practices of remediation:

In what other ways has “space” been altered by remediation, immediation, and hypermediation?

Post a comment and let me know!



Written by jon.

January 24, 2008 at 3:55 pm

2 Responses

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  1. i’m happy to see that you’ve made a significant contribution to your blog by expanding your research from the seminar presentation. this is such a useful tool, one that i hope you will continue to use for your term paper.



    January 28, 2008 at 4:38 pm

  2. […] For more about spaces, physical and virtual, see Jon’s seminar post. […]

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