“…put simply, the importance of interface design revolves around this apparent paradox: we live in a society that is increasingly shaped by events in cyberspace, and yet cyberspace remains, for all practical purposes, invisible, outside our perceptual grasp. Our only access to this parallel universe of zeros and ones runs through the conduit of the computer interface, which means that the most dynamic and innovative region of the modern world reveals itself to us through the anonymous middlemen of interface design.” – Steven Johnson, Interface Culture: How New Technology Transforms the Way We Create and Communicate (1997).
What does it mean to say that our everyday lives are mediated?
Our initial focus is upon the work of Couldry & Hepp’s The Mediated Construction of Reality where you will be introduced to the concepts and principles of communication in the contemporary age: the Internet, mobile devices, social media, the datafication of everything, the privatizing of public discourse, the Internet of Things, and so on.
You may have already studied information literacy or critical thinking where you practiced evaluating information: its provenance, reliability, validity, and so on. However, the purpose of this section of study is less about evaluating the product of communication than it is about the flow of information in a media ecology. A renewed focus on the flow of information suggests that there is more to know about media than its quality, such as how information appears to users, the algorithms that determines which information appears, and the context under which that particular information appears at that moment in time.
In short, this area of study is focused on a process model that explains why we encounter information and in what ways it influences the formation of our worldview. Couldry & Hepp’s model helps us to visualize our media ecology so that we can scrutinize its components, its producers, and the invisible code that serves as its engine.
Mediated – Refers to an arrangement between you and other people where the interplay occurs “non-face-to-face” through a device, network, platform, or system that is situated in between.
Mediatized or Mediatization – Refers to a phenomenological change in the way humans communicate when there is less direct communication (such as face-to-face) and more mediated communication (such as social media). Schulz (2004) summarizes mediatization as follows:
- Extension: Media technologies serve as extensions of the human capacity to communicate, such as in surmounting the limitations of time, space, and clarity.
- Substitution: Media serve as “media events” that serve as a substitute for in-person social activities. Examples include the use of television broadcasts to replace in-person attendance, texting and email systems to replace in-person conversation, and print media replacing in-person speech.
- Amalgamation: Media are interwoven into the everyday real world. Examples include listening to a podcast while running or driving, watching videos on YouTube while eating, socializing while at the movies.
- Accommodation: Media serve social, public, and commercial interests which, in turn, influences how humans construct their lives around media to accommodate receiving the benefits of its affordances. An example would be how parenting behavior has changed to accommodate the affordances of smartphones to instantly track and contact their children.
What should you be focusing on?
Your objectives in this module are:
- Form a schematic in your mind of your everyday life that illustrates how mediated communication is deeply integrated into it, either directly in your own practices or indirectly because you interact with people who’s lives are immersed in such communication.
Readings & Media
Required Reading: The mediated construction of reality
- Part I: Chapter 2: The Social World as Communicative Construction
- 2.1 Theorizing the Social World
- 2.2 Reality and the Construction of the Social World
- 2.3 Media and the Communicative Construction of the Social World
- Part III: Chapter 8: Self – Agency in the Social world
- 8.2: The Changing Resources of the Self
- 8.3: The Self’s Digital Traces and Their Infrastructure
These chapters present the theoretical underpinnings essential to comprehending the thesis of this course.
The book is a scholarly production and refers to many other scholars who’s work you will not need to know in order to understand the authors’ fundamental propositions. Allow yourself to proceed beyond such references without feeling as though you are missing out on critical details.
The most important pre-concept to carry forward as you read is to fully understand the meaning of the word mediated. In short, mediated refers to an entity or object that is situated in between communicators, much like a mediator would serve as a person in between two people who are negotiating or debating. Mediated communication refers to the phones, Internet, social media platforms, television systems, radio networks, and other systems that are intermediaries between you and the rest of the world.
The book describes how these technological interventions introduce a layer of psychological and social complexity that “colors” how humans make sense of the world, people, communities, cultural/political differences, and other factors that shape the perception of the world “as it really is.”
Historically, there have been many scholarly works that examine our social fabric in the context of modern communication. However, the authors of this book have produced an updated reworking of thought that takes into account the enormous consolidation of communicative power into the hands of a mere handful of private companies that have, for the most part, co-opted the sphere of public discourse into private, for-profit operations. The authors refer to this deeply integrated and pervasive phenomenon as deep mediatization.
In these chapters, read and take notes so that you are able to respond to the following questions:
- What does it mean that our world has become mediatized? How is a mediatized world different to an average person today going about their daily life compared to a person’s life 20+ years ago?
- What role does communication play in the construction of our social worlds and our everyday sense of reality?
- What is the relationship between the human sense of reality and the means by which humans communicate?
Connect to Andres Hepp on Twitter @Andreas_Hepp – Website: andreas-hepp.name
Johnson, S. (1997). Interface Culture: How New Technology Transforms the Way We Create and Communicate. San Francisco: HarperEdge.