Monday, May 3, 2010

Form and Technology

When I teach about Marshall McLuhan in depth, I explain that there are three main steams of thought that he synthesized:  

  1. the study of language and symbols
  2. the study of art and perception
  3. the study of technology and media (in the traditional sense of mass media, but especially in the sense Innis used it to refer to the material basis of communication)

And, while this is true in regard to McLuhan's intellectual development, going back to Alfred Korzybski and general semantics has helped to crystallize for me the fact that two of the three streams, language and symbols, and art and perception, are very closely related, and indeed could well be conflated.  For Korzybski, the two are covered under the heading of abstracting, which refers to the ways in which we take information out of events that we experience.  Perception is a relatively lower level of abstracting, while language takes us higher.

Technology and abstracting are not parallel terms, however, and the more common word used in media ecology circles is form.  And thinking about technology and form led me to the following thoughts about media ecology:
Media ecology involves an integration of two somewhat different areas of study.  

On the one hand, there is the study of technology, its history and its influence on history, the philosophy of technology, the relationship of technology to the human person, as an extension of the body and mind that we become alienated from, and no longer recognize as extensions of ourselves, and as shields, environments, or membranes that we place between ourselves and our environments, so that in so doing they become our new environments.  On the other hand, there is the study of form, including perception, art, signs and symbols, and language. 

Technology is about the extension and outering of the inner being into the environment. Form is about bringing the outer world into the inner being, not physically, but in the form of information, creating a worldview or construction of reality, an inner environment that in some way maps the outer world, that is more or less structurally coupled and consistent with the outside environment. 

Technology and form are both aspects of a process of mediating, a mediating between the inner and outer world.   I use mediating following Korzybski's example in referring to abstracting, with the understanding that McLuhan was in fact actually referring to a processmediating, as opposed to a medium as a thingAbstracting fits well in reference to form, but does not adequately represent our capacity for acting upon and altering the environment.  Mediating, in my view, better represents both form and technology, and our transactional relationship with our environments. of

 I suppose you could say that mediating is the messaging?  But please don't, it just sounds awful!


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