Manifesto for Teaching Online – Aphorism No. 9 – “Visual and hypertextual representations allow argument to emerge, rather than be stated- Part 1.”

“One link two link, red link blue link,
Oh my gosh here comes a new link.
This click that click, here click there click
Huh? click HELP! click Who knows where click?
New rules new day, how you must play.
Who say? You say! I squeal “Oy-vey!”

Shockwave, Flash until I drop
When all I want to do is shop,
And when I decide this is absurd
I stumble across help written by a nerd.
My brain must not be made like yours;
Perhaps I shop the wrong web stores.
Sorry guys, I did my best
To pass your little website test.
I sought to find a rocking horse
And wound up in an obstacle course.

I’m gibbly-eyed, my brain is fried
And heaven knows how hard I tried
But cannot find the thing I seek.
I could not find it in a week.
All I want to do is buy,
Yet the chaos only makes me cry,
“I do not like this mahoooky stuff
I think I’ve had more than enough.”
I do not like this Internet,
This Internet I do not get.
So to my real-world car I’m bound;
I’ll search on terra-firmer ground”.
(hat tip to The Grok)


Ted Neslon Computer Lib/Dream Machnes1974

“The greatest things you’ve ever seen, Dance your wishes on the screen, All the things that man has known, Comin’ on the telephone – Poems, books and pictures too, Comin’ on the Xanadu.” – Ted Nelson

When I first considered this aphorism I thought this would be a rather brief binary answer, like ‘yes’ or ‘no’, ‘1’ or ‘0’. But its the grey area of ‘maybe’, that quizzical middle ground which seems infinite, between being born and when we die. As a consequence this aphorism has come to challenge my thinking a lot more than previous posts. This is possibly because it reflexively addresses precisely what I am trying to do in this blog. I need to break this into manageable human sized chunks, particularly as most readers will only scan this page. You will likely only pick out keywords and sentences. Nielsen (2008) found that 79% of users scanned Web pages; they read only 20-28% of the words on the page. Could it be that more thought will go into writing this than reading it?

Let me begin with Marx, sorry the Matrix, not the movie but a word with Greek roots deriving from ‘metra’ which means ‘womb’ in English. It is defined variously as a ‘a place of enveloping elements within which something originates, takes form or develops’ or ‘the natural material in which any material is embedded”. Is the web or cyberspace a natural place for knowledge or argument to emerge and develop using a language of hypertext and visual representations? Is there an argument lurking behind every corner?

In Gutenberg Galaxy, Marshall McLuhan (1962: p.7)) stated that: “Any technology tends to create a new human environment…” Beyond the brute technological determinism inherent in this claim we can say the opposite is also true: On encountering new and novel natural environments humans have spawned the creation of new technologies that conquer, shape, and dominate environments, sometimes ruin environments and lay down the conditions for new behaviours (like choking in a polluted city or relaxing enjoying beautiful landscaped gardens), habits (throwing rubbish on the ground or putting it in conveniently placed bins), routines (having to wait for hours in congested traffic or travelling on a pretty silent efficient transcity monorail) and activities (enjoying the triumphant vistas while having an aperitif in a skyscraper roof top restaurant, or making a gruel in a gnarled pot, heated by burning rubber tires outside you shanty town shack) within it.

Following V. Gordon Childe with his ‘urban revolution‘ the ’big history’ ideas captured in the work of Fernand Braudel, <a href=””>Fred Spier, <a href=””>Jared Diamond, and David Landes, is the proposition that as humans migrated from Africa across the face of the earth, before civilizations could emerge, humans had first to adapt to the various geographies they encountered. As they settled, they identified and drew upon the resources they could find at hand and learned to work them and work with them. Reflection upon these resources and the work they involved gave rise to ideas of how this work could be improved by technique, the application and function of technology, and in aesthetics and adornments, bountiful regions where crops grew easily and water was readily available were accelerators for development of social organization, resource management and security, rising populations, religions, cultural artefacts including decorative arts and crafts, and social hierarchies, recording and writing. Walter Ong insists to us that:

“Without writing, the literate mind would not and could not think as it does, not only when engaged in writing but normally even when it is composing its thoughts in oral form. More than any other single invention writing has transformed human consciousness.” (1982, p. 78).

It is useful to consider digital technology as if it has indeed provided a new environment to the way we are in the world today, or the way we see the world and ourselves in it. Cyberspace and certainly online sites like ‘second life’ and ‘World of Warcraft’ have shown that people can value personae and institutions, even gold online as they can in physical geographic space. How do we move in such an environment, or what moves, moves us or what is moved for us in this environment, what are their energy implications? What grows there, and under which and what conditions? Moreover is such value here to stay, or like the dicarded plaything will it and its values perish like a collapsed ckivilsation [c.f. Diamon’s ‘Collapse’ 2005]. The conditions for virtual collapse are surly different? It came to me one day when working on a dig in trhe North of Scotland, that what I was doing, ripping the ground apart, trying to dismantle sections of intended or conveninet structures in order to record them, that from a pures physics stand-point how bizzare was my actions. They would have made no sense whatsoever to the human that built it in the first place, the human who with great effort and enegry built what I, now, were dismaantling in order to photogrpgh, draw and file. The understanding was at hte time that all this data would rapair to the cellers of Mellivie street in Edinburgh untill called for analsysis, which may never be. The paper recrding was recognised as only having a life of 50 years.

I encountered the strangest landscapes and wild life that I could ever imagine when I went to live in Australia in 1991. On reflection I had fallen prey to the media and television – lack of – being able to depict the real, actual experience of being somewhere radically different like the Australian bush and outback. The problem was the European manners and scenarios in the likes of Skippy – The Bush Kangaroo, and the wistfully banal and mundane dilemmas of the soap opera Neighbours. then their are Crocodile Dundee which promoted the stereotype of the Australian as a down to earth, no pretense adaptable kind of guy. These images, while sometimes presenting Australia, also go a very long way to obfuscate the shear radical nature of the Australian natural environment. To encounter species first hand such as Duck Bill Platypus, all be it, in a tank in a nature reserve, then to see Wallabies in the Wild roaming free, the giant ferns, missive tree trunks and gaping wombat burrows you see on the ground, then the Lyre birds with their extraordinary mimicking ability, echoing nature, all they could hear, enveloping you in surround sound. It is disconcerting and so, so alien, as it was to ‘see people pets’ flying around in the trees, I felt like I expected cries for help – Budgerigars and Sulphur-crested Cockatoos fly wild in the trees. It comes as no surprise then that the aboriginal people are the most distant from European culture as I have ever met.

I first read Bruce Chatwin’s (1987) The Songlines after I had left Melbourne and experienced a little of ‘the bush’. It serves as a fine introduction to making the imaginative leap into a culture so alien. I had to think hard about what it means to “sing the land into being”. The Aboriginal clans straddled Australia, with each clan connected to the other by possessing its own part in a shared mythology which gave them their identities both as clans and as individuals.when a child first stirs in the womb they are given the name of that place and its accompanying piece of the song-line. Below is sunset at Coober Pedy a town in Australia where people hew homes out of the rock underground, and as the sun sets everything glows bright red in way that makes it look like Mars:

Pre-literate hunter-gathers made their ways without the aid of Google maps ready-to-hand on their mobile device, with a Web 2.0 mash-up showing them where resources like bananas or fresh water lay, or game was spotted. Instead they were driven by basic needs and curiosity and raw belief that needs would be met, just as prisoners have felt when they have suffered terrible privation. Later, as maps came to be made and cartography lent new conceptions of territory. Trade routes, ‘best practices’ for getting from place and resource ‘A’ to place and market ‘B’ were discovered and founded, some of these still exist and are used. Some spices and materials were prized over others and markets developed and grew.

This over-simplified and glib history of commerce serves as a metaphor for research methodologies and research. New avenues of research in the natural sciences, </aand also in the social sciences have spawned new technologies which extend the observation prowess of the human senses, and the computational abilities of the brain. On their diffusion, they have helped academic and industry researchers to observe phenomena that would otherwise be invisible, and new formal proofs in mathematics have helped them understand and confirm beliefs and hypothesis, increasingly through ever more powerful simulations and scientific objects.

Thomas Kuhn changed the view of scientific progress. Out-of-date scientific theories have a definite role in today’s scientific research. Many of the theories derived in the past have been mistakenly discarded. According to Kuhn, these theories should be revisited with the enhancement of current technology. Where once the history of science was seen as a steady progression where theory was amassed upon theory until the truth is found, Kuhn saw a series of revolutionary changes of the world-view of science, where the context and vicissitudes of one period had very little in common with the previous.

As a new field matures, a paradigm establishes itself as dominant. It becomes the received wisdom, taught in schools and universities and practised as if everything is ‘normal’ – that we are on top of things and ideas. Research progresses quickly since the paradigm gives certain fundamental concepts and lends laws and heuristics to build upon. In addition, it becomes clear which areas of research are fruitful to work on: those that cannot really be explained yet, but on the other hand are not totally incomprehensible in the current view. In this sense they become as Jorge Luis Borges novel The Garden of Forking Paths which has been cited also as a pre-cursor in the history of hypertext and hypermedia (see Manovich, 2003, or Ocampo, ibid for a context)

When the paradigm has been established it is a matter of routine, what Kuhn condescendingly calls “puzzle solving”. This is when the dust settles. The greatest part of research falls into this category and is not a creative occupation. For normal science to be successful, this scientific community takes enormous steps to defend their ideas. Often normal science will suppress the advancement of scientific theories and inventions. After all, “Mopping up is what most scientists are occupied with during their career.” (24-25) These scientists are involved in normal science, they do not attempt to invent new theories or provoke a scientific revolution, they are just making a living.

Most importantly, Khun questioned the possibility for science ever to find a truth. Knowledge strengthens group bonding, but the emergence of new knowledge in, for example, the sciences can threaten a group’s very existence, well, at least their beliefs. It is not taken in the first instance that it can join or continue, such as a piece of the puzzle or songline. Imagination can challenge rules and traditions by putting information together in novel ways; yet shared acts of imagination can also help to strengthen intra-group bonds. Thomas Kuhn argued that throughout scientific history, true changes in our understanding of the world were only derived when scientists made observations that ran contrary to popular understanding. They were radicals, and may be ignored, marginalised and ostracised. This stands in defence of misfit. Copernicus’ observation and defence of a heliocentric understanding of the solar system in the face of a geocentric standard allowed us to better understand the movements of the planets. Einstein’s theory of relativity ran contrary to the widely accepted Newtonian physics and have helped us master spaceflight. As Kuhn saw it, each time a scientist made an observation that diverged from our understanding of the world, a new set of explanations for how the world worked was able to fall out, as knowledge of the new way diffused and disseminated and became accepted and maybe even useful.

As Kuhn made his argument, what emerges is a complex explanation for why these sorts of contrarian observations allow us to change our most fundamental assumptions, about physical reality and regarding human nature. Once our assumptions had been changed, as Kuhn saw it, a better understanding of the world could emerge. Even more, as Kuhn positioned the argument, once our assumptions had been changed a more complete understanding of the world was bound to emerge. Subsequent improvements to understanding within the new paradigm – the new set of assumptions – could be viewed as assembling pieces of a puzzle that was created by the scientist who made the original observation that ran contrary to popular theory. This assemblege can be seen in both natrual and physical sciences.

“ … I was struck by the number and extent of overt disagreements between social scientists about the nature of legitimate scientific problems and methods. Both history and acquaintance made me doubt that practitioners of the natural sciences posses firmer or more permanent answers to such questions than their colleagues in social science. Yet, somehow, the practice of astronomy, physics, chemistry, or biology normally fails to evoke the controversies over fundamentals that today often seem endemic among, say, psychologists or sociologists. Attempting to discover the source of that difference led me to recognise the role in scientific research of what I have since called ‘paradigms.’ These I take to be universally recognized scientific achievements that for a time provide model problems and solutions to a community of practitioners.”

Digital technology and the internet has certainly acted as a sand-box where programmers, designers, companies, and private individuals with access have engaged in ‘serious play‘ with each other, creating, using, experimenting. Some of these innovations and novelties have lasted while others have already become muted or extinct. People and technologies have left footprints. Some of these footprints appear more prominent than others [Google], some seem larger than others, some have been erased through the trials of time, some seem indelible [like the persistence of the QWERTY keyboard to input text]. How does technology, and those who design, own and have power over it, make this a prepared environment for us to work within, live and socialize within and learn within? These are key questions defining who and what you can access, as the idea of when and where you can access disappears with sci-fi, wi-fi and wide-fi.

Has the internet acted as a matrix, nurturing new behaviours and new ways of thinking, new kinds of argument? In order to argue, dispute or critique anything, we must first have knowledge and abilities to make distinction. In his Critique of Pure Reason (1787). Immanuel Kant showed how it can be that all our knowledge begins with experience, yet in order to make sense of those experiences we must know other things first. Knowledge depends upon precedent knowledge, adjacent knowledge, and knowledge of trusted or respected authorities, which we can scaffold off of. It is like the idea that in order to learn, you must have an idea of how to learn as a skill, and only some of this can be taught. Kant focused especially on the fact that we frame experiences in space and time but cannot derive the ideas of space and time out of experience. His analysis provided the foundation for constructivist theories of learning such as those of Piaget, Vygotsky, and Dewey.

Arguments cannot just simply derive or emerge from technology such as in the manner in which the proverbial rabbit emerges playfully from a magician’s hat. But a piece of writing, design, website or photograph, graphic or graph can serve as a subject and stimulus for argument or state some argument, position or view, and eliciting the motivations for feedback. Tropes and claims regarding the veracity of one group’s interests over another, one technologies prowess over another, one ‘great man of history’ over another are often ambiguous and may be contested and re-interpreted. But as is shown in social studies of technology one interest group often wins over another to produce a <a href=””>dominant design which comes, after matter are settled, to be crystallised form that a technology takes as it diffuses into the public domain. It moves from plateau to plateau, from stable state to stable state (such as when an artefact more or less remain the same over period of time, and conventions form, like the controls of a car or the menus of applications).

Historically, there has been a growing interest in the characteristics of the everyday life of ordinary people were like rather than King’s and Heads of State. When we consider the persuasions and arguments that motivated farmers and laypeople to go and fight and die for a leader’s cause in horrific and bloody wars there seems much missing. These are not scientific proofs, in fact they will never be fully understood as there is often no record at all, they are subject to change as public mood, acceptabilities, fads and fashions change.

Colonialism in its heroic dilettante connotation of new lands new wealth to be exploited has been challenged recently, particularly by those descendants of slaves and other people ignored and marginalised, the unacknowledged victims of colonialism many of which are still working in the sweat shop today, or dying in the streets due to insufficient healthcare [and I don’t just mean emerging nations]. Spivek terms them ‘the subaltern’ and asks whether they can be given a voice when they have not been chronicled, their feelings, aspirations and hopes unsampled or even listened to. They cannot argue, as they have no voice, and no-one, even peers are listening. They all must listen to authorities as in the caricature of rote learning offered in an earlier post, even when they come to bulldoze the house at 2 a.m.

The bottom line and simple truth is that argument cannot be removed from its social and often political [large and small ‘p’] context, even though its logic, thesis, antithesis, synthesis or resolution, or the call for further research and investigation, can be presented to and imagined future audience. The imagined user, <a href=”…/Configuring_the_User.doc -user”>editorial panel, consumer or customer, they often all serve as the only focus guiding creative products and work, scholarly and creative forms of writing, filming, photographing, designing, new business formation and models, projects, and even cooking a new and innovative gourmet dish, served on an elegant table replete with fine linen, silver, and real stemware in a formal <a href=" room.

Akio Morita, the former Chairman of Sony was a famously vehement critic of market research in the predicating the success of new products:

“Our plan is to lead the public with new products rather than ask them what kind of products they want. The public does not know what is possible, but we do, we refine our thinking on a product and its use and try to create a market for it by education and communicating with the public.” (as quoted in Hamel and Prahalad, 1994, p.100)

He goes on:

“I do not believe that any amount of market research could have told us that the Sony Walkman would be successful, not to say a sensational hit that would spawn so may imitators.” (ibid.)

His view was that new technologies need to come as a result of everyday ingenuity and persistence of the inventor, and that his close observations of everyday and its goings-on is what is important to the engineer seeking to innovate. In this depiction, the Walkman, portable personal media, was a paradigm, and engineers were conducting ‘normal’ science. He was of the opinion that those who have not be exposed to a radical innovation, will not be able to properly communicate regarding characteristics, attributes, feature and function accurately, let alone provide insight into its commercial success. It is like asking someone who has never been to a city to comment upon city living and city life, or a student who was persistently absent from class if the lecturer taught the subject effectively and well, or a layman like me to look through a microscope and make a medical diagnosis. We can critique only if we have knowledge, experience or skill to do so, and a strong moral and ethical foundation.

The general preference for Sony is to make a short run of a new device and release it in the likes of Akihabara a retail antenna district in Tokyo. An antenna district are spatial agglomerations of commercial activity and culture, located near transportation hubs, often linked to specific industries, products and services, where companies and consumers test out the newest product ideas and set off fashion trends. They would produce short runs of the latest innovations, with those selling quick serving as an indication of what may be ripe for manufacture. This retail environment is a like a sensor which flags up consumer interest.

However, simply just making a new product, is something of a statement. New ideas, theories, services, products, only take on relevance as they diffuse into the public domain. There the debate on what they are, what they can do and how good they are at at, what are the commercial and public interest issues at stake, how they may impact some groups and sectors of a society or community and so forth make this a much more non-linear and complex undertaking, which needs to broaden in order to discover success factors than pure ingenuity on behalf of inventors or promoters. du Gay’s et al. cultural circuit idea draws attention to the various spheres of influences which can radically abate, hinder or accelerate the process of adoption and diffusion. Many arguments may be raised in this process. These are captured below:

The Cultural Circuit after du Gay, et al. (1997)

In this sense I would argue that a new product, service or application, itself, can be looked upon as a kind of proposal or argument, where its characteristics, attributes features and functions (what I have termed ‘CAFFs’, Nicoll, 2001) are accompanied and supported by promotion, advertising, hype and spin [or vice-versa characteristics of the technology support the hype] as it permeates the public [or hive] mind. This massive eventually arbitrates whether it is good or bad through consumption, use and formation of usage patterns, and ultimately whether there are any shortcomings in the expectations that were built by spin and hype. Does the claims, or argument, match or differ form that which is actually experienced? There have been so many let downs, so many, when it comes to devices, and perhaps especially IT devices [Apple Newton, videotext, virtual reality, WAP, the Philips CD-i to name but a few].

This last Christmas, one of the items I bought was a surround sound speaker system for the laptop. I bought it from a local computer shop here in Cambodia. It blew in a few days. I took it back to the shop who looked at me as if I had something missing. We don’t guarantee the speaker was the reply. Its caveat emptor – buyer beware – here. If something goes wrong or faulty it is your fault, not the shops nor the manufacturer – they are authorities, they have more money and intelligence than you, you who are stupid and do not know how to use such an advanced piece of kit poorly, therefore you are at fault and lose your money. Mind you this is not as bad as a friend who moving into his new house bought a small propane gas cooker which completely exploded and ripped apart on first use, casting shards of shrapnel all round his kitchen. On returning the cooker, which now looked like an avant garde sculpture he was told in similar avant-garde terms that it was ‘up to you’. There is no customer service here, and in a way its good. It removes a mask that manufacturers or retailers care about customers, and returns us to the battle of wits. There is no extended warranty insurance, whose proponents argue challenges planned obsolescence and whose critics argue shouldn’t be happening anyway.

Since the 1950s and perhaps the epoch of mass manufacturing, increasing urbanisation and growth of modern consumer society there has also been the rise of various kinds of activism and social movement, racial equality, women’s rights, consumer rights and environmentalism to name those in the headlights. It is an effort to check not only unethical, unjust or purposely myopic business practices, but also to lend voice to those who have no power. Most present reasonable arguments for change lie in requests for review of public policies and laws which act to discriminate in favour of one societal group over others. With the exposure of rhetoric regarding ‘the global’ and the ‘the global’ condition perhaps it is no wonder that more and more people round the world who are accessing global media are frowning at their lot. the way they are treated, or simply ignored. If they object then a politically powerful person will shoot them. In this sense they wish to improve democracy.

Citizen, consumer protection and environmentalism have been in direct conflict with the capitalist mechanisms of corporations, whose remit has always been, like most any other business, to produce product and services for the least amount of money, selling it for the greatest margin of profit. Whether or not the product or manufacturing process is for the public good is not important as sales and shareholder value. Sales = public good in this scenario, more sales, more public good, until the babies start dying. If it is cheap compared with other like goods, and if you are impoverished, you will buy it. Only when the crowd of sick babies becomes visible do you know why your baby died.

If they are guaranteed sales due to monopoly conditions, there are few if not any incentives to improve their public image by social responsibility program and decent conditions for workers. In countries where corruption is rife and where there is lack of provision in regulating products and services, they can get away with blue murder in terms of labour law abuses, or selling inferior or even tarnished goods, and polluting the environment. On the internet the emergence of non-proprietary and non-market forces within the networked information economy [open source and creative commons], to borrow Yochia Benkler’s (2006) terms, face considerable opposition from among corporate commercial concerns, in an extension of struggles over intellectual property that were no less a part of print culture, rather than a radical or great transformation. Global corporate media in particular object to this movement and have lobbied great pressure on governments to protect their interests against people that should be consumers rather than pirates. Lobbyists and power brokers enter the offices of prime ministers, MPs, representatives and senators. They build strong rationalisations [not rationales] for why things should be skewed in their interest.They fund elections and write legislation while exacting punishment on opponents. Its a positive feedback loop making sure that they are sustained (to make money) in order that the politicians are sustained (through donations for election). ordinary citizens don’t count, don’t get media exposure, unless there is a high profile legal case [but even lawyers can be bought out].

In a long line possibly going back at least as far as the Luddites, through the trade union movement, some people such as Ralph Nader started to raise concerns in the 1950s that car manufacturers were much more concerned about creating cars which looked good and would sell, than providing safety for their drivers. Rachel Carson in the early 1960s also started to draw attention to the havoc that uncontrolled and unexamined pesticide use was harming and even killing not only animals and birds, but also humans. It drew awareness that some industries were having on natural environments in their production processes. There were also those who embarked upon campaigns highlighting the dangers of cigarette smoking to health, and counter-campaigns were made by the tobacco industry who wished to inform the public that was no danger. The only danger was to their commercial interests and industrial survival. Pro- and con- arguments have emerged as more and more people, scientists, experts and laypeople, enrolled into the debate. Other debates and arguments have surfaced, and today, transnational awareness and discontent of exploitation and inequality is making people object or even uprise against what can be seen as their comparatively poor living standards and working conditions. Given half a chance they would all like an Neoclassical mansion, Lexus (musts) and monster flat screen TV (optional), although they would have problems with interior decorating (many do not know how to).

Its good to have those who benefit more than others, without them there will be no argument, except that which is stated by authority and those in economic, military or political power. As one glides or struggles to locate thesis, antithesis and synthesis or resolution in one’s life take away what little people have at all, even their lives. But the internet is opening up not only new possible worlds, but also the channel for a voice to say something. People will see things as they are, as they can do, and whilst some phenomenon may be so novel or outlandish as to drive an intense internal reflection and debate on what it is that is, or will be seen, what it could be for, what it does or will do, why was it made and who it was made for, where does it come from and where will it go, what it means and so forth, a decision or an interpretation has to be made. As many Cambodian from street beggar to the highest echelons have never had a formal education, they have had to make it up as they have went along, with the help of some western experts.

Many things just really on recording what happens in descriptive statistics, if someone told me that Nottingham Forest won the 1997 European Cup by a three goal margin, I couldn’t argue with that, as I simply just do not know. But if you asked whether I preferred Gauigan’s “Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going?” to Matisse’s “The Human Condition”, I would have to reply in the affirmative. And I could give or invent many reasons for this. If you asked me if I want more money or land the chances are I will say yes, but can I find out how to do this on Google? The likelihood is yes [really ‘no’], as captured in the claims “I just made $5054 last month through Google” The reality is that the only conceivable way you can do this is by reflexively running such advertisements yourself.

All kinds of inane facts can, codified or abbreviated by a tag, and found by the right keyword inputted into a search engine provide a ‘hey presto’ moment, as links are produced that can lead almost directly to an answer in many quests for knowledge and answers. Is it a satisfactory answer? Does it teach us anything? Is it broad enough, deep enough, novel enough, are there contradictions? It depends on what is input (GIGO), and what is anticipated or expected to emerge from the hat. The look, feel, touch, sounds, operation, shape, results; even the visceral smell of technology in all its multi-modal splendour can serve to endear or alienate, delight or frustrate. But they can only do so through reflection, through recall to analogues, scenarios, things known of or sensed before and stored internally in long term memory, articulated in a succession of keywords driving a more complex picture of a subject area or domain and its contexts or ‘cloud’. Prescient conceptions of activities and behaviours, planning to accommodate possible outcomes, strategising contingencies and designing what will happen all rely upon awareness of what was involved in using or performing antecedent activities and technologies in the past.

The past went that-a-way. When faced with a totally new situation, we tend always to attach ourselves to the objects, to the flavour of the most recent past. We look at the present through a rear-view mirror. We march backwards into the future. – Marshall McLuhan & Quentin Fiore in The Medium is the Massage: An Inventory of Effects (1967)

Think of how the internet compares to television, how we made sense of television through exposure to film and radio, how we related to photography through painting, how we noticed the car was a horseless carriage, a washing machines is a laundries, boilers and wringers, microwaves a speedy stoves, telephones are another, and so forth. What is the difference between reading the book of a film, or the film rendering of the book, and how does this differ from the web site/ Clearly there are essential differences, and when one moves inter-textually between all media an enriched perspective of the creative work can be reached.

Almost every word and phrase we use we have heard or seen before. Our originality and craft as writers come from how we put those words together in new ways to fit our specific situation, needs, and purposes, but we always need to rely on the common stock of language we share with others. If we did not share the language, how would others understand us? Often we do not call attention to where specifically we got our words from. Often the words we use are so common they seem to come from everywhere. At other times we want to give the impression that that we are speaking as individuals from our individuality, concerned only with the immediate moment. Sometimes we just don’t remember where we heard something. On the other hand, at times we do want to call attention to where we got the words from. The source of the words may have great authority, or we may want to criticize those words. We may want to tell a dramatic story associated with particular people with distinctive perspectives in a particular time and place. And when we read or listen to others, we often don’t wonder where their words come from, but sometimes we start to sense the significance of them echoing words and thoughts from one place or another. Analyzing those connections helps us understand the meaning of the text more deeply.(Bazerman, 2004; p.83)

Roland Barthes also speaks of intertextual codes as a ‘mirage of citations,’ likely to prove evasive and insubstantial as soon as one attempts to grasp them. He unveils a complex system of textual codes inscribed within the narrative body. By uncovering a multiplicity of codes present in the text, Barthes lays claim to the true “plural” quality of discourse. he also most relevantly, ‘readerly’ renditions of the text has one compelled to bind all the independent codes together into a cohesive, centralized meaning, “The reader is thereby intransitive left with no more than a referendum.” This contrasts with “the writerly,” idea of the text where “the goal of literary work is to make the reader a producer of the text. The codes are nothing other than the ‘deja lu,’ and readers, in whom these codes dwell, may be thought of as the representatives of a general intertextuality. ‘I,’ writes Barthes, ‘is not an innocent subject that is anterior to texts…. The I that approaches the text is itself already a plurality of other texts, of infinite or, more precisely, lost codes (whose origins are lost). (Barthes, S-Z, 1979; p.102)

Pushing the pint here regarding intextuality, I have long noted the striking simialiraities between the ideas arising out of smeitoic analysis, media and communication, learning and user-experience design. clearly here is a discritption of how a user encounters of experiences and new interface, typeface or couch, and how regardless of its shaped and crystallised form, no matter how much its design has become ‘dominant’, that semantic and imaginary ‘slack follows designs into the public domain, and paves the way for creation at the consumer-user-reader-audeince-student level. At the producer-designer-boradcaster-teacher level the explications of codes, or familiar and well recognised features and elements can be used explicitly as ways to make texts cohesive and flow.

The intertextual relation between technology and the rhetoric and narratives that follow it are fascinating, even though they may exaggerate, amplify, be presumptuous or simply mislead. Tom Standage (2004) develops fascinating parallels between the impact of the telegraph, which he terms the “Victorian internet” which was also termed the “highway of thought” at the time. By one newspaper in the 19th century (p.VIII) and the Internet in its ability to traverse distance, develop new forms of business, possible worlds, new forms of crime, and deluge of information. [Interesting to note that William Gibson’s future dystopia in Neuromancer is a desperate criminal underworld]. If we consider less the multiple social and technical infrastructures and contexts that support technologies, and make way for the giant corporations to aggregate and attempt to ring fence users and subscribers we have to look no further than Western Union in the 19th century who “insisted that its monopoly [on US telegraphy] was in everyone’s interest, even if it was unpopular, because it would encourage standardization.”

Then there were the Bell company of the early 19th century who sought to bring the large divestitures of small local network phone companies together to make a nation wide universal service, and Microsoft who have a aggressively sought to control internet access in the 1990s, after a period when they wished to focus upon operating systems. Competition can be seen as something of an argument as well, an argument with the price and quality of other like and similar products in the marketplace, and how, and how much of this is understood by prospective customers. The prevailing view is create in total a captive audience, to whom you can embed your own ideological belief’s and persuasions.

Lord Beaverbrook and the first Lord Rothermere. These newspaper owners were as much interested in the opportunity to convey their own political philosophies direct to the electorate and the Government as they were in the money-making potential of their newspapers. Recent fears and scepticism haunt Rupert Murdoch’s News International which has been involved in number scandals recently regarding its efforts to undermine competitors by dirty tactics. The input of there beliefs and values are subtle, and while their text is not comprised of words and sentences so much as creating an entire prepared environment of media so that you cannot read a magazine, or newspaper, read an online news source, or watch a movie without it coming from them.

The powerful and near-universal effect of over 100 years of the telephone, radio, recorded sights and sounds on human culture, and of course their ownership and management, has naturally led to considerable study of how this effect is brought about, what is this effect? How do we join the dots, come to be programmed by the codes of text, the codes of computers, the codes of conduct? Including an effort to break it into its operative units in order to understand something of its ‘hidden curriculum or ideological agenda’. In order to do this we must be educated. Why did these factory workers want a pay rise? where did they get the idea from that they could object, complain, argue, organise? But many of received views and conditioned responses are so deeply communicated, reinforced and ingrained that we will never be able to pick them free, not matter what we read, or how hard we try.

They are ‘braids’ or ‘brands’ not only woven within us, or stamped on our consciousness, but also done within everyday life. Not only We have been viewing multimedia all our lives, navigating, and raising internal and social debate, changing our views, we have been complicit with its messages, to paraphrase Kevin Kelly, we have given what technology, media and educations ‘wants’. Now we want pay-back. Newspaper and magazines comprised photographs, graphics and text. Film and television contains moving images and sometimes graphics, animations, and text. Websites do more of the same, lending weight to argument, letting us hear objections, notice frowning, making the world truly flat? Democratically, economically, experientially flat? Or simply a ‘flat’ experience? Sometimes what you find are representational, sometimes iconic, sometimes descriptive, factual, sometimes metaphorical, sometimes allegorical, so we are lost in its cloud, soory its smog, and are subliminally calibrated to the needs and wants of global media corporations, themselves, closely linked to database of politics, police, industry and the military.

About this entry