Publicly Sited
The Mediated City 03: Suburban Screens

The Mediated City 03: Suburban Screens

January 23, 2022

One way or another, you most likely watch television in some form. You might use a device explicitly called a ‘television’, sited in a room in which televisions tend to be, such as a lounge or family room. Or perhaps you use a remediated version of television: via a device such as a smartphone, a tablet, a laptop or even projector. And the content you’re watching may itself be only loosely television: it may be live content (e.g. news, sports, or a a live-to-air programme); or perhaps your taking in programming via an on-demand streaming platform, or even just watching video clips. Regardless of these variations and contingencies, according to some scholars, this mediated situation has important technological and cultural connections with the suburb. Not just the suburb as a location, but as: a historically specific form of urban development; as an archetype for living; and above all, as an emergent configuration of mediation in the modern urbanising world. In this episode, we explore the ways this may have transpired, and may still endure today, from television in the postwar period, to its more recent and ambient urban appearances across urban spaces.

Thinkers discussed: Roger Silverstone (Television and Everyday Life); Raymond Williams (Television: Technology and Cultural Form); Marylin Strathern (Future Kinship and the Study of Culture); Delores Hayden (Redesigning the American Dream: The Future of Housing, Work and Family Life); James Carey (The Telegraph and Ideology); Jürgen Habermas (The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere); Anna McCarthy (Ambient Television: Visual Culture and Public Space); Marc Augé (Non-Places: An Introduction to Supermodernity); Michel de Certeau (The Practice of Everyday Life); Jo Helle-Valle and Dag Slettemeås (ICTs, Domestication and Language-Games: a Wittgensteinian Approach to Media Uses); Lynn Spigel (Welcome to the Dreamhouse: Popular Media and Postwar Suburbs); Roger Keil (Suburban Constellations); Francesco Cassetti (Cinema Lost and Found: Trajectories of Relocation).

Music: ‘The Mediated City Theme’ by Scott Rodgers License: CC BY-NC (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/4.0/)

The Mediated City 02: Print Urbanism

The Mediated City 02: Print Urbanism

January 17, 2022

If you’ve ridden public transport over a number of years, you might think printed material is declining. You may have once been surrounded by people immersed in newspapers and books, but more and more people seem to be cradling smart phones, tablets or laptops. Playing video games, watching downloaded on-demand programmes, listening to music, using their camera as a mirror, or catching up on work. But if you look a little harder, you will see the material traces of an enduring print urbanism: a panoply of banal or ambient texts such as signage, labels and messages; some people still carrying on reading books, magazines or commuter papers; and as for the others, using digital devices to read online news or an ebook, are they not undertaking a practice intimately connected with urban print culture? Even the act of riding public transport itself depends on a huge amount of published and printed information informing the operators, bureaucracy and expertise running the system. The relationships of print and the city run deep. In this episode, we take a long view, exploring how these relationships of print and the city can highlight the most elemental features of mediated urbanism today.

Thinkers discussed: Shannon Mattern (Code + Clay … Data + Dirt: Five Thousand Years of Urban Media); Marshall McLuhan (The Gutenberg Galaxy: The Making of Typographic Man); Mario Carpo (Architecture in the Age of Printing: Orality, Writing, Typography, and Printed Images in the History of Architectural Theory); Aurora Wallace (Media Capital: Architecture and Communications in New York City); Benedict Anderson (Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism); David Henkin (City Reading: Written Words and Public Spaces in Antebellum New York); John Nerone (The Mythology of the Penny Press); James Carey (The Telegraph and Ideology); Carole O’Reilly (Journalism and the Changing Act of Observation: Writing about Cities in the British press 1880–1940); Scott Rodgers (The Architectures of Media Power: Editing, the Newsroom, and Urban Public Space); Walter Bagehot (Charles Dickens); Peter Fritzsche (Reading Berlin 1900); Rolf Linder (The Reportage of Urban Culture: Robert Park and the Chicago School); Robert Park (The Natural History of the Newspaper); Ursula Rao (News as Culture: Journalistic Practices and the Remaking of Indian Leadership Traditions); Jennifer Robinson (Ordinary Cities: Between Modernity and Development); Lev Manovich (The Language of New Media); Scott Rodgers (Digitizing Localism: Anticipating, Assembling and Animating a ‘Space’ for UK Hyperlocal Media Production).

Music: ‘The Mediated City Theme’ by Scott Rodgers License: CC BY-NC (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/4.0/)

The Mediated City 01: Surfaces, Depths, Fragments, Publics

The Mediated City 01: Surfaces, Depths, Fragments, Publics

January 8, 2022

When you move through the city, you move through mediation. This is because what we call media and what we call the city (or the urban) are in a nexus: they are intimately connected. On the one hand, the practices, the rhythms and the motilities of urban living compel certain uses, exposures and desires in relation to media technologies, forms and industries. On the other hand, these media forms, infrastructures, and industries inhabit – and are increasingly ‘built-into’ – urban environments. Many might quite reasonably point out that media represent the city and urban life, in film, television, literature, news, video games and apps. In this opening episode, however, we introduce a focus on the city itself is a mediating environment. We begin to think how, through the urban we can find new ways to think about media, and how, through media, we can find new ways to think about the city. The aim here is modest. Rather than presenting a general framework for understanding the mediated city in the past, now and forever more, we start with four points of reference. These will loosely guide how we’ll think about the mediated city in the episodes to come: surfaces, depths, fragments and publics.

Thinkers discussed: Simon Wreckert (Google Maps Hacks); Scott McQuire (An Archaeology of the Media City: Towards a Critical Cultural History of Mediated Urbanism); Shannon Mattern (Deep Mapping the Media City / Code + Clay … Data + Dirt: Five Thousand Years of Urban Media); David Henkin (City Reading: Written Words and Public Spaces in Antebellum New York); Iain Borden (Hoardings); Marshall McLuhan (Understanding Media: The Extension of Man); Friedrich Kittler (The City is a Medium); Georg Simmel (The Metropolis and Mental Life); Erving Goffman (Behavior in Public Places: Notes on the Social Organization of Gatherings); William Mitchell (E-topia: "Urban Life Jim - But Not as We Know It”) Eric Gordon and Adriana de Souza e Silva ( Net Locality: Why Location Matters in a Networked World); Kurt Iveson (Publics and the City); Michael Warner (Publics and Counterpublics)

Music: ‘The Mediated City Theme’ by Scott Rodgers (https://soundcloud.com/rodgers_scott/the-mediated-city-theme). License: CC BY-NC (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/4.0/)

Media, Technology and Culture 10 (2nd Edition): Extractive Technologies

Media, Technology and Culture 10 (2nd Edition): Extractive Technologies

December 13, 2021

Policymakers, politicians, activists, businesspeople and even ordinary people are more and more sceptical of digital platforms like Facebook (or shall we say, Meta). This scepticism is not just about the murky decision-making power of algorithms. It’s also that there is increasing awareness about the operation of digital platforms as private entities. Entities that do not exist for our own individual benefit. Entities which, even if they have some value as mediums of publicity, or have some public utility, are not publicly-owned. Put simply, whatever they say about their mission, digital platforms - ranging from Facebook to Google to Amazon to Airbnb to Uber - are first and foremost about making money. Making money in a way that relies substantially on extracting data about us: what we do, when, where and how we do things, as well as our explicit signals about why. Very often, this extraction also enables an approximation of who we might be. It is true that data mining can divulge intimate personal details about us. But what is principally happening in such processes is the construction of user models, a profile which we match, often fairly precisely. A model of a situated user that can be targeted for advertising, or marketing, or triggered in various ways to remain faithful the platform. And when users are faithful to these platforms, they generate yet more data for extraction. These insights have inspired a revival of sorts amongst political economy and Marxist approaches to media, towards a new critique of digital or platform capitalism. But is this capitalism? Or is it, as suggested speculatively by McKenzie Wark, something worse.

Thinkers Discussed: Shoshana Zuboff (The Age of Surveillance Capitalism: The Fight for a Human Future at the New Frontier of Power); Anne Helmond (The Platformization of the Web: Making Web Data Platform Ready); Tarleton Gillespie (The Politics of Platforms); Jose van Dijck (The Culture of Connectivity: A Critical History of Social Media); Jose van Dijck, Thomas Poell and Martijn de Wall (The Platform Society: Public Values in a Connective World); Nick Srnicek (Platform Capitalism); McKenzie Wark (Capital is Dead: Is This Something Worse?); Clive Barnett (The Consolations of ‘Neoliberalism’).

Media, Technology and Culture 09 (2nd Edition): Algorithmic Technologies

Media, Technology and Culture 09 (2nd Edition): Algorithmic Technologies

November 30, 2021

There is now widespread awareness of, suspicion about, and even opposition to 'algorithms'. As widespread as the multiplicity of situations and domains in which these mysterious entities seem to be making more and more decisions: around welfare payments; university places; travel routes; and police patrol routes. Algorithms are also pervasive in media and communications. They build you customised magazines with news from several sources, help inform what movies you watch, the posts you see in your social media feeds, the way a matchmaking website pairs you with others, not to mention all that advertising and direct marketing. Media today are personalised, whether we want them to be or not. And we are becoming more than a little worried about these algorithmic agents that seem to make all this personalisation possible. Their computational decision making, their capacities at deep learning: so hidden; so obscure. In this episode, we think about the growing role of algorithms in shaping contemporary media cultures, from the early rise of apps and personalised ‘filter bubbles’ to the rather ordinary recommendation systems we rely on today. We also grapple with growing concerns for how deep structural biases around race, class, gender and sexuality are embedded into and reinforced by the way algorithms – such as those enabling facial recognition technologies – actually work. But we will also ask: what if the politics of algorithms is not just about prying these black boxes open, revealing their internal biases and perhaps correcting them? Instead, might it be that we need to understand the problematic social and cultural conditions from which these algorithms and associated technologies sprout up, get nurtured and grow?

Thinkers Discussed: Eli Pariser (The Filter Bubble: What the Internet is Hiding From You); Blake Hallinan and Ted Striphas (Recommended for You: The Netflix Prize and the Production of Algorithmic Culture); Raymond Williams (Keywords); Daniela Varela Martinez's and Anne Kaun (The Netflix Experience: A User-Focused Approach to the Netflix Recommendation Algorithm); Safiya Umoja Noble (Algorithms of Oppression: How Search Engines Reinforce Racism); Ruha Benjamin (Race After Technology: Abolitionist Tools for the New Jim Code); Fabio Chiusi (Automating Society); Axel Bruns (Are Filter Bubbles Real?); Frank Pasquale (The Black Box Society: The Secret Algorithms That Control Money and Information); Taina Bucher (If...Then: Algorithmic Power and Politics); Mike Ananny and Kate Crawford (Seeing Without Knowing: Limitations of the Transparency Ideal and its Application to Algorithmic Accountability).

Media, Technology and Culture 08 (2nd Edition): Participatory Technologies

Media, Technology and Culture 08 (2nd Edition): Participatory Technologies

November 23, 2021

One of the more celebrated aspects of contemporary media is that it seems so much more participatory. In principle, at least, anyone can for example establish a Twitter or a YouTube account, and share their experiences or views with minimal censorious intervention. Some have explained this apparently more participatory media culture with reference to the capacities of technologies. After all, people can participate more easily when so many media functions are collapsed into an internet-enabled device like a smartphone. And yet, for others, this technological explanation is flawed, underplaying longer-term cultural shifts, which these new technologies might more properly be seen as crystallizing.  In this episode, we begin with work by thinkers such as Henry Jenkins, who have notably opposed technological explanations for a participatory media culture. For Jenkins, ordinary people’s participation in media creation is about more than gadgets, devices or platforms. Rather, it is a momentous cultural shift, towards new and potentially democratising forms of 'collective intelligence' that blur the old distinction between media ‘producers’ and ‘audiences’. Jenkins’ work has been widely discussed. For some, his model of ‘a convergence culture’ overemphasises the individual agency of media participants. Sure, they may be technically freer and more enabled than in the past, but when someone creates or shares a meme, for example, they also partially reproduce or conform to cultural norms. We might also ask: does insisting on ‘culture’ bring us back to the same unsustainable technology/culture dichotomy we have challenged in earlier episodes?  It is probably difficult to conceive, for example, of the cultural conditions for a so-called post-truth politics without some account of the technical affordances of social media platforms.

Thinkers Discussed: Tim Dwyer (Media Convergence); Lev Manovich (Software Takes Command); Ithiel de Sola Pool (Technologies of Freedom: On Free Speech in an Electronic Age); Thomas Friedman (Thank you for Being Late: An Optimist's Guide to Thriving in the Age of Accelerations); Henry Jenkins (Convergence Culture: Where Old and New Media Collide); Axel Bruns (Blogs, Wikipedia, Second Life and Beyond: From Production to Produsage); Pierre Lévy (Collective Intelligence: Mankind's Emerging World in Cyberspace); Bernard Stiegler (The Economy of Contribution); Jose Van Dijck (Users Like You? Theorizing Agency in User-Generated Content); Richard Dawkins (The Selfish Gene); Limor Shifman (Memes in Digital Culture); Noam Gal, Limor Shifman and Zohar Kamph (‘It Gets Better’: Internet Memes and the Construction of Collective Identity); danah boyd (Social Network Sites as Networked Publics: Affordances, Dynamics, and Implications); Jason Hannan (Trolling Ourselves to Death? Social Media and Post-Truth Politics); Neil Postman (Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business).

Media, Technology & Culture 07 (2nd Edition): Embodied Technologies

Media, Technology & Culture 07 (2nd Edition): Embodied Technologies

November 16, 2021

Media technologies today seem to be everywhere. Assisting us in – or invading – each and every corner of our daily existence. We have already discussed how this ubiquity is embedded into a huge range of physical infrastructures; environments where media technologies surround us. And yet, we also increasingly carry media around with us, in our pockets, hands, ears, across our eyes, around our wrists. We wear media like clothes – and we may soon implant media within our bodies. This need not be seen in the guise of science fiction. It is more interesting to see it as really quite ordinary. For a long time, we humans have shared an intimacy with media technologies. They not only affect how we see ourselves, but modulate and help produce who and what we are. In this episode, we will begin our exploration of media as embodied technologies with the humble mobile phone. Through their aestheticisation, practical uses and technological development, mobile phones were an important precursor to the myriad mobile devices we know today. Contemporary embodied technologies however go beyond being portable, or affording wireless access to online content. They are increasingly built into our bodies, and modulate our interactions with environments: automatically detecting one’s geographic location and orientation, or one’s bodily temperature and heartrate, or the ambient sound and lighting in a room. This leads to a range of issues warranting critique, which we explore with reference to increasingly popular 'self-tracking' apps and wearables. Should the significant bodily data sets generated by such apps and devices concern us? Might we need new ways to think about digital literacy, medical efficacy, privacy, and surveillance? And how might these mobile technologies be developed and applied in the future?

Thinkers Discussed: Sarah Kember and Joanna Zylinska (Life After New Media); Adriana de Souza e Silva and Jordon Frith (Mobile Interfaces in Public Spaces); Erving Goffman (briefly); Sherry Turkle (The Second Self / Evocative Objects); Lisa Gitelman (Always Already New); Harvey May and Greg Hearn (The Mobile Phone as Media); James Miller (The Fourth Screen: Mediatization and the Smartphone); Mark Weiser (The Computer for the 21st Century); Ian Bogost (Apple's Airpods Are an Omen); Judith Butler (briefly); Zygmunt Bauman (Liquid Modernity); Daniel Palmer (iPhone Photography: Mediating Visions of Social Space); James Gilmore (Everywear: The Quantified Self and Wearable Fitness Technologies); Adam Greenfield (Everyware: The Dawning Age of Ubiquitous Computing); Kate Crawford, Jessa Lingel and Tero Karppi (Our Metrics, Ourselves: A Hundred Years of Self-Tracking from the Weight Scale to the Wrist Wearable Device); Hillel Schwartz (Never Satisfied: Social History of Diets, Fantasies and Fat); Michel Foucault (Technologies of the Self).

Media, Technology & Culture 06 (2nd Edition): Infrastructural Technologies

Media, Technology & Culture 06 (2nd Edition): Infrastructural Technologies

November 10, 2021

We have already discussed the importance of paying attention to how media technologies are powerful when they are ordinary and relatively invisible. When they work like ‘appliances’ in daily life. This was the key message of McLuhan’s ‘medium theory’ as well as theories of media domestication. These perspectives are limited, however, in that they tend to imagine media technologies individually: the television, the radio, the smart home assistant. They rely on an image of artefacts showing up in our home or office; user-friendly things which extend our contact with others or provide us with certain experiences. We sometimes ignore these domesticated artefacts and things. But we almost always ignore what lies below, or beyond: the vast, dispersed infrastructures on which these media technologies depend. In this episode, we consider media technologies as large-scale infrastructures. If we were to push the boundaries, we could point to all kinds of infrastructural dependencies related about by media: electrical power; water networks; or the mining or rare metals. We will focus however on the internet, as itself a technological infrastructure. This is perhaps the only case where it might make sense to refer to ‘the Internet’ as a proper noun, with the capitalised ‘I’. Thinking of the internet as an infrastructure takes on obvious importance when we look at its history, from its inception as ARPANET, a cold war project in the wake of the Soviet Union’s launch of Sputnik in 1957, to its more complicated interweaving with other technologies and ideas in subsequent years. While many still tend to describe the internet as an intangible or ‘virtual’ space, we will show that it in fact material, physical, subject to political manipulation and contestation, and increasingly acknowledged as rather fragile.     

Thinkers Discussed: Lisa Parks (‘Stuff You Can Kick’: Towards a Theory of Media Infrastructures); James Carey (The Telegraph and Ideology); Nicole Starosielski (The Undersea Network); Jean-Christophe Plantin, Carl Lagoze, Paul N Edwards and Christian Sandvig (Infrastructure Studies meet Platform Studies in the Age of Google and Facebook); John Durham Peters (The Marvelous Clouds: Towards a Philosophy of Elemental Media); Michel Callon (Some Elements of a Sociology of Translation: Domestication of the Scallops and the Fishermen of St Brieuc Bay); Susan Leigh-Star (The Ethnography of Infrastructure); Paul Dourish and Genevieve Bell (Divining a Digital Future: Mess and Mythology in Ubiquitous Computing); Manuel Castells (The Internet Galaxy); Lori Emerson (Other Networks); Laura DeNardis (The Internet in Everything: Freedom and Security in a World with No Off Switch / Hidden Levers of Internet Control: An Infrastructure-Based Theory of Internet Governance); Mercedes Bunz and Graham Meikle (The Internet of Things); Joana Moll (CO2GLE); Alexander Galloway (Protocol: How Control Exists after Decentralization); Gilles Deleuze (Postscript on Societies of Control).

Media, Technology & Culture 05 (2nd Edition): Computational Technologies

Media, Technology & Culture 05 (2nd Edition): Computational Technologies

October 27, 2021

Most people know very well that social and cultural transformations are complex. And yet, we often seem prepared to think of individual media as bringing change. We believe that there was a situation before this or that media, and then another situation after. Sometimes there are worries about this subsequent situation; or nostalgia for how things were before. In other instances, people wager hope that novel media might bring positive or empowering changes. When media technologies are seen as transformative, they have often been described as ‘new media’. The term ‘new media’ began to acquire some currency in the 1960s, in the age of television. But its use exploded in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Why? Many answers were put forward: the internet, interactivity, multimedia, mobile devices, user-generated content. But for some, the new media of this moment came out of a longer-term and more general development: the rise of the computer as a media technology. Not just a new addition to all the other technologies. Rather, an emergent backbone for virtually all mediated communication and experience. In this episode, we look at how this argument is exemplified by the work of digital media theorist Lev Manovich, who suggests that what makes new media ‘new’ is its creation, storage, distribution and display via the language (i.e. software code) and hardware of digital computation. On a basic level, computational media all share a basic metabolism of binary code: ultimately describable with nothing more than 1s and 0s. The question, however, is broader than this: beyond previous media formats becoming absorbed into the medium of the computer, are we seeing the rise of a specifically ‘computational’ culture?

Thinkers Discussed: Lev Manovich (The Language of New Media / Software Takes Command); Mark B.N. Hansen (New Philosophy for New Media); Alexander Galloway (The Interface Effect); Jay Bolter and Richard Grusin (Remediation: Understanding New Media) Gabriele Balbi and Paolo Magaudda (A History of Digital Media: An Intermedia and Global Perspective); Lewis Mumford (Authoritarian and Democratic Technics); Fred Turner (From Counterculture to Cyberculture: Stewart Brand, the Whole Earth Network, and the Rise of Digital Utopianism); Jennifer Light (When Computers Were Women); Mar Hicks (Programmed Inequality: How Britain Discarded Women Technologists and Lost Its Edge in Computing); Alan Kay and Adele Goldberg (Personal Dynamic Media); David Berry (Against Remediation).

Media, Technology & Culture 04 (2nd Edition): Live Technologies

Media, Technology & Culture 04 (2nd Edition): Live Technologies

October 19, 2021

It is often said that media technologies provide us with a ‘window on the world’ beyond our own experience. A window not only connecting us to a distant world, beyond our immediate reach, but also to one which we can join into, and share simultaneously. One term for describing how media afford this window on the world is ‘liveness’. The most obvious example is live news coverage: journalism that is valued because it’s on location, at the event, brought to you the viewer ‘live’. But liveness is not just live coverage. It refers to mediated experiences that place a priority on the value of ‘now’ over later. A kind of experience which very often tends to rely on centralised media – from broadcasters to social platforms – as the privileged means of accessing such live experiences, perhaps increasing their power along the way. In this episode, we explore liveness first via a vignette into the experiences of broadcast journalists covering the prison transfer of presumed Kennedy assassin Lee Harvey Oswald, who along with their viewers, abruptly found themselves witnessing a televised murder. From there, we will consider different approaches to liveness. These approaches have in the past been rooted in the study of radio and television. But the streaming comments, images and increasingly video of social media platforms clearly demand we revive and reimagine the concept to understand new kinds of networked real-time-like or live experience.

Thinkers Discussed: Karin Van Es (Liveness Redux: On Media and their Claim to be Live / The Future of Live); Philip Auslander (Liveness: Performance in a Mediatized Culture); Nick Couldry (Liveness, 'Reality', and the Mediated Habitus from Television to the Mobile Phone); Annie Van den Oever (The Aesthetics and Viewing Regimes of Cinema and Television, and their Dialectics); Joshua Meyrowitz (No Sense of Place: The Impact of Electronic Media on Social Behavior); Paddy Scannell (Television and the Meaning of Live: An Enquiry into the Human Situation); Esther Weltevrede, Anne Helmond and Carolin Gerlitz (The Politics of Real-Time: A Device Perspective on Social Media Platforms and Search Engines).

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