Regis Debray – communication and transmission

Regis Debray’s biography is quite colorful and is connected to Marxism and political activism, to McLuhan and to pedagogical media theory.

Debray, Régis. Transmitting Culture. Columbia University Press, 2004.

A short text on Debray’s Mediology by Lauri Heikonen, ePedagogy Design student.

One prominent idea of Debray which has influenced pedagogical media theory as seen by Torsten Meyer is the distinction between communication (spatial dissemination/presentation of information) and transmission (cultural or institutional perpetuance of information).
As an example, this eMail to you is communication; but the interpretation of it is depending on transmission, i.e. concepts within the institutional framing of university/institutions of learning & teaching.
Yet another example: Stereoscopic information recorded, disseminated and replayed in 3D for entertainment or work is communication; but the cultural/institutional attitudes towards a steady refinement of sensory representation in media counts as transmission. Continue reading

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Thoughts on “A Short Introduction to Stereoscopy”

Raine, I have a question for clarification, since you mostly seem to refer to photographic images or cinematography when talking about stereoscopy:

Is your interest in stereoscopy restricted to recorded/replayed linear content (= e.g. movies), or does it also include 3D rendered scenes and processes, where the viewpoint may be controlled by the user in real time (= e.g. simulations, games)?

Goals important to me in this seminar would be:

  1. Connecting Pedagogical Media Theory approach to a supposed widespread stereoscopic media usage. What may be its educational-aesthetic-cultural impact?
  2. Supplementing your MA thesis with interesting addendums, different views, side glances. I think this is an important aspect: You should somehow be able to use ideas and texts developed in this course in your MA thesis or your general work.

A new medium: Trends, possibilities and questions

I’m no expert in the field of 3D visuals, too; but I believe that there is much to be expected in future aesthetic, didactic, and cultural impact from 3D as medial extension.

As you stated, 3D has a long tradition with several attempts during the last hundred years to establish it as regular technical and artistic medium. Sight is our primary esthesia, and dominant in our visually oriented global culture; resolution, framerate, color depth and 3D-rendering both in recording/design and playback/interaction have advanced greatly, with a market hungry for innovation in further modes of visualisation.
3D seems like a ‘natural’ extension of the trends in displaying images we witnessed over the last years. But maybe it has the potential to be more than ‘just’ the continuation of a trend (the strive for better, richer, extended image display), but opens up a space for unique and innovative modes of applications, too. Continue reading

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A Short Introduction to Stereoscopy

First of all I must state that I am by no means an expert in the field of 3D, but merely strongly interested in that realm and trying to learn about it as much as I can. So at the moment I see myself as an student of stereoscopic world and its possibilities. Nevertheless, I can make an effort to try to connect the concepts of McLoud and McLuhan to my current knowledge and thoughts on the subject matter. But first, I think I have to address the issues of the history of stereoscopy and my personal views on the 3D sphere, in order to give grounds to my commentary later on. So if it is ok, I would like to concentrate on the basics in this first post and then later on answer the more specific questions about 3D -visuals presented in Shaping Media blog.

In his book A History and Filmography of Stereoscopic Cinema R.M. Hayes notes that there is no consensus on an exact historical point in time when stereoscopy was born. According to Hayes, most scholars consider the greek physician Galen, who lived in the second century A.D., the first to address these issues in his writings. Others, however, argue that so few original texts have survived from those days that it is not possible to say how broad the knowledge of stereoscopic principles was in the ancient world. Usually stereoscopy, as a science and a cultural form, is seen to have originated with the mirror apparat built by Sir Charles Wheatstone in 1833. Like many of the greatest inventions, the thing that Wheatstone had recognized is so simple, that it might even seem obvious. It is generally known, that most human beings have two eyes, which, despite their common point of focus, receive their image of the surrounding world from a slightly different angles. So the right eye sees a bit more of the right side of the object in the field of view and the left eye sees a bit more of the left side of the same object. Instead of these two images being interceded to the mind as two separate and individual pieces, the brain combines these images into one image, in which the differing information of the two viewpoints appears as a sense of depth. In nature this kind of binocular vision is common to predators at the top of the food chain, whose success depends on spatial perception and the ability to accurately evaluate the position of the pray.

I believe, that the stereoscopic format is a natural way for human beings to receive visual information, and this is true regardless of the fact, that two dimensional surfaces have been dominant in the field of audiovisual representations for ages. I do admit, that it is justified to ask how can stereoscopic dimensions enhance an audiovisual experience – especially since audiences do not usually question the lack of depth of plain surfaces that are commonly used to display imagery. But throughout the history of development of transferring information using man made images, there has been a distinctive tendency to strive towards mimicking our natural way of perceiving our surroundings with the aid of technology – movement, color and resolution are clear examples. And I think that stereoscopy is a natural extension of this development. When sound was first introduced to cinema, the most prominent critics mocked the development and made remarks like “if I want to hear actors talk I go see a play or open a radio.” Color was met with similar disdain, and labeled as unartistic quality that would ruin cinema. Yet in both cases, there was more information provided to the receiver and despite the judgement of the critics the audiences demanded sound and color as soon as they were available. So far the stereoscopic technology has been ridiculed by critics using the same kind of arguments heard in the past, but it has not yet proved them wrong in the manner of sound and color. Stereoscopic technology has had three major attempts at gaining hegemony in the visual culture – one in the 1920’s and two follow ups in the 50’s and 80’s. All of them were plagued by major technological and financial problems, which at the time were difficult to overcome. And now, at the beginning of a new millennium, the audiovisual industry is pushing once more for the acceptance of stereoscopy into the mainstream. At the moment the success of this fourth major attempt is somewhat questionable. Yes, a major portion of the products from the Hollywood pipeline are stereoscopic, but the 3D TV channels have been a failure. Of course the history and the bad reputation gained over a century is hard to overcome. But in addition to fighting prejudice from critics and audiences alike, there are still practical conventions that the users find dissatisfying – the most noticeably the glasses. The hardware producers have used famous designers and fashion brands to design aesthetically pleasing models of 3D glasses, but to me (and perhaps to the buying audiences) this looks like a desperate attempt to cover up impractical solutions by directing the attention to superficial qualities.

I believe, that in order to become a household name in all visual communication, the technology most likely has to be autostereoscopic, meaning 3D without any glasses or other supplements. But the first time in the history of stereoscopic culture there is light at the end of the tunnel. The advent of the digital technology has made it possible to address the issues that formerly were next to impossible to overcome. These challenges were noticeable in every part of the production process, all the way from initial planning to projections in theaters (the latter being perhaps the most difficult one and the one that made most damage to the reputation of stereoscopy during the past decades). And although were not there yet, we can see the development being made with the autostereoscopic technology. It might start with small apparatus such as the likes of Nintendo 3ds instead of the big screen, but it is happening. And when that is combined with the currently existing possibility for individual people to affordably create their own (and high quality) 3D content, there will be a change for stereoscopic culture to gain more ground in the world of visual communication and perhaps even become a dominant convention to represent visual information.

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Welcome to “Shaping Media”, Larisa and Raine.

Some introductory notes

A medium is not restricted to being a technical device, like a radio, a newspaper or a browser. Any conceptual space that enables us to identify, interpret and generate signs in a specific, meaningful manner can be seen as a medium. “Speech”, “text”, “hypertext/multimedia” are examples; cultural concepts like “School”, “Therapy”, “Art” or “Journalism” may be also conceptual media, changing over time and culture in their definition and possibilities.

Some media theoretical tenets of pedagogical media theory:

  • We cannot communicate outside, or without a medium.
    (I will never be able to think exactly what you think, there will always be technical and conceptual media between and around us).
  • A medium enables us to interpret phenomena within it as meaningful and dismiss phenomena outside of it as contextually meaningless, or as having a different level of meaning.
    (a bag of popcorn seen dropping down in a movie has another level of meaning as a bag of popcorn dropping in the cinema, in the seat near you – in the context of the movie).
  • A medium allows for specific forms in it to be generated, and inhibits the generation of others.
    (a photo will deliver a specific angle of view, but may not to let the viewer change it)
  • If a medium works well, over time we will not be aware anymore of its workings, it will become our ‘second nature’.
    (You usually speak without thinking about how to express a specific notion; until you try to express yourself in a foreign language)

Every one of these tenets can be the starting point of a closer view on the media we’re embedded in. Continue reading

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An exhibition as a pedagogical medium

Noora asked about my opinion on how to arrange an exhibition for her project.

I’ve never arranged an exhibition – but from my point of view (as was the topic of the seminar), an exhibition is a pedagogical medium: You have to deal with concrete restrictions of space, time, architecture, technics, location; you’ve got expectations from visitors on how an exhibition should work; and you have an intention, an idea you want to express via this exhibition, within the limits and possibilities of the medium “exhibition”, one that triggers a response from your audience.

So, what and how do you want to express with the exhibition itself, so that it resonates and references what you want to express with your foto series (Marshall McLuhan)?

You could see the exhibition as a kind of painting, with your pictures as colors; or as a novel with your pictures as paragraphs; as a comic where your pictures are the panels, and the magic happens between the pictures (Scott McLoud).
These are, of course, different aesthetic media as analogies for how you could see and arrange your exhibition: linear and telling a story; holistic and painting a picture; maybe just delivering one half of what can be told and challenging the visitor to fill in the other half; and maybe even challenge that, the personally filled-in-half, after the visitor expresses it (Heinz von Foerster, Niklas Luhmann): An exhibition trying to turn an individual or cultural construction visible as such.

Many possible approaches: Just imagine you’re not arranging an exhibition, but arranging the objects in a setting about to be fotographed…

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Some notes on the chat session from July 2nd 2012

I talked with Noora about the conditions of art, intercultural/multicultural understanding, and her project of photography of empowerment.

There are two elements of an effective setting to learn/experience/change that are often described by educational scientists, one element to be explicitely created, and one to be implicitely created:

1.) A framing, e.g. by context markers, narratives, cultural contextualisations etc. (see Bateson), to be created or integrated into the setting by the producer/artist/teacher of the project;
2.) and a free space for the user/viewer/learner to apply “closure” on (see McCloud), to fill the gap between the context markers by one’s own interpretation.

There is a third element, probably the most tricky one. Bateson mentions it fleetingly, von Foerster, unfortunately, doesn’t talk about it:

3.) Something that motivates the user/viewer/learner to fill the gap, some incentive for him or her to change a well-known viewpoint and follow the course into uncharted cognitive territory.

Artists, therapists or educators each have a specific advantage touching this element: Aesthetics in art (“I want to experience”), psychological strain for therapists (“I want to change”) or curiosity for educators (“I want to know”).

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Science, gender and advertisers: Contextmarkers

The European Commission for Research and Innovation started an initiative on June 21st 2012 to get girls into scientific careers: “Science: It’s a girl thing!”
(See the link “questions about our videoclip?” for some background infos)

A video clip was produced by an ad agency for about 100.000 Euros. This clip was meant to raise interest in the age group of 9-13 year old females.
It worked exceptionally well as a viral campaign on what context markers not to use to create the context “Women as sciencists”.
With other words: The video – unintentionally – succeeded as discussion starter because it failed to use the right contextmarkers (whatever these are).

YouTube Preview Image

Again: Two approaches to initiate education, one obvious to inform and integrate; and one to question invisible medio-cultural givens.

Addendum (July 5th 2012):
On July 4th 2012 the german newspapers are all posting articles on the campaign. It had thus been highly successful as awareness-raiser. See e.g. this (google translated) article from “Die Tageszeitung” (taz): “Failure is Pink”

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About “closure”

“Closure” is a cognitive prerequisite for reading comics, as explained by Scott McCloud – but this holds also true for all media and the cultural medium. It may be also valuable for your project approaches, for the ‘space of (re)action’ you try to construct for your passersbys, pupils or family members to (re)act in, where they are free to generate new meaning.
Some connections to former concepts we disucssed:

Foerster’s “Blind Spot”: Obviously we do not see that there are blind spots. The neurophysiological blind spot in our field of vision gets ‘stitched shut’ by our brain, so we have no gaps in our world(view). Generating continuity where there is none is an effect of closure.

Bateson’s “Context and context markers”: No situation is exactly as any one we encountered before. We need generalized context markers that let us decide upon a current context in a situation. A ‘room’ with ‘rows’ of ‘tables’ and ‘seats’, all ‘aligned’ and ‘directed towards’ a kind of ‘presentational medium’ – and we ‘see’ a classroom-context, with closure smoothing over anything that is situational or does not exactly fit into this picture.

Arts and media: See the examples below by Rene Magritte and Scott McCloud.

Education and didactics: By softening, recontextualising or sabotaging context markers, we may become aware of them as cognitive constructs: generating a big, continous picture will then turn into a willing, conscious act of (inventive) closure (McCloud may call this “Non-Sequitur”; though there may be a medial step-up). The awareness may be a temporary dip into a higher type of learning.

Exposing closure: Lateral thinking questions

A fun way to train lateral thinking (“thinking outside the box”) are questions of the following ilk, where our usual mechanisms of “closing” a mental image, based upon just a few facts, leads us astray:

“(…) Sometimes a problem seems difficult or insoluble because our assumptions about it are wrong.
A classic example: A father and his son are involved in a car accident, as a result of which the son is rushed to hospital for emergency surgery. The surgeon looks at him and says “I can’t operate on him, he’s my son”. Explain.
A variant of this involves a father and son travelling on a scheduled flight; the father asks the flight attendant if his son may visit the cockpit and she takes him there. When he’s gone the pilot explains to the co-pilot “That was my son”. For a few people there’s no ‘puzzle’ here, but most of us are so used to seeing only male surgeons and pilots that we too easily overlook the obvious explanation: the pilot or surgeon is the boy’s mother.”
(quoted from, Jun 14th 2012)

Try this story with kindergarten-teacher, a dancer, or a hairdresser and see if the results are the same (this kind of deceptive gender stereotyping can also be measured by an implicit association test).
Have another story, a bit more complicated:

“In a room with an open eastern window and a southern breeze blowing through the south eastern orchids, near the scenic view of a european country, lyes the bodies of Romeo and Juliet. Two lovers that have died. Their bodies are near a table and surrounded by a pool of water. How did they die?”

Do you have a mental image in your mind after reading this text?
This is the helpful, but also sometimes restricting effect of closure.

We are closed/open

One of the best books (or medium) to explain comics, is Scott McCloud’s comic “Understanding Comcis”. The title is a hommage to McLuhan’s “Understanding Media”, written three decades before. McCloud not only explains comics, but also aspects inherent to all media and human cognition, aspects like closure or amplification by simplification.
Famous game designers like Chris Crawford and Will Wright (“The Sims”) recommend McCloud’s comic. How come?

“Our industry-culture has raised visual verisimilitude to the status of a stairway to heaven; McCloud’s points might help bring us down to earth. He presents a sequence of decreasingly detailed renditions of a human face. At the left end of the sequence is a photorealistic representation; at the right end is a circle with two dots for eyes and a line for a mouth. “By stripping down an image to its essential ’meaning’, an artist can amplify that meaning in a way that realistic art can’t. … The more cartoony a face is, for instance, the more people it could be said to describe.” ”
– Chris Crawford (1993-93), “Book Review: Understanding Comics”
(Compare also to Will Wright’s simplified language “Simlish”.)

With other words: The artist, educator, therapist creates the demarkation for a nearly ’empty’ medial space – for you to fill with individual meaning!

Creating a space for you!

If we talk, there’s magic happening. A sequence of sounds – or letters – become words, and evoke meaning. By saying “egg”, “huevo”, “Muna” or “Ei”, a concept of a white, ovoid form comes to our minds, without there being a necessary connection between the sequence of sounds and its denotation. Where is this connection coming from?
But there’s even more potential magic to discover:

René Magritte (1930): “The Key to Dreams”.

Scott McCloud (1993), “Understanding Comics”, p. 72

“See that space between the panels?” – What about the space between words and images, between the lines of the image, or between the words? Do you see these spaces?
That, what you do not see, is a medium at work: Creating a space for you.

Transfering ideas to a medium, or even a try to represent reality in a medium, requires the artist, edcuator, propagandist to leave out a medium-specific ‘gutter’, where the reader, viewer or learner fill in the gap (e.g. words in a text are not ‘connected’; a camera never shows the place behind the objective; a painting ‘stops’ at its frame).

“You do not see what you do not see.” (Heinz von Foerster) – This is the power of a medium, and the responsibility of an educator, designer or artist: working with and within a blind spot of medial reception, for the learner to discover, and play with.


What is “closure” (McCloud 1993, “Chapter Three. Blood in the Gutter”)?
There seem to be different kinds of closure, based on the physiological limits of our senses to the limits of our (culturally affected) cognition.

“In electronic media, closure is constant, even overpowering!”
– Scott McCloud (1993), p.65

Can this phenomenon of medium design and medium usage be found in other media as well? How can closure be used in learning/teaching?

For a take on closure as predominant in electronic media, see e.g. also “Database as symbolic form” in Lev Manovich (2001), “The Language of New Media.” Cambridge: MIT Press, 2001. [X]

“After the novel, and subsequently cinema privileged narrative as the key form of cultural expression of the modern age, the computer age introduces its correlate – database. Many new media objects do not tell stories; they don’t have beginning or end; in fact, they don’t have any development, thematically, formally or otherwise which would organize their elements into a sequence. Instead, they are collections of individual items, where every item has the same significance as any other.”
– Lev Manovich (2001), “The Language of New Media”, p.194

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Some notes on the chat session from Jun 11th 2012

Hello world!

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Gregory Bateson: learning, teaching, intervening

Two monks were watching a flag flapping in the wind.
One said to the other, “The flag is moving.”
The other replied, “The wind is moving.”
Huineng overheard this. He said, “Not the flag, not the wind; mind is moving.”
Zen Koan, 13th Century, from “The Gateless Gate”, applicable as analogy for Bateson’s Learning I, II and III Continue reading

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Some notes to Kaie’s notes…

Getting amazed and seeking amazement

“…teenagers (or adults too) (…) it takes more effort to keep up the curiosity lets say in Arts, because there are so many other things in life for them – friends, relationships, movies and so on…BUT, because life is so diverse and people in it more diverse there will always be things to surprise with in the classroom”
– Kaie

I think Kaie is right there, there will always be something that may amaze us in our world, even for teenagers, adults or aged; with our fellow men being reliable triggers for amazement.

Above left: Cartoon by John T. McClutcheon (1912); between wonderment and stun on new media and means of transportation.
Above right: Panel from Carl Barks (1950), “Rip van Donald”, in Donald Ault (2003) “Visionary Synchronicities in Carl Barks Comics.” Comic Art 4 (2003): 44–58; fearful and threatening visions of the future (though ether induced).

amazing (adj.)
early 15c., “stupefactive;” 1590s, “dreadful;” prp. adjective from amaze. Sense of “wonderful” is recorded from 1704. Related: Amazingly., Online Etymology Dictionary, “amaze” (accessed 08.06.2012)

So, amazement is originally something that stuns us, makes us seem stupid or senseless; maybe even something dreadful, because we cannot understand it. We do not have (sufficient) experiences or categories to sort it out. Or, as Bateson would have put it, we can act only randomly upon this stimulus until we have some context to connect our perception with meaning, or meaningful action (i.e. we learned in a higher order about this thing, to prevent the same degree of amazement) . Continue reading

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Kaie´s thoughts about comments and communication

Some thoughts that came to my mind, when reading Wey´s posts and Bateson´s text about learning as the changing of choice(s) one is able to make.

From “reply to Jenny”, Wey wrote:
“One other problem is a more pedagogical one: How can I raise and keep up curiosity and a childlike sense of wonder in face of constant uncertainty and changes (For kids, there are benevolent parents providing safety and stability after all…)? And how can I keep up communication with diverse people all over the world to exchange views without tiring?
I´ve always thought that in a way it is much easier to teach young children from age 4 to 10. It seems that it is easier to amaze them and keep up the curiosity in a classroom. On the other hand, working with teenagers (or adults too) can be more challenging – it takes more effort to keep up the curiosity lets say in Arts, because there are so many other things in life for them – friends, relationships, movies and so on…BUT, because life is so diverse and people in it more diverse there will always be things to surprise with in the classroom:). Still, I agree with Wey´s point that “effective cognizance will some time lead to disorientation, anger, guilt or frustration, too. This is something we have to take into account”. I´ve had some students who started to cry a couple of times in class. Once it was a case of the “right red color” – this boy couldn´t find the right color from the pencils (it had to be the color of the red Lego piece) and he couldn´t draw. For the next time he had to take his Lego magazine and show all of us, which kind of color is “Lego-red”. Then there was a case, when a girl started to cry when we painted aurora (revontulet in Finnish). It was a little lesson, were I asked them to paint aurora. Through that we painted the whole color circles, mixing colors and so on. And she cried because she was afraid of the colored paint…So I took her brush, but it into yellow paint, red paint, green paint and showed that there is nothing to be scared of…And she calmed down:)
From “Notes for Noora”:
One more example that is similar to yar bombing is moss art, or moss graffity that I find is very amusing and looks good in urban streets:

(moss invader)

Wey: “What illusion of community, safety and belonging did we use before the arrival of networked social media? ;)”
Maybe those were something like collecting stickers, fog-pics (I am not sure how are they called in English, but they were very popular to collect, when I was 12: pictures of dolls, horses, flowers in very pastelled, foggy colors and hard to see), caps, having a tamagotchi?:)

And about the last comment Wey gave to me:

We presume that everybody wants to express her- or himself, e.g. within an artistic medium – but does the result, does the expression have to be interpretable? Could it also be meant to be deliberately not interpretable, because that’s what is wanted to be expressed: the lack of an expression for something felt or experienced, but the want to express this lack?

This is a very good point! In fact, I´ve always thought that the expression doesn’t ´t always have to be interpretable as long as I see that it comes from the heart, or I can feel that the artist is not lying. (How can you tell that is another topic.) When I was teaching young children at art studio, usually after the course parents came and asked what is this picture or sculpture or “thing” that their child has done…And I didn´t know always because I didn´t want to ask their child:) (Usually, when they wanted to tell me, they came and told me voluntarily.) Then I made up something to say to their parent, because I had a feeling that if I don´t know, I would be a teacher “who doesn´t care”. Or there is this other fear, when parent sees that his/her child is using, lets say, too much black color, their cild has immediately something wrong. But it is not so simple – maybe their child likes night a lot:) But usually parents assumed something negative. Very stereotypical – black color=death…?

From Bateson´s text, page 9:
There is, in fact, almost no formal theory dealing with analogue communication and, in particular, no equivalent of Information Theory or Logical Type Theory. This gap in formal knowledge is inconvenient when we leave the rarified world of logic and mathematics and come face to face with the phenomena of natural history. In the natural world, communication is rarely either purely digital or purely analogic. Often discrete digital pips are combined together to make analogic pictures as in the printer’s halftone block; and sometimes, as in the matter of context markers, there is a continuous gradation from the ostensive through the iconic to the purely digital. At the digital end of this scale all the theorems of information theory have their full force, but at the ostensive and analogic end they are meaningless.

I would like to comment that part with to examples:

1)A video from Stefano Mancuso´s TED talk. I especially liked the question he asks from the first part of the talk, showing a picture called “What is wrong in this picture?” and answer is: “Where are all the plants?”
Error in communication?

2)Or another example from John Baldessari, a video made in 1972 – “Teaching a Plant the Alphabet”:
and here a short video about it
In my opinion this is an early approach how to interact with a plant…And I think it shows very well how we estimate the plants intelligence…or how we try to force our “knowledge” to others thinking that they deserve it.

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