P2 Lecture 1


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Lecture 1 notes, Theories and Interpretation of Interactive Media, introductory course by professor Frans Mäyrä

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P2 Lecture 1

  1. 1. Theories and interpretation of interactive media / Vuorovaikutteisen median teoriat ja tulkinta Frans Mäyrä Professor of hypermedia, esp. digital culture and game studies University of Tampere, Hypermedia Laboratory frans.mayra@uta.fi
  2. 2. Lecture course schedule, Autumn 2007 • Mon 29.10. - quot;Mainframe / dataquot;: Approaches to information technology as particular kind of tool and medium • Mon 5.11. - quot;PC / communicationquot;: Theories of computer mediated communication • Mon 12.11. - quot;Web / networkingquot;: Theories of Internet and World Wide Web • Tue 20.11. (note date change!) - quot;Transformation / new mediaquot;: How to conceptualise the media change? • Mon 26.11. - quot;Laptop / ubiquityquot;: Approaches to omnipresent IT • Mon 3.12. - quot;iPhone / convergencequot;: Interpreting the ongoing fusion • Mon 10.12. - Final Exam (lopputentti) Locations: Mon 29.10.-10.12. at 14-16 ls. 4113 (PinniB), Note change of place: in 3.12. & 10.12. ls. 3116 (PinniB) Course blog: http://newmediatheory.wordpress.com/
  3. 3. Aims of course • P2 Theories and Interpretation of Interactive Media is an introductory, theory-oriented course designed to give an overview of central theories and interpretation models which will help in understanding interactive media • It is also possible to participate in book exam or write essays - those are alternative ways to this lecture series & lecture exam • In lecture series active participation to lectures is required (max. two missed lectures) and passed final exam • If unable to participate regularly to lectures, essay writing is an alternative (contact teacher for details)
  4. 4. Today: two parts 1. General introduction and theories of media, identity and power 2. “Mainframe / data”: Approaches to information technology as particular kind of tool and medium
  5. 5. 1) General introduction and theories of media, identity and power
  6. 6. What is a theory? • As thought constructions, scientific or scholarly theories are different from unsubstantiated speculation: – they form logically self-consistent models or wholes – they are related to facts – theories can be tested by scientific community or they can be fruitfully used by others in academic work • In natural sciences theories are generally supported by experimental evidence • In humanities and social sciences good theories can be useful by providing fresh viewpoints, even if they cannot be empirically verified
  7. 7. Theories discussed in this course • This course is discussing hypermedia (hypertext + multimedia), which covers wide and expanding range of interactive, digital forms of media and technology • The perspective is socio-cultural, meaning that interest here is not in how things work, but on what they mean, how they are used, and what they might become • Main theories are related to digital culture, media studies, communication theory and information society studies, as far as they discuss hypermedia • Particular focus on Web Studies and Game Studies, as Internet and games are two most popular forms of hypermedia today
  8. 8. Cultural Studies • Cultural Studies is an interdisciplinary, critical movement originating in the UK (Birmingham Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies, CCCS, founded in 1964) • Focus on cultural practices and their relation to power • Based on Marxist theories, e.g. cultural hegemony (by Antonio Gramsci, 1891-1937) which posits culture as an instrument of political control • Aims to cross divide between theory and action by being ethically and politically committed
  9. 9. Agency • A central concept in various Cultural Studies theories, agency is often related to the critical and active capabilities of individuals • Within study of popular culture, for example, studies of active audiences have pointed out that rather than blindly accepting its stereotypes, people are actively using popular culture • Fan (sub)cultures and creative or transgressive uses of games are examples of active agency in action • Within sociology, it is debated whether individuals are free in their actions, or determined by social structures such as their ethnicity, social class, gender or religion
  10. 10. Identity & Power • Psychology and sociology have many theories of identity • Psychological identity often concerns self-image • Sociology often focuses on social roles, as e.g. in Erwin Goffman’s theory of frames (individuals interpret situation and modify their thoughts and actions to fit that particular frame) • Identity has become a central concept to Web and Internet studies, as identity experimentation, creation and empowerment are seen as interrelated
  11. 11. Social Construction of Reality • Famous work by Peter L. Berger and Thomas Luckmann (Social Construction of Reality, 1966) • Theorises the relation of individual and social structures as dialectical: society forms individuals, and individuals form society, in continuous dialectic manner • Humans are being constructed through language, as our most important sign system • Human socio-cultural and socio-psychological formations are maintained and evolve through our use of language • “Society is a human product. Society is an objective reality. Man is a social product.” (Ibid., 61.)
  12. 12. Media Studies • Classic ‘magic bullet’ theory of media was based on direct transmission of message as a ‘media effect’ from sender to receiver • Later more attention was paid to the encoding and decoding parts of the media communication process • The one-way movement of message was further questioned as interpretations were realised to be important for any construction of meaning • A cultural view of media can be based on ritual view of media and communication Images, source: Michael R. Real, Exploring Media Culture: A Guide. Sage, 1996, p. 8.
  13. 13. Other theories/approaches important for hypermedia studies • Media Ecology (Marshall McLuhan etc.) • Computer-Mediated Communication • Virtual Communities, Online Social Networks • Cyberpsychology, Cybersociology • Digital Literacy, Media Education, eLearning • Virtual Ethnography • Game Studies, Ludology • Design Research, Media Art Studies • Cybertext Studies, Hypertext Studies
  14. 14. 2) “Mainframe / data”: Approaches to information technology as particular kind of tool and medium
  15. 15. What is Information Technology (IT)? • Information Technology Association of America (ITAA) says: IT is “the study, design, development, implementation, support or management of computer-based information systems, particularly software applications and computer hardware” • Computers are electronic machines that are capable of manipulating and storing data, according to instructions, in numeric form • As many sorts of information can be represented in numeric (digital) form, IT concerns words, images, music, videos, libraries, banks, shopping, chatting, gaming… and war • Virtually all human activities can be touched or affected by IT in a contemporary, technological society
  16. 16. Early theories of computing • Mostly embedded in the history of calculation, mathematics and engineering • Alan Turing: “On Computable Numbers, with an Application to the Entscheidungsproblem” (submitted on 28 May 1936) Turing machines, abstract symbol manipulating devices that are capable to solve any mathematical problem • John von Neumann: “First Draft of a Report on the EDVAC” (June 30, 1945) von Neumann architecture, principle of stored-program computer
  17. 17. Key concept: Mainframe • When computing is understood in terms of mainframes, or large data processing systems, they support different conceptualisations and socio-cultural roles for IT than e.g. personal computers • Typically mainframes (large server computers) are not directly manipulated by end users but rather remain at the care of professionals • User interface is thus not traditionally a key concern • Mainframes supported access through various (distant) terminals, often in text only mode, limiting their media use • The server “ideology” is based on maxims such as “Reliability, Availability and Serviceability” (RAS, by IBM)
  18. 18. Interactive text and data • Key feature of computer is that it can change its internal states and output on basis of its programming and input, such as commands or data entered by humans • When humans are interfacing with computers, it is called interactive computing (cf. non-interactive computing in embedded systems etc.) • Interactivity of computer can have multiple degrees, ranging from simple (push-button) responsiveness to highly interactive games, or even interaction approaching level of social interaction (cf. social interaction through computer networks) • Most early computing data consisted of numbers (military data, census data, business data), later text expanded greatly the social and cultural value of computers as media
  19. 19. Early theories of hypermedia 1 • Vannevar Bush: “As We May Think” (The Atlantic Monthly, July 1945) device linked to a microfilm library, presenting many ideas of hypertext, including associative linking, commenting and adding • The idea was to have information technology modeling the operation of human mind: – The human mind does not work that way [with hierarchical indexes]. It operates by association. With one item in its grasp, it snaps instantly to the next that is suggested by the association of thoughts, in accordance with some intricate web of trails carried by the cells of the brain. It has other characteristics, of course; trails that are not frequently followed are prone to fade, items are not fully permanent, memory is transitory. Yet the speed of action, the intricacy of trails, the detail of mental pictures, is awe-inspiring beyond all else in nature. Quote source: http://www.theatlantic.com/doc/194507/bush/4
  20. 20. Early theories of hypermedia 2 • Ted (Theodor) Nelson: “Complex information processing: a file structure for the complex, the changing and the indeterminate” (1965) – Let me introduce the word “hypertext” to mean a body of written or pictorial material interconnected in such a complex way that it could not conveniently be presented or represented on paper. It may contain summaries, or maps of its contents and their interrelations; it may contain annotations, additions and footnotes from scholars who have examined it. Let me suggest that such an object and system, properly designed and administered, could have great potential for education, increasing the student’s range of choices, his sense of freedom, his motivation, and his intellectual grasp. Such a system could grow indefinitely, gradually including more and more of the world’s written knowledge. • Hypermedia in general involves all non-linear, linked digital media Quoted from the original paper, retrieved through http://portal.acm.org/
  21. 21. Theorising hypertext • As literary theory moved from structuralist to poststructuralist theories, it emphasised the role of textuality over that of traditional work • As discussed by Roland Barthes, Jacques Derrida etc., text is open, multiple and endlessly branching network of signifiers • George P. Landow has equated this view of text to the actual operation of hypertext • Key consequences: reconfiguration of text, author, reading & writing, narrative, education and politics Source: George P. Landow (1997) Hypertext 2.0. Baltimore & London: Johns Hopkins Press.
  22. 22. Reconfiguration of text • Text becomes “machine for production of meaning” • Text can be approached from multiple starting points • There is no single definite endpoint where reading should stop • The boundaries of text become problematic • There might be links to dynamic, changing content elsewhere, leading to completely “borderless text”
  23. 23. Reconfiguration of author • Related to deconstruction of single, autonomous authorship, and even subjectivity itself • The “writing self” can be interpreted as a function of text, itself consisting of (or being determined by) network of other texts • Comparable to divine/demonic possession: other voices are speaking through my words • In hypertext systems, any word, sign or sequence can be (even automatically) linked to multiple other texts, pointing out the often unexpected or unintended meanings “my text” will always carry with it • In other sense, collaborative text like wikis make common the idea of multiple authorship
  24. 24. Reconfiguration of reading & writing • Each individual instance of reading may approach the creative act of writing • While actively navigating through the ‘hyper-space’ of interlinked resources, reader effectively writes a new text • Authors may assist particular ways of navigating by indexes, overviews, tables of content • Readers may save their own bookmarks to track the trail of their movement in text • Automatic tracking of multiple readers’ actions can develop into entire social filtering or recommendation systems (hot- lists, user profiling, as e.g. in Amazon.com bookshop)
  25. 25. Reconfiguration of narrative • Authors like Michael Joyce and Stuart Moulthrop aimed at hypertextual novels that could be read in multiple ways • Rooted in literary, modernist experimentation, e.g. Vladimir Nabokov and James Joyce have moved beyond traditional narrative form • Reader might be able to reconfigure/connect narrative events in multiple ways, producing fluid, complex experiences among the endlessly recreated narratives • In popular culture, the favourite form of interactive fiction have been the text based adventure games (e.g. Colossal Cave Adventure, 1976-77; Zork, 1977-79), cf. Choose Your Own Adventure gamebooks
  26. 26. Reconfiguration of education • Hypertext and hypermedia in education is related to so-called eLearning • Some of the power and authority of instructor can be transferred to students • Students are provided with access to original documents and they become active in construction of knowledge, while setting up their own products • Suitable in distance education and virtual learning environments • Much of hypertext’s benefits are actually those of collaborative or problem-based learning
  27. 27. Reconfiguration of politics • Technology is not necessarily inherently progressive or conservative in itself (‘technological neutrality’ vs. ‘technological/media determinism’) • Marshall McLuhan & Walter Ong: technologies are not neutral, but related to transformations of human thinking, communicating, culture and society oral culture, culture of writing, culture of hypermedia? • Technology always empowers some group, at some cost what is the politics of hypermedia, the ‘message of the medium’ (McLuhan)? • Generally democratic, even anarchist tendencies built in?
  28. 28. Information wants to be free • Stewart Brand at the first Hackers' Conference in 1984: information wants to be free, but it also wants to be expensive (since its value) • Made the motto of free content movement • Aims to have no significant legal restrictions on freedom to use, produce and redistribute any creative content • Major proponents: Copyleft licenses (e.g. GNU General Public License), Creative Commons, Open Source Software, Free Culture Movement, Open Content Alliance, Piratpartiet & Piratbyrån (Sweden)
  29. 29. Computer revolution? • The early views on access to computers and data have developed into major discussions on identity, privacy, democracy, human rights and the future direction of arts, culture and society • Notable early texts worth reading include: – Ted Nelson, Computer Lib/Dream Machines (1974; see http://www.digibarn.com/collections/books/comput er-lib/) – People’s Computer Company Newsletters (1972-78; see http://www.digibarn.com/collections/newsletters/p eoples-computer/)