Tech­nolo­gies of Me­di­a­tion and Im­me­di­a­tion


Session Title:

  • SENSORIUM: Interdisciplinary Practices of Embodiment and Technology

Presentation Title:

  • Tech­nolo­gies of Me­di­a­tion and Im­me­di­a­tion



  • Panel: SENSORIUM: Interdisciplinary Practices of Embodiment and Technology

    The word medium and its cog­nates, such as media and me­di­a­tion, have a strangely dou­ble as­pect. On the one hand, a medium acts as an en­abler, as a bridge, con­nect­ing things that might oth­er­wise be com­pletely dis­joint. On the other hand, a medium is some­thing that pal­pa­bly stands be­tween. Me­di­ated ex­pe­ri­ence is al­ways sec­ond-hand; me­di­ated ex­pe­ri­ence is, by de­f­i­n­i­tion, not im­me­di­ate. Even air as a medium through which we ap­pre­hend the World dis­torts. Worry about this led David Hock­ney, for ex­am­ple, in the late-eight­ies, to pre­fer pho­to­copiers to cam­eras as he felt that the im­ages pro­duced by the lat­ter were largely pic­tures of the air be­tween the cam­era and the sub­ject. The tech­nolo­gies of what might be called new or dig­i­tal or in­ter­ac­tive media have been in­tense cases of this dou­ble­ness, but this may change. In 2002, re­searchers at the Touch Lab at MIT shook hands across the At­lantic with re­searchers at Uni­ver­sity Col­lege, Lon­don. They shook hands using a fast com­puter con­nec­tion, pres­sure sen­sors and ac­tu­a­tors. That hand­shake may well her­ald a new era in com­mu­ni­ca­tion across the In­ter­net and could also be the har­bin­ger of new ways in which we ex­pe­ri­ence other peo­ple and ob­jects through tech­no­log­i­cal me­di­a­tion. This change is much more fun­da­men­tal than sim­ply adding one more sense, ar­guably a rel­a­tively minor one at that, to the array of senses with which we in­ter­act with com­put­ers. Touch is very dif­fer­ent from the senses-vi­sion and au­di­tion-that, up to now, have been al­most the sole ways of ac­cess­ing the world through com­put­ing tech­nol­ogy.

    The dif­fer­ence is bound up with the no­tion of dis­tance and me­di­a­tion. The things we see and the things we hear, even when not ap­pre­hended through ma­chines, are al­most al­ways at some re­move from us, me­di­ated at least by air; the things we feel are things that are in con­tact with us, things that are touch­ing us as we touch them. Once im­me­di­ate senses-like touch and taste-are added to the en­gage­ment with com­put­ers, the ex­pe­ri­ence be­comes man­i­festly more im­me­di­ate, more par­tic­i­pa­tory, more part of a real world. As Steven Con­nor points out, in his ar­ti­cle “The Menagerie of the Senses” (The Senses and So­ci­ety, 2006) spi­ders are the one an­i­mal that rou­tinely feels things at a dis­tance (Con­ners, 2004). Spi­ders do this, fit­tingly, by feel­ing things on the far cor­ners of their webs.  In this paper I dis­cuss pos­si­ble fu­ture tech­nolo­gies and the kinds of en­gage­ments with a range of prac­tices they en­able, re­fer­ring to Lud­wig van Berta­lanffy no­tions in Ro­bots, Men and Minds (1967) with re­spect to ar­gu­ing for a com­plex sys­tem of com­po­nents in in­ter­ac­tion to­wards fluid bod­ies and men­tal en­ergy.