Vilém Flusser (1920-91) approaches media within a theory of communication dealing with the ‘standard’ model of sender and receiver. Media are understood as carriers of messages which are encoded. These codes enable communication between people; they are a system of symbols which replace other symbols. (p.37). According to Flusser communication, due to its dependence on codes and symbols, is a substitute for a direct contact between persons and symbols, and between persons and the world.
In the two essays from the 1970's "Line and Surface" and "The Codified World," his main concern is to describe the then present situation, which according to his observation tends to an increasing amount of surfaces in our environment, bringing with them increasing importance of colours and new kinds of images. He approaches this situation as part of a historical development of media and their interrelations, a process Flusser understands as stepping further and further back from a direct experience of the world. In this process every new medium functions as a discourse on the older ones: first, when man conceived of himself as different from the world, there were images as a means of imagining the world to which there was no longer a direct access. Flusser describes this state of being in the world as magic. Then written language came to explain the world of images in a linear, and thus historical, way. The present situation is described as being dominated by a new kind of images (techno-images) which conceptualize the previous texts. This ‘history’ seems very similar to Marshall McLuhan’s approach, but different from that, Flusser does not describe the new images as a step back into a ‘tribal’ society, but as one more step further away from it. And for his history, Flusser does not have to distinguish between written and printed texts (and not between alphabetical and non-alphabetical systems of writing), because they are both linear and both can be conceived of as a meta-medium for the former images in his model. This is summarized as: “The revolutionary originality of techno-images is (...) that they are ‘models,’ the image of a concept of a scene” (p.41), where the concept refers to text and the scene to early images. As a consequence of this development, he offers two alternative possibilities: One is, “that imaginal thinking will not succeed in incorporating conceptual thinking”, thus leading to depoliticization, deactivation, alienation, victory of the consumer society, totalitarianism of the mass media. The alternative would be the successful incorporation of imaginal thinking, where “man consciously assumes the structural position,“ leading towards a new sense of reality within a new religiosity. (p.34)
In "Line and Surface" he concentrates on the relation between linear historicity based on texts and the structural position of the surface world of the (new) images, especially the issue of temporality involved in ‘reading’ these two different environments, and how they relate to the world/things in different ways. "The Codified World" is more concerned with describing Flusser’s concept of a history of these different forms of communication and their media, the transitions from one to another. These two short essays represent one important issue that reoccurs throughout Flusser’s writings, where he has analyzed different media, such as photography and cinema, in greater length within his model based on the idea that all communication is directed against its inherent entropic tendencies.