Media Taxonomy

My taxonomy of media began as just another hierarchical chart – a tree of media with overgrown branches. One branch started to grow more strange and twisted. In the midst of trying to figure out what it really was that I was doing, what this taxonomy was for, and looking for insights in other taxonomies, that one branch suddenly appeared to be like a human body. One thought led to another, with the end product being this “book.” I fear that I have strayed from the original assignment and that, in the interest of time and deadlines, I didn't even fully realize my vision in the straying. But here I will explain as best I can what I meant to do.

The twisted branch was of print media, and specifically, the book. The knobs and bends, and infinite number of leaves and layers, reminded me of the difficulty I have always had in fully understanding the structure of the human body. Repetitive lessons on the skeletal system, nervous system, muscular system, and such that I have received throughout school never merged all the systems into one. I know where the heart is and where the lungs are individually, but not in relation to one another. Are they right next to each other? Which organs do they press up against? One thing that offered some help in visualizing that was the set of transparencies in the human body entry of the encyclopedia. Ideally, I would've liked to have some kind of complete 3-dimensional model of the body, the skeleton in the middle and all the organs where they belong. But the transparencies were an acceptable compromise. The last sheet was of the skeleton, the basic structural support for the body. On top of that, each sheet would build the body by systems – nervous system, muscular system, etc. – up to the skin and hair so that the uppermost transparency would simply depict a naked human body.

Some references to the human as a medium itself further led me to wonder if other media could be broken down into layers also. I chose the medium of a book simply because it is one that especially interests me, and as a result, was expanding in my original sketches of a media tree. The concept was to identity the layers of the book as a medium, from societal impressions down to the source from which a book is born. Once identified, I planned to print some representational image and key defining words of each layer onto transparencies, creating a layered 2-D model of a book's structure, much like the encyclopedia's model of the human body. With the lifting of each page, each layer of the book as media would be stripped away. It also struck me as a fun idea that a model of the medium of book would be a book in itself.

The actual result does not realize this concept, however. Unable to find transparencies, I attempted to use tracing paper. Unable to effectively find and print all images in time, I opted to settle with this simplified version for now.

In my process of creating a taxonomy of media, I feel I often lost sight of actual taxonomization. As for why one should taxonomize at all, I can offer no defense but to say humans are inherent categorizers. Perhaps it is an evolutionary advantage, to recognize similar things quickly. As the presenters of the Hypercube model stated, to taxonomize is likely to end in failure, but it is in that failure that one may gain a deeper understanding of complicated relationships. Comparing this to a taxonomy of animals or plants, it takes knowledge of biological structures and systems of individual categories to construct the taxonomy. It is in that spirit that I have attempted an initial dissection into the medium of the book.

Myong Chin
Winter 2004