Media Taxonomy Refractions

In this reflection, I aim to explain briefly how a taxonomy may aid media theorists and media-makers; in addition, I hope to clarify instances where I have dictated subjectively (as opposed to letting culture dictate the terms with which I view the breadth of media). Finally, I hope to close with implications of the project and further avenues I might explore.

To taxonomize is to differentiate objects/fields (in this case, media) according to parameters. Therefore, in this exercise I chose media which function as middles (umbrella), function to mediate social spaces (the CTA, windchimes, drivethrus, breathmints, live rock music) and finally practices (media-in, media-through poetry, tattooing). Afterward, I employed a great number of the parameters utilized by Professor Mitchell and added myth/connotation and reverse obsolescence as parameters, the former in order to delineate the efficacy of media to instantiate their personalities in our world, the latter being what the media themselves have displaced in being created.

The purpose of this taxonomy is to uncover the pretexts for our engaging certain media. For instance, in the history of poetry, it has often been thought that the source of the poetry is a Muse or set of Muses. This is a pre-text, due to the fact that it colors our experience of the media itself, consciously or otherwise. With drivethrus, there is ever-present the cultural connotation of opacity; namely, that it is near impossible to order certain items from the menu and receive the proper ones in proper form.

I must admit that uncovering these very pretexts terrified me. This might be solely because 'mediation' seems to have negative connotations in my life, as a term opposite to organic. However, while understanding media might not result in controlling them, anticipating the nuanced manifestations allows one to fashion an appropriate response. Knowing that the intercom muddies one's propositions enables one to speak differently (letting there be longer silences between clauses etc). Thinking of umbrellas and breathmints as media does make one more aware of how social spaces evolve.

That Professor Mitchell included only obsolescence (and not its converse) indexes the fact that in the landscape of media, certain media subsume others while others are subsumed. This phenomenon results in nestedness. For instance, as the weather channel has become pervasive, as it has developed into a narcotic, its listing for wind speed and direction has become the standard of measurement. Windchimes are in the process of being reduced to mere ornament. I am fully aware that this has been the case for a while, since few people have made a science of the music emitted from these contraptions.

The straightforward taxonomy appeals to me initially because it makes no attempt to depict the sentience of media. Eventually I would like to phase in the pictorial to represent how media, in fact, commingle. In addition, one possible parameter which lies beyond my capabilities is efficiency. What I mean here is how quickly a medium mediates; as in, how quickly do the breathmints affect your interlocutor, how quickly does the novel portray, say, epiphany. This sort of scientific parameter might be quite useful in determining which of two media will triumph in a given situation. In the end, we might be able to predict the progeny of media and in so doing, lubricate their arrival.

Thibault Raoult
Winter 2004