Media Taxonomy

I decided to base my taxonomy on some of the newer distinctions of mediums that we have discussed in class. That is to say, newer to me. The concepts; in which/through which, immediacy, extension, and amputation, were new ways for me to think about mediums. Creating this taxonomy helped me to think through these concepts. I found that these distinctions the more difficult ones to make and consequently may not necessarily always act as concrete categories but they instead offer different ways to approach and think about media.

I found that when I was deciding whether a medium was something “in which” information was stored or “through which” information was transmitted sometimes it depended on intent of individual situations. TV is something through which information is transmitted, but if it is recorded then it is stored information, however, I made the decision that it was generally a “through which” medium. Painting, photography, and sculpture were all difficult. They are all mediums in which artists work and in which visual information is stored, but they can also be read as transmitters of information if the artists is trying to convey a message to the viewer, however, I made the decision to consider them “in which” mediums.

What each medium made immediate was also a difficult distinction. For example if film and TV make reality immediate, what counts as “reality”? Also, what exactly does a magazine make immediate? Does it somehow give primacy to books because they are a socially considered a higher form of mediation? Or do they make isolated information immediate compared to collective information? When considering this category I began to doubt whether music was a “true” medium within the context of all the other mediums I was considering. I could not conceive of a situation of immediacy in relation to music and it made me think it falls into the strange category occupied by language and images.

McLuhan’s idea, that all media simultaneously extend human capacities while at the same time amputating something, is interesting to me. I decided to work through it in my taxonomy and found it especially challenging. Sometimes it seemed like the same things that were extended were also amputated. Aside from the concrete example of the car amputating the feet, or books (writing) amputating memory, most of the things that I felt were being amputated were amorphous concepts. I am not sure if I fully understand how to apply McLuhan’s idea.

Creating taxonomy is an effective way to think about media, it forces you to follow a thread of thought through multiple media and gives an overall picture of what that distinction means. I decided to consider the triad created by media in which the medium is a middle term, it made me realize that despite my distinctions of “in which” and “through which” that I made first, I was still implicitly conceiving of all of the media as transmitters between parties. The next step would be to decide how the two categories relate and whether there is a more effective way to schematize them. It made me consider how amputation and extension are related and whether or not I could have condensed them into a single category (I am not sure yet).

Jen Schadlick
Winter 2004