Media Taxonomy
Fig. 1 and Fig. 2, Fig. 3 and Fig 4

In Understanding Media, Marshall McLuhan claims that the medium is the message of expression. For him, “the effect of the medium is made strong and intense just because it is given another medium as ‘context.’” I would argue that media also act as carriers of thoughts and therefore are made strong and intense not only by the nesting of other media but also because of the addition of human thought at each level of mediation. However, McLuhan makes a valid point about the reliance of media types on each other. Understanding media is like peeling off the layers of an onion.

Of course, if we are to investigate the nesting and interdependence of different kinds of media, we must also be able to pint out similarities and differences between media. There will always be exceptions to the rules of categorization that emerge, but taxonomy is still useful, as it addresses personal assumptions and widely held beliefs about media that can then be broken down or strengthened.

In my figures, I have tried to explain and show some of the more common instances of mediation. Figure 1 maps out the main relationships between the human senses and the media that travel between them. The pathways are in no way exhaustive, they merely attempt to capture the primary ways in which thoughts are brought into the material world and received by people. Figure 2 maps the types of people, their corresponding types of action, and hopefully captures some of the complexity that is involved in the layering of media to create what we think of as a ‘final’ product. I have divided the page into audio, visual, verbal and tactile influences to show how all of these can contribute to a single type of media. It is important to note that these spheres of influence act within or upon the media that they point to only by way of people, who inevitably channel their thoughts through the process of creation. Also, the categorization of creators of media as strictly visual, verbal, tactile and audio is relatively weak (we see that a film director could easily have a say in the verbal aspects of a film as well as the visual presentation of it). However, I find it helpful to at least think of categorizing in this way in order to see the diversity of talent that goes into creating media.

The final Figure charts some of the common characteristics of different media.

Laura Veit
Winter 2004

[continue to Fig. 3 and Fig. 4 of Laura Veit's media taxonomy]