Media Taxonomy

When analyzing and exploring a group of objects that seem to be mysteriously related (objects that are able to influence each other and able to give rise to other objects while staying moderately discrete), it is often times helpful to devise a system of taxonomy. A system of taxonomy is a way to articulate how you understand these objects to be in relation to each other. Yet in formulating a taxonomy, it is important to understand that the taxonomy is conforming to the objects and not vice-versa. The taxonomy is merely an approximation, a representation, of the true relationships between the objects. As with any approximation, the true relationships between the objects are altered—certain characteristics become misrepresented and others become underrepresented. Nonetheless, it is important to the pursuit of understanding that such an approximation is made. A taxonomy allows for those relational understandings to be placed together, so that they may be critiqued from a levelheaded outside perspective. The goal behind the use of a taxonomy is to find inconsistencies and fallacies in the understanding of the related objects, change the understandings accordingly, and thus be able to handle these objects most effectively in the real world.

Thus far, when we have considered specific media, we have spent considerable time trying to understand how the medias stand in relation to each other. [1] Accordingly, I wanted my taxonomy of media to model these relations. Yet I am intrigued by Marshall McLuhan's notion that the content of medium is always another medium. I wanted to explore how I perceive media to be self-replicating—that is, how each media is a change upon some previous media. My initial approach was to develop a sort of evolutionary tree of media—but I felt that such a representation implied too much about the passing of time in the development of medias. For example, if I were to draw a branching of ‘aural language' into ‘writing', that would imply that at some point in the past, aural language changed so as to result in writing as we know it today. As I do not know enough about the histories of medias to make such lineage declarations, I settled on the current approach.

I represent each media as a self-contained circle, so as to represent the variations within each media. For example, while there are several varying ways of telling time, such as the wristwatch, the sun or moon, or the church bells, they are all timepieces (devices that transmit a notion of ‘time'). Except for ‘Memory,' I placed every media within another. This is to represent the current reliance each media has on another media. For example, ‘Manufacturing' (‘Great speed and precision in the use of 3-D space') would be nothing if we didn't also have a concept of ‘Sculpture' (‘Use of 3-D objects in visual language') and ‘Sculpture would be nothing without a concept of a ‘Visual Language' (‘The attempt to impress memory onto social settings through the use of images'). By placing ‘Memory' as the ultimate, all-encompassing media, I do not intend to suggest that all other medias exist solely in our memory, but simply that without the ability to remember, there would be no language, etc. In the development of this schematic, I realized that if memory is the way in which nature is impressed on the body and all other medias are the attempts to impress these memories onto the social setting, these social settings represent the nature that is impressed on the body—thus, while every media relies on memory, memory relies on every media.

There are several media in my model that cut across other media. I did this to represent the reliance of those media on several different media. For example, ‘Radio' cuts into, but is not wholly contained within, ‘Music.' Although radio as it is known today is largely a conduit for music, it does not exclusively tailor to music. Thus, if our concept of music disappeared, our concept of radio would not be obliterated, simply truncated. And vice-versa—if radio vanished, our concept of music would simply change.

The amount of white space in each media is irrelevant—it is simply the existence of the white space that is important. Furthermore, I do not intend to suggest anything by the relative size or placement of each media in relation to the other media—it is simply the intersections of the media that matter. For example, I do not mean anything by representing ‘War' by a small circle on the bottom of the page, while representing ‘Body Language' by a larger circle near the top of the page. Lastly, the shape of each media is intended only to represent the fluid nature of these understandings of media. For example, Internet, a very new invention, has succeeded in changing our understandings of ‘Music,' ‘Telephone,' ‘Mail,' etc.

David Whitehead
Winter 2004