These Mediated Environments

When we imagine environments, what comes to mind are environments in which we live, work, and play. Think of one now. The scene you painted in your head may be filled with images of people, places, and things…but have you thought about these things, and how a proliferation of them are digital? So much of life is mediated by the screen that we scarcely live outside of it. TV shows (even if we no longer watch them on a TV), social media, songs — culture has become digital culture. We live inside of our media.

Anthropologist Edmund Carpenter, in his essay “Obsolescence,” writes that “Electronic media have turned the entire globe into a midden. Artists are now busy transforming all of our yesterdays into now. The whole world has become a happening.”

Recently, there has been an increased importance on social visibility: we take pictures at events to share them with people so that they know we were there, doing that thing, at that time. There is this notion of being present (at functions, at least seemingly to other people) while being being absent (consuming everyone else’s media instead of actually engaging in the function you are at).

The whole world has become a happening…but it has the potential to be a happening with each other. More than anything else, this class has taught me that media itself is an environment and that media is malleable. It is an environment we can change.

Barry Schwartz, during the 2014 Ted Talks, said that “We design human nature by defining the institutions within which people live and work.” As students in Intro to Computational Media (or Digital Encoding, et al.), we have the potential to define these environments and institutions, and shape our lives and culture. There is this pessimistic vision of the future where all communication happens virtually, and people are espoused to their devices rather than to each other. A more optimistic vision would be one where interactive media acts as a bridge between the environment and the public to creates new forms of communication and increase interactions between people. Rather than merely consuming, they will be engaging, participating, playing.

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