Hot & Cool in the MediaScene: A McLuhan-Style Art & Theory Project

07Apr18

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AUTHORS

Julia M. Hildebrand (Drexel University) and Barry Vacker (Temple University)

1. INTRODUCTION

Anthropocene — Mediacene.

Layers of fossils — Layers of media technology.

Ways of living — Ways of seeing.

If we are in the Anthropocene, then how can we not be in the Mediacene? If technological civilization has transformed the eco-systems on its host planet, Earth, then how can mediated civilization have not transformed the ego-systems in its host species, human consciousness? If we have extended visual technologies into the tiniest particles, into our bodies, around the planet, and into deep space, then how can our visions have not been transformed?

Mediacene. Mediaseen. Media(S)cene.

We do not mean “Mediacene” in a strict scientific sense. Rather, we mean it as a techno-philosophical concept related to how media technologies make us see, and in turn, how we can see them. Hence, the playful term “Media(S)cene.” The goal is to creatively combine theory and art. Rather than explain, the goal is to explore, expand, explode.

As such, we are inspired by media theorist Marshall McLuhan, who claims that “Scientists make their discoveries as ‘artists,’ not specialists. Such scientists construct experiments as “works of art” to probe the environment.”[1] With the Media(S)cene, we want to present an imaginative probe into our contemporary media environment. It’s like McLuhan’s approach upgraded for the 21st century — “McLuhan 21.0.”

More concretely, the Media(S)cene is a model for a visual media ecology and a call for art for this media epoch, a project for this seeing, this accelerating media evolution — on Earth, in space, into the Hubble universe of the 21st century. Why? Because it’s the media epoch. We’re in it. There is no exit. We need a fresh understanding. We agree, theory needs art. Now.

2. LOVE AND THE VOID

1967 saw the publication of McLuhan’s classic art-text, The Medium is the Massage, exploring how media — human-made technologies — “massage” our senses, our ways of feeling, thinking, and being. Its original cover featured a woman wearing a LOVE-dress. Fittingly, that year also saw the release of the Beatles’ classic song, “All You Need is Love” — which was created as Britain’s contribution to Our World, the very first live international satellite television broadcast that literally reached around the globe. A prophetic forerunner to YouTube, Our World featured programming about everyday life in nineteen nations and reached 400–700 million people, the largest television audience ever up-to-that date. The program was broadcast on June 25, during the famed Summer of Love. As an expression of the utopian optimism of the moment, the Beatles performed “All You Need is Love” to close the broadcast.

Five decades later, it seems as if “All You Need is Like” in Our World that has media infrastructures and mobile technologies spanning the globe, further massaging our senses, ways of seeing, moving, doing, being. At the same time, our media technologies have extended deeper into outer space, making Our World seem like an utter speck amid the voids of the Milky Way and the expanding universe. We face the paradox of our civilization’s greatest discovery: The universe is vast and majestic, and our species is insignificant and might be utterly meaningless. We’ve found 2 trillion galaxies, but no aliens, no gods, and no universal meaning for human existence. Zero, nada, zip.

Is that why, every day most of us fill an empty hand with a mobile phone and fill our eyes with an electronic screen roaming that world? McLuhan’s “global village” jam-packed with online tribes vying for more followers, fans, but also feuds? Media massages that help us feel special in an immense universe? Our tech consolation for our cosmic insignificance? Media building, loving, liking, shaming, hating… sensory massaging to fill existential voids?

We are facing voids in the universe, our philosophies, our knowledge, and our everyday. We create theories, technologies, practices, and relationships that help us distract from, close in, or fill those voids. Yet, in the ever-expanding universe, the voids, too, are expanding. More massages, please!

By juxtaposing the LOVE with a VOID dress (and yes, of course, there is a smartphone), we want to zoom in on a macro-media-theory that connects the small with the big, the inner with the outer, the finite with the infinite. How we make that visible and how, in turn, we are affected by those visibilities. Media scenes and Media seen. The idea is to think about contemporary media massages on a larger scale. A big strata.

3. BIG STRATA

Our different ways of seeing span eons. Petroglyphs to photographs, movies to TVs, phones to drones, supercolliders to space telescopes — technologies of sight all now made visible on screens, made mobile and global via networks that traverse the planet, made interstellar by leaving the solar system and peering into deep space.

Extending from inside the human body, into society, across and above Earth’s surface and into outer space are layered networks of media technologies — a media strata. The contemporary physical layers are obvious: Fiber optics and phone lines are underground and under the oceans, while mobile phones are above ground and drones are in the air and satellites are in space; the Large Hadron Collider is buried underground, while the Hubble Telescope is orbiting the planet and Voyager has exited the solar system.

Within those media layers are other media layers spanning the planet, permeating our cities, propelling data through our devices. A central infrastructure is the Internet, within which is the World Wide Web, within which are social media. Data centers, data bases, software, code. Layers of tweets, timelines, and status updates. Cell towers and satellite dishes. Street lights, electric lights, and LED signs. There are platform layers, interface layers, address layers, and user layers. “Grids” on the surface, “Clouds” above, housing and being housed by Google, Facebook, Apple, Amazon, the National Security Agency, and endless other firms and government agencies around the world.[2] Big strata, big data, big brother.

Read the rest of this excellent essay here: https://goo.gl/YeV6PB.



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