By Sarah McNabb – Text & Image NMS 504

Trying to give the “satellite view” of my interpretation of Kress’ argument with human agency (the photo of my face) being central to the creation of communication (the modes of communication being those circles which intersect with the center circle of human agency), I wanted to create a 3D piece that spins as an interactive metaphor on Kress’s idea of “movement, motion and pace”.

Kress mentions “shifts in representation” so I allowed this piece to shift visually and physically. Kress also says “Modes and media exist in culturally and historically shaped ‘constellations’”, I wanted the project to embody this idea and so I arranged a celestial-inspired format with circular shapes and rotation.

“A multimodal social-semiotic approach assumes that all modes of representation are, in principle, of equal significance in representation and communication, as all modes have potentials for meaning.” (Kress) Therefore, the old and new “mode circles” are the same size and equally spaced apart, as are the smaller “example” circles in between.

“…social interaction and interchange around meaning, oriented to the processes of making and remaking meaning through the making of signs – simple or complex –  in representation.” (Kress) I tried to portray this by playing with arrangement of back-to-back modes that can be seen when the project is rotated clockwise (for the older, original modes) and counter-clockwise (for the newer modes). Focusing on a look of  “modular-ness” I wanted my advocacy of Kress’s theory to be something a person can engage and physically interact with.

“This model of communication rebalances power and attention, with equal emphasis on the interpreter of a message-prompt and the initial maker of the message, the rhetor.” (Kress) To communicate “balance”, I created literal balance with equally distributed weight and a point of rotation and each of my circular “modules” tends to demand the same amount of attention.

“…social dimensions of meaning” (Kress) I worked to re-create social dimensions historically and with the evolution of technology in the images in my piece, that in and of itself has 3 dimensions.

“Linking of entities – humans with humans, with places, with objects; objects with objects; objects with processes; processes linked with processes – is a major resource for making meaning.” (Kress) The old modes are in black and white and are back to back with the new modes which are in color, with examples of each mode (both in color and in black and white) in between them and each mode is arranged to technologically and/or historically link to the next.

“A frame defines the world to be engaged with; it excludes and it includes; and in doing that it shapes, presents the world according to the interest and the principles of those who frame.” I wanted a project with which a person could engage on a physical level, which is demonstrated in the video. The circular “modes” intersect with and frame the central agent of communication represented by the photo of my face surrounded by black and white images of the ways in which a human engages in communication – singing, talking, typing, listening, etc.


By Sarah McNabb – Text & Image

Appropriately enough, I understood Kress’ meaning, theory  and explanations so much better when they were accompanied by… images. Go figure.

Kress points out that intertwining social, cultural, economic, and technological changes shape the world of communication and that many of the older terms point to shaping present communication purposes, however we should re-examine these terms, for example, representation.  Adequate (presumably new) theoretical tools are needed to address present social, economic, political and cultural conditions for semiosis (meaning making). I agree with this. One cannot measure the outreach of the Internet by treating it exactly like a telegraph. New modes of communication call for new treatments of communication theory.

History affects language, which in turn affects communication and the reach of modes. Trying to gain Kress’ “satellite view” of language by seeing it as one means of among many is very interesting. I agree with Kress’ view that there are some general semiotic principles common to all human communication. For example, everyone smiles at some point and that smile indicates some degree of happiness or gladness or pleasure, just as tears are a common communicator of some form of pain or that throwing up is the body’s way of communicating that something should be expelled for its own good.

I really liked his assertion of an “epistemological commitment” in terms of image representation. As in the cell example, the nucleus has to be drawn in the cell somewhere, but in the spoken or written response there is no commitment about placement (or size or shape). However, when spoken or written, “cell” and “nucleus” have separate names AND a relationship of possession between them that is described and so epistemological commitment takes place. This helps me view the spoken word and image completely differently and identify their relatioship to epistemology within this concept.

Kress’ discussion on authorship and its need to be theorized was also enlightening and pertinent to the times we live in. I think he is right – “plagiarism” seems to be a dated term whereas his description of “cutting and pasting” to create new communication and therefore a redistribution of power in communication is something that should be continually theorized. At what point does one describe “cutting and pasting” as “repurposing”? I think of Andy Warhol’s soup cans or Marilyn Monroe images. He took someone’s pre-made “pieces of communication” and changed their modes and meanings completely. I don’t recall that being widely accepted as plagiarism.

I also found it interesting that he mentions the use of images were not originally as broadly used as they are today. “- from the dominance of writing as the main or at times sole carrier of meaning to an increasing reliance on image.” In looking at old ads from 1920’s on for different products, they certainly used many more descriptive words than images. Today, even one image (such as the Nike swoosh, or the Apple symbol) can condition one to call to mind that company’s slogan without even having it be actually written in the ads (Nike – “Just Do It”, Apple “Think Different”).

I found it interesting that Kress used Noam Chomsky two or three times in his examples and that he was able to explain using semi-made up words to communicate his message when describing his child’s interpretation of what a car was by drawing a series of wheels: “For him, the criterial feature of car was its ‘wheel-ness’; it had many wheels.”

What I found particularly useful in terms of theory was Kress’ discussion on his question Is Layout a Mode? Positioning on a page from left-to right reading direction, right-most position and left-most position creates different meaning-potential. I like the idea that the information hierarchy on a page can carry with it a sub-relationship of meaning to the viewer.

In reflecting on the process of video editing using Windows Movie Maker, I got lost in it and time disappeared. In other words, I was enthralled and enjoyed the process very much. And while my composition is obviously very novice, I truly enjoyed the creation process.

The ability to sequence portions of video, controlling the timeline, composition and cuts and integration of sound and music really allowed a sense of control that could feasibly fulfill a childhood dream of mine to create music videos. The program’s ability to overlap and overlay sounds – spoken words AND music – allowed for avant garde blending effects found in pop culture videos. To make this process even more engrossing would have been to provide my own video clips, though, for this experiment the professor provided great pieces to work with.

The array of music available to pair with the video clips certainly does drive home the ability to manipulate tone. The scene transitions, while very PowerPoint-ish, were also interesting. I particularly liked the “sepia tone” effect and the “fade out” effect for certain scenes.

The most difficult part of this process was the fading of the music in time with the fading of the video. The cropping of sound could have been made more intuitive; however I feel the interface really was very intuitive and easy to use overall.

As far as what this technology affords, it provides the ability for anyone to create their own videos, which has exploded as per YouTube. The creative freedom in personal “cinema” afforded with personal video-editing technology is a cost-effective and easy-to-learn medium for which our generation is fortunate to possess. This medium affords itself to be shared online as well as archived for one’s personal collection, so its outreach is broad. The constraints of this technology include the lack of immediate high definition (at least in the version of technology I experimented with) and that the sounds only overlapped to a degree in this program. I would have needed to use a sound editing program to manipulate and import the precisely edited sounds I wanted. I also wanted to remove all sounds from the video clips, which, if it was an option I didn’t see it immediately, so I might organize the interface slightly differently. I also would have liked a second layer of sounds, whereas this program only allowed one.

An interesting article on an interesting topic by CNBC…still –  In case of death, please send e-mail .

Additionally, I found the obituary of GeoCities.

And last, but not least, I came across this music remix (repurposing / remediation) using portions of the movie Pulp Fiction. Enjoy:


In this interview Andrew Feenberg focuses on the human agent and culture as applied to (or not applied to) the development of technologies. He considers how people transform information technologies into communication technologies that better reflect the “human concern”. The human agency example is given as people develop unique hacks to repurpose technologies to address idiosyncratic needs, but also in the participatory design processes through which technologies are developed with others. Agency is exercised to affect technologies in such a way that they counteract power structures that are undemocratic. Feenberg associates it with democratic rationalization. Such rationalization contrasts the technocratic rationalization, or the idea that the order of culture is or should be established by what is implied in the design of contemporary technologies.
Feenberg says, “User agency is an important theme in technology studies. We are very interested in the impact of users on the redesign of technology.” He goes on to discuss his involvement in the Digital Equipment Corp., that they realized they were not just connecting machines, but people.
Feenberg’s early work in the 1980s with the Minitel terminals in France is interesting, which were meant for pure information and data terminals, which became hacked for personal communication (instant messaging). He also alludes to the early scandalization of the telephone being used for social purposes and the telephone engineers being shocked that the sociability emerged from something intended for use by businesses and government. The emergence of its social use was, in a way, a democratic process of feedback from users of this telephone technology.
Feenberg defines Critical Theory as being a critique of domination exercised through organization of technically mediated institutions. The emphasis is on how power is centralized, how people are controlled, and their minds shaped by these centralized technical institutions. Though one might read Feenberg’s interview answers and think him an alarmist, being a philosopher first, Feenberg approaches Critical Theory of Technology as one would critically approach a political ideology. He says that the dynamism coming from users is important in the democratization of so-called democratic societies and he asks if the momentum of mass culture or lobbying and corporate bribery will take control of the Internet.
Feenberg uses the example of broadcasting technologies that have long been configured to privelege centralized control (using the Rupert Murdoch example) and that the Internet tends to break the broadcasting monopoly (I presume through liberated syndications, podcasts, etc.) Feenberg expresses apprehension at military and particularly corprorate control over the Internet and its technologies. With regard to the future of democratic discourse on the Internet, he says, “The only thing that makes this future at all hopeful is the fact that there is already a culture established, and that culture is familiar to hundreds of millions of people.”
Feenberg discusses the few companies in North America engaged in “participatory design” but does not give company names. He also alludes to writing about social factors in design as early as the 1980s and subsequent groups emerged from this: Computer-Supported Cooperative Work, which he refers to as a kind of virtual interior design.
Feenberg touches upon in the article the same ideas of usability design as Donald Norman wrote about in The Design of Everyday Things. For example, the designer put 10,000 commands into a technology where people only use 20 of them because they can’t figure out the other 9,980 commands. This is not a translation problem, but culture translation. “Know thy user”.
According to the interviewee, “Technology is not a strictly logical, deterministic kind of thing even though it looks that way when it is all finished and packaged and sent out into the world.” He also terms “Management nihilism” as being what can happen in a corporate environment when people with power are bombarded with lots of conflicting ideas and are not competent to decide between them, so they think that since everyone disagrees that “I’m just going to do what I want”. (The nihilism reference — and Machiavelli reference later on –also reveal Feenberg’s philosophical roots).
In his answers to questions about the development of online education (after distance and correspondence learning), whereas a California institution wanted to establish online learning through the cooperation of corporation and university (much to the dubiousness of students and professors alike), Feenberg had approached the university president about the actual use of the systems to which the president responds, “We’re putting in the equipment; it is up to you guys to figure out what to do with it.” Feenberg decided to reverse this logic and try to write good software for online education that would influence the field of online education itself.
The “deskilling of the professoriate” was discussed as being analogous to what happened to the shoemakers of the nineteenth century – how difficult and expensive craftsmen were and to somehow remove them from the equation without removing the product. Feenberg discusses the exportation of deskilled jobs, such as factory jobs, to third world countries and the negative effects on culture. He gives the example of the Asian household with Confucian virtues being weakened by a corporation who would use their respect and good will to exploit them. Feenberg also goes on to discuss that, while Asian communities may view U.S. life as the ideal, homogenization of culture will not fully take place; that the convergence on the American idea of prosperity will not necessarily create a globalization, but that technology will adapt to culture and other conceptions of prosperity (not just the American one).
This type of backwards usability design experience is also referenced in Donald Norman’s book, The Psychopathology of Everyday Things and The Design of Everyday Things where the author notes that as each new technology emerges, the companies forget the lessons of the past when it comes to usability design and often have to revise based on user feedback.
Note: Marcuse was Feenberg’s teacher and Heidegger was Marcuse’s teacher. There are intricate philosophical social-political carry-overs in this interview with Feenberg that I find fascinating. Heidegger was a Nazi sympathizer and wrote the work Being and Time (which I have some familiarity with and find to be inscrutable) however, Feenberg’s points were interesting and legible.
The Design of Everyday Things by Donald A. Norman
This was a delightful and easily relatable read about interpreting and using everyday objects and what makes for good design. The author discusses poorly designed objects and how over-simplicity or over-complexity can make for frustrating designs, as in the Pew Internet Report on the “cool” factor of Facebook applications. He gives examples of a glass door that his friend encountered in Europe that gave no visual clues as to what needed to be done to operate them, thus trapping him within the doors, whereas the door designer mistakenly aimed for beauty over usability (form over function) and failed to use the very important design principle of VISIBILITY as well as MAPPINGS. Norman also gives the example of the slide projector with one button that required different levels of pressure-sensitive use that gave no clear clues for the user that resulted in a difficult and embarrassing slide presentation.
Designing with the user in mind has historically been a problem with telephones and their designs, as pointed out by the author (and to which I concur!). He notes the many different problems that can be experienced with a phone system for example, poor instructions, too many command functions, arbitrary letters (‘R’) on the phone, etc. The author notes that lack of visibility and a poor conceptual model create these phone problems, which in turn can create the “telephone chase” (of which I am also familiar with). Another problem is that any feature not associated with negativity, regardless of it creating a positive function, will likely be left alone by the designers, creating arbitrary and useless functions that don’t evolve out of the design.
Another aspect of design discussed is AFFORDANCES, or, “what the object is for” (perceived and actual properties of the item) which is embedded in the psychology of materials. When affordances are taken advantage of, the user knows what to do just by looking at it: no pictures, label or instruction is required. When simple things need pictures, labels or instructions, the design has failed.
FEEDBACK is also an important aspect of successful design: sending back to the user information about what action has actually been done. i.e. When a button on the phone is pushed, one can hear a beep as a cause of their action of pushing it. “When an action has no apparent result, you may conclude that the action was ineffective. So you repeat it.” (This reminds me of the “click” sound of the clunky buttons on a cassette player walkman.)
Norman reminds us of the CONCEPTUAL MODEL, the mental simulation of a device’s operation. Other clues come from visible structures of items – in particular from AFFORDANCE, CONSTRAINTS, and MAPPINGS. Visible relationships help determine a discernable relationship between the actions and the end result as given in the example of the pair of scissors.
The author points out that fundamental principles of design for people 1) provide a good conceptual model and 2) make things visible. He uses the car as a good example of design because of visibility and placement of objects in a car (natural mappings). MAPPING, being the term for the relationship between two things. Some natural mappings are cultural or biological as in the rising level meaning a greater amount <and a diminishing level meaning less >.
MENTAL MODELS, the models people have of themselves, others, the environment and the things they interact with. The mental model of a device is formed by interpreting its perceived actions and its visible structure. The example of the refrigerator temperature control instructions design failure is given.  The visible part of the device is what the author calls the SYSTEM IMAGE. When the system image is incoherent or inappropriate such as in the refrigerator example, usability problems occur.  VCR programmability in the 1980s seemed to reflect this same problem.
An example of good design given is the 3 1/2 inch floppy diskette and the felt-tipped pen: subtle design cues on both that are functional, visible and aesthetically unobtrusive. I would also volunteer a door key (or skeleton key, for that matter) being of good design.
Design failures, even though the idea may be good (like voice commands on a camera), cannot take hold if they go through three redesigns after being released to the public. The general concensus is that the idea will fail. The author notes that it takes 5 or 6 tries to get an idea right within production.
The paradox of technology is that technology is intended to make life easier and that the development of technology typically goes through a U curve of complexity: starting high, dropping to a low, comfortable level then climbing again. I thought of the Microsoft Operating Systems after this statement. Once an industry has allowed the users to get familiar and comfortable with a device, they add new and complex features to it. The author uses the example of the winding watch into the digital watch and the complexity of the features.
Donald Norman re-released his book under the new title of Design of Everyday Things, humbly admitting that his title had its own design flaw within the context of the book store.  He begins with a discussion about the hidden frustrations in everyday things and uses 3-Mile Island as an example that what was coined as “human error” should be chalked up to “design error” as the control room panel at the Three Mile Island facility was not properly designed for intuitive use. It boils down to design faults lead to human errors.
D.O.E.T.S covers three main topics as being critical:
1) It is not your fault you don’t know how to use ____, it is the fault of the designer. This statement actually makes me feel better about myself.
2) Design principles – don’t criticize something unless you can point out how it can be improved.
3) The power of observation – to learn usability, one has to learn about the user and their habits of use.
Norman reminds us that as new technologies emerge, companies forget the lessons of the past and often let engineers build what they want, but continually have to go back to the drawing board as usability issues emerge after a technology is released.
The author’s book emphasizes one major point: how well the design fits the needs of the people who use it. Technology changes rapidly and people change slowly and that with each new technology that comes out, the people who design them make the same mistakes as their predecessors. “Slowly the manufacturers relearn the same basic principles and apply them to their products. The most egregious failures always come from the developers of the most recent technologies.”
Just a few immediate things that come to mind as I’ve seen “do-overs” in their usabilities and re-releases to the public:
  • TIVO – I’ve seen a few changes in functionalities since having it
  • Facebook – the constant re-releasing of the Newsfeed (Newsfeed vs. Live Newsfeed)
  • Microsoft Operating Systems – their admitted flaws in Vista that they promise to make up for in Windows 7.
This statistic-rich report was very interesting for a report that is two years old. The nature of personal information on the internet is changing the age of Web 2.0. John Battelle has referred to this “clickstream exhaust” we leave behind as our “digital footprints” the term that inspired the title and appears throughout the report. The digitization of public records and the increasing accuracy of search engines has made it easy in recent years for the general population to join creditors, law enforcement, and other professional investigators in the hunt for individuals’ personal information.
  • Passive Digital Footprint – personal data made accessible online with no deliberate intervention from an individual.
  • Active Digital Footprint – Personal data made accessible online through deliberate posting or sharing of information by the user.
  • Change over time: Adult internet users are now twice as likely to use a search engine to look up their own name online.
  • Public Personae: The 11% of adult internet users who have jobs that require self-presentation or self-marketing online.
  • Accuracy is up among those who search: adult internet users who locate information about themselves online are now more likely to say that most of what they find is accurate.
  • First Degree Personal Information: includes material about you that you knowingly provide.
  • Second Degree Personal Information: is material about you that may or may not be connected to your real name or is provided by someone else, with or without your knowledge.
  • Geo-tagging: the process of adding location-specific metadata to websites, images and other content, adds a new offline dimension to search, with its own overflowing basket of privacy implications.
People are not just findable, they are knowable. In our participatory culture people’s reputations can be “Googleable“. In 2000-02 Pew released “Trust and Privacy Online” and it seemed somewhat alarming to find that a third of internet users had looked up someone else’s name online. The landscape has changed so dramatically in the intervening years that those reports seem almost quaint. In the years following 9/11 the argument that online anonymity is a luxury became tenable.
Internet expert Esther Dyson argues “We need to stop talking about privacy and start talking about control over data,” she says, and argues that, in the future, users are going to want more granular control over the data – making detailed decisions about what gets shared”.
Internet users with higher education are more apt to monitor their online presence. Those who have careers in education and real estate were among the most represented occupations in this group. As far as “finadbility”, most internet users feel it would be “pretty easy” for someone to locate them, however young adults and teens think it would be difficult for someone to locate them. This may be because teen profiles like those on MySpace do not list their name but a “profile name”, as well as security features put on the profile as to who is allowed to view it. Older adults online are all about transparency in their social networking profile. Almost completely opposite of the teen.
Forget the phonebook? Absolutely. Personally, at work and at home, printed phone books are not used and are promptly thrown out because of the space-saving immediate access to information online. People search for other people online. I think it is great that the internet has transformed lives in allowing connections to be made between families and long-lost friends. I see many commercials on TV for the internet business of tracing one’s family tree, such as
Most internet users are not concerned about the amount of information available about them online, and most do not take steps to limit that information.
The Pew report covered the management of digital footprints of 4 groups: Confident Creatives, The Concerned and Careful, Worried by the Wayside and The Unfazed and Inactive. Confident Creatives are active internet users whose comfort with online expression may influence their lack of concern about managing their personal data. The way we manage our digital footprints will evolve over time. Having a distinctive name can help increase one’s online “searchability”.