Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Creating Meaning Through Meaningless Things

As a result of being born into an information society where the world is based globally on communicating through electronic media, the avoidance of digital technology is nearly impossible. Digital technology, specifically computers, is inescapable and has become significant in our culture for better or for worse. Fortunately, the introduction of high definition televisions, cable modems, and cell phones symbolizes that as long as our generation progresses, there will always be others working towards improving the media to make our lives as convenient as possible. Further, this is evidence of the changing of times in our society because throughout human existence, those individuals capable of inventing or patenting their breakthrough creations are the ones constantly try to advance in technology and perform whatever it takes to ensue the easiest life possible for all mankind. Sources of the media play an inevitable, crucial, and increasing role in the lives of millions of people and grappling with how to understand and comprehend the ways in which digital media effect society is arguably by no means a simple task. Allowing children and adults to communicate and express themselves through the media is what binds humanity together.

Having said all that as well as reading the first half of Jay David Bolter's Windows and Mirrors, I have a better awareness of the evolution and impact of computers over the past century and how meaning evolves from seemingly meaningless words and pictures. After all, it's one thing to talk about the development of the technology itself, but I believe it's more important to discuss how we interact with and experience the technology that average computer users takes for granted everyday.

Bolter goes into detail about the history and development of the computer and world wide web and I like how he pointed out that the computer and its uses nowadays has completely changed from what the original creators intended it to be used for. The computer was designed to be some sort of artificial, super human calculating machine which would control us, but rather, we control the content of computers. The original meaning behind the essence of computers has changed. After all, computers are machines and machines by definition lack emotion, which is a quality that separates us from machines. Remember, the Terminator is just a movie.

All objects, words, signs, symbols, and pictures lack meaning in themselves until the creator or observer of these objects, words, signs, symbols, and pictures ascribe meaning to them. This notion becomes more complex when one factors in cultural differences and how many pictures or symbols can have multiple meanings depending on the observer. I find the ability of the human mind to figure out what meanings to give to what objects another wonderful example of how deeply complex and human we really are and how machines are just machines. After all, computers can not give meanings to pictures; they only display them.

Bolter makes a clear statement that digital media should be transparent and reflective. As he continues through the development of computers, he acknowledges how computers also evolved from texts and words to sound, graphics, and networking. This ability to network, receive feedback, and add graphics and sound moves way beyond the dull and simple process of information gathering computers were originally used for. Now, we can manipulate and interact with the content others put on web pages and this interaction becomes a direct reflection on ourselves in regard to who we are and the meanings we create around ourselves. The better we have gained control of our technology, the more creators are able to create and express their own meanings and views of the world. Think about the next time you post a comment in response to a YouTube video or be consciously aware of what you type next time you update your Facebook. The video is just a video and the experience in itself means nothing. However, your comments become a reflection of the type of person you are and the meaning you received from watching that video or that experience you wish to share. Even more importantly is the dialogue you engage in with those who comment back. This is evidence that other people read what you had to say and are now expressing their view. Therefore, the computer is more than just a medium or a piece of artificial intelligence. Rather, the computer is a form of expression and interaction between viewers and creators that bind us and bring us to life.

Bolter also makes a point about how there are those who believe the appearence of web pages should be determined by users and that the elaborate visual design of web pages is neccessary. In other words, the form of a website and the content of a website can not be separated. I agree and disagree with this statement. Even if a particular website has a plain, black background, if a person wants information that badly from this website, he'll still read the words on the page to acquire information. However, clear menus, links, and proper colors of backgrounds and texts do greatly aid in making a website more presentable and enjoyable. After all, people like eye candy. If it works in advertising and television commercials, then it works for the internet as well. As computers evolved, graphic designers of computers evolved as well to add pictures, sounds, and colors to what once were dull websites. I would imagine people would flock to or favor those pages that are more colorful, decorated, and interactive over dull black and white text pages. Again, how people present web sites is a reflection upon who they are. Remember how you set up your MySpace page? The page itself is just a page, but the background, colors, and song of choice you added gave meaning to that page and was most likely a reflection of your favorite colors or preferred genre of music. Therefore, through computers and the internet, we express ourselves to the world at all times even if we are not always consciously aware we are doing so and through easy to use design sites, like MySpace and Facebook, we have all become graphic designers to an extent.

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