Comparing Media

These are notes under development … mrb


For two years, I taught a course called Understanding Media in San Francisco. It was a course about Marshall McLuhan based on his key book for the media artist.

After co-authoring a book for Apple on Media, I learned that what artists wanted most was the art of assembling content and how media worked – far more than how to encode a CD-ROM. I felt the same way and so turned to McLuhan, inviting his son Eric to the class. I taught for 2 semesters, but had to get back to my day job.

I am giving some thought how to make this a virtual class for today’s digital artist that may not really understand how and why one should for a given subject present a picture, some typed text, even a handwritten letter and all the attendant or alternative media. And then how the interaction aka the dialog should occur.

McLuhan had may great techniques to boot up your understanding of what was going on in media. Everything from clocks to typewrites to roads to women’s bras. A great exercise he gave to his students was to rip out a magazine ad and write about what was going on in the advertisers and the buyers minds. Big lesson – successful ads are written for those that already own the product. He did this exercise himself in a hilarious thin book, “The Mechanical Bride.”

to be continued …


I think you realize with books now, we are at a moment of invention. The iPad and Kindle start a digital industry by rear-viewing readers with a familiar page formatting scrollable files. Like any horseless-carriage, eReaders will take us places. (Hopefully they will emulate better layout and typography.)  But what will they become? There is something deeper about books that digital technology can uncover – voice and mediation of experience. For when you read a book, you hear a voice, imagine pictures – the conjurings of the author. What happens when you go beyond the rudiments of textual language in your story telling, and summon other transcodable media. That will really shake your tree. Finally with high tech comes high touch and I agree with Richard Dash that publishers should make richer book offerings, tallismens like Prospero’s books (the Peter Greenaway kind).

On a tangent – somewhat related – current reflections on media

Distraction vs Attraction – Eframes vs Wood frames.

With an eframe the world turn around you. With a painting and certainly a sculpture you turn around the world. Somehow the silence of a great picture is something you can measure yourself with. It does not change in time. You do.

An eroll is about forgetting, not remembering. The eroll is like that Powerpoint slide that keeps going away, prompting discussion like a flashcard, but signifying nothing.


Further notes on the limits of Apple’s publishing platform…

The iBook fonts are good as long as the publication uses one font. The horror…

To gaff the book editor who has matched the author’s voice and set it in the best font by offering the reader a change tool? Seems ornery. Size I get. Hugh Ambrose’s voice kicked up to high pitch font is identity theft. The font decision was already artistically made. Ok, blogs can have variable fonts, like the old days when you could set your browser to view <h1> and <body> in any given color. In the end? Save the time of the reader.

Apple toys with the reading experience. This is great fun for Pooh-players. But to my ear, the how of what is being said is more richly expressed in typography and layout.
With such a fine machine, I expect character, books eprinted with as much care as my shelf treasures but with the proper Jobsian awesomeness. Finally I want to read if not write the first book scored to music. And Apple won’t tell me how, even though I am an iPhone developer in their store selling an it-shall-remain-unnamed app.

— mrb next day 1:50pm PST


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