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Immediacy, Hypermediacy, and Remediation

Cover of the book that "Remediation" the article became.
Cover of the book that “Remediation” the article became.

As a culture fascinated by and reliant on media, we as producers and consumers want to both multiply and erase traces of mediation. In “Remediation,” Bolter and Grusin term this the “double logic of ‘re-mediation’” (313). It’s the appeal of Instagram: We can take photos and choose different filters in order to capture that “real” experience, but that experience is mediated through the app. Another example: My mom used to argue with my dad on vacations because he would spend the entire time taking photographs; she said that he was missing the real lived experience and instead was living a mediated experience. That is, in an attempt for immediacy, he was relying on hypermediacy. In this article, Bolter and Grusin aim to trace these histories of immediacy, hypermediacy, and remediation:

We will begin by showing how the desire for immediacy is pursued in digital graphics by adapting earlier strategies borrowed from linear perspective painting, as well as photography, film, and television. In examining hypermediacy, we will show how digital multimedia adapt strategies from modernist painting and earlier forms. We will then be in a position to explore more fully the curious reciprocal logic of our third trait, remediation itself. We will conclude with some proposals for remediation as a general theory of media. 315

Because they focus on these three desires, or logics, it seems useful to delineate them.

The logic of immediacy is the idea that technology should closely reflect the real world in order to create a sense of presence (316). Or, the desire for immediacy is the desire for an experience without mediation (317, emphasis added). Immediacy, then, demands transparency—an interface that erases itself so that the user can stand “in an immediate relationship to the contents of the medium” (318). Bolter and Grusin provide a number of examples here for how transparency actually takes place—through linear perspective, the mathematization of space, the automation of the linear perspective—but I find their example of computer programming most compelling. They argue that, though humans create computer programs, these programs operate without human intervention—ensuring erasure or transparency (322). Immediacy, then, is twofold: “For if immediacy is promoted by removing the programmer/creator from the image, immediacy can also be promoted by involving the viewer more intimately in the image” (324).

Description of the iPhone app Vine
Vine’s description in the App Store boasts real-time picture chatting and the user-controlled viewing time emphasizes the immediacy of the pictures.

One of the examples they offer here is the desktop metaphor—the little icons lined up in Word signaling sheets of paper, folders, floppy discs, and a printer. I also think here of apps like Vine and Snapchat, which offer users an opportunity to create that sense of immediacy through short pictures and videos that they share with friends or through FaceTime functions, which attempt to erase the mediation of the phone and make it appear as though you are talking face to face with the person on the other end.

Unlike immediacy, hypermediacy doesn’t seek to erase mediation; rather, it “privileges fragmentation, indeterminacy, and heterogeneity” and “emphasizes process or performance rather than the finished art object” (Mitchell qtd. in Bolter and Grusin 327). Hypermediacy is comprised of a combination of images and sounds and text and video in order to construct multiple representations within a heterogeneous space (328). The example Bolter and Grusin provide is a standard desktop interface with multiple windows open. At any given point, I have multiple Word docs, numerous Safari tabs, iTunes, and Acrobat Pro open on my computer; and I’m usually using my phone to text and check social media. This experience is constantly mediated, which reminds me—as the user—that my windowed computer is both automatic (rather than transparent) and interactive (329).

View of Mission Control - multiple windows open
View of Mission Control while working on this blog post.

Bolter and Grusin acknowledge that hypermediacy is similar to Lanham’s articulation of looking at and looking through—that is, we look at the level of interface (the mediated experience) but also look through that interface to a level of interactive engagement (“real” experience). In opposition to immediacy, the logic of hypermediacy requires the user to recognize the medium as a medium and to desire that mediated experience (334-35).

This can also be seen in online shopping. If I’m browsing Etsy or Amazon (and I’m logged into my account), I’m trying to recreate the experience of browsing through a store, but I also depend on the suggestions that the websites generate for me. Marketing depends on me enjoying and using that mediation so that I will be led down a (sometimes lengthy) trail of clicking through different recommended items and stores.

The final logic is remediation, and it appears to be the one that has been taken up most verbosely in scholarship and, arguably, has influenced recent focuses on remix. Remediation is an integral component of new media, and it manifests on a continuum of extremes. That is, remediation can be an older medium “that is highlighted and re-presented in digital form without apparent irony or critique”—eg. digital archives of photos and texts—and attempts to erase the digital medium itself (339).

Or, remediation can emphasize difference rather than erase it, which is pitched as an improvement of the old medium while still attempting to remain true to the original (340). I think of things like e-readers for this, which model the genre of a book but also highlight different features—increasing text size, changing font, offering tools for highlighting/underlining, allowing you to purchase new books through the e-reader itself.

Then again, remediation can be more aggressive, attempting to “refashion the older medium or media entirely, while still marking the presence of the older media and therefore maintaining a sense of multiplicity or, as we have called it, hypermediacy” (340). Bolter and Grusin talk about immersive virtual reality here, and I also think of work by scholars like Jody Shipka and Erin Anderson who use older media to create digital projects.

Finally, remediation can be the act of absorbing the original medium entirely, although remediation itself ensures that the new medium is always dependent on the older one, whether those similarities are minimized or not (341). An example here is the move from cinema to television to web, as these different media certainly influence and necessitate each other without acknowledging that dependence.

Final Thoughts

There is a paradox within these various logics and desires. Bolter and Grusin write, “Hypermedia and transparent media are opposite manifestation of the same desire: the desire to get past the limits of representation and to achieve the real” (343). Herein lies the paradox: On one hand, there’s the idea that hypermedia can achieve unmediated experience (343); on the other, there is the inevitably that technologies of immediacy are always remediations (345). This paradox is compelling for its implications of the user: The user always seeks to have some sort of real experience, which relates to our discussion last week about immersive video games. Whether the mediation is hyper-visible or invisible, these technologies have real affects on our real selves, and we desire that mediation in order to be present.

 

Bolter, Jay David, and Richard Grusin. “Remediation.” Configurations 4.3 (1996): 311-58.

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