Exam Bluebooks August 11, 2010

Don’t forget to bring a bluebook to the exam on Friday, which we hope to begin no later than 1:10pm.

Coffeehouses + Wi-Fi August 10, 2010

This article about coffeehouses was on the L.A. Times recently: http://www.latimes.com/business/la-fi-cafe-wifi-20100808,0,1079612,full.story

Some coffeehouses are restricting their wifi usage or removing it completely because there were too many people parking themselves at tables all day with their computers, buying very little from the establishment, and creating a non-social atmosphere.

“Coffeehouses have always attracted bookish deadbeats who stayed too long and bought too little. But suddenly these shops were teeming with electricity- and table-hogging laptops, leaving trails of tangled power cords and hard feelings. Too many customers spread out at big tables for long stretches over a lukewarm mug, forcing cafes to turn away business. One New York cafe even had a customer who installed himself and his desktop computer at one of its tables each day.”

Turning off wifi also appeals to people who don’t like being distracted by the internet:

“Web designer Mike Kuniavsky, who has spent his career dissecting people’s relationship to digital technology, hangs out at Four Barrel Coffee precisely because he can disconnect from the Internet and concentrate on his thoughts. That’s where he wrote his upcoming book on consumer electronics design: ‘Smart Things.’ “No Wi-Fi is the reason I was able to write the book,” Kuniavsky said.”

This article got me thinking about how beneficial the internet really is. Sure, it’s great for research, keeping in contact with people, communication and news, but how many hours do we really spend doing something productive online? I’m obviously not the first person to think about this – there are even programs invented such as “Freedom” (http://macfreedom.com/) that you can purchase that will disable your internet for a chosen period of time. I tried the trial version, and I have to say.. I was a lot more productive. I don’t know if it was a psychological effect or something else, but with the internet off, I was able to clean my room and wash the windows (which haven’t been washed in like, a year).

My question is this: do the benefits of the internet really outweigh the negatives? I can do all the research I want now through JSTOR and such, but this also means I don’t go to the library anymore. I used to do research at libraries before all the articles became available online, and after getting the non-fiction books I needed for class, I would also check out the fiction section for stuff I actually wanted to read. Now there’s Amazon, but the feeling isn’t really the same. I used to be able to go on trips and not have the impulse of checking my email constantly. Now if I’m going on a road trip, I try and stop in places with wifi to update my email on my iPod Touch at least every other day. This dependency on the internet is far from healthy, and I’m not sure if I like the influence of it on my life. Is this technological advancement really “advancing” society, or just making things easier for us? Are we becoming lazier, and feeling more entitled as a result of having everything at our fingertips?

I think being connected all the time is making me a little insane. And I’m not even someone who uses the internet to play Farmville twelve hours a day. I truly fear for those people.

-Pauline Loh

(One last thought: Coffeehouse owner Nicola Blair Nook says, “I turn off the Wi-Fi and in 10 minutes all the computers are gone.” What would happen if the whole internet were turned off? There’s an episode of South Park called “Over Logging” about that. You can find and watch it legally online. I thought it was hilarious, but if you’re easily offended by vulgarity and everything else South Park entails, I would suggest not watching it.)

A.I.? August 9, 2010

“What bothers me most about this trend, however, is that by allowing artificial intelligence to reshape our concept of personhood, we are leaving ourselves open to the flipside: we think of people more and more as computers, just as we think of computers as people. “-Jaron Lanier

This is an outstanding discussion of A.I. and Technological determinism from today’s New York Times

The Advent of the Computer: From Babbage to Berners-Lee August 8, 2010

Computer – A history of the information machine

The chapter entitled “Babbage’s Dream Comes True” from the book Computer: A History of the Information Machine by Martin Campbell-Kelly and William Aspray focuses on Charles Babbage’s attempts at building the first real calculating machine and the attempts of others after him to finally build and complete this device that had been so many years in the making. As the authors of the book reveal to the readers, Babbage did not have the easiest of lives or easiest of tempers. Babbage was way ahead of his time in terms of invention, creation, and pioneering this type of technology on a much grander scale than people were truly ready for.

Charles Babbage lived in England during the nineteenth century. He created two different machines that could compute numbers and equations at a much faster rate than “human computers” (we will return to the term human computers later). The first of these machines was called the Difference Engine, which he worked on for about ten years, but he eventually left that one behind to focus on his second one called the Analytical Engine which was “the chief work on which his fame in the history of computing rests” (Campbell-Kelly and Aspray, 54). The main distinction between the two machines was that the Difference Engine could simply make tables while the Analytical Engine could calculate any type of equation. The Analytical Engine’s most important aspect “was the separation of arithmetic computation from the storage of numbers” (Campbell-Kelly and Aspray, 54). This type of capability was a huge step forward in terms of computing and really like nothing the world had ever seen.

Unfortunately though for Babbage, his home country’s government did not exactly see the point of this machine nor did they really care about it enough to support or fund the project. This obviously devastated Babbage, but he was asked to make a presentation at the Italian Scientific Academy in Turin. King Victor Emmanuel was very interested in science and in Babbage’s inventions. When he came back from Italy he again appealed to the British government for money to build his machines but sadly he faced defeat when they deemed it “worthless” (57). Although disappointed, Babbage continued to invent new machines. He even completed plans for another machine called the Difference Engine Number 2 (58). But Babbage eventually gave up when the British government failed to show any interest.

The next important part of this century long story was Lord Kelvin and his tide predictor invention. This was a very important machine that was replicated all over the world to guide ships safely into ports. But again like the engines Babbage thought-up, it only addressed a specific issue rather than something more universal—it was a piece, not the whole. Another man, Vannevar Bush also made huge contributions to science: “he invented a machine the called a ‘profile tracer,’ which was used to plot ground contours” (62). He also created the “differential analyzer” which was closer to a computer because it did not just solve specific problems, but rather was able to address many. Another man who is fundamental to this story was Lewis Fry Richardson who focused on the weather and meteorology. He knew that predicting the weather took a lot of calculation.

Leslie John Comrie is one of the most important people that contributed to the story of the computing machine. He used a different type of human computer: “ordinary, clerical labor….young, unmarried women with basic knowledge of commercial arithmetic” (67). This was a very interesting move on Comrie’s part. He wanted to use the least-specialized people in order to maybe prove that even the most basic of minds or to say it in another way the most basic equations would be better at solving many computations versus the most specialized who could only solve specific problems. He also had the difficult task of making a table of the moon positions. Interestingly enough, tracking moon positions is something that has been going on for thousands of years as we learned earlier the semester with the Blanchard Plaque. Comrie had notable successes and eventually founded the Scientific Computing Services Limited which “was the world’s first for-profit calculating agency” (68). This was again a huge step forward because it further legitimized this type of scientific venture.

And finally one of the last pieces of the puzzle: the IBM Automatic Sequence Controlled Calculator which is also known as the Harvard Mark I. This machine was made for Harvard University in the late 1930s and early 1940s. A Harvard researcher, Howard Hathaway Aiken, a driving force behind this machine later said that there was still not that much popular support or enthusiasm for this machine. This may sound crazy for a modern-day individual because computers are such an important part of everyday life but again as Babbage’s machines were ahead of their time, this one was as well.

However, they were able to raise the funds for this “five-ton calculator….which ran mechanical synchronisms that were all lined up and driven by a 50-foot shaft and powered by a 5-horsepower electric motor” (72). Basically this machine, was huge. One of the most important aspects of the Harvard Mark I was “not its speed but in the fact that it was the first fully automatic machine to be completed” (73). Babbage’s “dream” was finally completed a few years later but people should not forget that he truly pioneered the computing and calculating machine.

Venessa McDonald

Weaving the Web

The science of computing has advanced massively since the days when Babbage first devised his Analytic Engine, and even since the Harvard Mark-1 was first booted. However, one of the most radical and important advances in computing has occurred only over the last two decades—the creation of the World Wide Web. The general nature of the web needs no exposition—we’re all aware of what it is and what it can do. What we may not be aware of, however, of how the Web came about. Communication between computers has been around since at least the late 1960s, as can be seen in Douglas Englebart’s demonstration, wherein two people collaborate to perform tasks from two locations using two cursors on a single display. This demo was a powerful indicator of what might be coming in computing—indeed, the next decade saw the creation of the modern Internet. However, this was far from the most interesting innovation demonstrated by Englebart.

Not even the computer mouse—which made its debut during this demonstration—could be called the most interesting (it probably couldn’t even be called the most influential) innovation Englebart produced. The title of “Most interesting Innovation” would probably have to be bestowed on hypertext—a system by which strings of characters—pieces of text, that is—in a document are “linked” to other documents containing information relevant to those pieces of text. This is the basis of “linking” on the web—a process which every web user relies on every time they perform a search. (Remember those highlighted, clickable names of web pages that a Google search produces? Yeah. Those. They’re pieces of hypertext, each and every one.)

Linking formed the basis for the very first web-like pieces of software, and for the software that eventually became the basis for the web. While working at the CERN particle physics laboratory in 1980, Tim Berners-Lee wrote Enquire—a piece of software utilizing hypertext to connect “nodes”–pages within files—and even to connect files to each other. Using this program one could, for example, create a link between a project and the researcher who oversaw the project, and by clicking on the researcher’s name access a page which might tell you about his involvement in other projects—just as today a Wikipedia page on an invention might link you to a page about its inventor. Although Enquire fell by the wayside when Berners-Lee left CERN, the ideas within it formed the basis for his later creation of the web.

Berners-Lee went through several iterations of programs similar to Enquire after he returned to CERN in 1984 in an attempt to create a global database which, importantly, would preserve each individual’s formatting and style, rather than forcing them to change and standardize to conform to the database (an approach which, according to Berners-Lee, caused several similar projects to fail due to lack of support). Berners-Lee also insisted on a decentralized network for his database—he wished to avoid a situation in which a new user had to ask permission from someone before using the database to—for example—create new nodes based on their own work. Berners-Lee considered this point essential, especially in ensuring that the database could scale easily as the number of contributors grew—he wanted to avoid any bottlenecks or choke-points through which all the information had to flow because it would eventually lead to a slow and massively bogged-down network. In the course of his attempt, Berners-Lee discovered the Internet, and realized the massive capabilities it had as a network of networks to transfer information, especially on a global scale. He also realized, however, that in order to implement the network he envisioned, he would have to create some sort of common addressing scheme, so that each node in the network (each document, essentially) could be accessed by address—something easily parseable by a computer program. To satisfy this need, he creating the URI (now known as URL) addressing system—the now ubiquitous web addresses we all type on a near-daily basis.

A further innovation by Berners-Lee came when he created the first accessible web server on his computer. Not only was this a massive innovation in and of itself, Berners-Lee hit upon the idea of creating a URI which was not connected to the specific identity of his computer, but which would “travel with him” if he decided to transfer the server data to another machine. He named this server info.cern.ch. Having already invented client software for his web (including a simple browser/editor), Berners-Lee had essentially succeeded in creating the World Wide Web. He wrote the Hypertext Transfer Protocol (HTTP) at this time as the universal language in which computers would communicate over the web, and the Hypertext Markup Language (HTML) as a method of creating and formatting documents (i.e. web pages) using hypertext. At this point, all that remained was to make the web accessible to all types of computers, rather than limited to the type which he had designed the software on—and this was accomplished in relatively short order. In just ten short years, Tim Berners-Lee had gone from ideas about how data could be stored and accessed bouncing around in his head to a fully-functioning world wide web—and had, in the process, revolutionized information technology.

The implications of the web for communication and the dissemination of information can hardly be overstated. Suddenly, anyone with a computer and an internet connection could have a repository of information more vast than any single person could reasonably examine in a lifetime literally at his fingertips. And, thanks in no small part to the creation of hypertext, browsing this web and finding information related to a particular topic became easy and intuitive. Social media (like Facebook or Youtube), forums, and even the rise of the blogosphere (and the enormous uptick in amateur journalism)–all can be traced, more-or-less directly, to the advent of the World Wide Web.

-Samuel Maldonado

Sketch of the Analytical Engine Invented by Charles Babbage

Ada Lovelace was an avid supporter of Babbage’s Analytical Engine. Her key points in its defense were:

1. The Analytical Machine requires no human intervention and therefore removes human error in calculating.

2. The Machine saves time, as it can perform computations faster and more efficiently.

3. The Machine spares the need for intellectual labor, which can then in turn be used for more practical matters.

Registering Operations” and “On the Division of Mental Labour,” chapters 8 & 20 in On the Economy of Machinery and Manufactures.

These same ideas are found within Babbage’s own writing, published 7 years prior. Machinery becomes the “check… against the inattention, the idleness, or the dishonesty of human agents” and he goes on the elaborate the different functions for which machines are invented and capable of doing. From counting to measuring exact liquid quantities to measuring the directionality of earthquakes, these instruments are important in increasing efficiency and exactness.

In Chapter 20, “On the Division of Mental Labour,” Babbage elaborates on the economic benefits and efficiency of employing labor based on maximizing ability. For example, “we avoid employing any part of the time of a man who can get eight or ten shillings a day by his skill in tempering needles, in turning a wheel, which can be done for sixpence a day; and we equally avoid the loss arising from the employment of an accomplished mathematician in performing the lowest processes of arithmetic.”

Betty Lin

Additional Sources

History of the Internet

This movie clip is a brief history but clear history of how the internet was develop, and in the first half of the movie clip, we can see how the concept of “Connection” and “Multiple user” came up and lead to the idea of network in a time where knowledge is only transferred by people. Both these two concepts are important because they imply that we started to have the sense that the transferred of information can go beyond physical limitation and be done in a way that is totally different than the traditional ways (oral, books…) information is delivered.


Web 2.0 … The Machine is Us/ing Us

This is one of the best clips about web, its supposed to be a clip on the idea of Web2.0 but it actually demonstrate the fundamental concept of web really well, especially in the last half of the clip. “We are teaching the Machine. Each time we forge a link, we teach it an idea.”(3:20), the whole cyber space is constructed rapidly by all kinds of information and the relationship between them, creating a world that is no longer serve as a tool for communication or information storage, but a subset of the real world itself. “The web is linking people…”(3:50) as it concluded.


World Wide Web Creator Worries About Internet Control

The impact Internet has on the society involves a variety of aspects and brings about dramatic changes, and it can be a potential and powerful tool for people to exert control. This is a clip on Berners-Lee’s concern of World Wide Web, mainly about online privacy issues and neutrality.


By Angie Peng


Campbell-Kelly, Martin & William Aspray.  1996. “‘Babbage’s Dream Comes True,”  (pp. 53-104) in Martin Campbell-Kelly & William Aspray, Computer: A History of the Information Machine.  New York: Basic Books.

Menabrea, L.F. 1842. Sketch of the Analytical Engine Invented by Charles Babbage, trans. Ada Augusta, Countess of Lovelace

Berners-Lee, Tim. 2000. Chapters 1-3, pp. 1-34 in Weaving the Web. New York City: HarperCollins.

Babbage, Charles.  1835.  “Registering Operations” and “On the Division of Mental Labour,” On the Economy of Machinery and Manufactures.

Video provide by youtube

Photography: History and Implications August 5, 2010

Today’s assigned reading, “Prints from Paper,” “Portraits for the Million,” and “The Faithful Witness” from Beaumont Newhall’s The History of Photography, merge a retelling of the history behind the development of photography as an art form and communication technology with the broader social effects of a new medium.


As with various other types of technology, the technology behind photography as we know it today was built upon previous developments in painting, light capture, tracing, the camera obscura, and chemistry.  Newhall attributes the rise of photography to people’s interest in capturing a permanent image.  One such person was William Henry Fox Talbot, who tried to make permanent images of landscapes by painting using a camera obscura.  He thought “How charming it would be if it were possible to cause these natural images to imprint themselves durably, and remain fixed upon the paper” (qtd. in Newhall, 31).  He also mused about how to bypass learning all of the technical skills necessary for capturing images through painting.  Essentially, Talbot wanted to make things easier for people who wanted to record beautiful things they saw without having the time, knowledge, and skills needed to make a painting.  This was during 1835.  Around the same time, Louis Daguerre was developing his invention the Daguerreotype, which accomplished the goal that Talbot had but recorded the images onto sheets of silver.

After Talbot created his method of image capturing images onto light sensitive paper, he then adopted Herschel’s  process of fixing images to prevent them from fading away and also fixed the problem of mirrored images and negatives, images in which the light is depicted as darkness and vice versa.  With these improvements, Talbot introduced the world to a way to capture images onto treated paper and also mass produce copies of the “positive” image (32-33).

In true innovative fashion, Talbot continued to improve his invention, the Talbotype, by making exposure times shorter using different mixtures of chemicals for his fixers and developers.  Talbot’s next move was to patent his invention and show the world what his process was capable of by publishing The Pencil of Nature, which included various prints of nature photography.  Much to many aspiring artists and inventors, Talbot was very strict with his patent, even going so far as to attempt to sue people who tried to improve upon his process.  Later, he loosened his grip on the patent except in terms of portraiture because he felt that the most money was made through that aspect of photography business.  As a result, photographers/portrait producers had to get approved licenses to practice their trade.

As photography became a cheaper, faster, and easier process, it was increasingly used to capture nature scenes and even in practical, government projects of recording various examples of architecture for restoration and historical purposes.  Later, photographers took their equipment to war zones to document important current events while instilling in audiences the “implicit faith in the truth of the photographic record” (71).  That “faith” in the “photographic record” was built upon the belief in the objectivity of the Talbotype that was not present in paintings, seen as created by someone who interpreted the scene rather than a machine.  Viewers’ “sense ratios” were changed from the use of vision with imagination in seeing and interpreting paintings to the objective, realistic use of vision and belief for photographs.  In this sense, photography morphed from simply an experiment, to an art form, and finally was adopted as a documentation tool.


Newhall’s history of photography focuses on the invention and development of the camera as a key for the subsequent influences of photography and photography an medium for information. Reminiscent of Heilbroner’s argument for soft determinism, Newhall introduces a sleuth of technological achievements that occurred nearly at around the same period of time in addition to social factors that changed the technologies associated with photography. For instance, “while both Talbot’s and Daguerre’s processes were still secret, the astronomer and scientist Sir John Herschel, with characteristic intellectual curiosity and vigor, set about solving the problem independently” (32). Furthermore, the continued development of advanced photography techniques affected the ways in which photography could be used.  For example, Blanquart-Evrard’s new innovations to Talbot’s calotype allowed him to mass produce photographs used in books as illustrations.

Just as the advent of writing and literacy contributed to the concept of authorship, photography also raised questions about ownership of the photographs. Brady “felt that he was entitled to copyright in his own name all photographs taken by his employees, including those taken on their own time and with their own equipment” (69). On the other hand, Gardner “felt that the photographers should have credit as well as profit for their independent personal work.” (69).

Newhall notes the significant social demands that influenced the development of photography. For example, Archer’s collodion process met the rising demands for cheap portraits. Wars inspired many photographers to capture combat. Photographers even “risked their lives to save their plates” (68).  Though “men would travel miles over back-breaking terrain and come back empty handed” (76), government expeditions attracted many photographers for expeditionary photography. Photographs of landscapes such as the Canyon de Chelley National Monument allows “the awe-inspiring scale of the Canyon [to be] wonderfully sensed” (78).

Photography was an invaluable medium for historical documentation because of “the quality which photography can impart more strongly than any other picture making” (71). As opposed to art, photographs capture every single detail of an image. A viewer views a photograph as if he could have been there in the actual scene. A certain sense of “truth” of the image is evoked. Artistic renders of historical events, however, does not imply truth because “we have no way of telling beyond the assurance given to us by the credit line which the editors felt necessary” (71). Therefore, photography gives proof to the existence of the image as once seen by the photographer. However, photography does not guarantee the complete truth because “subjects can be misrepresented, distorted, faked” (71). This is further reinforced by the abundance of photo manipulation devices and programs available to us today.

There are also social constructionist implications of the development of photography.  Talbot was in some senses more successful and popular in terms of marketing his photographic product than Daguerre because people saw the need for mass printing which stresses the need of reproducibility.  Mass printing, as Newhall states, was then utilized in various ways, including but not only in terms of publications of illustrations for books.  This, in turn, shows a combination of media (text and pictures/photographs) to create a new, improved medium, that of the illustrated books.  As stated in class, the social construction of technology approach sees that “tech[nology] is shaped by social interactions.”  In this case, social interactions between everyday people and artists in the forms of commissioning of portraits and paintings of nature scenes built an interest in the faster, cheaper art form of photography.

Connection to Other Collisions of Technologies:

The history of photography is reminiscent of various collisions of new and old technologies we have discussed in class.  As discussed in the “History” section, the “art” of photography goes hand-in-hand with the style and techniques of the image recording method previously prevalent, painting.  Many of the images recorded with Talbot and Daguerre’s machines were the ones that people would commission artists to recreate using their oils, brushes, and canvases.  For example, Talbot began his innovation process because of his experience with the technology of the camera obscura for drawings.  As portrayed through the anecdote about Hill and Adamson working to depict the hundreds of delegates that attended the Free Church of Scotland founding convention, photography took on a role in portraiture that was once dominated by painting.  In fact, Newhall states, “[t]here were other photographers who felt that the camera offered them the opportunity to rival the painter, and they set about emulating the older art, largely by imitation” (57).  Even nature, once painted with the help of an easel, began to be photographed with the help of a tripod!  In addition, the competitive forces of different photograph types (daguerreotype, calotype, talbotype)  and the invention of techniques that allowed for mass production of printed photographs increased the availability of portraits and nature photographs to the masses rather than a selected group of wealthy patrons, democratizing an art form by transcending socioeconomic statuses.

This collision and slight transition to a new form of information recording and transference (i.e. from painting to photography) relates to the collision of oral and written/text communication we analyzed through our study of Plato’s Phaedrus in that one previous technology initially influenced a new technology and method of communication that then took off into its own direction.  Someone in class mentioned the influence theater had on cinema.  The over-dramatic style of acting used on stage was applied to the originally visually focused early cinema as shown through films such as D.W. Griffiths’s Broken Blossoms.  In addition, cinema can be seen as the use of hundreds upon hundreds of photographs pieced together in a continuous sequence.  With that in mind, it is easier to notice certain styles of photographic composition utilized in cinematography, such as the use of borders/frames in certain scenes of older films to help focus the audience’s attention to certain details on screen.  Furthermore, even the actual chemistry behind film was at one point very similar to that of what was used for single-frame photography because in the end, a film reel was simply and even literally a long strip of film, except one that captures and therefore displays positives instead of negatives.

The styles of previous forms continue to act as a jumping off point for newer methods and may even combine together to build a completely new, integrated model.  (One such example was given by someone in class: news websites are a multimedia amalgam of video, photographs, texts, blog posts, Tweets; blending together the different older ways people got their news –television, newspapers, magazines, interaction with others– into a new, all-in-one cocktail.)

Further Analysis (on Newhall’s actual arguments and method):

First, Newhall’s account is an infatuation with the emergence of successive technics and with the high art uses of photography. Little, or nothing she says, tells us why photography gained commercial or “spectator” acceptance, e.g., what was it about photographic images that captured the imagination compared to painting? And what additional/incremental value did photographs provide in terms of communicative discourse that was not available in other existing forms of expression? And second, in her preoccupation with technics and art form, Newhall largely ignores evidence of the role of “low art” in the commercialization of photography (see below)

With respect to technics, Newhall documents the competing opportunities and deficiencies of each new photographic process as each such process created new technical challenges for entrepreneurs. Her narrative reflects a preoccupation with how the evolution of photographic technologies led to clearer, more precise (44), more readily reproducible, more portable, less expensive (47) and more mass production-enabled printing (41) For example, tintype technologies were popular because they were durable, had high quality images, were portable and could be used to produce multiple images. (49)

With respect to Newhall’s focus on high art she notes a sequence of applications that seem to have emerged largely from the inventors themselves: primary justification for use of talbotype was “taking as subjects of representation scenes of daily and familiar occurrence” (34) and “portraitures” (35); whereas calotype was used for “recording architecture and landscapes” (37). It is also not surprising that painting was the source of inspiration in use of photography (for Scottish artists, 37). Finally, Newhall turns to the application of photographic documentation of war (67), large portraits of “famous” people (51), publicity photos (57), historical documentation (as in Old Paris remembered and the building of transcontinental railway (72)), and geological and geographical documentation (79).

With respect to the second point regarding Newhall’s “ignorance” of low forms of the photographic art, it is clear she wants to avoid the controversial. She documents the subversion of the daguerreotype by the development of the so-called visiting cards (49). She notes that 70,000 such cards were sold in the week after the death of the Prince Consort (in 1861). But perhaps she might have been better to note that two years after the announcement of the availability of the daguerreotype in 1839, the largest production of daguerreotypes was being manufactured just down the street in Paris – the images were almost entirely comprised of erotic nude and nearly nude poses. (Janet Buerger, French Dagguerreotypes University of Chicago Press, 1989). These images were produced for artists and the academies. In 1874, more than 130,000 obscene photographs were seized from a London distributor and in the same year, 194,000 pornographic photographs were seized in the United States, mostly in and around New York. (Encyclopedia of Nineteenth Century Photography Routledge, 2007, p. 1148)

What is not clear is how these new techniques were “read” as new ways of seeing (the quote from Oliver Wendell Holmes is an exception (71)) nor what drove commercial demand and acceptance. Newhall addresses some of the points of resistance in American markets, without clearly indicating how viewers came to see where they would have purchased such pictures.
Similarly, it is not clear what social needs were being met by photography.

We would argue that Newhall’s monograph is a classic MOMA statement defending and promoting the high ideals of the modernist agenda, particularly the agenda of MOMA and its patrons.
Newhall fails to address other important questions:

*Painting entails the engagement of the body in what is seen and what is produced. The eye “sees” as in photography. But in painting, the arm, the hand, the distribution of bodily weight, the temperance of time, the extended intervals of emotional engagement, indeed in large productions, of the whole body are encumbered in the act of painting. In photography, the body (apart from the eye) is foreshortened to a few minutes or seconds and to the motion of a finger.
*As Roland Barthes notes (Camera Lucida) there is something different about looking at a photograph. Newhall calls this “authenticity” (71). But as Barthes writes, many photographs require nothing more than a simple studied observation. Only the peculiarities (which are often accidental) of an image draw us into the story/history of the image. Newhall fails to draw our attention to what is different in “seeing” a photo as compared to a painting.
*The eye almost seems incidental to Newhall’s history. The privileging and recalibrating of the senses to a single source are lost in Newhall’s narrative about the high art forms. (Why did the crystal clarity of erotic daguerreotypes seem so more nearly “real” than similarly posed paintings?)
*What is missing, from an economic perspective, is an understanding of why photographs became so commercially successful. She describes the products (e.g., civil war portraits), but not the markets. Why were such images in such demand? By whom? And what were they willing to pay for such images?

Post by Charles Chang, Kalin Kelly, Jingna Li, John Macwillie, Bernadette Samson, and Jason You.

Telegraph & Telephone August 3, 2010


The telegraph was the result of a slew of inventions from all over the world. For simplicity sake, I would like to focus on the invention of the telegraph in America and its reception by the society. Many are unaware of the fact that the telegraph actually “preceded the railroad in forging extra local and interregional links (Du Boff 461).” The reason for this was that the telegraph was used primarily for business reasons. Prior to the creation and distribution of the telegraph, America experienced a “business revolution (460).” As the business demand grew, there was a drift towards a “natural monopoly” of the telegraph industry. This monopoly allowed the major telegraph firms to increase the prices of the telegraph which undoubtedly prevented many people in society from using this invention for private and personal reasons. The public could not afford to pay the high costs but telegraph companies knew business firms could, so they did not use the telegraph as a means of communication. In America, the telegraph was only able to gain popularity because of the demand placed on it by business firms. It wasn’t until the invention of the telephone that the public began to truly utilize such a communicating device.


-Cinthia Do

The Era of Monopoly: 1880-1893

The emergence of the first telephone system began with the invention of the switchboard in the early 1880s. Before automatic switching technology, phone calls were transmitted through switchboard operators. Switchboard operators were primarily women who regulated switchboard activities by directly connecting two callers through wires and plugs in the switchboard. This new technology provided an outlet for faster and more efficient information exchange especially amongst businessmen. Like the radio, the advent of the switchboard system recreated human interaction as well as redefined social boundaries. This new ability for speedy interconnection not only transformed human sense of time, but also revived oral tradition as an important process for the dissemination of information. Written records were no longer efficient and the reliance on the switchboard system created competition.

Although the switchboard system provided a new medium for interconnection, privacy remained a major issue. In some switchboard systems, “operators listened in periodically to find out when the conversation was over so that she could disconnect the plugs (Fischer, section 37).” The public was interconnected with the private sphere, the business elite, through the word of mouth of a single female operator, thus creating issues of liability and confidentiality. The telephone system not only presented a new outlet for information exchange, but also an exchange of gossip within the public, similar to the phenomenon which Robert Darnton explains in his piece, “An Early Information Society: News and the Media in Eighteenth-Century Paris.” Gossip amongst women would soon take a greater effect once telephone systems were installed within homes.

To get an idea of the relationship between gossip, information, and the telephone, here is a YouTube clip from I Love Lucy. The episode is entitled “Gossip” and was aired in 1952. Watching the first 3min. is sufficient to understand the overall significance.


The increased demand and use of the telephone system by business elite brought overcrowding of the switchboards. In order to fix this, Bell developed new switchboard procedures which provided higher-quality service. With this new equipment, Bell wanted to transition the telephone system from a luxury to a commodity that would be more accessible to a wider range of customers. Bell wished to extend his monopoly into family households with a “flat-rate telephone service, allowing unlimited calls (Fischer, section 39).” In doing so, Bell created a new public sphere which connected people- no restricted boundaries. In contrast to the radio, the telephone unified people communally, but also gave individuals a sense of identity because they were able to disseminate wide range news. The discussion at public coffeehouses could now be made within the security of the home. Although the telephone system created this new sense of community, independence, and identity during the early 1900s, it also created isolation between the middle class and the working class who could not afford the system. This isolation would change in the years to come.

To further entertain you with the details of the switchboard telephone here is a YouTube video entitled “Telephone Switchboard Advances” –

-Keisha Soleta

As we have read in Thomas Hughes’ piece, “Networks of Power: Electrification in Western Society, 1880-1930,” war was the animating force behind establishing networked power in the U.S. The application already existed and it was clear before technology, so deploying technology quickly and massively came easily while the war continued.

With telephony, the animating force was profit and private entrepreneurship. Capitalists, despite enjoying a virtual monopoly on the technology, struggled to imagine a way to make the telephone useful to people and, at first, catered to businesses, lawyers, and physicians-not residential consumers.

In fact, up until 1893, telephony executives were hostile to the idea of expanding service to everyday Americans “unless made necessary by competition,” of which there was none. Executives and consumers did not see a telephone service as a public utility nor as a popular communication technology. To make a contemporary connection, today ISP does not consider the Internet as a public utility, only as a private money-making service. They are currently lobbying to end “net neutrality” through legislation because they don’t believe that the American public sees the internet as a public good. More importantly, they are emboldened to do this because–although not a monopoly–only a handful of ISPs control the vast majority of internet connections in the US and form a cartel. Because of this, their behavior mirrors that of monopolistic Bell.

-Ricardo Gomez

The Era of Competition: 1894 to World War I

Following the expiration of Bell’s key American patents in 1893-94, thousands of new telephone companies cropped up, including commercial ventures, mutual companies established by small town shareholder-subscribers, and simple “farmer lines” that crudely linked a handful of households. Although marginal, these independent operations were numerous enough to present a significant challenge to Bell. By 1902, 52 percent of towns with over 4000 in population had two or more telephone companies. In response, Bell preemptively founded exchanges in many areas and reduced prices, even to the point of draining their capital. Bell’s nterests also used financial and political leverage to block independents’ access to New York and Chicago, ensuring that regional companies would never match Bell’s long-distance networks. Despite Bell’s efforts, however, it had lost half the growing market to the independents by 1907.

When J. P. Morgan’s group won control of Bell that year, they brought Theodore Vail back to head the system. He decelerated expansion, eased price competition, and conceded markets to the independents by buying competitors and making interconnection agreements with small operations to absorb them. Within 5 years, Bell owned 58% of US telephones and was again
on the rise.

As with many other technologies, such as electricity, state and federal regulations compelled AT&T to serve undesirable markets and established price constraints. But they also supported high quality technology, consolidation, and uniform pricing – all of which were to Bell’s advantage. By accepting government regulation, Vail presented AT&T as the leader of a coherent, “universal” communications system.

In 1910, AT&T purchased Western Union, raising complaints from competitors and making itself an antitrust target for Washington, which was under the influence of the anti-corporate progressive movement. AT&T thus issued the 1913 Kingsbury Commitment agreeing to sell off Western Union, to only purchase other telephone companies with government approval, and to
interconnect lines with non-Bell companies. As a result, Bell was assured dominance of the market while large independent investments remained financially secure.

Throughout this era, consumers experienced a reduction of more than two-thirds in annual rates. Measured (as opposed to flat-rate) services increased and party lines helped lower costs for users with moderate incomes. With this radical drop in price, telephone adoption accelerated quickly, much of which occurred in small town and rural areas served by independents and cooperatives, instead of Bell. The use of nickel-in-the-slot public phones became common in major urban areas by the turn of the century. Telephone service, like other significant technologies such as the printing press that came before and the computer which came after, was transformed from a business tool and luxury good to a common utility.

-Genevieve Wong

World War I to World War II: Consolidation and Depression

Fischer makes it a point to argue that the widespread distribution of the telephone is closely linked with events that have greatly shifted the socioeconomic sector of society, such as WWI, WWII, and the Great Depression. Fischer explains how the telephone industry recovered during a time when there was change in the atmosphere, when the “technological environment changed with the proliferation of cars and radios (Fischer, section 50).” With the emergence of cars and radios, as well as, the New Deal, which focused on helping the economy bounce back from the Great Depression, the government heavily regulated technologies-the telegraph and the telephone included. The federal government’s involvement with the distribution of telephones interfered with the “see-saw” phenomenon which was occurring between Bell and the independent distributors, not to mention the fluctuating costs of service charges. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) was in charge of overseeing the investigation of the industry and declared it a national goal: “To make available, so far as possible, to all the people of the United States, a rapid, efficient, nation-wide, and world-wide wire and radio communications service with adequate facilities at reasonable charges (Fischer, 51).” Though the cost of telephone services, distributers, and telephone users continued to fluctuate, it is important that we appreciate Fischer’s text beyond its historical richness. We can tie the telephone’s history to what Robert L. Heilbroner calls “soft determinism” or when, “technology, while acting on society also reflects the influence of socioeconomic forces on its development (Heilbroner, 53).” While reading this piece one might be overwhelmed by, what seems to be, factual information given in a non-sequential way, however, Fischer is demonstrating how the emergence of the telephone, its use, its distribution, and, eventually, its commodity value emerged and how certain events helped mold its development. Though Heilbroner appeals to Marxist ideas when explaining how socioeconomic forces effect the development of technology, I think that something similar to soft determinism is being explained in Fischer.

After describing how the telephone was distributed in different in countries such as Canada, as well as, the European states, Fischer references Thomas Hughes’ piece and argues that both the technological developments of electricity and the telephone can be specifically characterized as “American.” Both Hughes and Fischer argue that the development of the electrical and telephone service were similar because they 1) involved creating networks 2) their importance relied on the support of a large number of customers 3) they [electricity and the telephone] both were intended to be delivered to local monopolies and 4) they were shaped by political context. In order to elaborate on Hughes’ claim that there is an “American style” of technological development he contrasts how the automobile was developed and distributed in Europe versus the United States. Juan touched upon Fisher’s explanation of the automobile; however, Fischer quickly elaborates that: many automobile companies, patent-sharing agreements, continuous technological development, and competition all helped spearhead the introduction of luxurious cars.

With luxury (well-respected or popular) cars comes advertising and regulations, “to continue new car sales, the industry adopted more aggressive advertising, credit plans, and annual model changes (Fischer, 58).” An industry for automobiles was growing and it was being regulated and expanded by the government. The government played a role in automobile diffusion by creating traffic laws, police tasks, parking, and improving roads. The government’s role in U.S. telephony was small compared to the automobile.

With Fischer’s comparison between the automobile and the telephone, we can see that the automobile industry was heavily influenced by the government, capital, the market, and demand-another example of Heilbroner’s idea of soft determinism. Keeping in mind Fischer’s outline of the technological developments of the automobile and the telephone in the United States, and in other countries, one question that I still have is: What are the generalized principles which are characteristic of a technological development that is considered “American?”

-Marianne Hanna

Towards the end of his piece, Fischer suggests that the histories of the telephone and the automobile have similarities and differences. Fischer touches upon some important points which are similar to what RL Heilbroner states in his piece, “Do Machines Make History?” Fischer agrees with Heilbroner regarding Heilbroner’s definition of technological determinism. Fischer states that the automobile and the telephone emerged from “parent” technologies, and that inheritance shaped their early histories. This could be tied in with Heilbroner’s example of the “sequence” where is gives the example of how, “the steam-mill follows the hand-mill not by chance but because it is the next “stage” in the technological conquest of nature that follows one and only one grand avenue of advance (Heilbroner, 55).” Analogously, the phone and automobile could be represented by the steam-mill and the telegraph and the bicycle the hand-mill. Fischer tries to establish the impact and importance of the telephone and he tries to tie in the telegraph by giving it credit, since, without it, most likely the telephone would have never have emerged. Fischer’s idea is similar to what Heilbroner states: “I do not think it is just by happenstance that the steam-mill follows, and does not precede, the hand-mill (Heilbroner, 59).” The emergence of the telegraph and the telephone was not intended for social use but eventually the only way it would bring out its true potential was for it to become accessible; when companies noticed this, they started working hard to upgrade it and make it appealing to society.

-Juan Rodriquez


Fischer, Claude S. 1992. Chapter 2 “The Telephone in America.” The Social History of the Telephone to 1940. University of California Press. Berkeley. pp 33-59.

The Business History Review, Vol. 54, No. 4, Business History and the History of Technology (Winter, 1980), pp. 459-479
Published by: The President and Fellows of Harvard College
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/3114215

Videos: Provided by YouTube

Blog Contributors: Cinthia Do, Ricardo Gomez, Marianne Hanna Juan Rodriquez, Keisha Soleta, Genevieve Wong

Radio and Broadcasting: The Advent of a New Mass Medium August 2, 2010

“Radio broadcasting added a totally new dimension to modern communication by bringing the outside world into the individual home.” – Daniel J. Czitrom

The history of radio could be summarized as a long journey between military research and science-based industries. These two forces worked together to build a new technology that would breakthrough the scientific boundaries of that time. The wireless technology used during WWI and the mix of mathematics and physics were the main tools in creating a medium that would revolutionize the use and perception of mass communications.

The attempt at  originated from electromagnetic telegraphy. In attempts to eliminate the use of wires, radio was envisioned as a way of information travelling through space. Electromagnetic waves, specifically, was first used as a marketing tool, giving access to waves exclusively to private owners of receivers. This one-sided relationship between the feeder and the receiver changed when the old vision of “universal communication” was sweeping throughout the country.

The theory that radio waves could be transmitted by an all pervasive “ether” brought with it a sense of the supernatural. As a direct result of science, the limits of information were being pushed to heights that no one could quite fathom; we can imagine drawing a similar parallel to how the people of the early societies of the Gutenberg galaxy must have felt when they were faced with the reality of having to learn something so “un-natural” as speech and written language.

Soon, the shift to wireless transmittance was quickly realized as a new commercial market. Marconi’s organization began the business of sending messages to marine vessels wirelessly, for the price of receiving equipment and a fee to the company for sending out the message. Quickly, as Marconi expanded to America, the government caught on to the potential benefits of going to wireless messaging, and began funding heavy research and development into the fledgling field. Many predicted military advantages, such as “steering torpedoes, firing mines, and blowing up forts with ‘radio waves.’”(67)

Apart from military implications, the public also caught on to the implications this would have on personal communication. Ray Stannard Baker, in predicting a “not-distant future where organizations and even families could secure their own private frequencies…”, seems to be predicting the world we live in today, in which every person, armed with their cell-phone, has become their very own message-receiving station. William Ayrton imagined a future in which every person had an “electro-magnetic voice” to relay a message, and an “electro-magnetic ear” to receive such messages. This ties beautifully into the concept that, as Lodge explains, “we are growing a new sense; not indeed an actual sense organ, but not so very unlike…” We see a direct tie here to the sense ratios that McLuhan proposes were shifted by the writing system; with the advent of broadcast, technology delivers yet another sense-altering jab to the human mind, once again forever altering information and intelligence. By giving man a new voice and new ear, this new technology once again altered how a message could be delivered, and also how it could be heard.

People quickly realized this impact. Initially, radio transmittance was seen mainly as a tool for government propaganda and communication, which lead to governmental regulations that can be compared to the creation of the common dictionary. However, soon, this changed. Broadcast, literally the “sowing of seeds” on a farm by scattering them over a wide field, soon became the dominant form of wireless message transmittance. Amateur wireless operators began popping up everywhere. Similar to the realization authors came to with books, people realized the tool they had: a tool which would allow them to say anything they liked, to whoever wished to listen, with no concern to physical constraints. The drive towards a true “global village”, where thoughts and ideas flowed freely with no regard to time and proximity, was on.

With the growing impact of radio came the issue of who would be paying for this service.  Would it be government or privately controlled? Would, as David Sarnoff of RCA suggested, we have cartels? AT&T wanted broadcasting to be a service provided by Bell through the telephone system.  In the end, the advertisers were the ones charged in order to fund radio broadcasting.  This is called toll broadcasting and AT&T used their telephone lines to create the first network broadcasting system by connecting their station WEAF with others throughout the country. The Department of Commerce sold stations with assigned wavelengths, creating more of a privately owned system.  Not only did this show the extensive use and power of the telephone lines, it also made clear the major presence of consumption in American life.  Now advertisers could reach their consumers directly in their home, during their family time and relaxation hours.  Frank A. Arnold, of the National Broadcasting Company, called radio advertising, “a sort of psychological burglar in the home” (77).  The National Broadcasting Company (NBC) was developed when AT&T sold WEAF to RCA.  The radio became a signature piece of furniture in the home around 1925.  During the Great Depression, when other forms of entertainment were suffering, radio excelled and many of the stage actors turned to broadcast.  As a consequence of the harsh economic times, more stations used network affiliation and commercial broadcasting.  Radio broadcasting was an important link to the advertising and consumption ideology in America.

Commercial broadcasting emerged full-force in the 1930’s which transitioned theaudience from the “customer” to the “consumer” (81). Advertising agencieshad primary control of the airwaves and catered radio content to attractingthe largest audiences for their sponsors. This shift in the audiences’relationship with radio broadcasting meant that the “commercial broadcasterhad to figure out how to capture widest possible audience for the sponsor”(81). They did so with the emergence of new entertainment content. Varietyshows featuring comedians became especially popular and profitable duringthis period. Comedians’ “vaudeville acts,” “one-liners,” and “situationaljokes” were key in establishing variety show comedies as the “firstimportant style of network radio” (83-84). Sponsors were also pleased withthese comedian acts since they could use the popularity of well-knowncomedians to promote their product. Soap operas also went on air duringthis time and became 60% of daytime broadcasts (85). The programs attractedlarge female audiences and kept their loyal ears through slowly developingdramatic plots. Dramas were a third category of radio entertainment thatwas created as an “afterthought” but managed to have substantial success(86). While these other forms boosted radio audiences, music showsdramatically declined and did not rule the airwaves again until after WWII. Political censorship also resulted during the era, “both flagrant andsubtle” in an effort to reduce conflict and controversial messages that might alienate audiences (81). Those advocating political censorship arguedthat it helped maintain the country’s morale as shown through thecensorship of the severity of the Great Depression which “strengthened” the”psychology of community life” (82). Ultimately, advertising agenciesgained significant control over the radio programming as well the government through censorship.

At the end of the decade following the advent of the radio, radio news began to emerge. The pressand the radio never had an adversarial relationship, but rather a symbioticone according to Czitrom. Newspapers were used by radios to publicize theirnew product and radio stations were started by publishers to publicizetheir paper. Publishers were slightly weary about their relationship with the radio. An example from the reading was whether or not the AP should give consistent news stories to radio stations. Publishers were mostlyconcerned with the radio cutting into newspapers profits, given that theradio was generally free and easily accessible around this time.

In contemporary times, this is akin to the TV Networks reluctance to have full-length TV episodes on the Internet. Piracy on the Internet made it impossible for networks to continue to limit the amount of shows on the Internet. Independent websites like Hulu (at the time) began to provide viewers with on demand TV shows. ABC, NBC, CBS and others attempted to limit the amount of shows and the lengths of shows on the internet. This could not hold up against independent websites like Hulu, PeekVid, and TVDuck that hosted full-length TV shows on their sites. The major networks quickly adapted when the consumerist angle was realized. They placed ads around the videos and later commercials breaks in between the shows.

Radio news became popular in the 1930s due to independent news agencies like the Radio News Association sold their stories to independent news stations that were unhappy with the limits of the major news networks. Overall, the success of these radio stations illustrated that Americans had a hunger for news that was not seen Pre- the Great depression, European tension and the New Deal. Americans began to realize that politics and economics affected their daily lives. But this was not always the case.

Cizitrom discusses the high point of radio news as that of the Munich crisis, because the radio provided play-by-play for the first time and listeners were able to hear live voices of key leaders and live updates. This was basically the first newsflash and the beginning of the annoying, “We interrupt this program to take you live to the…” Citzom closes with discussing the “March of Time”, which is arguably the most important news show of the future in that it evolved the reading of the daily news story into a dramatic and performative piece in which actors were hired to do reenactments of the latest stories. News programs use drama and have distinct performative technique in delivering news stories.

Czitrom channels Berger in noting that once again the new wireless technology did not necessarily fulfill any desire of the “utopian vision”, but instead just provided another means for advertisers to exploit consumer interests and furthered the appeal of products that promised a greater existence and happiness.

Image Source: http://moodyradiopaulbutler.files.wordpress.com/2009/09/radio-show-1.jpg

Citation: Czitrom, Daniel J. “Media and the American Mind” (Reader) pg.60-88

Blog Contributors: Krishna Vadrevu, Jun Bum Im, Jillia Fongheiser, YuJin Kim, Mikaela Ubry, Shannon Myricks

Berger – Ways of Seeing July 29, 2010

Thoughts on Essay 1:

John Berger emphasizes the importance of vision when he states “it is seeing which establishes our place in the surrounding world; we explain that world with words, but words can never undo the fact that we are surrounded by it” (7). In the past when science was not dominant, “seeing was believing”. Even today, this concept holds some validity in that “the way we see things is affected by what we know or what we believe in” (8).  Berger is able to distinguish vision into two components. He characterizes ‘seeing’ as an involuntary process where one detects a stimulus while ‘looking’ is a voluntary process where one chooses what to see.  Vision is a unique process that is “continually active, continually moving, continually holding… constituting what is present to us as we are” (9).

Images are ways of ‘seeing’ and looking’ and can be captured by painting, photography, and other media.  These mediums are all unique and represent one form of sight which is shaped by one’s previous experience and preconceptions. The image-maker contributes to the record because the image is a representation of the maker’s interpretation of the subject.  It is this directness of images that makes them “more precise and richer than literature” (10). Berger’s use of image-only essays serves to challenge us to compare and contrast these images. By doing so, we are able to examine them critically. The image-text essays give context to the images and allow us to analyze them in a new light.

There is a processes of how images came to be. “Images were first made to conjure up the appearances of something that was absent” (10). When the images could outlast what it originally represented, images then evolved to show how people at a particular point in time viewed that image. The beginnings of this type of consciousness first began around the birth of the Renaissance.

There are different elements that constitute viewing some object. The experience viewing a landscape in front of you differs from viewing a landscape painting that was made in the 1905. When viewing the landscape painting made in 1905, you tend to place yourself in history – a different mindset than from viewing that same landscape in the present. One example of this is with the paintings of Hals as described by an art historian. The art historian says that those paintings “seduce” us into believing that we can know the personality traits and even the habits of the men and women portrayed.  Though there is great skill involved in portraying the people in his portraits, much of the seduction is not solely created by the painter; it is inherent in the mind of the viewers to accept the way Hal saw the people he was painting.

That goes for any painting/image. In and of itself, the painting/image that is viewed is of something of the past. Therefore when some painting is being viewed, there is this inherent disconnect of the viewer and that image as opposed to the experience of viewing something in the immediate. When a painting is created, it is made by a creator with some perspective. The viewer of that painting is suppose to also view that painting from within the eyes of the creator as opposed to viewing an immediate object in front of himself from his own perspective. Therefore, there is this one universal view when looking at a painting in the Renaissance. This is a type of perspective that is no longer dominant in the present day. “Today we see the art of the past as nobody saw it before. We actually perceive it in a different way” (16).

The paintings of the Renaissance embodied this type of perspective. The European art in that time period “centres everyone on the eye of the beholder. It is like a beam from a lighthouse – only instead of light traveling outwards, appearances travel in” (16). This type of perspective, however, changes with the advent of the camera and photography.  The camera “captured and isolated momentary appearances” and showed that the notion of time passing was inseparable from visual experience.  What one saw depended on his time and place; this shattered the convention of perspective: “No longer was it possible to imagine everything converging on the human eye as on the vanishing point of infinity” (18).  The camera lead to the reproduction of paintings as images and ultimately cheapened the meaning of the original painting.  Berger shows this through various examples and venues.

Paintings were originally integral parts of buildings  that contributed to their uniqueness, but Berger states that “[w]hen the camera reproduces a painting, it destroys the uniqueness of its image.”  As a result, the meaning changes: it fragments and multiplies as works of art are reproduced.  Berger provides the example of people viewing a painting through the television.  Since each family, or person, views the image in a different environment and since the painting now comes to the spectator, the meaning of paintings is altered.

Yet another issue with reproduction is that the emphasis now shifts from “what it is” to “what it says.”  The importance now lies in the fact that the painting is a reproduction of a rarity, not in the painting’s meaning.  According to Berger, this leads to a present-day “bogus religiosity” that is concerned only with the market values and owners.

Reproduction also lead to paintings becoming information in that they could be used and modified for people’s own purposes.  Berger shows that a cropped version of a painting can completely change the original painting’s meaning — “[r]eproduction isolates a detail of a painting from the whole. The detail is transformed.  An allegorical figure becomes a portrait of a girl.”  Films are another venue where reproduced images are used.  According to Berger, the film-maker uses these images to lead the spectator to the film-maker’s own argument.  Since the film, unlike a single painting, unfolds in time, a series of reproduced paintings in succession construct an argument “which becomes irreversible.”  Due to the fact that films unfold in time, the spectator cannot (as with original paintings) take their time to examine all elements of the paintings.

Words are also often added to reproduced paintings.  These words alter the meaning of the image.  Berger provides Van Gogh’s “Wheatfield With Crows” as an example.  When this image is presented without words, one might not think of death at all, but when it is later modified with the words “This is the last picture that Van Gogh painted before killing himself,” one would be more inclined to associate the seeming chaos in the image with Van Gogh’s death.

Berger claims that modern means of reproduction have thus fundamentally destroyed the authority of art.  This new language of images “confer a new kind of power”: publicity.

Thoughts on Essay 2:

Modern publicity images have many drawn many similarities to classic oil paintings.  Often, modern advertisements shamelessly steal images and devices from these oil paintings.  The inclusion of these classic images in advertisements is, at first glance, an attempt to draw attention to the ad by using a familiar image. However, John Berger argues that modern advertisements are trying to establish a more powerful connection to the reader, as opposed to one of just recognition.  According to Berger, modern advertisements try to appeal to the viewer’s knowledge of art, culture, and history by presenting the viewer with images and devices that are present in classic works of art.
One of the reasons why advertisements tend to ‘quote’ works of art is due to the associations of art with affluence and wisdom (Berger 135).   These associations suggest that advertisements are directly aimed to exploit the desires and fantasies of consumers.  In addition to these appeals, sometimes certain devices, instead of entire works of art, are ‘quoted.’  These devices contain images familiar to consumers: serene mothers, luxurious materials, and the embraces of lovers (Berger 138).   Although the devices may not be specific to a work of art, they appeal to concepts that have become universal to humanity.  Thus, classic works of art have become more than just images in the minds of consumers—they have become a ‘visual language’ that the consumer is well versed in and an advertiser can summon at will (Berger 140).  This section of the reading can be summarized in one quote: “publicity is, in essence, nostalgic” (Berger 139).  Appeals to the consumer’s historical background are what drive advertising campaigns due to the certain connotations consumers place on historical and artistic images.


We’ve been talking an awful lot about propaganda lately, so why not try to see if we can make some kind of nice segue way from that into advertising? Such a connection may not be obvious at first. Propaganda, we think of Hitler! Nazis! Lies! The manipulation of the masses! Advertising is Pepsi! Nikes! Ipods! The manipulation of the masses – oh, hmm…

Propaganda and advertising can both be characterized as media-based expressions of political will working on people. Hitler, the British, the Soviet Communists – all worked to spread and control information in multiple formats in order to achieve political goals, to win people to their cause, to make them hate the enemy, to get them to go to war, etc. We call this propaganda. So what is advertising? Advertising – or, as Berger calls it, publicity – is the dissemination of information in varied media promoting something commercial. Like propaganda, it’s information that seeks to affect behavior – commercial behavior, in this case. But it’s no revelation that commercial concerns are never just that. Money is power, and politics is all about power. Who has the power in advertising? For Berger, the answer is clear: the advertiser. The people and companies who create advertising hold a kind of power over the masses by producing so much of the media and messages that we see, read, and hear every single day. And similar to propaganda, these messages are targeted to different groups. Different classes are promised different transformations: for the working classes, products cause “personal transformation”; for the middle class, social transformation arises from owning products (p.145). Berger sums up the ultimate aim of advertising: “The purpose of publicity is to make the spectator marginally dissatisfied with his present way of life….It suggests that if he buys what it is offering, his life will become better” (p. 142). Advertising is designed to get people to want to spend money, to create desires that empty wallets – but not all wallets. “The only places relatively free of publicity,” Berger writes, “are the quarters of the very rich; their money is theirs to keep” (p. 142). Their money is, in fact, largely made up of what was once your money, and that is point of publicity: put simply, to keep money flowing from the poor consumer/workers to the rich producers/owners. Now, perhaps that’s an overly radical way to put it, but it can’t be denied that advertising’s goal is to maintain the economic status of those with the power to advertise and thus to help maintain the whole class structure. And that’s definitely a political motive. Advertising’s power goes beyond merely controlling the money of the people, however. As a ubiquitous visual and pictorial mode, often making use of art, advertising constitutes a major part of the massive deluge of reproduced images that – going back to the topic of the first essay – Berger claims is used by the elite classes to manipulate the culture of the masses and control their relation to art and history.

Advertising, or publicity, is used by the upper classes, the rich and powerful, to maintain class politics and to exercise control over the people below themselves, primarily through images. Use of media to influence and exert power over the masses for the furtherance of political goals – no, it’s not propaganda, it’s advertising!


Like any good cultural critic, Berger makes a great point in his essay about how “publicity” (for this purpose, I’ll use advertising and publicity interchangeably) works to advance consumer capitalism and class anxieties. Berger makes the argument that publicity turns every viewer into a “future buyer.”

What the viewer is buying isn’t the product the ad is selling (this is almost insignificant, what’s being advertised is a brand, not a product itself), but rather they’re buying into the idea of their future, better, self. As Berger says, “the purpose of publicity is to make the spectator marginally dissatisfied with his own life…It suggests that if he buys what it is offering, his life will become better.” This is very apparent in ads for luxury items, which often showcase celebrities in extremely glamorous settings, operating on the premise that if you spend thousands of dollars on a handbag, you will be magically transported to this glamorous paradise as well, almost turning into the celebrity. This Louis Vuitton ad, featuring tennis player  Andre Agassi promises the spectator love and even says “there’s no greater journey.” Of course, for this journey, you need a $4,000 bag.

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Not everyone can afford a Louis Vuitton bag and Berger brings up the fact that the publicity will change depending on the intended audience. He says that images aimed towards the “working-class” promises “transformation through function;” and for the middle class it promises “transformation of relationships through a general atmosphere created by an ensemble of products.” The above ad is a perfect example of one part of Berger’s theory: the Louis Vuitton bags are just an accessory, something the couple took on a vacation to see each other (maybe flying first class?) The background of the shot includes a laptop, digital camera, car keys, and a cell phone. What the ad is selling is Agassi embracing the woman on the bed: the fantasy that being rich and having money will lead to love and well-lit romantic life.

I have to disagree with a bit of what Berger is saying in this argument as I find that ads aimed towards working class people don’t always sell them transformation, but rather enforces their reality. The below print ad for Walmart which targets a traditionally low-paid demographic (nurses) and focuses solely on the cost-cutting benefits nurses can achieve by shopping there. There is no fantasy here, only practicality.

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Berger also discusses the notion that publicity sells us an escape from the drudgery of work, where most of us will spend the majority of our waking hours. Many ads operate on the anxiety that is produced by facing down years and years of working for someone else with no say in many of your daily desisions. Berger says, “the passive worker becomes the active consumer. The working self envies the consuming self.” I thought the below ad for Starbucks Double Espresso (coffee in a can) was a great example of this tension; the guy drinks his Starbucks and is suddenly able to handle his public transit commute, bleak office job and even begins to imagine a future in which he is promoted to middle management.

The worker stops being “powerless” (as Berger says) and is suddenly motivated to keep working. He is empowered, not by his own drive, but by his choice of beverage in the morning. As Berger mentions, “the choice of what one eats (or wears or drives) takes the place of significant personal choice.” In that way, publicity continues to drive capitalism by making the viewer think they are doing something significant by buying, when in fact, they’re just losing money.


Blog post by:  David Huie, Lakshminarasimhan Muralidharan, Cat Callaghan, Maria Diaz, Justin Sun, and Vincent Arrogancia

Some Thoughts on Media Bias July 29, 2010

 To have a further discussion about the nature of news and explore how news has been less objective and its relations with politics, I would like to discuss some arguments put forward by Michael Schudson, in his chapter, “Media Bias”, which is a relevant but not a required reading.

Michael Schudson points out that “the belief in objectivity is a faith in ‘facts,’ a distrust in ‘values,’ and a commitment to their segregation.” It refers to the prevailing ideology of newsgathering and reporting that emphasizes eyewitness accounts of events, corroboration of facts with multiple sources and balance of viewpoints. It also implies an institutional role for journalists as a fourth estate, a body that exists apart from government and large interest groups (wikipedia). He, however, argues that such a quest for objectivity has led to a set of distortions in news coverage.

The inherent decisions in the manufacture of news always involve framing and bias. Rather than individual bias, the nature of organizations, the marketplace and the assumptions of news professionals are, oftentimes, taken into account.

Schudson suggests that professionalism, here referring to the professional ideology held by journalists, editors, news producers in quest for objectivity, contributes to several kinds of distortion in the news.

 1.  Schudson argues that news tends to be event-centered, action-centered, and person-centered. The news focuses on certain individuals or certain events rather than motivation or intention lied behind the scenes. It changes the news to a certain story because of the absence of the complicated and essential factors in the scene, simplifying complex social processes in ways that emphasize melodrama. A complex set of phenomena is turned into a morality tale or a battle between antagonists, often between good guys and bad guys.

 2.  Holding a belief that there are two sides to every story, news tends to focus on conflict, battle, dissension. This results in a plethora of bad news. Schudson claims that reporters will improve their careers more quickly by uncovering scandal than by recording achievements; they will burnish their reputations more by writing with an edge or an attitude than by writing with cool and scientific detachment.  Moreover, he argues that the media made judgments and those judgments were more often negative than positive. The news instinct is triggered by things going badly (and from the belief that good news isn’t news). As Tamar Liebes has pointed out, “Western journalism is a social warning system, exposing the exception rather than the rule, the deviant rather than the norm, disorder rather than order, dissonance rather than harmony” (Schudson, p.  50). Even in instances of relative calm, there is a tendency for news to appear as conflicts.

 The following two distortions are more relevant to political reporting:

 3.  There has been a trend for news to lay its emphasis on strategy and tactics, political technique rather than policy outcome, in coverage of politics. For example, news coverage focuses on the horse race in campaign coverage. It may further emphasize the insider speculation about what this tactic means, what it will cost, what it might win for a specific candidate. This results in a reliance of journalists on experts who can speak to these “insider” analytical issues.

 4. The choice of speaks in the news can shape the news and consequently, how readers perceive it. Legitimate public sources, including government officials and experts which are regarded as “reliable” and “relevant” with the subjects of the news, shape and frame the events being reported. Since news is mainly based on sources, it is important for us to pay attention to news sources. To grasp a larger picture of the event, we should ask ourselves when reading news: who speaks? What aspects of the story are being told?

 An understanding of these distortions in the news can help readers to see through policy announcements and rhetorical appeals and their focuses on strategies and tactics.

 Gilbert Ka Shing Chan

Two Throwbacks! July 28, 2010

Hey everyone!  I found these recently.  They don’t match up exactly what we’re learning about right now, but they do relate to past topics.

Throwback #1:

When one of my friends and I were talking about high school English classes and the different interpretations people have of books, my friend linked me to an article about Ray Bradbury.  The article mentioned people misinterpreting Ray Bradbury’s main theme in Fahrenheit 451.  However, I realized that the article mentions how  applies to our class!


Essentially, Bradbury was worried about the negative effects of television, which reminded me of Plato’s Phaedrus and how worried Socrates’s character was of the use of written word/text as a communication mode.

Throwback #2:

I found this when I Googled the Alpha Centauri video linked on the Spies blog post.  A few Wikipedia links led me to this image from a computer game called FreeCiv:


The dependencies aspect of it reminded me of Heilbroner’s points on how certain developments lead to other developments (social or technological).


-Bernadette Samson