3D VW remediation – square peg in a round hole?

As part of my research on remediation and especially the Place concept I will be visiting Professor of Architecture, Yehuda Kalay of UCB. I’ve been invited to participate in a course wrap-up where his students will display how they have designed, implemented and tested their ideas in regard to building a museum in SL.  In preparation for this event I’ve just finished reading a fascinating article by Professor Kalay (2006) on “The impact of information technology on design methods, products and practices”, where Kalay describes two different ways of appropriating new tools in architecture, namely the “square peg in a round hole” and the “horseless carriage” paradigms.

The first is that of forcing a square peg into a round hole implying that the use of the new tool is misdirected, or at least poorly fits the processes that have traditionally been part of architectural design. (…) The ‘square peg in a round hole’ paradigm describes tool making as a problem of adapting a new technology to current practices. As a new technology is introduced into practice, a dysfunctional relationship can develop between the tools and a task, either because the task is poorly understood or because the process of displacing a traditional technology is largely one of the substitution of habitual tools with new ones that have the wrong affordances. Such inappropriate use of the technology results in a poorer practice. (Kalay. 2006:377)

The second paradigm describes a state of transformation, where the new technology is viewed through the lens of the practice in obsolete and ‘backward’ terms, much like the automobile that was viewed as a horseless carriage in the early days of the 20th century. It implies a lack of appreciation for the emerging potentials of technology to change the task to which it is applied. (…) The ‘horseless carriage’ paradigm views technology as a means to alter the perception of a practice about itself, as it is transformed by a new technology. In using the term a ‘horseless carriage’ at the turn of the 20th century, the task of transportation has been described through the lens of a previous technology, not realizing that the practice of travel had dramatically changed. (Kalay. 2006: 377-378)

Even though Professor Kalay and colleagues* use these “paradigms” to describe the use of new tools/media in architecture in particular, I do believe that they resonate with a more general use in many other research fields. As a researcher on educational use of new media I do see parallels to both practice I’ve experienced and especially to Bolter & Grusin’s ideas of different ways of remediation, so this is for sure something I’ll return to …


Uh, and BIG thx to Terry Beaubois for introducing me to Professor Kalay :-)

*) Chastain, T, Kalay, Y E and Peri, C (2002) Square peg in a round hole or horseless carriage? Reflections on the use of computing in architecture Automation in Construction Vol 11 No 2 pp 237e248

My first presentation at UCB’s Center for New Media

Today I did my first presentation of my PhD project at UCB. Sadly only a few people turned up, but they seemed engaged and asked a lot of questions, so that was good. It was the first time I presented some of my recent ideas on remediation, so that was quite interesting for me personally. I clearly need to refine my thoughts and the lack of proper English vocabulary, when I want to make a specific point, is really, really frustrating, but it is all part the learning process and I feel confident that it will become easier as time passes.

Among other things I addressed one of the challenges I currently have in relation to my thoughts on remediation. I’ve incorporated several dichotomies in my models for remediation, but I only see them as theoretical/analytical tools – reality (in whatever shape it represents itself) is much more complex and I don’t necessarily consider them to be mutually exclusive. Another problem is that some of the concepts I’m using are ambiguous, so I have a lot of work ahead of me in determining how I will define these concepts, and as examples of this uncertainty I presented the following three slides:

BTW, for the presentation I’d found a nice template displaying an Ethernet cable, which I thought suited the topic very well – only later I realized that as part of the terms of use I’m not allowed to upload them to any sort of file sharing site and this is why they can only be found here in pdf format … and so I will not use that type of template again!


The Double Logic of Remediation via Alberti windows

Based on the above quote the “Alberti window” is frequently used as a metaphor to describe the sense of immediacy, and for some immersion, that users experience in especially virtual reality and virtual worlds as it points to the idea that it is possible – at least in a psychological sense – to “step through” the window and enter the space depicted.  Here I’ve taken the quote from Bolter & Grusin’s book “Remediation – Understanding New Media” p. 24-25. As part of my research on remediation I’ve spent the last couple of days studying their book in detail and this post will be the first in a series of trying to make sense of my notes combined with my experience in and examples from SL. But before getting to the point I wanted to make about Alberti’s window and the new shared media function in SL, let me just make some quick remarks on some of the key concepts in the book.

In the glossary Bolter & Grusin explain remediation this way:

Defined by Paul Levenson as the “anthropotropic” process by which new media technologies improve upon or remedy prior technologies. We define the term differently, using it to mean the formal logic by which new media refashion prior media forms.
Bolter & Grusin. 1999:273

Throughout the book Bolter & Grusin continue to elaborate on the concept, and an apparent distinction from Levenson’s definition is that they see remediation as a process that also can go the reverse way, meaning that older media also can remediate new media – i.e. Television incorporating social media like Twitter streams or text-message polls via cellular phones in live shows to enhance interactivity. Another important point for Bolter & Grusin is that there are a number of ways in which especially digital media remediate their predecessor – a spectrum that goes from respectful to radical remediation (ibid. p. 200). These ways can be divided into two main strategies depending on their foundational logic, something Bolter & Grusin call the Double logic of Remediation, which can be based primarily on

  • either immediacy (aimed at diminishing the users awareness the medium/mediation)
  • or hypermediacy (aimed at enhancing the users awareness of the medium/mediation)

It is, however, important to notice that the authors do not see these two forms of logic as contradicting, but rather as mutually dependent. According to Bolter & Grusin the underlying premise of all remediation is our “insatiable desire for immediacy” (ibid. p.5), which leads to the following paradox of the double logic:

Our culture wants both to multiply its media and to erase all traces of mediation: ideally it wants to erase its media in the very act of multiplying them. (ibid.p. 5)

Even though the book was conceived and published long before 3D virtual (and interactive!) media became mainstream (they do cover early “computer games”), I do find the concepts rather useful in explaining some of the phenomena I’ve experienced in SL. I agree that we strive for authenticity understood as quality in our interaction with new, digital media, and with the present changes in the SL viewer and most notably the shared media function, I think it is possible to give a contemporary example of the double logic paradox …

In short the SL Shared Media (SLSM) allows a wide range of web pages, including Flash and YouTube videos to be displayed on any surface of any prim (building block), among which  some also allow for real time collaboration such as my student PerSecond and I previously demonstrated with Google docs and Etherpad. Now, in my context of Distance Education this new function offers many interesting possibilities. A major argument for me as a distance educator to research SL stems from this particular media’s ability to provide the user with a sense of being embodied in a palpable place – mainly in opposition to conventional teaching and learning platforms, where the user typically finds himself disembodied in impalpable space. In the pictures below I’m represented as my avatar standing on my holodeck looking at a shared media prim displaying Facebook.

Looking at Facebook via a window in SL

Interacting with Facebook via a window in SL

These pictures were deliberately taken from within SL, and they illustrate how I – literally by opening a window and “stepping through” it – am able to not only look at, but also interact with “the space depicted”, which in this case is the world outside SL.  In doing so, it is my argument that I’ve been able to enhance the sense of immediacy through hypermediacy or to put it in other words: by multiplying the media I’ve been able to “erase” the sense of mediation in so far as interaction with the outside world can be regarded as a means to enhance the authenticity of my experience. But that’s not all. I’m able to add yet another dimension to my experience by changing my perspective as shown below:

By zooming out and taking a screen shot I’m able to show another reality of the experience; by watching myself as avatar looking and interacting in SL, I’m able to “step back or out of the window” and reflect on the experience from a meta perspective. This actually doesn’t depend on the SLSM function, but is one of the great affordances of SL as medium in general. There is, however, no doubt in my mind that the SLSM function via windows to the other worlds/parts of reality can contribute to the authenticity and quality of user experience in especially education and business, where our need for immediacy apparently is insatiable …