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Despite being proposed almost 15 years ago, Bolter and Grusin’s musings on mediation and remediation have aged like a fine wine, becoming even more relevant, topical, and applicable. As the digital immersion of culture continues to proliferate, Bolter and Grusin’s concepts of mediation and remediation are a daily reality. Mediation has its own corporeal presence in reality, and though the desire for reform that remediation possesses should be approached with caution, virtually all that we know is remediated.
Mediation is both a process and a product. The process of mediation is what particular way or interpretative device one uses to form a viewpoint on the object being mediated. All forms of media are created through the process of mediation. Therefore, the reality of mediation is inescapable. A photograph is media that is physically real, and considering it’s a product of mediation, mediation itself is also physically real by extension. While this is an engaging brain exercise, the truly fascinating conception of mediation and reality occurs in the discussion of “the colonization of…space…between a photographer or videographer and the object of [their] mediating technology” (59). If one sees someone recording sound or audio in public, unless one is exceptionally rude, one does their best to consciously avoid ruining their mediation. The very act of mediation itself has become an object that, if not literally tangible, is venerated, respected, and interacted with. However, Boltin and Grusin’s belief that mediations “are real as artifacts (but not as autonomous agents)” (55) is less set in stone. While a product of mediation itself cannot truly be autonomous, as it is inescapably a representation, due to the autonomy of the physical process of mediation and the one who facilitates it, there is a more genuine sense of reality present in mediation then Boltin and Grusin immediately give it credit for.
Though remediation is valuable in terms of its capability to reform, society should have a certain sense of wariness in terms of the consistent presence of remediation in society. In the modern age, “the assumption of reform is so strong that a new medium is now expected to justify itself by improving on a predecessor” (59). While in certain fields such as computers and mobile phones this is beneficial and effective, one need look no further than the ever increasing amount of “uncanny valley” complaints to find an alternative narrative. “New technologies of representation proceed by reforming or remediating earlier ones” (61), but it would appear that in certain contexts, a continuation of reform and remediation is deplorable. In the specific case of the “uncanny valley”, robotics and 3D computer animation have progressed to a point where human features have an appearance and way of movement that falls just short of human reality, causing an extreme sense of revulsion in its viewers. While it has been earlier discussed that mediation and reality are inseparable and that mediation has a corporeal presence in modern reality, the strategy of “improving on the “flawed” design in ordinary reality” (61) pursued by fields such as robotics is quite frankly, rather frightening. Why is reality considered “flawed”? We have no other conception of reality to compare it to. Reality is reality; a remediated reality that fixes “flaws” sounds increasingly like an attempt to achieve a neutered, utopian society. While “the conviction that technology itself progresses through reform” (61) is inherent in the very concept and strategy of remediation itself , making the eventual rise out of the “uncanny valley” inevitable, we need to step back and ask ourselves if this is truly what we want.
Is it possible to avoid remediation? In a societal sense, it seems that we’re too far gone to go back now. Since we have made remediation bedfellows with progress, it would take a catastrophe of Biblical proportions to eliminate progress, which in turn would put us back in a situation where remediation isn’t necessarily inherent. Remediation is indeed a mediation of mediation; however, “all mediation is [not] remediation” (55). All modern technological facilitators of mediation engage remediation, but the ancient forms of mediation still do not necessarily prescribe. As Bolter and Grusin state, mediation is not “an a priori truth” (55); the progression of mediation was dependent on the progression of society. Until the first colored clay was applied to a wall in crude cave paintings or the first ritualistically religious figurines were carved, the world remained unmediated. Though modern forms of mediation are all remediating these earliest forms of mediation, the pre-modern forms of mediation are not involved in the discourse of remediation unless in their present incarnations they directly engage other subsequent forms of mediation. A sculpture of a person in the modern age is still a mere mediation, not a remediation. A painting of a landscape in the modern age is still a mere mediation, not a remediation. I would argue that even a sculpture of a person painting a landscape is still a mere mediation, not a remediation. These pre-modern forms of mediation can still “function independently and establish their own separate and purified space of cultural meaning” (55). However, these “earlier [mediations] are struggling to maintain their legitimacy” (61); the harrowing fact of the matter is that soon all we know will be remediated. And if everything is filtered, do we not lose sight of what is pure?
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