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Sometimes I Wish That It Would Rain Here

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

unmediated publics?

this summer, I've been spend a significant portion of my time doing some blog-related research. I don't want to blab too much about the specifics, but essentially it's a project that focuses on blogging from the reader's perspective and examines the role of the reader in the activity of blogging. if that sounds cool, let me know and we can chat.

what I want to talk about is something that's come up during our lit review. in reading other stuff about blogging, I came across this notion of mediated publics, particularly in some of danah boyd's writings. if I follow, it's the notion that blogs, SNSs, and other sorts of social (usually digital) media create means of public interaction that are in one way or another mediated. blogs create a method of being public, but that public presence is mediated by the digital medium in which it's manifest. similarly with SNSs, virtual worlds, or, I gather, most any virtual interaction.

however, I'm left with the question, does this imply that offline, face-to-face, physical interaction is unmediated? on the one hand, sure, I'd be willing to buy that. in most (though certainly not all) cases, people aren't using a wearable heads-up display or interacting with a physically collocated person through some sort of digital intermediary. however, on the other hand, there are lots of things other than digital media that mediate our social interactions. (as a side note, there are interesting etymological relationships between medium and mediate, but as much as I love an etymological interlude, I won't go there at the moment). perhaps it's just because I've got activity theory on the brain, but I can't help but think of the Vygotskian notion of mediation. daily activities and interactions of all kinds are riddled with all sorts of mediators: language, culture, history, the physical environment, and even to some extent our bodies mediate our activity. indeed, any and every activity is mediated by something; unmediated activity simply does not occur.

I'm not saying that the notion of mediated publics is not a useful one. I think it is, as I think it draws into focus important ways in which virtual interactions are mediated by the medium in which they occur, fact that can be lost in some analyses. however, I think it misleadingly implies that physical interaction is unmediated. since pretty much all activity is mediated in some form or another, mediated publics might be something of a vacuous term. I suspect the term "digitally mediated publics," though somewhat more verbose, better captures the topic at interest. if what's really of interest is any sort of mediated public interaction, then, since all activity is mediated, what we're talking about here is really any sort of public interaction, and I don't think that's the point. I think the point is to look at the way that digital mediation affects public interaction, comparing and contrasting it publics that are mediated in other, different ways.

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