Monday, April 9, 2012

Does Remixing Like Tarantino Keeps Us Human?

Throughout this semester in New Media Theory and Practice, I’ve been looking for definitions of media and new media to latch onto. Honestly, I’ve always found “new media” in particular to be a slippery term to hang onto. I found in Flusser’s Does Writing Have a Future, however, a definition that I really am drawn to. He defines media broadly when he says that media are “bridges supported as much by the receiver's as by the sender's pylon” (Kindle Location 550). In this way media is given a broad definition that encompasses all types of communication. Media is the tool that facilitates the delivery of the pylon, whatever that might look like in a given context.

 This definition isn’t really revolutionary, but I appreciate the concreteness of it.  It gives me another picture of the classic sender - receiver model, which is pictured below, but one wherein the Transmitter, Signal, Noise and Receiver are all quantified as being the work of the media.
Sender - Receiver Model Diagram that shows Information flow from Source to destination
Source:  Wiki of Science

One thing that’s struck me as I’ve been working through this book is that I typically think of expressing content through visual means as a form of new media communication. However, one thing that Flusser’s book points out to us is that this kind of communication isn’t new to the digital age. He says, “As the alphabet originally advanced against pictograms, digital codes today advance against letters to overtake them” (Kindle Location 1628). This reminder helps me to think about how a lot of technological revolutions are really a matter of remixing older artifacts.

What’s important about this observation is the humanity that Flusser sees in thoughtful remixing. He says, “We fear that in the future, all messages, especially models of perception and experience, will be taken in uncritically, that the informatic revolution could turn people into receivers who remix messages uncritically, that is, into robots. (Kindle Location 935). Like with the text of How We Became PostHuman, Flusser keeps returning to the cybernetic fear that we face if we change the way we code and recode information. However, he indicates that one characteristic that ensures us our humanity is this notion of critical remixing. In many ways, I think our clever use of remixing is what, even more than the empathy from Do Androids Dream of Electirc Sheep, makes us unique from the beast and robots of our society. In fact, I think many of the great thinkers of the contemporary age stand out to me as genius because of the way the can use remixing.

For me, there’s no greater example of this than my personal favorite: Quentin Tarantino.

This video, part of Kirby Ferguson’s Everything is a Remix Series, shows the beauty and detail through which Tranatino remixes to create Kill Bill.

As I think about remixing, I’m not hopeful that the robots of today or the near future will be able to remix in this way.  But it does make me wonder:  what would machines need to accomplish this task? What is it that makes humans skilled remixers?


Flusser, Vilem. Does Writing Have a FutureMinneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2011. Kindle Edition.

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