This essay was originally written as my final paper for my Sociology of Media class, taught by Paolo Carpignano, in Spring 2014 at The New School.

Jay David Bolter and Richard Grusin published Remediation: Understanding New Media in 2000. While their contention that all mediation is remediation was well-supported by the evidence available at the turn of the century, 14 years is a long time when it comes to the advancement of new media. One of their main examples of remediation is the CD-ROM (42-44), now an essentially obsolete medium. If Bolter and Grusin’s ideas are to hold up, then the forms of mediation that have taken the place of the CD-ROM must also be clear examples of remediation. Indeed, they anticipated that this would be the future, claiming that digital media would “function in a constant dialectic with earlier media, precisely as each earlier medium functioned when it was introduced” (50). They also postulated, “all mediation is remediation” (55). With this essay, I am picking up where they left off to show how developments since they published their take on the matter has proven them even more correct. Not only has media become even more remediated; it has made the world so hypermediated that it is clear that life itself is remediation.

The CD-ROM that Bolter and Grusin focused on is “Electronic Behavior Control System” by the multimedia group Emergency Broadcast Network. This was a prescient selection, made clear by pointing that while viewing this piece, the computer screen can be “tiled into numerous small windows with shifting graphics” (43). This layout – or a near facsimile thereof – is now an everyday experience for media users of 2014. YouTube (founded in 2005) – the Internet’s most popular video-sharing website – consists of several windows within the larger window of the Internet browser. The video currently being viewed dominates the left half of the browser, while a set of suggested and promoted videos are organized into a column of windows (or tiles, if you will) on the right. The featured videos are essentially remediated, with their thumbnails serving as two-dimensional pieces of graphic art. The video being played is also remediated. Many of YouTube’s videos are clips from movies and TV shows (and sometimes – legally or not – entire films or episodes). The need for buying any of your favorite non-interactive video entertainment (beyond decorative purposes) is nearly obsolete, as so much can be so easily and readily accessed through the remediating venue of this website. YouTube is not a completely exhaustive repository of every video that has ever existed, but it represents a huge jump in accessibility thereof compared to just ten years ago.

That which YouTube does not include is filled in by such streaming websites as Netflix or Hulu. If a high-enough quality copy of it still exists, then it can probably be accessed on the Internet with little difficulty. It seems like we may be approaching a saturation point at which we are coming to the fullest realization of how much our media can be remediated for posterity, but it also seems like each passing year presents more and more evidence for that realization to the point where it seems like there may no limit on that realization. Essentially, once something is mediated, chances are it will be keep being remediated.

One might bemoan the fact that when previously existing video is remediated onto YouTube or other streaming sites, the quality of the picture and audio is not maintained. But this is further proof of the ubiquity of remediation. That is to say, the quality changing is simply a matter of fact when it comes to remediation. This is not necessarily just about the level of quality but also about the type of quality. YouTube has done work to catch up on picture resolution capabilities, with some videos now available to view in ultra-HD 4K. So, the quality may not actually be all that negatively remediated (at least not in every case), but there is an instant remediating option regarding resolution: videos can be watched in a range of possible resolutions, not just their best possible resolution. For the sake of comparison, or to compensate for connection issues, or just for the hell of it, users can immediately remediate their viewing experience by adjusting the picture quality.

Continuing the consideration of film and television clips on YouTube, there is a simple remediation in terms of quality type by the simple fact of watching this footage on a screen different than its original. A Web browser is itself a medium. Furthermore, adjustments can be made within the purview of watching on the computer, with the default option being the video played in a fraction of the left half of the screen, and large-player (nearly the width of the screen) and full-screen options available as well. This form of screen-shifting remediation is in a topsy-turvy state, as Internet-enabled devices hooked up to the TV (heck, even an actual computer can be connected to certain TV sets) allow for the playing of YouTube videos on television – ergo, video that originated on television can be played on television again through an Internet medium. Of course, with the popularity of smartphones and tablets, YouTube – or any Internet streaming video – is no longer natively limited to computers.

One more manifestation of the specific remediation of film and TV on YouTube is worth highlighting: the mashup video genre. (I am using the term “mashup” here to describe any video that re-edits footage from previously existing content. Typically, “mashup” refers to a mixture of material from two different original sources; most of the videos I am discussing here fit that description, though I am also considering videos that are made up of highlights from just one source.) The mashup sensibility can be said to have roots in the collage style of art that was prevalent among modernists in the early 20th century. So, once again, remediation is nothing new. Bolter and Grusin acknowledged the importance of collage regarding remediation, discussing Richard Hamilton’s 1956 collage work Just what is it that makes today’s homes so different, so appealing? and how a piece like that makes us “hyperconscious of the medium” (38). My point in bringing up collage is to show how the prevalence of mashups has normalized and emphasized remediation for people who spend a significant amount of time on the Internet. One popular mashup genre is the parody trailer, such as “The Worf of Starfleet,” which features footage from Star Trek: The Next Generation of the Klingon character Worf set to the tune of Kanye West’s “Black Skinhead,” as in the trailer for the Martin Scorcese film The Wolf of Wall Street.

Not all mashup videos need to have such an ingenuity of premise to exist. A lot of them are a collection of highlight clips, many of them rendered into music videos with the addition of a song. A subset of highlight videos is the “shipping” video, which features clips of a romantic (or potentially romantic) pair from a movie or TV show and scores them to a romantic song. One notable example is the “Gravity” video (named after the song of the same name by pop singer Sara Bareilles), featuring the characters Jeff Winger and Annie Edison from the NBC sitcom Community. To get back to the point about how remediation can work in multiple directions, this fan video was referenced in an actual episode of the show that aired about a year and a half after the video made its YouTube debut. A big part of the online interaction among fandom communities is through shipping and other mashup videos. Fans that watch and share these videos are essentially having a conversation through remediation. And in 2014, who isn’t a fan of something? Surely, since human beings have been creating art, “fans” have existed in some sense, and in the history of fandom, one audience has remediated its mediated entertainment by sharing it with a new audience. The unique aspect of the present day is the extent of the congregation of this activity on a venue (the Internet) where this remediation is so thorough and so natural that it is now just a matter of everyday conversation for so many.

It is not just the content of the Internet but also the nature of the Internet itself that makes surfing the Web a remediating experience. Bolter and Grusin invoke Marshall McLuhan’s dictum, “the ‘content’ of any medium is always another medium” (45). Their ideas certainly serve as an extension of McLuhan’s, and what I have been discussing thus far also fits into this model. To test this maxim to an extreme extent, one can break down a medium into its barest constituent parts. So, to consider the Internet and just the Internet – or, really, the Internet browser (which in a practical sense, is the Internet itself): Bolter and Grusin bring up browsers to demonstrate an example of hypermediacy, describing “the heterogeneous ‘windowed style’ of World Wide Web pages” (31). Indeed, Web browsers are obviously hypermediated and may very well be the epitome of hypermediacy. Hyperlink text is the browser’s lifeblood – with a simple click, its content is remediated through appearance, disappearance, and reorganization. Internet usage is now so commonplace that this sort of remediating transformation is essentially taken for granted by many people.

But one does not need to get even that sophisticated to see this point; one can just focus on the layout. Bolter and Grusin hint at the simplest aspect of remediation here by noting the “windowed” nature of browsing. This is not just a matter of windows; it is also a matter of tabs. Tabbed browsing has been available for over 20 years, but it did not become commonplace until around 2006, at which point – with the release of Internet Explorer 7 – every major Web browser featured tabbed capabilities. Tabbing allows for an immediate sort of collage to the experience of the Web medium. One remediating maneuver that I employ with frequency is establishing my primary browser on the top half of the screen while I populate the bottom half with a video that I do not need to pay full attention to while I continue to read an article or take care of work. Tabbing allows for a reappropriation of hypertext – what once could only take the place of can now be set aside for later, visibly labeled, but tucked aside. The possibilities created by tabs even allow for the remediation of the concept of “opening.” A new tab can be opened, while the Web user remains on the original tab, while still making use of the new tab. The growing prevalence of Internet usage on smartphones has rendered tabbing less significant than it would be otherwise, but the loss of remediation by the lack of tabs is replaced by the remediation of transferring the browser to its non-native source of smartphones. Perhaps there should be a law about conversation remediation that would parallel the law of conservation of energy.

A specific example of tabbing I have in mind here is opening an audio recording in the new tab. While continuing to explore the content of the original tab, one can listen to the audio of the new tab. If the sound file is present on a “video” streaming site such as YouTube, there is a further remediation here by reducing the audiovisual down to just its audio component. This is a common method for me when listening to music, so common, in fact, that when I was a DJ at my undergraduate college radio station (WLOY at Loyola University Maryland), I would frequently play songs through YouTube, as the computer in the on-air studio was hooked up to the soundboard and not every song I wanted to play was available in the studio library. It is because remediation is so readily available that resourceful solutions like this one can come into being. I should note that with older songs on YouTube, the quality level can be dicey, so it was a decently risky proposition to play songs from YouTube as often as I did. Here is a problem that calls for the remediating solution of creating a program that raises all music on YouTube to HD-level or at least HQ-level quality. Some enterprising individual should get on that.

Tabs and windows are not limited to Web browsing when it comes to the medium of the computer. The fact that Microsoft’s series of operating systems is named “Windows” should make this clear. But it is not as if windows and the like are limited to Microsoft computing. Programs are open in the form of windows (it is convenient to use the parlance of “windows” whether or not that is technically the term for each particular operating system). Multiple programs may be open at once; their windows may or may not overlap. Icons of programs (should we call icons remediated versions of the programs? Or just representations of the programs? Is there a difference?) populate the desktop and/or a row along the bottom of the screen. There may be a start menu. Right now, I have word-processing program open on the foreground of my screen, with an Internet browser (open to a Wikipedia entry on tabbed browsing) behind it, other open programs minimized next to icons, and OH MY GOD I AM BEING SO REMEDIATED AS I AM WRITING ABOUT REMEDIATION!!!

Not that I could escape remediation through any part of my life. After all, is there any truly unmediated experience in life? And by extension, is there anything truly unremediated? To escape the portion of this discourse tethered to computing (as if I could actually pull myself from the computer), television provides a hub for many people, and it is a constantly remediating and remediated hub. The normal of 2014 television involves a clutter of content and layout.   The clutter is not necessarily the default of the television screen, but with the distractibility of the human brain, it is hard to completely avoid the clutter-filled state. The program info for the show currently being watched can be summoned, taking up approximately the bottom third of the screen. The channel guide can be brought up and take up the majority of the screen, while the show being “watched” remains tucked away in a corner. And these are not the only menus available. Around the last turn of the century, the clutter of television – particularly on 24-hour news networks – was a rich and frequent wellspring for comedy (epitomized in the Saturday Night Live sketch “Newsforce,” about a fictional MSNBC program, from the January 9, 1999 episode). Bolter and Grusin noted this development and seemed to strike a wary tone about it. Specifically considering CNN, they noted, “televised newscasts are coming to resemble web pages in their hypermediacy” (11). Now, it seems that this remediated clutter is normal; the current typical complaint about CNN has changed to being about how it touts “breaking news” when there is really nothing new to report about a story. I am also reminded of the 1989 film Back to the Future Part II, which features a scene in which a television plays multiple channels at once. It appears that even when we anticipate the approach of remediation and worry that it may be problematic, it is still going to happen, and we will probably embrace it because the process of life is all about the inexorable march of remediation.

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Television also serves as a good example of how lifestyle drives remediation, and vice versa. With the presence of hundreds of channels available on a typical TV package, odds are that TV viewers will have at least one case of multiple shows that they follow airing at the same time. Even among less voracious viewers, life is busy enough that anyone who watches TV is likely to at some point find the need to watch a show some time after it has aired. Recording options existed before the invention of the digital video recorder, but the prevalence of DVR’s – according to a 2012 Liechtman Research Group survey, 52 percent of U.S. homes that have pay-TV service also have a DVR (Svensson) – has rendered time-shifting an American way of life. The IFC sketch comedy series The Birthday Boys dramatizes this in the episode “Catching Up On Shows,” which features a man spending his entire weekend in front of his 100%-filled DVR doing exactly what it says in the title. The point is that media can have such a remediating effect on someone’s life that it is something that demands rebelling against, so the opening sketch concludes with an homage to the “I’m as mad as hell” scene from the 1976 film Network, in which overfed TV watchers stick their heads out their windows and yell, “There’s too many shows!” We have tried to corral our media by remediating it to a more convenient time and place, but so many of us have become the ones who are corralled, because remediation is one of the most powerful forces in the world.

One might contend that the DVR is not really a significant example of remediation, as it merely adjusts the time when a show is watched. But the power that it confers, particularly the skipping of commercials, changes the content enough to make it apply. Still, beyond the lifestyle effects, this is a minor example. But there is a whole host of ways that the changing nature of television viewing demonstrates remediation. If you do not have a DVR, you can still catch the shows that you missed through Internet streaming options, thus swapping the medium through which the content is consumed. Certain programs are native to streaming venues, such as Netflix and Hulu, problematizing the very term “television.” A specific word meant to indicate a specific medium has itself been remediated to be an indicator more of content than medium, even though it still primarily refers to its original, medium-centric definition, thus exemplifying the ambiguity and variability typical of the remediation of life.

It is not just a matter of the sources – the media – through which television is viewed, but also the manner by which people view television. Dan Harmon, the creator of Community and co-creator of the animated series Rick and Morty, had this to say on the topic of the state of television in a March 2014 interview:

“If the only thing that we leave on the air are the things that have high ratings, we’re all going to die. We have to stop measuring these things as if they’re competing with each other. There are 8,000 of them. There are 8,000 ways to watch them. There are 250 million people watching them any way they want to – on their wristwatches, on their shoelaces, on their laptops. They binge watch seasons. They subscribe to Netflix. They get together for parties and watch two shows at the same time on a split screen while they play their Xbox. And then with the other hand they get on Twitter and ask the show runner why he hasn’t done an episode with a yellow hat in it. And three episodes later, the show’s got a fucking yellow hat in it because everything has changed since “I Love” fucking “Lucy” except the goddamn Nielsen boxes. It is insane” (Sepinwall).

The topic of this quote is the Nielsen ratings system, which is not directly relevant to this argument, but it does get at many of the remediating matters that are part of TV viewing in 2014. TV is now a multi-mediated, 2-screen (or many-screen) experience. Live-tweeting, live-Facebooking, Story Sync (an interactive experience for AMC programs that includes polls, trivia, and exclusive video), and plenty of other applications I am sure exist that I’m not aware of – these are now an everyday part of the media landscape. And you can still go low-tech with your multi-mediation, reading a book or a magazine during commercial breaks. The fact that this version of mediation is the new normal for a significant number of people makes it clear that this is not just multi-mediation, but full-on remediation.

How then can one escape the unrelenting blast of remediation in 2014? The distinction between television and film viewing has been made before. And, indeed, watching a movie at the theatre is a more all-encompassing experience than watching television at home. But the theatre experience is not as simple as it once was. Television is remediated into the cinema in the commercials that air in the pre-show advertising package. And cinema is itself remediated via the trailers that air before the feature, and that is nothing new, as trailers have been part of the theatre for decades. Even if the mix of pre-show ads, trailers, and the show itself are in total considered a uni-mediated experience, there is still other media infringing on the experience. Theatres might officially prohibit the use of cell phones during the show, but that dictum is frequently enough unheeded for it to be a normal part of the experience. And there are also elements of cell phone usage that now encourage a multi-mediated activity. The smartphone application “RunPee” offers viewers suggestions for convenient times for people to leave the theatre to relieve themselves. Holding it in or deciding to miss a few minutes is such a tradition of the movie theatre that this is a natural remediation for many people to make. Even if the entire audience can resist cell phone usage, the idea of a movie as singly mediated is an illusion. Most theatres use digital copies of films now, remediating hard drives into projections on a screen. And when film was being used, that was a remediation of a series of photographic prints into projections.

With the constancy of remediation, it is no wonder that people would attempt to escape into unmediated experiences. Bolter and Grusin focus a lot on the virtual reality-centric 1995 film Strange Days. They claim that the “technological wonder” of this film known as “the wire” is “just a fanciful extrapolation of contemporary virtual reality, with its goal of unmediated visual experience” (5-6). I would argue that while people may have a desire for complete unmediation, what they would get with a fully immersive virtual reality would actually be complete remediation. Perhaps those who desire this sort of escape do not realize they are desiring a form of mediation, or maybe they are trying to mask that desire with its opposite, or maybe total remediation really does paradoxically seem like unmediation. Whatever it is, the virtual reality craze of the era of Strange Days that may have ultimately amounted to no more than a fad is back and perhaps more promising than ever. Microsoft’s Kinect motion sensing devices for its Xbox game consoles offer a relatively seamless avatared experience. The head-mounted Oculus Rift virtual reality device is inspiring significant excitement ahead of its late 2014 or early 2015 release. On the topic of head mounting, wearable computer Google Glass is already on the market. This is not quite virtual reality, instead fitting in the category of augmented reality. Augmentation may not quite be virtualization, but it is certainly still remediation. The fact that it is worn over the eye, with sight typically considered the dominant human sense, is a clear sign that any Google Glass user wants to adjust the typical mediation of reality.

Google Glass has not saturated the marketplace, and it remains no more than a punchline in some circles, but it has punctured the pop culture landscape notably in the profile picture of the Twitter account Seinfeld Current Day (@Seinfeld2000), which features a Photoshopped image of Jerry Seinfeld wearing a Google Glass. The profile bio of this account ponders, “Imagen Seinfeld was never canceled and still NBC comedy program today?” That purposely grammatically nightmarish description describes a feed whose purpose is to ponder what would occur on the 90’s sitcom Seinfeld if it were revived for the present day. And if something is being updated to the present day, then it would surely go through a process of remediation. Now, let me be clear, while this feed’s tweets often make mention of media, its typical suggestion for a modern Seinfeld synopsis is Dadaist nonsense like “Whole epsode Elane close hundreds of tabs she have open in firefox” (1 Nov 2013). But while this may just be surreal satire, comedy has a way of getting at the core truth of society. Many of these tweets take plots from actual Seinfeld episodes and adapt them to the current day by merely introducing a piece of technology into the equation, such as, “JARY: If you want to make some one feel modarn after they sneeze, you shouldnt say ‘God bless you’, you should say ‘Samsang Galaxy S4’” (2 Sep 2013), or “Frank Castanze festivus pole boost 4G LTE signal” (23 Dec 2013), or “Krame try to pay for calzone with sack of bitcoins” (18 Dec 2013). In a bizarre way, the point is made that to be of the moment – to be living in the world as it currently is – is to be always, continuously remediated.

Mediation is often thought of in terms of technology, and people who try to live “off the grid” might think they are escaping the constant presence of remediation. But an existence without mediation is indeed difficult to conceive of. Bolter and Grusin claim that the “logics of remediation … date back at least to the Renaissance and the invention of linear perspective” (21). My understanding of that quote is that remediation first came to be understood at least by the time of Renaissance, but that it surely existed before then. Even when humans were only telling stories with their words and their gestures, they were still mediating them from their minds. And then these stories were passed on, picking up the idiosyncrasies of the individual teller. It is like the game Telephone, in which changes happen to the original, whether intentionally or not, a cycle of remediating and remediating.

 

Works Cited

“The Birthday Boys – Catching Up On Shows, Part 1.” The Birthday Boys. IFC. 1 Nov. 2013. YouTube. Web. 14 May 2014.

Bolter, J. David, and Richard A. Grusin. Remediation: Understanding New Media. Cambridge, MA: MIT, 2000. Hamilton, Richard.

doubleg1701. “The Worf of Starfleet – Trailer Parody (The Wolf of Wall Street).” YouTube. YouTube, 01 Mar. 2014. Web. 14 May 2014.

“Seinfeld Current Day (Seinfeld 2000).” Twitter. Twitter. Web. 14 May 2014.

Sepinwall, Alan. “Mega Dan Harmon Interview, Part 3: ‘Rick and Morty'” HitFix. 24 Mar. 2014. Web. 14 May 2014.

Svensson, Peter. “DVR: Percentage Of American Pay-TV Homes With Them Up To Half.” The Huffington Post. TheHuffingtonPost.com, 30 Nov. 2012. Web. 14 May 2014.

VeritasProductions. “Gravity (Jeff/Annie).” YouTube. YouTube, 14 Nov. 2009. Web. 14 May 2014.

Younger, Paul. “Oculus Rift Second Dev Kit Confirmed – Consumer Version Late 2014.” IncGamers.com. 19 Oct. 2013. Web. 14 May 2014.

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