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Digital Technology and Cultures

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Age of Enlightenment and Education Today

During the Age of Enlightenment, the view of education shifted between the ancient Greek philosophers and the enlightened “modern” thinkers. Education, according to the Greek philosophers, was limited to “canonized knowledge which drew on ancient authors, as well as textbooks and methods that held that all knowledge needed in philosophy and science was already available (Edmundson, 2016).” The modern thinkers viewed education as something that should look forward, looking for new information, not simply memorizing and reciting the old information of the ancients. Students and teachers today exist in a world with more information available to them than at any time in the history of the world. In the medieval era, "books were rare and only an elite few had access to education opportunities (Delzotto, 2017).” Plato felt that “education seeks to understand the essence of the timeless, universal principles that rule over human existence (2018).” Aristotle’s view was that, “education was central – the fulfilled person was an educated person (Smith, 2013).” Access to education has, in the past, been largely limited to teacher and students interactions directly, with books as supplemental tools to further enhance one's knowledge. With the invention and proliferation of the internet, knowledge is no longer limited to the select few. Today, we live in a world where, "Huge electronic libraries such as Project Gutenberg offer students over 40,000 free books, and reliable online references such as Britannica provide rich multimedia and interactive information from anywhere and anytime (Delzotto, 2017).” Between laptops, tablets, and phones, any piece of information is at a person's fingertips, 24 hours a day. Does today’s access to information still align with the views of the Age of Enlightenment’s views?

During the Age of Enlightenment, “states were paying more attention to their educational systems because they recognized that their subjects are more useful to the state if they are well educated (Laohapirotwattana, (2014).” Yet this view has not been evenly applied across all demographics, there has developed a disparity between the different classes and their access to educational tools and information. For example, income inequality can play a significant factor in whether technology is a positive impact on education. Schools that do not have the budget for laptops or tablets are left behind as wealthier schools push ahead with more advanced curriculum. A Tableau survey done in Madison, Wisconsin found that “around 12 percent of students in the Madison Metropolis School District do not have access to the internet (Lynch, 2018).” Without access to the internet, students are already at a disadvantage at leveraging the tools other students have ready access to. But technology can also be a great equalizer, allowing students that might not have access to as much as wealthier schools and students the same access to information and opportunities to improve and excel in their education. In Arizona, Superintendent Manuel Isquierdo began a program for one of more economically disadvantaged schools to purchase netbooks for students in the hopes that it would improve grades. The efforts were viewed as a success, with the approach “helping raise the number of graduates from 598 to 821 by 2010 (2016).”

For teachers, the pros and cons can be just as challenging. Teachers find themselves competing with phones and tablets. In Matt Richtel’s article from 2012 examining how technology is changing how students learn, teachers felt “they had to work harder to capture and hold students’ attention (Richtel, 2012).” Learning has typically been viewed as active rather than passive and technology can help push that engagement even further than in the past. Teachers can leverage tools for getting real time feedback on subjects the class is discussing, looking to find out if the material is being understood or not. Guest speakers are now able to join classrooms from around the world using technologies such as Skype and FaceTime. Overall, technology can be an invaluable assistant to teachers as they work to involve their students more. As Mike Britland states, “Making use of technology to allow students the freedom to discover solutions to problems both independently and collaboratively is a force for good. As educators we strive for students to engage with our subject beyond a superficial level. We want them to be active learners, learners who have a thirst for discovery and knowledge. Technology places the world in the hands of every student inside the confines of your classroom (Britland, 2013).”

Works Cited


"Bridging the Digital Divide for Low-Income Students," Digital Promise, April 18, 2016, , accessed November 03, 2018,

"Plato's Idea of the Teacher," The Russell Kirk Center, May 13, 2013, , accessed November 03, 2018,

Mike Britland, "How Has Technology Transformed the Role of a Teacher?" The Guardian, June 18, 2013, , accessed November 03, 2018,

Nicholas Delzotto, "How Has the Internet Changed Education?" It Still Works, November 21, 2017, , accessed November 03, 2018,

Chloe Sinclair Edmundson, "The Enlightenment: Movement Towards "Modern" Education," Medium, August 01, 2016, , accessed November 03, 2018,

Matthew Lynch, "The Dark Side of Educational Technology," The Edvocate, August 16, 2018, , accessed November 03, 2018,

Matt Richtel, "Technology Is Changing How Students Learn, Teachers Say," The New York Times, November 01, 2012, , accessed November 03, 2018,

Mark K. Smith, "Aristotle and Education,", January 07, 2013, , accessed November 03, 2018,

Tarakorn Laohapirotwattana, "Education in the Age of Enlightenment,", November 26, 2014, , accessed November 04, 2018,

Understanding the Semiotics of Virtual Reality

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Semiotics Definition and Theories


What is semiotics? “Semiotics is the study of signs and codes, signs that are used in producing, conveying, and interpreting messages and the codes that govern their use” (Smith, Moriarty, et. 2004). The theory of semiotics helps us to better understand how meanings are formed so that we can make better messages from our symbols or help us to correct problematic ways of making meaning. There are two main theories of semiotics written by Swiss linguist Ferdinand de Saussure and American philosopher Charles S. Peirce.

Ferdinand de Saussure’s theory stated that the meaning of the sign emerges from the relation between the signifier and the signified. Saussure’s contribution to the study of signs was in shifting from a traditional view with an emphasis on the nature of things to a “relational world view where meaning derives from the priorities human beings construct and perceive among signs in a system” (Mick, 1986). He believed that there is a dual relation between the concept (signified) and the sound-image (signifier). The signifier is the thing provoking meaning making. An example of this is the word cat (signifier) and the sound-image of a cat (signified). We word “cat” lives in the mind of those who use it and give it meaning. The image and meaning of the word cat may vary from person to person. Saussure’s theory was language centered focused and in relation between individuals and society.

Infographic of Semiotics Theories

American philosopher Charles Sanders Pierce differed from Saussure, he stated that there are three kinds of signs; symbols, icons, and indices. Symbols are something that only comes to designate a referent by common use (Pierce Edition Project, 1998). There is no causal link of what it signifies and there does not have to be a physical object. An icon stands for an object which resembles it and not just through a common use. An example of an icon is an emoji or a map. Photographs can also be icons. The indices are the logical relationships with what it represents in reality. An example, smoke is an index of fire. When we see smoke we associate it with fire. We learn all these meanings of symbols, indices, and icons through social interactions or observations of our surroundings.

Semiotician Umberto Nico proposed that every cultural phenomenon may be studied as communication. The importance of signs and symbols has been commonly recognized but only a handful of researchers have developed theory and research programs based on semiotics (Mick, 1986). There are some strengths and weaknesses to the theory of semiotics. Semiotic theory is sometimes criticized as being too focused on the unrealistic visions of representation as opposed to the more practical approaches of communication knowledge. We need to look further at the communication knowledge of the visual meanings created by our society so that we can revise accordingly or decide to keep it the same.

Semiotics can help us understand meanings of signs and how they are constructed in a context of digital technologies. The use of virtual reality technology allows us to be immersed in a virtual world that simulates reality using symbols, signs, and indices. It is people talking with technology and in turn, connecting to other people too (Harway, 1985). We need society and its institutions to teach us how to interpret signs and make meaning of symbols (Berger, 2013). Symbolic representations can affect attitudes about a place or people. With the use of virtual reality we can now share in the human immigrant experience of what it is like crossing the dangerous and dry hot desert sun to cross the United States border wall for a better life.

Imagine you are with your spouse and two children walking through a hot deserted desert with just the food and clothes on your back trying to cross a 20-foot-tall fence in hopes of a better future for your children. This is one of the many stories of immigrant families who have crossed the Mexico-United States border and part of a larger important immigration issue facing political debates. How do we fully understand the hardships of immigrants and share this unique human experience if we have never experienced this ourselves? One way to persuade an audience to empathize and understand this experience of crossing the border is through the use of virtual reality technology. Virtual Borders Arizona is a virtual reality art experience created by Gabija Grusaite and artist Jamie Toll that allows the viewer to experience the challenges and hardships of crossing the dry remote Arizona desert as an immigrant (Mladenovic, 2015). Jamie Toll created three large sculptures; a fried egg, a melting globe, and a human trap as symbols that represent the immigrant experience of survival in search of a better life. They placed the sculptures throughout the Arizona desert and took photographs and videos of the landscape near the border wall. Together the images, videos, and sculptures convey a powerful persuasive visual message of struggle and survival in the human experience of crossing the American border.

In Virtual Borders Arizona, the photograph of the desert is considered an icon. When we see an image of a desert we imagine seeing an oases of dry land with cactus plants, dry shrubs, rocks, and perhaps rattlesnakes. The fried egg, melting globe, and the human trap are all examples of semiotic symbols. A fried egg has several meanings and in this case it is a metaphor for how hot it is outside. We are able to understand the connotation of the symbol because we have a previous experience of cooking a fried egg and have a knowledge that the pan must be well over 100 degrees in order to cook the egg. Connotation is an idea or feeling that a word invokes in addition to its literal or primary meaning. Therefore when we see an image of a fried egg in the middle of a desert we reference our previous experience and knowledge in order to make sense of it’s meaning and provide us with the feeling of standing in the middle of a hot scorching desert.

The example of the Virtual Borders Arizona is how and why semiotics is an important tool to use in the process of understanding meanings in visual messages. Semiotics teaches us not only about the science of signs but also “meanings are based on society and it’s codes; society creates meaning in signs and these meanings can change” over time (Berger, 2013). When we apply the theory of semiotics we are better equipped to understand how meanings are made so that we can break apart problematic meanings of symbols, icons, and indices and revise them accordingly.

Intentionally we are able to make sense of the signs exhibited in Virtual Reality Arizona in order to accomplish persuasive goals of contemporary policy debates around immigration. The artists’ of Virtual Borders Arizona hope that the virtual experience of this imagery and sound allows the audience to participate in the immigrant experience and changes the existing negative connotations surrounding immigration in the United States. They wish to change the communication surrounding ‘immigration’ by persuading the audience to empathize with immigrants who struggle to cross the border for a better life. As Gruisaite explains, “Desert is a very powerful symbol of an extreme climate and landscape, and at some point of life everyone needs to cross a metaphorical desert in order to succeed or to survive.” (Alvarez, 2015). We can all relate to the human struggle of survival through the use of symbolic imagery which helps us create meaning and further dialogue about immigration.



Alvarez, Edgar. “VR exhibit sheds light on immigrants chasing the American Dream” Engadget (2015). Accessed on April 19, 2017.

Berger, Arthur A. “Semiotics and Society.” Springer Science and Business Media (2013): 22-26.

Haraway, D. J. “A manifesto for cyborgs: Science, technology, and socialist feminism in the 1980s”. Center for Social Research and Education” (1985).

Mick, David Glen. “Consumer Research and Semiotics: Exploring the Morphology of Signs, Symbols, and Significance.” Journal of Consumer Research 13 (1986): 196-213.

Mladenovic, Oliver, July 29, 2015. “Virtual Reality Experience Showcases Hardships of Illegal Immigrants” Branding Mag Website, April 19, 2017.

Project, P. “What is a sign?” In The Essential Peirce Selected Philosophical Writings (1893-1913). Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, (1998): 4-10.

Smith, Kenneth L., Moriarty, Sandra, Kenney, Keith, Barbatsis, Gretchen The Handbook of Visual Communication: Theory, Methods, and Media. New York: Routledge, 2004. Accessed April 21, 2017.

Semiotics in Video Games

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Semiotics Theory in Video Games


Semiotics is defined as the "study of signs and symbols and their use or interpretation" (Oxford Dictionary).

Ferdinand de Saussure and Charles S Pierce are regarded as the co-founders of semiotics. They established the two major theories on which they worked on independently. Saussure’s term "semiology" is sometimes used to refer to the Saussurean tradition and "semiotics" sometimes refers to the Peircean tradition. Today, "semiotics" is used as an general term for both (Chandler, 2007).

Saussure’s term sémiologie (Semiology) dates from a manuscript Course in General Linguistics. It was written by Charles Bally and Albert Sechehaye who compiled notes from Saussure's lectures given at University of Geneva (Chandler, 2007). In the book he states:

It is . . . possible to conceive of a science which studies the role of signs as part of social life. It would form part of social psychology, and hence of general psychology. We shall call it semiology (from the Greek se¯meîon, ‘sign’). It would investigate the nature of signs and the laws governing them. Since it does not yet exist, one cannot say for certain that it will exist. But it has a right to exist, a place ready for it in advance. Linguistics is only one branch of this general science. The laws which semiology will discover will be laws applicable in linguistics, and linguistics will thus be assigned to a clearly defined place in the field of human knowledge. (Saussure 1983, 15–16)

The Saussurean tradition focuses on interpreting a sign is an object that consists of a signifier and signified. As an example if one sees the word "open" outside of a store (signifier) that would mean that the store is open for business (signified). The word "open" as signifier could also stand for a different signified making a different sign. For instance, inside of an elevator there could be an "open" button. This would mean that pushing the button would open the elevator door (signified), rather than a store's goods be available for sale. Peirce worked independently across the Atlantic Ocean from Saussure and declared that:

Logic, in its general sense, is . . . only another name for semiotic (sémeiötiké), the quasi-necessary, or formal, doctrine of signs. By describing the doctrine as ‘quasi-necessary’, or formal, I mean that we observe the characters of such signs as we know, and . . . by a process which I will not object to naming abstraction, we are led to statements, eminently fallible, and therefore in one sense by no means necessary, as to what must be the characters of all signs used by a ‘scientific’ intelligence, that is to say, by an intelligence capable of learning by experience. (Peirce 1932, 2.227)

Pierce had a different view of semiotics from Saussure. Instead of focusing on the dual relation between the signifier and signified, he focused on what he defined as symbols, icons and indices.

Symbol (Creative Commons License)

A symbol is a mode in which the signifier does not resemble the signified but which is fundamentally arbitrary or purely conventional – so that this relationship must be agreed upon and learned (Chandler, 2007).

Example: Hazard symbols are very commonly used to identify danger of a specific kind. Most would be able to correlate radiation hazard or bio hazard symbols with a perceived danger if they saw one because they learned about them in the past.

Icon (General Public License)

An icon is a mode in which the signifier is perceived as resembling or imitating the signified (recognizably looking, sounding, feeling, tasting or smelling like it) – being similar in possessing some of its qualities (Chandler, 2007).

Example: A person sends a smiley emoji via a text message. The smiley face indicates that the sender is happy. When the mouth is in a "U" shape is normally associated with happiness when we see someone. This association is easily recognizable by us and can be put into a very simple drawing such as an emoji or stick figure.

Index (Creative Commons License)

Index is a mode in which the signifier is not arbitrary but is directly connected in some way (physically or causally) to the signified (regardless of intention) – this link can be observed or inferred (Chandler, 2007).

Example: You see a picture with many light brown leaves on the ground. You know that the season this picture was taken was in fall. The brown leaves are the signifier that allows our brain to pull associations in our brain's neural network. In this case the association is that this would happen during the season of fall.

Semiotics theory has been used for centuries. And as our world become mediated, so too do our symbols, signs, and indices. A great example of this is in video games and movies. Movies use symbols, icons and indices to create self-explaining artifacts. It makes the movie more enjoyable if it lets the viewer make their own evaluation as to what that symbol means. One example would be a movie that has a soldier with the medical ("+") symbol on their uniform, tending to a wounded soldier, who is screaming and holding their bleeding stomach, while there is gunfire and bombs exploding being heard in the background. Here we know that the person tending is a medical officer based on the "symbol" on their uniform. We also know that it is happening during an active war based on the sounds we hear in the background, which represent an "index". The wounded person's facial expression is an "icon" for pain and fear.

In video games however it is more interactive. A gamer can make decisions as they are playing the game and use semiotics to understand the environment to give them the best advantage in the game.

Games such as Eco use symbols, icons and indices in an interesting way. The game is developed for all audiences to learn how the world works and utilize what they have learned about the world so far to progress in the game. It teaches teamwork and collaboration, survival, nutrition, preservation, and creates a better mindset on how to treat others and be a better member of society. The game's goals are not just to make it fun and engaging but to enhance one's knowledge and empathy for others and their surroundings. In the game you start off by being placed on a planet with basic survival skills. You must learn what to do to survive and how to develop a technology to get of the planet that will be destroyed by an asteroid lingering above it. How one uses resources, treats their body and collaborates with others will have a huge impact on each player's survival. The game uses icons very frequently. We know that a the rendering of game maker's 3d artwork of a berry bush stands for a berry bush, and tree rendering stands for a tree, etc. Symbols within the game would be things we learn within the game or from our past. Red mushrooms are not very obvious to everyone that they are not edible and can cause one's health to deteriorate. In the game the player will either make the association of the red mushroom as a mushroom that they should not eat based on what they learned, or they will try and eat and then remember the consequence in the future. This becomes a learned "symbol." Another element in the game is that there may be unwanted deforestation close by. This would signify that there is likely another player chopping too many trees, which is an "index."

While video gaming such as Mortal Kombat or Grand Theft Auto can give video gaming a bad reputation with violence and gore, Eco does the opposite. It is there for everyone to learn and potentially create new symbolism that will impact the decisions made in the real world.


Ferdinand de Saussure Public Domain License

Ferdinand de Saussure was born Nov. 26, 1857 in Geneva, Switzerland. He was an influential linguist who laid a foundation of structure in language for the 20th century. His reputation was well established with his contribution to comparative linguistics. Saussure insisted for language to be considered a social phenomenon and with it he formalized approaches for language studies. Because of his studies many consider him to be the pioneer of structuralism (Encyclopædia Britannica).

Charles Sanders Peirce Public Domain License

Charles S Pierce was born Sept. 10, 1839 in Cambridge, Massachusetts, U.S.. He was a scientist and philosopher who is known as the father of American pragmatism. He was a very influential philosopher who is considered as one of the greatest American minds. He is known to have an interactive and experimental approach in philosophy. He believed that a concept is meaningless if it has no practical or experiential effect on the day we conduct our lives (Atkin, 2017).


  • Atkin, Albert. 2017. "Charles Sanders Pierce", Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Accessed February 19, 2018.
  • Burch, Robert. 2017. Charles Sanders Peirce. In The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, edited by Edward N. Zalta, Fall 2017. Metaphysics Research Lab, Stanford University. Accessed February 18th, 2017.
  • Chandler, Daniel. 2007. Semiotics: The Basics. 2nd ed. Basics (Routledge (Firm). London ; New York: Routledge.
  • Encyclopædia Britannica. 2018. "Ferdinand de Saussure", Encyclopædia Britannica, inc. Accessed February 18, 2018.
  • Oxford Dictionary. 2018. "Definition of Semiotics in English by Oxford Dictionaries", Oxford Dictionaries, English. Accessed January 31, 2018.
  • Peirce, Charles Sanders. 1932. Elements of Logic, ed. Charles Hartshorne and Paul Weiss.
  • Saussure, Ferdinand de. 1916/1983. Course in General Linguistics (trans. Roy Harris). London: Duckworth.

Rhetoric For Better Behavior

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Rhetoric is defined as the "art of effective or persuasive speaking or writing, especially the exploitation of figures of speech and other compositional techniques" [1]. It is the art of functional, public communication through words and symbols, making it a discursive practice [2]. It can be mode of language or speech, the effective use of speech (oxford), or even have the negative connotation of empty words [2]. The classical view of rhetoric (most embodied by Aristotle and later Lloyd Bitzer) works on the assumptions that the audience is stable and identifiable, that the orator is successful if the audience agrees with the proposed opinion, and that the rhetoric itself can explain why a discourse is successful or not [3]. Aristotle utilized logical and emotional arguments as well speaker credibility to create a persuasive argument within the classical view of rhetoric. This definition allowed orators to philosophically think through the five canons of rhetoric: invention, organization, style, delivery, and memory[2].

Rhetorica Public Doman License



Rhetorical theory was thought to have originated in Sicily after a dictator was overthrown. Landowners were fighting in court as to who had legal claim on property, but they had to represent themselves. This necessitated the development of rhetorical skills. Corax of Syracuse is credited as the first writer of a formal treatise called "The Art of Rhetoric." It was used by the landowners to learn how to argue from probabilities when facts couldn't be established. It was Corax's student, Tisias, who brought the study to mainland Greece. The group of teachers who showed great interest in the subject became known as sophists - they marketed their knowledge as a service to the people, taking rhetoric from a perceived innate trait to one that could be learned. Both Aristotle and Plato wrote several treatises, with Plato contrasting the sophist's rhetoric with an ideal rhetoric and Aristotle writing in a more systematic and comprehensive manner on the subject [2].

Aristotle Public Doman License

The Romans borrowed much of the Greek writing on rhetoric, adapting it to their own needs [2]. Cicero was a highly successful orator who embodied the canon of style more completely than any writer had before, but as dictators took control of Rome the art of rhetoric in civic affairs was largely lost. It wasn't until the Renaissance that rhetoric was again looked at for more than stylistic value [2]. The Italian Humanists during this period believed that language was at the center of the human world - it is how humans make sense of the world around them. Rationalism also emerged during this time period, with Rene Descartes at the helm. By separating reason from feeling and emotion, and focusing on objectivity and empirical approach, the rational argument dominated rhetorical theory. It wasn't until propaganda efforts in Europe and the United States started during World War II that rhetorical theory began to become more contemporary and expand studies to letter writing, elocution, and literature, focusing on understanding, passion, and influencing will. Scholars throughout these countries studied language at a micro-level, developing arguments for particular audiences, to dispel rumors or to perpetuate misconceptions based on the needs of their people[2].

This contemporary rhetorical theory has evolved into rhetoric as we know it today. It is no longer solely in the public domain. It is found in intra- and inter-personal communication, public discourse, mediated discourse, social movements, etc. Visual and non-verbal elements are now also an essential part of rhetoric; the entirety of the human experience can be analyzed through a rhetorical perspective.

Notable Figures and Theories


· Lloyd Bitzer developed the rhetorical situation in 1968. He emphasized rhetoric as a contextual practice, making it reactive instead of active. The three parts of the rhetorical situation are (rhetorical) exigence, the audience (both passive in listening and active in change), and constraints (the values, opinions, and motives of the audience that may limit the persuasiveness of the orator) [3].

· Edwin Black (1970) developed the second persona, or the author's implied audience. It is a counter to the first persona, which is the implied author. The basis of this theory is that rhetoric can reach an audience without directly addressing said audience [3].

· Michael Calvin McGee contributed to the concept of an imagined audience in 1975 when he discussed the phrase "the people." He believed that "the people" was an entity that only includes individuals that serve the needs of the message being conveyed, allowing the audience to change as the rhetoric changes [3].

· Aristotle wrote about 3 genres of rhetorical theory. Forensic rhetoric was used in the judicial process and focused on the past to establish innocence or guilt. Deliberative rhetoric focuses on the future and is primarily found in legislative speeches. Epideictic rhetoric is found in ceremonial speeches and can be used to blame or praise someone or something [3].

· Cicero worked to develop a powerful speech. He mandated three main components in his work. An orator should instruct the audience (docere), move the audience towards a specific belief (movere), and simultaneous entertain the audience (delectare) [3].

· Walter R. Fisher wrote about the motives of speakers in 1970. He identified 4 main categories: [3]

  • Affirmation: the creation of a specific mental image for the audience
  • Reaffirmation: the revitalization of the image for the audience
  • Purification: the modification and refinement of a previously established image for the audience
  • Subversion: the attack of an image

· Kenneth Burke coined the term dramatism, arguing that language can be seen as action. He developed the dramatistic pentad, comprised of act, scene, agent, agency, and purpose. It can be used to assess how a rhetorician articulates the motive in a speech. He also worked on identification, as he believed it was fundamental to successful persuasion [3].

Contemporary Rhetoric and Digital Technology


Contemporary rhetoric has been necessitated by the development of communication technology and social media. The traditional concept of an imagined audience flourished, allowing an orator to view an audience as something that be created through their discourse rather than as merely recipients of their discourse [3]. In the modern era, the concept of an actual audience--one in which developers

In a technological age, rhetoric emerges as a conditional method for humanizing the effect of machines and helping humans to direct them. . . . Rhetoric thinks beyond disciplines and “interdisciplinarity”—itself a product of a culture of specialization—by arranging and connecting diverse elements in the pursuit of theoretical questions and practical applications. Rhetoric is a syncretic and generative practice that creates new knowledge by posing questions differently and uncovering connections that have gone unseen. Its creativity does not exclude or bracket history but often comes from recasting traditional forms and commonplaces in new contexts and questions[4].

It is important to critically examine the modern methods for how new media is constructed from a rhetorical standpoint because it directly informs the ways in which digital content is represented and consumed across the public sphere. According to Langdon Winner, Chair of Humanities and Social Sciences in the Department of Science and Technology Studies at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, "there is no idea more provocative than than the notion that technical things have political qualities...since ideas of this kind have a persistent and troubling presence in discussions about the meaning of technology, they deserve explicit attention.[5] .

As the field of digital technology continues to expand, so do the areas in which we can apply rhetorical analyses. Douglas Eyman, Associate Professor and Director of the PhD in Writing and Rhetoric at George Mason University, argues that we must consider the history of the ways digitally networked technologies inhabit and shape traditional rhetorical practices as well as considering new rhetorics made possible by current technologies [6].

James P. Zappen's and Douglas Eyman's list of the primary activities within the field of digital rhetoric include:

  • the use of rhetorical strategies in production and analysis of digital text
  • identifying characteristics, affordances, and constraints of new media
  • formation of digital identities
  • potential for building social communities [7].

- Eyman added:

  • inquiry and development of rhetorics of technology
  • the use of rhetorical methods for uncovering and interrogating ideologies and cultural formation in digital work
  • an examination of the rhetorical function of networks
  • theorization of agency when interlocutors are as likely to be software agents (or “spimes”) as they are human actors [6]

Rhetoric For Better Behavior


Rhetoric is a tool to convey values and persuade audiences towards those value sets. Given the fact that we know our digital artifacts have embedded politics based on our own ideologies[5], it is imperative that we design our digital media to be socially and ethically responsible by continuing to expand and inform our digital literacy to encourage better human behavior. Just as it is in traditional texts, rhetoric is interwoven into the architecture and algorithms of our digital technology, creating pathways towards intrinsic arguments that are typically implicit. Often times, these biases are exclusive and can create potential barriers for divergent audiences with unequal access to the internet and digital technologies, typically those who may be disproportionately marginalized due to race, class, gender or orientation; a phenomenon known as the digital divide [8]. Utilizing technology and internet-based applications to encourage better human behavior without sacrificing autonomy is vital to solving the issues we are currently facing with web-based technologies. Higher learning programs such as Human-Centered Design (HCD) and Human-Centered Interaction (HCI) which largely focus on the user experience of digital technology are addressing some of these concerns. University of Washington's Sean Munson and Gary Hsiesh are two professors within the field of study who are doing extensive work on how developing technologies such as fitness tracking that meet the needs of the user can encourage more responsible and productive behavior. In a recent study, they "explored the creation of personalized plans by strangers and friends to support diet, exercise and financial changes in behavior. The results found that friends and strangers can help create behavior change plans that are actionable and help improve behavior. Participants perceived plans more positively when they were personalized to their goals, routines and preferences, or when they could foresee executing the plans with friends [9]". These professors are also involved in organizations that are attempting to bring awareness to personal health and wellness within digitally mediated technology. Intelligent user interfaces, health and sustainability technologies are just some of the initiatives that the CHI organization, a unique effort that focuses directly on communities that face public health disparities and other socio-economic issues, has spearheaded in an effort to ameliorate technologies towards positive outcomes [10].



Agapie, Elena, Lucas Colusso, Sean Munson, and Gary Hsieh. 2016. "PlanSourcing: Generating Behavior Change Plans with Friends and Crowds." CSCW '16 Proceedings of the 19th ACM Conference on Computer-Supported Cooperative Work & Social Computing 119-133.

Croucher, Stephen. 2015. Understanding Communication Theory. Taylor & Francis.

Davis, Robert L., and Mark F. Shadle. 2007. Teaching Multiwriting: Researching and Composing with Multiple Genres, Media, Disciplines, and Cultures. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press.

Eyman, Douglas. 2015. Digital Rhetoric: Theory, Method, Practice. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.

Littlejohn, Stephen W. and Foss, Karen A. 2009. Encyclopedia of Communication Theory, Volume 1. Thousand Oaks: SAGE Publications, Inc.

Nakamura, Lisa, and Peter Chow-White. 2012. Race After the Internet. New York, NY: Routledge.

Rhetoric. (2018). [online] Available at: [Accessed 23 Feb. 2018].

University of Minnesota. n.d. 2018. "Community Health Initiative". Accessed February 23, 2018.

Winner, Langdon. 1980. "Do Artifacts Have Politics?" Daedalus 109 (1): 121-136.

Zappen, James P. 2005. "Digital Rhetoric: Toward an Integrated Theory." Technical Communication Quarterly 14 (3): 319-325. 

Phenomenology and Autonomous Vehicles

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Phenomenology is a tradition of theory that explores phenomena through human experience (Husserl 1982). The word phenomenology is rooted in the combined meaning of the Greek words “logos” and “phenomena”: the art and practice of letting things show themselves (Heidegger 1927). Thanks to the work and concepts of 20th-century philosophers Edmund Husserl, Martin Heidegger, Maurice Merleau-Ponty, and Alfred Schutz phenomenology has, as a discipline, fully came into its own. It is distinct from but related to other key disciplines in philosophy, such as ontology, epistemology, logic, and ethics (Smith 2003). In our modern ever technologically advancing society, phenomenology is more relevant than ever. Under the guise of qualitative research, phenomenology is used to study and analyze how humans interact and experience technology. One example of this is the way in which humans perceive self-driving and autonomous automobiles.

French Phenomenologist Philosopher Maurice Merleau-Ponty makes perhaps the most sustained argument for the elemental role perception plays in how humans understand and engage with the world around them (Merleau-Ponty 1968). How might autonomous vehicles succeed if they take away the perception that we as humans are no longer in control? How much does the fear of AI and technology taking over the world have to do with our perception of reality? How are autonomous vehicles/self-driving cars altering our perceptions of reality and our perceptions of control? Are humans afraid of their world becoming less real? In the past quarter of a century, the move away from direct, material connectivity to what we often call “wireless” technology (Philosophy of Technology 2012) has left some feeling less materially connected and less in control. Because of these questions and assumptions, extensive research on the meanings of particular experiences for drivers/passengers as time goes on will serve to benefit the widespread usage of autonomous vehicles and the comfort of the humans using them. This is especially important because the potential benefits of this technology can only be realized once self-driving cars are adopted en masse (Howard and Dai 2014).

As self-driving cars become more prevalent, the public is demanding more information about how automated vehicles will coexist with current cars and predict human behavior. Phenomenology may be used to study how passengers and drivers perceive not being in control and figure out how artificial intelligence might be implemented to adapt to the various nuances in human interactions with autonomous vehicles. One of the debates posed by self-driving cars involves the fear over loss of our autonomy. Automobiles and our understanding of independence are so deeply connected. However, that could fade when we experience the loss of control of their systems (Brogan 2016). By analyzing this new technology in a phenomenological way we can see more clearly how the self-driving car isn’t that much different from the invention of the railroad train centuries ago. This is because as Verbeek and Marshall McLuhan have pointed out, "technologies can be mediators of experience". Rather than distancing us further and further away from reality, they help shape our relationship with it. With each new technology comes the potential to create new forms of very real human engagement (Verbeek 2002).


Edmund Husserl 1910s

Edmund Husserl: The founder of phenomenology. Most phenomenological works either directly or indirectly link back to the original work of the Austrian-born German philosopher. According to Husserl’s phenomenology, our experience is directed toward—represents or “intends”—things only through particular concepts, thoughts, ideas, images, etc. These make up the meaning or content of a given experience and are distinct from the things they present or mean (Smith 2003).

"All consciousness is consciousness of something"
— Husserl


Martin Heidegger: A 20th-century German existential phenomenologist especially concerned with Ontology and the meaning of "being". His later work focused on the cultural impact of technology by which he exposed the limitations of mediated representation. He was also a known member of the Nazi party from 1933 until the party's demise in 1945. Heidegger never publicly apologized for his involvement with the Nazi Party and is only known to have expressed regret once, privately. Because of this, his relation between his philosophy and National Socialism are still highly controversial.

“This techne as a form of revealing has in the modern world been replaced by technology as a form of control that offers human beings a picture of the world in which they hold dominion or mastery. ”
— Heidegger

Maurice Merleau-Ponty: French 20th phenomenologist philosopher who was influenced by the work of Husserl and Heidegger. He emphasizes the foundational role perception plays in understanding the world and the centrality that the body plays in perception. In contrast to his contemporaries, he believed that it is through our bodies and sensation that we perceive and experience things; that we are embodied subjects, involved in existence.

"The perceiving mind is an incarnated mind"
— Merleau-Ponty

Phenomenologist Philosopher Alfred Schutz

Alfred Schutz: Alfred Schutz work focuses on Social Phenomenology which involves the social construction of reality. He studied Husserl's work intensively in seeking a basis for a sociology of understanding. His work resulted in a book entitled Der sinnhafte Aufbau der sozialen Welt (The meaningful construction of the social world) which was published in English as The Phenomenology of the Social World. He is also known for his theoretical contribution of dividing the lifeworld into four subcategories. The theory of the lifeworld is that social experience creates a world that is separated from social reality that has been directly experienced and social reality that is on the horizon of direct experience.

Key Concepts


Consciousness: the state or quality of awareness, or, of being aware of an external object or something within oneself.

Embodiment: Refers to experience mediated through a body.

Intentionality: According to Husserl intentionality is aboutness or directedness as exemplified by conscious mental acts.

Lifeworlds: The intersubjectivity of knowing. As an observer, we can only interpret the experience of one another through our own meaning context, based on limited access to objectively see another person's stream of life activity (Schutz 1967).

Locus of Control: The locus of control is a framework for understanding people's perception of the controlling factors in their lives. Having an Internal locus of control can also be referred to as "self-agency", "personal control", "self-determination", etc. Those with an external locus of control attribute outcomes of events to external circumstances. Externals tend to believe that the things which happen in their lives are out of their control. They are also more prone to depression (Locus of Control Wiki 2017).

Perception: Phenomenology is primarily concerned with external perception but to a degree internal and mixed perception as well. External perception or sensory perception is the way we process the world around us — everything outside of our body. Internal perception tells us what is going on within our bodies. Mixed perception is that which is oriented with our moods and emotions.



Blake, William "The Marriage Of Heaven And Hell". 1793 . En.Wikipedia.Org. Accessed May 3 2017.

Brogan, Jacob, Jacob Brogan, and Jacob Brogan. 2016. "Your Cheat-Sheet Guide To The Key Players And Debates Around Self-Driving Cars". Slate Magazine. Accessed May 9 2017.

"Consciousness". 2017. En.Wikipedia.Org. Accessed May 3 2017.

Dreyfus, Hubert L. 1996. “The Current Relevance of Merleau-Ponty’s Phenomenology of Embodiment.” University of California - Berkeley.

Heidegger, Martin. "Being and time. 1927." Trans. John Macquarrie and Edward Robinson. New York: Harper (1962).

Howard, Daniel, and Danielle Dai. "Public Perceptions Of Self-Driving Cars: 2 The Case Of Berkeley, California". N.p., 2014. Web. 3 May 2017.

Husserl, E. Ideas pertaining to a pure phenomenology and to a phenomenological philosophy. 1st book: General introduction to a pure phenomenology, trans. by F. Kersten. The Hague: Nijhoff, 1982

LaFrance, Adrienne. 2016. "Two Big Questions For Elon Musk". The Atlantic. Accessed May 10 2017.

"Locus Of Control". 2017. En.Wikipedia.Org. Accessed May 2 2017.

"Maurice Merleau-Ponty". 2017. En.Wikipedia.Org. Accessed May 3 2017.

Merleau-Ponty, Maurice. The primacy of perception: And other essays on phenomenological psychology, the philosophy of art, history, and politics. Northwestern University Press, 1964.

Merleau-Ponty, Maurice. The Visible And The Invisible: Followed By Working Notes. 1st ed. Northwestern University Press, 1968.

"The Perception Of Control | UX Booth". 2017. Uxbooth.Com. Accessed May 3 2017.

"Philosophy of Technology." The Journal of Speculative Philosophy 26, no. 2 (2012): 321-32. doi:10.5325/jspecphil.26.2.0321.

Schutz, Alfred: [1932] 1967 The Phenomenology of the Social World. Evanston, Ill.: Northwestern University Press

Smith, David Woodruff. 2003. "Phenomenology". Plato.Stanford.Edu. Accessed May 3 2017.

Verbeek, Peter-Paul. "Devices of engagement: on Borgmann's philosophy of information and technology." Techné: Research in Philosophy and Technology 6, no. 1 (2002): 48-63.

Phenomenology of Digital Networks

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Phenomenology is the science of phenomena as distinct from that of the nature of being (Oxford Dictionary).

File:Verbeek Image.jpg
Peter-Paul Verbeek

Peter-Paul Verbeek interprets Albert Borgmann, a Technology Philosopher, in order to divulge how current technologies, influence our culture. He talks of how for Borgman, the most important characteristic of technology is its disburdening character (Verbeek, 2002). Devices reduce the amount of time and effort that is necessary to accomplish task. According to Borgmann, technologies create a pattern in the way people live their lives (Verbeek, 2002).

File:Albert Borgmann.jpg
Albert Borgmann

Kim Jahoon talks of the original intentions of the computer, and how it’s moved from just a simple “number cruncher”, to an information processing and communication platform (Jahoon, 2001). He further explains how “the age of computerization” produce text in the form of digital texts from computer files and programs.

Phenomenology of Digital Networks


Phenomenology digital networks reflects the aggregation of millions of single experiences and allows insights into thousands of varied life worlds to generate a new collective consciousness.

There have been suggestions on how to interpret the network theory and the manner in which people communicate on the global scale. Manuel Castells explores the various implications that this trend has on the social structure and the global economy. Castell's conception of the network society and node data relates to what other scholars suggest are a shift in the societal power structures. Albert Borgmann would agree with the plausibility of this conception. Borgmann’s philosophical analysis of information in Holding on To Reality indicates his concern that technological information could “overflow and suffocate reality” (Verbeek, 2002). The very warning Borgmann suggest, is theorized as true today.

Castells positions the source of power as individuals who can control the flow of information within a networked society. These phenomena, changes the very fabric of human operation and interaction as we know it. The source of power is greatly altered and so is the logic by which it operates. In this regard, a networked society has allowed the organizational to be rendered timeless and placeless. Castells explains that the more organizations depend on technology, especially the flow of information; they become less likely influenced by the social aspects that are related to location (Dershowitz & Nissan, 2014). The previous platform in which technology was developed, according to Kim, seems to be moving in a completely different direction all together (Jahoon, 2001). Castells argument follows growing independence from the societal logic from the organizational logic. In essence, the capacity of individuals in power to remain in the same status is determined by technology. For instance, the format and the distribution of information (Kroker, 2004). In addition, the source of power can also be used as a source of resistance. What Kim describes as a different platform for translated text, is thought to create positions of power. Technology is building a completely new avenue in which known processes were established. By definition, phenomenology is the science of phenomena as distinct from that of the nature of being. Is the nature of being changing beneath our feet?

Although Castells argument is very compelling, there are different views among authors with regards to this network society. While Castells argues that digital network has become a more defining feature of the modern society, authors such as Jan van Dijk questions the primacy of such arguments as applied technology or digital networks. On his part, Dijk contemplates on the benefits of digital networks in his article, The Network Society (Dijk, 2001). He suggests that social networks are vast with complex structures, which should include both online and offline modes of communication. This is a complete 360 view point from Castells mentions entirely. What Dijk is suggestion, is that Castells view point is very one sided, and that there are many other structures that are developing. His distinction has been used in the context of organic and social communities, especially in political discussions and the powers that are related to technology (Dijk, 2001). Therefore, he suggests that technology and network structures enable both centralization and decentralization and predicts the position of people in media networks.

The changing technology landscape has been explored by focusing on the physical aspects of media technology and telephony. In the early 1990s, the Internet became more accessible to the general public (Shilling, 2005). Kim talks about this phenomenon as “the age of computerization” (Jahoon, 2001). He is not alone, various other writers, such as Negroponte, published books which set out to document the impacts of the technological shift from analog to digital, to provide qualified predictions on the technology evolved over the past two decades. Some of the publications, such as Being Digital by Negroponte, take into account what happens when technology or media is no longer "mass" hence questioning the manner in which the public communicate once media has become tailored to an individual's interest and can recall the users' discretion. In the text, Being Digital, the author cited on-demand television and an increasing number of channels for each, instead of having media being pushed to the public or a target audience. In such cases, it is believed that the audience will have to pull the technology towards themselves.

The information model is perceived to be more flexible and paved the way for a globalized economy coupled with an interconnected society, which experiences time and place. Meaning that communication can seemingly move instantaneously and eventually determined the social processed (Gane & Beer, 2008). On the other hand, the acceleration of innovation is perceived as a major condition, which influences the globalized economy. Through innovation, there has been a technological acceleration, which has also transformed the location of power within networked societies. Therefore, better outcomes in design and development will be achieved if an information system is understood as communicative acts. This is because date tends to become information in the consciousness of the human.

Additional Viewing

Theories of Power - Manuel Castells



Critical Theory/The Frankfurt School

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Critical theory is based on the works of 7 philosophers/social theorists in Western Europe in the early 20th Century. These men focused on the theories of Karl Marx. Marxism is a collection of social and political theories that focus on the struggles of the labor force or proletariat. Marx's theories promote a socialist political structure the would end class wars between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie. The theorists who founded the “Frankfurt School” focused on explaining and transforming all circumstances that “enslave” human beings (Bohman, 2005). This “enslavement” can be considered physical or cultural, and Critical Theory aims to provide “the descriptive and normative bases for social inquiry aimed at decreasing domination and increasing freedom in all their forms.” (Bohman, 2005). There is a desire to seek a universal truth and justice outside of social conditions or history/culture. Unlike other Marxist groups, Critical Theorists take into account other sociological theories like phenomenology.

Some have called The Frankfurt School outdated or irrelevant, the there has been an apparent resurgence in writings and interest in Critical Theory over the past few years. There are some theories that the recent political unrest in the United States and the popularity of very right-wing and/or authoritarian government officials in Europe and the United States is what the Critical Theorist "warned us" about decades ago. In 1950, Adorno and Horkeimer write a book called "The Authoritarian Personality". This book was based on interviews with American citizens and with "the steady accumulation of racist, anti-democratic, paranoid, and irrational sentiments in the case studies" (NYT) they were able to come up with a profile for the "potentially fantastic individual". There was a concern that an "Authoritarian Personality" would be able to exploit the fears of the public no matter their political intentions (Jeffries, 2016).

There have been 2 things said to be behind the wheel of this unrest: consumer culture, which has created a growing gap between the mega-rich and the rest of society (99% vs 1%) and the rising importance of digital technology/social media. Elian Glaser wrote "“When every person in a train carriage is staring at a small illuminated device, it is an almost tacky vision of dystopia. Technology – along with turbo-capitalism – seems to me to be hastening the cultural and environmental apocalypse. The way I see it, digital consumerism makes us too passive to revolt, or to save the world" (Ross, 2016). In our current culture, there are major corporations that own most of the goods sold and a very small amount of people who earn most of the money. There is a perception that some of these more "progressive" companies are doing things for the good of society with more innovative user-friendly technology, charity initiatives, and move toward more environmentally friendly practices. But critical theorists might be concerned that they use that as a way to distract the masses because the only concern is making a greater profit.

Social media/journalism have had a very specific impact, though none of the original Frankfurt School theorists ever lived to have social media profiles. Adorno specifically was weary of Americans watching TV, listening to the radio, and watching movies. His fears were that this could lead to a "fascist methods of mass hypnosis". His fear was based on what he saw happen in Germany during the 1930s when he watched the German people be seduced by agenda of Adolf Hitler. During the 2016 United States Presidential Election, there was much concern about "fake news" (link), twitter bots (link), and other interferences that gave the public a false perception of one or both candidates. These tactics can cause a great distraction and keep people from learning the truth about candidates. Social media allows these types of "propaganda" to spread like wildfire with nearly zero accountability.

Key Concepts


Marxism: Critique of capitalism, examines how social and economic issues. Issues that arise when the proletariat (workforce) is a mass workforce controlled by the bourgeoisie. The bourgeoisie ultimately profits while the proletariat is forced to work more for the bare minimum to survive. This causes social unrest, can/should lead to revolution focused on creating a government that is focused on the worker and worker’s rights.

Capitalism: An economic system in which a country's industry and trade is controlled by private owners for profit, rather than being state controlled.

Production: The "labor power" that is created by the instruments of labor. The instruments of labor can either be tools, machinery, or even people.

Bourgeoisie: The class that benefits the most from capitalism. They tend to own most of "the means of production" and control wealth.

Proletariat: The labor class in a capitalist society, their worth is in their "labor power".

Phenomenology: The study of one's consciousness and perception.

Famous Frankfurt School/Critical Theorists


Other Theorists with Frankfurt School roots

  • Erich Fromm
  • Otto Kirchheimer
  • Siegfried Kracauer
  • Alfred Sohn-Rethel
  • Walter Benjamin
  • Claus Offe
  • Axel Honneth
  • Oskar Negt
  • Alfred Schmidt
  • Albrecht Wellmer

See Also

  • Karl Marx
  • Marxism
  • Occupy Movement
  • 2016 Presidential Election
  • Fake News
  • Twitterbots



Bohman, James. "Critical Theory." Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. March 08, 2005. Accessed May 14, 2017.

Jeffries, Stuart. "Why a forgotten 1930s critique of capitalism is back in fashion." The Guardian. September 09, 2016. Accessed May 14, 2017.

Marx, Karl. "Chapter Fifteen: Machinery and Modern Industry." Economic Manuscripts: Capital Vol. I — Chapter Fifteen. Accessed May 14, 2017.

Ross, Alex. "The Frankfurt School Knew Trump Was Coming." The New Yorker. December 07, 2016. Accessed May 14, 2017.

Marxism in the Matrix - The Frankfurt School and Virtual Reality

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Marxism in the Matrix - The Frankfurt School and Virtual Reality


In the film world of The Matrix (1999) and its sequels, humanity has been enslaved by robot overlords and kept docile by a massively networked virtual reality system. While the most obvious questions posed by the film are existentially skeptical in nature (e.g. “What is reality?” or “What is consciousness?”) when focusing on the virtual reality technology we can also gain much from Critical Theory, a tradition of thought born from the Frankfurt School.

The Frankfurt School sought to apply new theoretical frameworks to the ideas of Karl Marx, in an age that posed socio-technological challenges, Marx may never have conceived of electronic mass media or artificial intelligence. Marx would certainly have recognized the human predicament of the world of The Matrix as similar to his own time after the Industrial Revolution, with humanity reduced to "an appendage of the machine" (Marx, 1969), or in the case of The Matrix: batteries (see

The scholars of the Frankfurt School were concerned about the commodification of culture as a result of technology, and that the result of such a phenomenon would be a public easily influenced and pacified by such a culture:

"They theorized that this experience made people intellectually inactive and politically passive, as they allowed mass produced ideologies and values to wash over them and infiltrate their consciousness. They argued that this process was one of the missing links in Marx's theory of the domination of capitalism, and largely helped to explain why Marx's theory of revolution never came to pass." (Cole, 2017)

The film WALL-E (2008) imagines how far this inactivity and passivity might go even without The Matrix's malevolent AI hegemon running the show. In that future, the humans are simply oblivious to the world around them, captivated as they are by the augmented reality interfaces on their hover chairs (see

However, of greater concern is VRs potential for abuse as a tool of persuasion. Its immersiveness can create intense emotional responses that have been shown to impact future behavior. A study at Stanford found that subjects who chopped down a tree in a virtual reality system later used fewer napkins to clean up a spill than subjects who merely read about and imagined the act of the tree-cutting (Gorlick, 2011). The visceral VR experience resulted in more eco-friendly behavior in this case, but it stands to reason that minds could be swayed for more nefarious purposes with this technology as well.

The artificial intelligence antagonist in The Matrix trilogy also arrives at this conclusion, albeit through some trial and error. As the character Agent Smith reveals, the first attempt at the Matrix was a comparatively benevolent one, a Utopia by human standards. However, this attempt was ultimately unsuccessful as the human brains would not accept a world without suffering; it was "a dream that your primitive cerebrum kept trying to wake up from. Whole crops were lost." (Agent Smith, The Matrix, 1999)

It is telling that the simulation of human civilization that best serves the AI’s goals of pacifying the human psyche is that of the late 20th century. Not just because it is relatable to the contemporary audience of the film, but also because it is the period in human history of what the members of the Frankfurt School might have considered to be the peak of mass culture, intellectual inactivity and political passivity.

More telling is that, even in this “optimum” simulation of human experience, the people are required to have boring cubicle jobs, where they lament being cogs in the machine and dream of the better life that is sold to them on television. This dilemma seems almost directly lifted from Marx's Theory of Alienation, the idea that capitalism strips laborers of their humanity to make them more efficient tools. The human minds in the Matrix thus only accept such programming because it feels like it is required - as we learned earlier, when the minds were allowed complete freedom, they rebelled.

Further, this particular point would not surprise Frankfurt School member Herbert Marcuse, who wrote in One Dimensional Man [person] about the ways that mass culture provides people with a sense of fulfillment, allowing them to fulfill "needs" created by the culture itself. So that not only would "working" in the Matrix feel required, but it would also feel rewarding, and thereby pacifying:

"The means of mass transportation and communication, the commodities of lodging, food, and clothing, the irresistible output of the entertainment and information industry carry with them prescribed attitudes and habits, certain intellectual and emotional reactions which bind the consumers more or less pleasantly to the producers and, through the latter, to the whole. The products indoctrinate and manipulate; they promote a false consciousness which is immune against its falsehood. And as these beneficial products become available to more individuals in more social classes, the indoctrination they carry ceases to be publicity; it becomes a way of life. It is a good way of life--much better than before--and as a good way of life, it militates against qualitative change. Thus emerges a pattern of onedimensional thought and behavior in which ideas, aspirations, and objectives that, by their content, transcend the established universe of discourse and action are either repelled or reduced to terms of this universe. They are redefined by the rationality of the given system and of its quantitative extension.” ( Marcuse, 1964)

This is the exact sentiment expressed in a conversation between the characters Neo and Morpheus as Morpheus explains the Matrix to Neo:

“The Matrix is everywhere. It is all around us. Even now, in this very room. You can see it when you look out your window or when you turn on your television. You can feel it when you go to work; when you go to church; when you pay your taxes. It is the world that has been pulled over your eyes to blind you from the truth.” (see

In fact, the simulation is so convincing, that even those who manage to escape it may find themselves longing to return. This may be the real danger to humanity, if the Stanford study is any indication; if one could be compelled to alter their real behavior by a virtual experience, what is there to stop the virtual world from making you want to stay in it forever? Perhaps the character Cypher, who will betray his friends in reality for a chance to return to the virtual world as a battery, puts it best (see

“Ignorance is bliss.”

Famous Frankfurt School/Critical Theorists

  • Max Horkheimer
  • Theodor W. Adorno
  • Herbert Marcuse
  • Friedrich Pollock
  • Leo Löwenthal
  • Jürgen Habermas



Cole, Nicki. 2017. “An Introduction to the Frankfurt School.” ThoughtCo. Accessed 2/27/18 from

Gorlick, Adam. 2011. “New virtual reality research – and a new lab – at Stanford.” Stanford Report. Accessed 2/18/2018 from

Marcuse, Herbert. 1964. “One Dimensional Man.” Boston, Beacon. Quotation accessed 2/27/2018 from

Marx, Karl and Frederick Engels. 1969. Marx/Engels Selected Works, Vol. One, Progress Publishers, Moscow. pp. 98-137. Quotation accessed 3/8/2018 from

The Matrix. Dir. Andy Wachowski and Larry Wachowski. Warner Bros. Pictures, 1999.

WALL-E. Dir. Andrew Stanton. Walt Disney Home Entertainment, 2008.

How Does Technology Affect Class Identity

How does technology (digital and smart devices) affect or form class identity (changes in economic, social, and cultural capital)?

It is estimated that by 2020, “more than 7 billion people worldwide will use over 35 billion connected devices to communicate, collaborate, negotiate and perform transactions over web and mobile channels” (The Economist Intelligence Unit, 2015). The proliferation of technology not only impacts social class status, but social class formation, division, and factors that contribute to each group. Still, many persons understand less where they fall within social class as digital cultures muddle types of capital. This lack of clear identification or understanding does not diminish the significance of class hierarchy as the digital space categorizes content through aspects like class and worker issues aren’t clearly addressed through such oversight or lack of digital social class cohesion.

First, social class is often categorized within the broad categories of upper, middle, and lower. While these categories may hold actual income brackets, there is also the feeling of where one falls within the structure. Types of capital, as outlined by philosopher and sociologist, Pierre Bourdieu, influence our social class standing, such as economic capital, social capital, and culture capital. Specifically within cultural capital which can be vital to digital cultures and self perception within a digital space, there is the cultural capital which comes from acquired knowledge, owned and experience culture, and social recognition (Yates et al, 2018). A brief reflection upon these factors shows how digital devices influence knowledge acquired through the internet, how experience is shared through social media, and how recognition can form through sharing content and therefore imposes a force our self perceived social class rank. Yet how do existing class rank based on financial income connect and influence digital cultures at the outset.

Comparisons between social class and technology expose who occupies the digital space. Patterns begin to arise between Internet use and income or education level as show in the charts below from “Social Media and Social Class”:

While the charts above are a limited scope of technology use, these do expose the traditional exclusion of lower income, lower educated persons being mirrored within the digital network of society and the ever present digital divide. These persons are less likely to utilize technology in relation to knowledge or opportunity gains. The researchers highlight how class affects “citizens’ exposure to and willingness to invest in skills and knowledge and shapes their disposition toward and familiarity with technology” and this relationship then influences the perception of “benefits gained” (Yates et al, 2018). Inequity begins to form around a lack of participation and digital production .

Digital culture and technology has created new ways of considering social class theoretically including immaterial labor, digital labor, informational and cultural work, “concept of free labor under conditions of the New Economy, as well as the now-famous notions of social factory” (Qiu, 2018). Social class is often identified with income and therefore types of work, yet, as work changes with digital technology, it is not as easy for many to clearly or neatly identify their social class. In recent decades jobs have shifted from long-term, 40 hr work weeks to a gig economy. This is not a transition from standard work to independent contractor, but to contingent and precarious work that exposes persons to greater exploitation and health risk. Yet, many do not identify with service sector workers that often face poor working conditions. “Behind the employer’s rhetoric of “sharing economy,” “flexibility,” and “independence,” equally used for other types of precarious conditions”, persons do not quickly find issue with concerning “job insecurity, job demands, low wages, lack of benefits (pensions, workers’ compensation, health insurance), and difficulty in forming a union” (Muntaner, 2018). There is a difference in self-perception and unified identification for change, but, again, the digital space seems to mirror a common employer and worker class relation.

There have been attempts to change the way social class is measured to better reflect the influence of technology and digital cultures. In 2013, the Great British Class Survey used Pierre Bourdieu’s three areas of capital to create seven classes: elite, established middle class, technical middle class, new affluent workers, traditional working class, emergent service workers, and precariat.

This new arrangement “based on income and assets, social acquaintances and cultural activities” considered the growing effect of social and cultural capital while many persons may still lack economic capital (Mahdawi, 2018). Excluding elite, all of the classes ranked economic capital lower than other factors. Yet, it is important to keep in mind, even with high social and cultural capital this does not mean across class as filter bubbles still exist. For instance, among the working class that now face diminished physical social interaction due to a lack of unions and other social arrangements, there is a “working-class network society” under social formation (Qiu, 2018).

The social media platform of about 1 billion persons, Facebook, has also created a class system geared at marketing. In the US, most persons, more than 70%, consider themselves middle-class no matter their income and, while that self-perception is vital to understanding class formation and interaction, it has no bearing on the way one is unknowingly, digitally sorted. The target option is used to “increase awareness about products or services” and will therefore reflect the structure we tend to see where we live, such as, a Whole Foods in an upscale neighborhood or a payday loan store in a low-income neighborhood. Options and access become limited by the virtual environment (Mahdawi, 2018). The indicators do vary somewhat prioritizing age and assets. If you’re 20 to 30 years old, then the number of internet-connected devices you own is the predominant signifier of your social status; if you’re 30-40, whether you own a house is most important” (Mahdawi, 2018).

This may be a small hint, especially within a lower income bracket, why persons may feel part of a more financially stable middle-class category. For younger persons, devices and connectivity help form social status and, while not free or available to all, are both lower forms of social class entry or elevation than perhaps a vehicle. These devices hold an idea of potential/opportunity when compared to static objects like furnishings, but devices and connectivity hold little or no resale value, are quickly obsolete, nothing is owned, and would not contribute to generational wealth in a broad sense. Still with the impact of platforms like Facebook, “access to the internet and technological literacy have become important new class markers” (Mahdawi, 2018). Ownership as well has diminishing importance as technology and apps create greater opportunity to subscribe or share objects for a fraction of the price of personal possession. I will not dive too deeply into the homogenization of identity through standardized-shared objects.

Pierce’s Theory of Signs acts to expand on the way objects are perceived whether as icon, index, or symbol and can expand our view of technological devices. Indices may form within our understanding as we observe the world and see the connection of one thing to another or “two things acting upon one another”, but symbols are taught and completely constructed through culture (Peirce et al, 1992). We would not know the meaning of symbols by observing them. Therefore we may wonder, are digital devices indices or symbols? Some may clearly answer symbols as the objects themselves hold unique cultural value. Where once the rareness of objects like computers could have indicated certain traits about persons, perhaps occupation, income, interest, or education, the prevalence of such digital devices now only provides mild indication as technology becomes necessary within all environments. A specific smart device as a symbol demonstrates a certain set of assumptions, for instance, an Apple user or a Google Home user or an Android user. Yet, do users mistakenly see devices, specifically smart devices and their connection to the Internet, as indices?

What objects do, what objects are perceived to do (indices), and what objects mean (symbol) for the user are all different. Does a smart device acts upon our life to expand knowledge, access, and network? Where there are computers, there is education. Where there is wifi, there is advancement. It may sound like a stretch, but the language or rhetoric of technology has a powerful push on its idea as an active entity of progress. Dr. Carolyn R. Miller explains how technological discourse is influenced by timing or the rhetorical device of kairos to “look for the particular opportunity in a given moment, to find - or construct - an opening in the here and now, in order to achieve something there and then” (Miller, 1994). Although Miller’s argument specifically references the point of view of business planners, market planners, R&D decision makers, and fiscal directors, technological discourse is not only limited to these persons as millions around the world watch Apple launches or highlights from Google conferences on YouTube. The general public would now clearly connect technology with “change, development, progress” and “expressions such as the "state of the art," the research "front," "the cutting edge," all of which orient our understanding to the expansion of a territory” tinge the products we own with symbolic meaning, but flood users with action words that assume logic as simple as where there is heat, there is fire (Miller, 1994). “Kairos in technical discourse functions primarily to create opportunities for opportunity” as we unconsciously sit in front of machines and open more windows (Miller, 1994). Looking at digital devices, these could be defined as opportunities for opportunity, as would a stove, but with a stove, the limits are understood as well as the potential output and the items needed to even obtain an output. Digital devices may seem different as all input and output are not full defined and understood along with what the user contributes to obtain anything if not merely opportunity and not necessarily result or limited result with the influence of outside forces.  

Work Cited

Mahdawi, Arwa. 2018. “Facebook Is Coding a Whole New Class System | Arwa Mahdawi.” The Guardian, February 13, 2018, sec. Opinion.

Miller, Carolyn R. 1994. “Opportunity, Opportunism, and Progress:Kairos in the Rhetoric of Technology.” Argumentation 8 (1): 81–96.

Muntaner, Carles. 2018. “Digital Platforms, Gig Economy, Precarious Employment, and the Invisible Hand of Social Class.” International Journal of Health Services 48 (4): 597–600.

Peirce, Charles S., Nathan Houser, and Christian J. W. Kloesel. 1992. The Essential Peirce: Selected Philosophical Writings. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

Qiu, Jack Linchuan. 2018. “China’s Digital Working Class and Circuits of Labor.” Communication and the Public 3 (1): 5–18.

The Economist Intelligence Unit. 2015. “The Economics of Digital Identity,” February, 21.

Yates, Simeon, and Eleanor Lockley. 2018. “Social Media and Social Class.” American Behavioral Scientist 62 (9): 1291–1316.

Birmingham School

Go back to Intro/Table of Contents

The Birmingham School and The Digital Divide



The Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies or CCCS for short was the heart of British cultural studies. Founded by Richard Hoggart in 1964, the Centre operated at the intersections of literary criticism, sociology, history, and anthropology. Rather than focus on ‘high’ culture, the intention was to carry out group research on areas of popular culture such as chart music, television programmes, and advertising. This approach went profoundly against the grain of conventional academic practice. The school went through a few directors including Stuart Hall, Richard Johnson, and Michael Green. The work that was produced at the Centre worked on many different intersections of study, such as sociology and literary criticism. In 2002, the school closed its door, as the senior management says the program needed restructuring (1).

Notable Figures


Richard Hoggart- Born September 24th, 2018 in Leeds, Richard was from a working-class family. His began his career as an adult education tutor. His work The Uses Of Literacy published in 1957 would define his career. In this work, Hoggart wrote about the changing working class from the 1930's to the 1950's. He contrasted these two timeframes by separated them into two cultures:

"An “older” order’, describing the working class culture of Hoggart’s childhood in the 1930s; and ‘Yielding place to new’, describing a traditional working-class culture under threat from the new forms of mass entertainment of the 1950s. Dividing the book in this way in itself speaks volumes about the perspective taken and the conclusions expected. On the one hand, we have the traditional ‘lived culture’ of the 1930s. On the other, we have the cultural decline of the 1950s. (2) "

The antagonist to the traditional working-class culture was the threat of new forms of mass entertainment of the 1950s. He refers to the pleasures of mass entertainment as irresponsible and vicarious. Hoggart noted that the working-class did have a great natural ability to survive change by excepting what they want and ignoring the rest. In the book, " Cultural Theory and Popular Culture: An Introduction" by John Storey he writes that "Hoggart can be criticized for his romanticism of the 1930's in order to that that his picture of the 1950's is exaggeratedly pessimistic and overdrawn." The rich life of his childhood seemed to be exponentially ruined by the popular culture of the 1950s. In Richard Hoggart's book, "The uses of literacy" he writes about what he sees as the relationship between these two cultures:

"Having a good time’ may be made to seem so important as to override almost all other claims; yet when it has been allowed to do so, having a good time becomes largely a matter of routine. The strongest argument against modern mass entertainments is not that they debase taste – debasement can be alive and active – but that they overexcite it, eventually dull it, and finally kill it. . . . They kill it at the nerve, and yet so bemuse and persuade their audience that the audience is almost entirely unable to look up and say, ‘But in fact, this cake is made of sawdust’ (3).

Stuart Hall- Born February 3rd, 1932, in Kingston, Jamacia, In 1964, Hall joined the Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies, became the acting director in 1968, then fully took over in 1972. (4)

Hall was very interested in the crisis of identity and what that meant culturally. In his journal italicsIdentity in Questionitalics, Hall writes about the 3 types of identities we have.

  • Enlightenment Subject: A human person as a fully centered, unified individual, endowed with the capacities of reason, consciousness, and action, whose "center consisted of an inner core which first emerged when the subject was born. (5)
  • Sociological Subject: A human person who reflected the growing complexity of the modern world and the awareness that this inner core of the subject was not autonomous and self-sufficient. Formed in relation to the significant others who mediated to the subject values, meaning, and symbols the culture of the world she/he have. (5)
  • Post-Modern Subject: A human subject that conceptualized as having no fixed essential or permanent identity. Identity formed and transformed continuously in relation to the ways we are represented or addressed in cultural systems which surround us. (5)

These three types of identity that Hall laid out are the process in which we project ourselves. In the enlightenment subject, this is where we build out primary discourse. We begin to decipher whats good and bad or right and wrong. In the sociological subject, people are looking outwards outside of their primary discourse. We take from others people values, meaning, and symbols to make sense of our own. In the postmodern subject, a person is non-stop changing with the culture around him/her.

'Raymond Williams'- Born August 31st, 1921, in Lianfihangel Crucorney, Wales, Williams was a colleague of Hoggart and Hall at the Birmingham school of cultural studies. Raymond Williams was from a working-class welsh family, his father was a railway signalman. Throughout his career, Willians released several novels, literary and cultural studies journals, and short stories. In one of his most prolific works "The analysis of culture", Willams put cultural into three general categories:

  • Ideal: Discovery of certain absolute or universal, high and low meaning and values. (6)
  • Documentary: Culture is the body of intellectual and imaginative work, in a detailed way, human thought and experience are variously recorded. (6)
  • Social: Culture is a description of a particular way of life.
Within a given society, selection will be governed by many kinds of special interests, including class interests. Just as the actual social situation will largely govern contemporary selection, so the development of the society, the process of historical change, will largely determine the selective tradition. The traditional culture of a society will always tend to correspond to its contemporary system of interests and values, for it is not an absolute body of work but a continual selection and interpretation (5).

Cultural studies and the digital divide


The Birmingham school of cultural studies was focused on class, gender, race and the politics of representation. The digital divide is a problem in which people in poverty have a lack of access to quality technology and tend to have lower digital literacy skills. This phenomenon has been seen as a very complicated issue that is connected to race, education, and poverty. The lack of resources has a direct effect on literacy, to solve this problem the cultural theorist believed that cultural practices such as digital literacy should be studied within the culture. Each of these cultural theorists would look at the digital divide differently, for instance, Richard Hoggart who was a purist thinks that these pleasures of mass entertainment do nothing but ruin culture and forces them to adapt to the changes. The tech of the 1950's ruined the culture he knew as a child. Although Hoggart was pessimistic about some technology advancements, he believed the working class had a strong ability to survive change. Stuart Hall, on the other hand, would look at the lack of resources as a threat to the identity of the postmodern subject. The digital divide keeps impoverished people away from the cultural systems that surround them. As the digital divide effects people in poverty, it also affects their digital identities in the communities that surround them. Raymond Williams focused a lot of his work on the marginalized, with his Marxist ideology the digital divide would be an important topic to him. Williams stood up for injustice and would see the digital divide as being a disadvantage to the disenfranchised.



1. "About CCCS: history and project." About the Birmingham CCCS - University of Birmingham. Accessed February 27, 2018.

2. Storey, John. 2015. Cultural Theory and Popular Culture : An Introduction. London: Taylor and Francis. Accessed March 1, 2018. ProQuest Ebook Central.

3. Hoggart, Richard. 1957. The uses of literacy: aspects of working-class life. London: Penguin.

4. "Stuart Hall." Stuart Hall - University of Birmingham. Accessed February 29, 2018.

5. Williams, Raymond. "The Analysis of Culture." The Long Revolution, 1961, 57-70.

Interconnected Technology And Cultural Studies and Identity



Key Figures


Raymond Henry Williams (1921-1988).

Raymond H. Williams was a Welsh academic and theorist. He was an influential figure in defining the term culture. His writings and critique of culture made significant contributions to the field of cultural studies.

Stuart McPhail Hall (1932-2014).

Stuart M. Hall was a Jamaican-born British cultural theorist. He was one of the founding members of the Birmingham School of Cultural Studies. His works connecting racial prejudice and media have become foundational in the study of contemporary cultural studies.

This Al Jazeera produced video on Hall’s ideas on race, gender, class in the media:, gives a brief overview of the cultural themes we should consider as we view media through the cultural studies lens.

Categories of Culture


In John Storey’s (2015) chapter on “Culturalism” we find Raymond Williams’ “The Analysis of Culture.” In the analysis, Williams presents three categories to consider in defining culture: the ideal, how we think culture could be better; the documentary record, a way to remember the past; and the social, how we speak about our present way of life.

Concepts of Identity


Stuart Hall (1996) describes three concepts of identity. The first is the enlightenment subject, one who knows one’s own identity, “whose ‘center’ consisted of an inner core which first emerged when the subject was born, and unfolded with it, while remaining essentially the same - continuous or ‘identical’ with itself - throughout the individual's existence” (597). The second is the social subject, where you view yourself as part of a community. The idea that your identity is formed from your relationship with others. Our identities shape culture and vice-versa culture shapes our identities. The post-modern subject is the last identity concept. Post-modern subjects believe you are not born with a stagnate identity. Identities are formed and changed by their experiences. We assume different identities at different times and locations in our lives, identities rely on historical experiences. This allows us to have conflicting identities, we are ever changing. We must considered these definitions of culture and identity in order to fully understand modern society. We can use this cultural studies lens to potentially unpack a culture system and help understand how they construct a person’s identity.

I will use Hall’s ideas of culture and identity to critique the interconnected exercise technology, examining the technology and the larger behavior and social structures this technology shapes.



What is an interconnected exercise technology?


An interconnected exercise is an exercise machine that uses the internet to connect users to each other users. An example is the Peloton’s stationary bike. The company defines the word peloton, as the main group of riders in a race. They also add the subheading of “Riders in a peloton work together, conserve energy and perform better because of one another.” Peloton’s stationary bike have a fairly big screen attached to them where users can connect to other users, access on-demand classes, or join a live-stream of a class while using the machines. Users pay a monthly subscription to access these options. According to, the popularity of social, yet isolated aspect of these exercise machines is the next big thing. The price tag of a Peloton stationary bike starts at $2,245 and over 300,000 have been sold with millions of monthly of subscribers at $39 per month. This new technology is offering a different way for people to work out and companies investing in this trend have the potential for huge profits.

This interconnected exercise technology reinforces the notion that people want to exercise at the comfort of their own home. It supposes people want the comfort home without the isolation feeling. It aims to give on-demand the social aspect some might want. The upfront cost is prohibitive for most people, so it clearly is geared toward people of a higher income bracket. The value implicit in this technology is people of wealth can further insulate themselves. People want this need, or feel they need to protect themselves from other people will find this technology compelling and attractive. I think this technology offers both freedom and constraints. Freedom in the ability to access it on-demand from the comfort and safety of your home. Constraints in the fact that this is just one machine and you are connecting to others only through screen.

What does cultural studies reveal about this interconnected exercise technology?


In Stuart Hall’s (1996) article “Introduction: Who Needs Identity?”, he claims the fact that identities are products within its community. This inner production of identity within the discourse, inherently gives it the capacity to “exclude, to leave out, to render 'outside', abjected. Every identity has at its 'margin', an excess, something more.” (5) He further adds this inner circle of like-minded affability is unnatural, it is “but a constructed form of closure, every identity naming as its necessary, even if silenced and unspoken other, that which it 'lacks'” (5). This interconnected exercise equipment, given its costs and ability to make it possible for people to be in somewhat isolation and connected to others only when desired, falls squarely in Hall’s assertion. When we are made aware of this scenario, we can thoughtfully use cultural studies to form a different discourse that will in turn form something quite different from our historical understanding of identity. Hall revised the term identity to mean an intersection where: “Identities are, as it were, the positions which the subject is obliged to take up while always 'knowing' (the language of consciousness here betrays us) that they are representations, that representation is always constructed across a 'lack', across a division, from the place of the Other, and thus can never be adequate - identical - to the subject processes which are invested in them.” (6) We are no longer concerned with merely constructing identity, we are equally concerned with identification of subjects and practices that is in our constitution.

With this new reference, we can employ the knowledge of how identities are constructed when assessing a digital technology artifact. Returning to the interconnected exercise stationary bike, Peloton, what identity is this equipment attempting to construct? Did the makers of this equipment aim to include everyone in their pool of consumers? I doubt the makers hoped that everyone will be their consumer. The cost of this equipment immediately excludes a large segment of the world. When only people of wealth and means can purchase this equipment, it intentionally excludes those of lesser means. Possession of this exercise equipment creates an identity in its circle of elitism. Many people are outside of the circle falling in the margins. To its credit, this exclusivity is what makes the company profitable. What this reveals about people, is we want to be included. A business model of for-profit, not for-all-people will often choose to further exploit this desire, which will result in even more profits.  

Works Cited


Beras, Erika. 2019. “Is interconnected exercise the next big thing?” Accessed March 1, 2019.

Hall, S. (1996). “The question of cultural identity.” In S. Hall, D. Held, D. Hubert, and K. Thompson (Eds.), Modernity: An introduction to modern societies. Cambridge, MA: Blackwell.

Storey, J. (2015). "Culturalism." Cultural Theory and Popular Culture: An Introduction. New York, NY: Taylor and Francis, pp. 38-58.

Pragmatism and Emoji as a Universal Language

Smiling Emoji



Emoji are a modern pictographic invention used to provide greater context and emotional impact in text messages and other digital linguistical formats. (oleszkiewicz, eta, 289) Since the adoption of Emoji as an option onto the standard keyboards of wireless devices there use has risen exponentially in popularity; becoming a mainstay of communication across cultural and language barriers. (Poushter, PEW) Latest surveys show that over 90% of the world uses Emoji in some form of communication. (Thompson, wired) This rise of an every increasing homogenized global digital communication culture has given way to a new paradigm of questioning: is Emoji  a universal language?  From certain linguistically and cultural discipline this question has been answered as a definitive no. (Kerslake & Wegerif, 76-77) This is due to certain constrains of theory or disciplinary criteria that emoji are either not yet equipped to fulfill or by default do not have the applications to fill. This Universal Language question gets murky when those disciplines are removed from the equation.

It can be argued that the chief goal of Emoji design is more pragmatically appropriate for discourse according to the modern strains of this particular philosophical discipline then a variety of other technology or technological linguistically innovation. This is because of emoji's very nature as a constructed language form and its somewhat regulated evolutionary nature; which is done by and controlled by a group of corporate entities. (Evans 27-28) This is counter to how traditional written language forms have organically evolved and been codified. (Robinson, 220-223) Emoji serves a function that it was implicitly designed to do; though possible not in the way it was designed to. Pragmatism being far more based in the end goal with a focus on logic, intention, and historical motivations sees emoji as a designed practical language system that fulfills the needs of users across cultural and linguistical borders.

Brief history of emoji


Emoji is a Japanese invention. (Sternberg, 3) The “e” in emoji is for picture and the “moji” in emoji is for character. (Evans, 18) In English this is more in reference to words then how we see the nature of characters. Emoji have their roots in two camps. The first is the rich history of pictographic, nonreductive written language symbology. (Danesi, 12-13) The second is the late twentieth century move to “universalize” all written communication as globalization firmly started to take hold (Robinson, 221).  The later factors in to a systematic construction of nontraditional language models that would bridge cultural as well as language barriers to convey instructions and information. (Robinson, 220-222)

Emoji are general credited as being created by Japanese Telecommunication planner Shigetaka Kurita in 1999. (Moschini, 14). This is true in the broadest sense. Kurita was drawing from multiple sources of historical graphicly communication idioms to create these emojis; namely Kanji, Emoticons, and Manga.  (Sternberg, 3) He all so drew from the universally recognized symbols design for international airports and other cross cultural signage such as those used in the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. (Evans, 157) While Kurita’s emoji Are similar to modern emoji they are from a visual perspective and contextually usage more of a proto emoji or template version.  From the modern sense of Emoji usage these early attempts have more in common with the emoticon mode of visual communication. This is because of their technological simplicity of the graphic wireless systems that ran these first primitive emoji. These Emoji varied from Emoticons in design function.  Kurita’s emoji where more associated with weather/ marketing tools visualization. (Molteni, Wired) The 8-bit Emoticons that laid the early graphic look of emojis had a slightly different communication idiom.

1893 German language book showing how movable type can be used to form faces.
example of Emoticon by Roman Tworkowski

Digital emoticons were developed organically in the mid 80’s as augmented ASCII key board strokes. Emoticons form simple graphic images to punctuate sentence phrases. (Filik, eta, 2131) The concept and design of these early Emoticons are similar to Kurita’s emoji, but the nature of the evolution and usage are far more nuanced and contextual then in Kurita’s proto emoji.  The proto Emoji that Kurita design were repurposed by early users to convey more emotionally then original designed to do. His inclusion and revision of the heart and smiley emoticons into his emoji gave them a certain flexibility that he hoped would provide a fun, positive punctuation to the simple message they were designed to convey concerning weather and other simply information. (Evans, 159) This inclusion is almost a direct bridging of emoticons to emoji evolutionarily.  This provided a flexibility that Kurita couldn’t have foreseen for the end user to repurpose emoji to fit whatever rhetorical needs they might need.  This would have far reaching ramifications as technology and society changed due to the increase of wireless technology. When the emojis become available in 1999 for wireless phones they became wildly popular. (moschini, 16)

The popularity led the industry to standardize their look and control how they are created and distributed on all technological devices in 2010. (Danesi 25) The UNICODE consortium is a collection of 11 American multinational technology corporations such as Google, Apple and Microsoft. (Evans, 29) Since 1991 this group of corporations vote and maintain the character encoding on CMC or computer mediated communication devices such as keyboard and textual readouts. (Unicode, history) This allows the standardization; visually of text across all computer platforms. Which now includes Emoji. This allowed emoji to be added to the keyboards of wireless devices across all major makers. Making their rise in usage and popularity rise exponentially (Lucas, 14)

Pragmatically this usage rise and the social norms around texting has given rise to question whether Emoji has becoming a global, universal language. There is some debate about the successfulness of this goal in action within various Linguistical and social science disciplines.  (Danesi 181-184) Pragmatically; the view is a little more focused due to the general tenets of that philosophy or more appropriately that form of action.

Brief Definition and History of Pragmatism

Peirce, James, Dewey, and Mead; the founders of Pragmatism
Charles S. Peirce

Pragmatism is a philosophy that was founded by Charles Peirce in the later part of the 18thcentury and really took off in the early part of the 20thcentury. (Thayer, 11)  The major classical pragmatist that made up the core tenets and writings of this philosophy are Charles S. Peirce, George Herbert Mead, John Dewey, and William James. (Emirbayer & Maynard, 222) Pragmatism is an uniquely American invention or Uniquely American in its outlook. (Strube,182) that is stepped in Classical sophist inquiry. In many ways it could be more appropriately described as a reactionary movement to the philosophies circulating around Europe at the turn of the century; especially humanism. (Ormerod, 892-893) Pragmatism as a philosophy is a slight misnomer itself. Pragmatism is a verb not a noun. (Konvitz & Kennedy, 7) It’s not a proper name in the same way as some other philosophical theories; it is a mode of action. This in a nutshell defines Pragmatism and pragmatist-it is a philosophy of action; cause and effect.  

Pragmatic view of Emoji as a universal language


Pragmatism as laid out by it's founder Charles S. Peirce and by extension William James is a philosophy that more than being driven by the search for big “T “Truths is focused on the Practicality of making Ideas clear and focus on the practical effect; the means and to the practical ends (Thayer 25-27).  This axiom is the core of the various flavors of pragmatism that followed to this day. Through the focused lens of Major traditional first wave pragmatic thinkers; Peirce, Mead, James, and especially Dewey would see emoji as a pragmatical universal language.  This would be because they would discount what linguists would look for in a narrow language definition; such as form, punctuation and associated reductive grammaticism. Pragmatist would look at emoji in a more Socio-semiotic traditions. Socio-semiotic traditions can be distilled down to what people want to convey, the relationship between these communicators and what they want to communicate, and what vehicles of transmission that they use that are suitable to use to convey those ideas. this being meaning and form. (Moschini, 13-14) Basically intention, cause and effect.  Emoji was designed with the overriding object to make a unilateral understood communication idiom that would be understood no matter what language you understand. ( Danesi 95).  In practicality it has worked to those ends, even if not entirely as the creators intended, specifically related to emoji as an emotive tool (lucas, 14-15).  This would be viewed from Peirce's perspective as a pragmatic fulfillment of the core idea.  Along those lines Mead and Dewey will add more textual nuance to our discussion of emoji.

George Mead would add additional layers of meaning to this basic definition buy adding a Social Psychology bent to his interpretation of Pragmatic ideas. He looked at pragmatism as a mode of social contract or order actions.   Mead would codify for our discussion the logical social acts; that within two actions an act or as he terms a “gesture” that convenes a response and then refectory response vice versa (Thayer 338).  This is a logical process at its most base. In context of emoji this would be the universal understood call/response of emoji transitions. There is a logical; universally understanding of how they work. While Mead came after James Dewey, Dewey is far more impactful when discussing Technology and how pragmatism works with in those confines. Especially Dewey whose writings are fundamental to discussing Technological pragmatism.

John Dewey is often used in pragmatic discussions associated with Technology, science and to some degree the greater span of educational theory. This is mainly because of his writings about consummatory experience and Instrumentalism. He integrated basic scientific practice in a way that moved forward pragmatism in different directions then before. Dewey theory of Instrumentalism states that that the value of scientific concepts and theories is determined not by whether they are literally true or correspond to reality in some sense, but by the extent to which they help to make accurate empirical predictions or to resolve conceptual problems. This was a break from previous scientific theories or more importantly scientific realism; that scientific theories and outcomes that leads to problem solving have more validity then trying to explain the natural world or the order of the natural world.  This when taken in congruence with Dewey’s consummatory theorem provide a powerful tool to construct a view or method when approaching technology or in our example emoji.

John Dewey

Dewey’s consummatory experience is basically the means to an ends argument of human behavior; specifically within the framework of objects or object experience (Mullis 111).  Dewey looked at the logical order of human drive to complete tasks or experiences to the natural fulfillment. That the most appropriate action was the simplest given the histrionics and end goals of the principle that was acting toward those goals. Furthermore Dewey elaborated on this core concept in his work on Logic; propagating a common sense approach to scientific inquiry in the relation of situational contextually (Schaff 408). These concepts play well in the modern views of UX design and some related computer science applications. In our example of Emoji this plays into the user’s relationship with the pictograph then using that pictograph to convey the intended means.  Direct liner cause to effect. When an emoji is sent there is an agreed alone or cultural implied communicative understanding.

For Further exploration




The Unicode Consortium

Shigetaka Kurita Museum of Modern Art Page

The Semiotics of Emoji by Marcel Damesi

The Emoji Code by Vyvyan Evans

The Story of Emoji by Gavin Lucas

Wired magazine’s Guide to Emoji



The major Thinkers and what is pragmatism

Video about the history of Pragmatism by the Cynical Historian

Pragmatism according to the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy

Center for John Dewey Studies

Pragmatism: The Classic Writings by H. Standish Thayer free digital copy

The American Pragmatists by Milton Konvitz and Gail Kennedy Free digital copy


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