atomisation, part two 02.18.2007, 8:41 AM
posted by bob stein
In the last few weeks a number of people have sent me a link to Michael Wesch's video meditation on the evolution of media and its likely impact on all aspects of human interaction. One of Wesch's main points is that the development of XML enables the separation of form from content which in turn is fueling the transition to new modes of communication.
Paradoxically Wesch's video works precisely because of the integration of form and content . . . possibly one of the best uses of animated text and moving images in the service of a new kind of expository essay. If you simply read the text in an RSS reader it wouldn't have anywhere near the impact it does. Although Wesch's essay depends on the unity of form and content, he is certainly right about the increasing trend on the web to decontextualize content by making it independent of form. If Mcluhan was right about the medium being a crucial part of the message, then, if we are looking at content in different forms are we getting the same message? If not, what does this mean for social discourse going forward?
Jesse Wilbur on February 19, 2007 3:09 AM:
it ends up being a kind of visual poem, where the action of typing/writing/erasing/rewriting becomes part of the performance.
Paul Roach on February 19, 2007 3:01 PM:
I am confused as to how the 'ability' of XML to separate content from form affects McLuhan's hypothesis at all. XML is itself a form, albeit a highly neutral one (or so it is designed to be when compared to older forms; whether or not this is true is open to debate) that is designed to be reinterpreted and re-presented by other 'editors' (for lack of a better term).
Compared to more traditional media, the use of XML as part of 'mashup' sites is similar to daily news shows on mainstream television. The news shows amalgamate a large number of primary sources and re-present the stories in a chosen style/light/focus. Although the primary sources may do their best to choose the style of their presentation (political speeches for example), mashup/satire shows such as Jon Stewart's Daily Show prove that even politics can't control the style of its own presentation. In other words, the separation of content from style is nothing new.
While perhaps not as blatantly important, I believe that it is still important to remember that XML does not exist outside discourse - it is a production and producer of discourse and its structure and style are hardly as 'neutral' as many web fanatics would like you to believe. At a very basic level, XML can still contain blocks of text which contain rhetoric that is not described, tagged, dissected, or removed from its own style in any way. That is to say that the content of XML still retains the style inherent in its content, even if (most) XML does not contain style /markup/.
If I were to venture a guess as to why media studies theorists are so excited about XML and the much hyped 'separation of form and content', I would probably make some statement about the improved ease of parsing content. Concepts similar to blogrolls and mashups have been around since the early days of the web, but they have long been restricted to programmers who have the time to sit down and write scripts to extract the necessary information from cluttered HTML. With the (more) widespread adoption of various forms of XML (RSS, ical, etc), parsing content across different servers with the same tools has become much more practical, and the tools to do it have become much less specialized, more user friendly, and useful across a broader range of materials. Instead of Slashdot being the only site to have a bunch of custom scripts written to parse headlines, it is very common now for sites to have RSS feeds to satisfy the requirements of very general tools like RSS readers.
Although I don't think this satisfies your question in the least, I find myself more interested in pursuing the motivations behind the adoption of this technology and the implications of its use.