6. Developing an Instrument to Leverage the Framework

© 2021 Richard S. Lewis, CC BY 4.0 https://doi.org/10.11647/OBP.0253.06

With the intrasubjective mediating framework now explained, the next step is to develop it into a practical instrument that can be used to facilitate critical reflection and engagement with media. In order to do so, I return to a museum selfie that I took while conducting a postphenomenological study (Lewis, 2017). It was this experience that inspired my desire to find a more inclusive framework beyond postphenomenology’s focus on technological relations. I begin this chapter with a description of this event and then investigate the museum selfie through the development of an instrument that helps identify the broad range of influencing relations that contributed to both my own and the selfie’s constitution. I then generalize the instrument into an exercise1 that can be used to teach media literacy.

It was January 2017, and I was at the Art and History Museum2 in Brussels to experience the fourth annual Museum Selfie Day, an event started by London blogger and museum advocate, Mar Dixon.3 This event occurs annually around the third week in January. Museum goers are encouraged to upload their selfies to Twitter, Instagram, or other social media sites and tag the images with the hashtags #MuseumSelfie or #MuseumSelfieDay. From Mar Dixon’s blog she describes it as ‘a FUN DAY to encourage people to visit museums and participate a bit with art or collections’.4 This event now spans the globe, taking place mostly on Instagram and Twitter. There are increasing numbers of museums that participate. In January, 2019, Turkey made it legal for people to take museum selfies in more than 300 sites because of the museum selfie day.

I became involved with museum selfie day because I had been studying the effects of technology on museum visitor’s experiences, specifically using a philosophical style of analysis within philosophy of technology called postphenomenology, which emphasizes how to (pragmatically) understand the way technologies co-constitute both our selves and our world (cf. Chapter 3). I decided to participate in the event in order to experience how the selfie would contribute to both my constitution as well as the museum’s. While postphenomenology helped me understand the technological relations of my museum selfie experience, I also felt that there was something missing. The technological mediation of taking and viewing selfies seemed to be only one aspect of a larger complexity of mediating relations. I felt that I needed a more comprehensive framework to fully understand what I was experiencing, both technologically and otherwise, as I took my museum selfies. This led to the framework I presented in the previous chapter.

Creating the Instrument

One challenge with theoretical ideas, even ones that are described as ‘frameworks’, is the ability to implement them in a practical and usable manner.5 In this chapter I translate the framework into a concrete instrument by using a museum selfie as a way to situate media literacy. Specifically, I use the general groupings from the framework in order to identify the specific relations and their effects that existed when I created a museum selfie. This is done through a two-stage spreadsheet. The first stage enables me to identify the multiple relations in each group or subgroup that were involved when taking the museum selfie. The second stage helps me to identify what I perceive to be the amount that each of the identified relations was influenced by the other groups and subgroups. By doing this, the phenomenon of the museum selfie in Figure 6.1 is uncovered to reveal the complex interrelationality that occurred—as analyzed autoethnographically—at a particular moment in time. Even though the instrument uses numbers that can have a semblance of objectivity, it is important to understand that these numbers all reflect a subjective analysis.

Fig. 6.1 Meditating on Mediation. Author with Head of a Buddha, from Ayutthaya, Thailand, seventeenth century. Art and History Museum, Brussels. Image by author (2017), CC BY-NC 4.0.

Identifying the Multiplicity of Relations

Rather than primarily focusing on the technological thing (the selfie) or the constitution of the subject (myself), the framework stresses how the relations and interrelations constitute both. I refer to this phenomenon as the selfie-subject constitution, what Karen Barad (2007) identifies as intra-action and postphenomenology calls co-constitution. While there can be a tendency to view the subject-selfie phenomenon in a singular or gestalt manner, the framework affords the ability to tease apart (but not separate) the phenomenon in order to reveal the complex interrelations. To begin with, every relation is a multi-relation. There is no ‘technological relation’ without a multiplicity of sociocultural, bodily, mind, temporal, and spatial relations. The gestalt of a technological relation is actually a unity of many relations as the example in Figure 6.2 demonstrates. This figure updates the original co-constituting relation from Figure 3.1. We perceive these multiple relations all at once, in a mostly singular/gestalt manner. Figure 6.2 demonstrates a way of visualizing the unpacking of this ‘singularity’ into the different groups of relations that occur during the museum selfie.

Fig. 6.2 Multi-relationality of the Museum Selfie. Image by author (2020), CC BY-NC 4.0.

The first questions for the instrument to help answer are: What are the relations that were involved in this subject-selfie constitution; and How much influence did they have? I use a spreadsheet (Table 6.1) in order to brainstorm as many specific relations in each grouping that I can think of that were influencing me at the moment when I took the museum selfie. This step identifies the multiplicity of relations that contribute in the ‘singular’ moment of taking a selfie. The spreadsheet is organized to use the framework as a facilitating cartography for self-inquiry, with the groups and subgroups helping me to focus on a narrower portion of the entirety of relations that could be contributing at the specific moment.

After listing the relations in Table 6.1, I then provide a rating for how much the relation influenced the subject-selfie constitution. I use a very basic scale to do so. The numbers in the light blue cells represent this influence as interpreted by me at a specific point in time, giving a three for the most influencing and going down to a zero for relations with no discernable influence. This interpretation is specific and changeable over time (emphasizing why time is also a group of relations), as I discovered when I went through the numbers months later. Totaling the average influences for each group offers a general comparative sense of how much each group impacts the subject-selfie constitution—again, not in an objective sense—but in a subjectively interpretive sense as a way to ask, How do I think and feel each of these groups influenced me at the moment I took this museum selfie?

Table 6.1 Relational Influences on Subject-selfie Constitution. Table by author (2020).

For the purpose of this research, I briefly analyze the groups and subgroups that had an effect on the subject-selfie constitution. I do not go into depth as to why I have given certain ratings and why I have identified these specific relations. Instead, the emphasis is to develop an instrument that can be used to encourage critical awareness of what happens when I engage with a specific media technology. I believe that this critical self-awareness is the key to helping people increase their media literacy. The instrument provides an autoethnographic process that people can use to investigate more deeply their relations with technologies. I now examine the various groups and subgroups and explain my thinking process for each in regards to the subject-selfie constitution.

Mind

I begin discussing the instrument by inquiring about the relations that are connected with the mind. I identify subgroups of imagination, identity, and awareness/perception to help narrow the focus and facilitate uncovering influencing relations. While these are not the only three subgroups that can make up the mind, I find them to be useful in identifying relations that I experienced while taking the museum selfie. After filling out Table 6.1, it is clear that the mind had the largest impact upon the subject-selfie constitution according to my evaluation.

Imagination

My imagination is the key relation that enables me to perceive the possibility of taking the selfie with the bust. The creative ability of my imagination is essential, a word not used lightly, especially in postphenomenological circles.6 First, I use my imagination in order to notice a potential selfie that combines both the museum object and myself. I also have the desire to create a selfie with some aesthetics; a certain amount of artistic quality. My imagination is assimilating many variables in order to combine what I am seeing in order to create an artistic selfie worthy (in my mind) of representing me, one that I want to share with my social group (which is middle-income, predominantly white, from U.S. or Europe, politically liberal, and educated).

Identity

I next discuss the subgroup of identity. The construction of one’s own identity is, as John Falk (2009) notes, the main reason that visitors go to museums. The selfie is a very effective tool for identity construction (cf. Kozinets et al., 2017; Rettberg, 2014). Some questions of identity for me include: Am I being, or constructing, an academic self? Do I want to be funny or amusing for my friends? Am I trying to learn and follow the curatorial framing of the museum objects? For me, for this particular selfie, I am primarily being affected by my self-image as a photographer, and I am attempting to create a selfie that has artistic merit. In part, I want the selfie to demonstrate to an academic audience that selfies are not necessarily superficial or narcissistic, but rather a vehicle for identity construction.

Another identity-influencing factor for this specific selfie comes from my own experience. I studied Buddhism in Nepal for several months and this particular bust of a meditating Buddha connects with my own practice of meditation. This connection inspires me to compare myself with the bust. I take the selfie to juxtapose my own path to enlightenment while being present in the moment of taking a selfie, something that I have conflicting feelings about. This conflict is likely why my own face does not reflect the same peaceful state as that of the Buddha.

Perception/Awareness

The last subgroup of the mind that I use to analyze the selfie is that of perception or awareness. My mind’s directed perception (awareness) is on creating artistic selfies. This excludes, or diminishes, my ability to perceive other things or other aspects of my surroundings in the museum. I am not paying close attention to the curatorial signage, except occasionally when an object especially strikes my interest, or when I want the name and title of the object because I have taken a selfie with it. While my goal is primarily to make an artistic and aesthetically pleasing selfie, my awareness is also directed toward my own experience. I attempt to watch and take note of my experiences using the selfie-as-technology, in a phenomenological manner.

However, my awareness is usurped by the other museum visitors because I am sensitive to how others might be perceiving me if they see me taking a selfie. I have the sense that I am alienating the people in my immediate proximity by what Galit Wellner (2016) calls the wall/window aspect of smartphones. These phones can open a window to a virtual social group but also create a wall for the surrounding people in the area. I am concerned with alienating those around me, and this focuses my attention on watching for other visitors while also looking for possible selfies. The impact of the people around me is the most unexpected aspect of my experience in the museum. This in part might have to do with being in a different culture (Belgium instead of the U.S.) and not wanting to draw attention to myself or make a cultural faux pas.

Body

While I evaluate my mind’s relations as the most influencing group, my body’s relations were the least influencing. This was likely because my body, though just over fifty years old at the time of the selfie, was still in decent shape and had no major physical impediments. The most significant bodily challenge I experienced was my need for reading glasses and the fact that my smartphone screen was quite small. My eyes were no longer able to focus well on things that were close to my face, causing me to rely on using reading glasses in order to see things in detail that are near to me. I experienced this in the darkened museum while attempting to take selfies. For the most part I chose not to keep taking my reading glasses out of my coat pocket, even though my compromised vision kept the technology from receding into the background as I strained to see what was on the screen. This also dissuaded me from doing any editing or using any filters or even sending out any of the selfies that I took while in the museum.

By the time I took the selfie with the bust I had been in the museum for several hours. I was getting hungry and my feet were beginning to ache. I broke my heel many years before, and after several hours of walking I develop a significant amount of pain. Both the hunger and the pain contributed to a desire to leave the museum. Therefore, at the point where I took the bust selfie, I was beginning to hurry, bypassing some museum objects that could potentially make for good selfies. However, the opportunity with the bust and my imaginative ability to see the potential of the selfie was able to overcome my bodily desire to keep walking to the exit.

Time

Temporal relations include the direct past and future relations. An example of the direct past relation in my experience of taking a museum selfie is my consideration of the head of the Buddha being from the seventeenth century and wonder at how it had come through all of the years to wind up at the museum. Much of what is in museums is geared toward objects and cultures from the past.

The future-directedness is also an influence. My desire to create a selfie is one of the most influential aspects in how I perceive and relate with the museum as I walk around. I am less focused on the objects for what they are and more focused on how they can make an interesting and artistic selfie. One of my goals is to share the selfie online with the hashtag #museumselfieday. This inspires me to take a selfie that I can be proud of, one that has artistic merit in my eyes and hopefully the eyes of others. I am also using the experience as an academic investigation for my research. Therefore, I am being self-reflexive, as I am analyzing my own experience as I experience it.

The future also affects the present because I have something to do after the museum visit, and by the time I arrive at the Buddha sculpture I am ‘running out of time’. This, along with my bodily fatigue, contributes to my sense of rushing through the last part of the museum. Alternatively, if I had no plans and was using the museum to ‘pass time’, then I would experience the opposite effect. I would likely linger longer at objects that seemed interesting.

Space

One of the main influencing relations regarding proximity that affected taking the museum selfie was how close I could get to the museum artifact. Many of the objects in the temporary Ukiyo-E exhibit were encased in glass or separated from the public by ropes. I found that, especially with the dim lighting, I needed to get quite close to the objects in order to create a good selfie. For this particular selfie (see Fig. 6.1) the object was simply on a pedestal, and I was able to get quite close and therefore able to juxtapose my head with the statue. The other proximity factor, which I have already alluded to, was the proximity of other people (cf. above and below).

Though nature did not play an active role in the creation of the museum selfie, it often plays a significant role in many other situations. However, the role it played in the museum selfie constitution was one of absence. The lack of nature and natural light can also be a significant, if subtle, relation. Our disconnection with nature affects us. After being inside a completely constructed and controlled environment for many hours it was a pleasure to leave and enter the park surrounding the museum.

Sociocultural

This grouping of relations contains many relevant subgroups. If I am performing a primarily critical media literacy investigation, this group would be one of the most extensive sections in my analysis. There are various normative relations that can be identified. I ask myself the predominant question: Who is judging me? As a foreigner living in Brussels, there is the question of belonging. Even though Brussels is a very international city and the majority of people are not native to the city, as a non-European citizen there is a part of me that does not quite feel like I belong. This is a much smaller element of self that arises than if I lived in another city such as Paris, where there is a stronger sense of cultural identity, which leads those who are not originally from the culture to feel othered by those who are. Also, if other people are taking selfies, I potentially feel less uncomfortable. Or, if I am a person who is an active selfie taker, I likely would feel less self-imposed judgment.

Sociocultural - Normativity

My biggest surprise was my own feeling of self-consciousness for taking selfies. While this was ‘museum selfie day’, there were no other people that I came across who were taking selfies. For this particular museum, the day was not being promoted, so I did not feel any official approval for taking selfies. While there was no demonstrable hostility towards me, I did my best not to be noticed taking selfies. This was not a small concern but an intrusive feeling that greatly impeded my selfie taking. The influence of this particular relation was more determining than any other relation that day, and one that came as a surprise as I was expecting to mainly be concentrating on how the technological relations were influencing me. This demonstrated my own too-narrow approach when I went to engage with my research.

Sociocultural - Language

Language plays a significant role in how we are constituted and is deeply connected with our sociocultural relations. As a native English speaker and a person who has a passable amount of French, I can understand most of the museum signage and explanations. Most of the other visitors do not speak English and, if they do speak French, I do not attend to what they are saying. There are times when language, or lack of language, can play a more influential role. There is also a way of using language as a dominant approach to understanding how we are constituted (cf. Coeckelbergh, 2017 for a study on language and technology). However, in an attempt to limit the scope of my investigation, I create a placeholder for this topic but I do not fully engage with it here.

Sociocultural - Power/Politics

I have visited many museums over the course of my life, so I feel quite comfortable in the role of a museum visitor. I do not feel out of place, except for while I am taking selfies. This can be a combination of two cultural aspects. The first I describe above under normativity. The second is more along the lines of Foucault’s perspective of power relations and the control of institutions like museums upon the society. I have been brought up (and this relates to my own sedimented experience with museums) with the idea that museums are the epitome of culture and they hold a certain reverence for me. Analyzing the research, it is clear that selfies are not just one thing; they can be both powerful and significant vehicles to construct or share one’s identity (Abidin, 2016; Dinhopl & Gretzel, 2016; Hess, 2015; Kozinets et al., 2017; Rettberg, 2014; Risam, 2018; Senft & Baym, 2015). There are now many genres of selfies, some of which include: refugee, political, gender-diverse, and other genres that help bring marginalized groups a way to be seen.

While selfies enable identity construction, they also reflect a disruption in the museum experience (Clines, 2017; Kozinets et al., 2017; Lewis, 2017; Russo et al., 2008). As Mar Dixon’s definition of museum selfie day demonstrates, selfies have a bias towards fun and entertainment, which does not mean they cannot be used for serious matters, only that one of their primary uses has been geared toward amusement. This can conflict with the traditional approach to museums, which has had a more serious and austere presence, one directed more towards education than entertainment. Even though education and entertainment need not be mutually exclusive, one of the challenges is the expectation of museum visitors. People wanting a quiet and reflective moment with an object may likely object to other ‘less serious’ visitors who simply want to capture an interesting selfie to share with their friends. I experience a conflicting, or at least ambiguous, feeling while taking museum selfies. I recognize an internal judgment and question if I am being disrespectful towards these cultural objects, wondering if I am belittling their cultural past and their present cultural role within the museum.

Sociocultural - Museum Effect

There is a sociocultural phenomenon called the museum effect. Valerie Casey (2003) is one of several researchers who analyzes museum visitor-object relationships and describes the museum itself as having an effect on everything, both people and objects, which enter through its doors. Museums re-contextualize objects from their origins through specific narratives, proximity to other objects, the use of labels, and through contextualizing meta-language. However, Casey (2003) and others (cf. Malraux, 1967; Kirshenblatt-Gimblett, 1998; Henning, 2006; and Alpers, 1991) point out that objects also become meaningful just by entering through the doors of the museum. They become identified as culturally important by virtue of being chosen by a museum. Again, the idea of enabling and constraining is raised. The importance of the object might be enabled, but seeing the object for its original purpose—or even in new ways by the visitor without the filter of the museum—is now constrained (Lewis, 2017: 95).

Technology

There are both simple and complicated technologies that contribute to the subject-selfie constitution. However, if artificial intelligence (AI) software is developed for smartphone cameras, then it may not be too long before complex technologies can also play a role in museum selfies. Until then, I can integrate AI through Google’s Deep Dream Generator7 to manipulate photos. Figure 6.3 is an example of this hybrid human-AI collaboration. While I supply the original photo (see Fig. 6.1), the Deep Dream Generator uses its own AI algorithm in order to manipulate the original. I still have some control in deciding which type of manipulation I want and how much I want it manipulated, but otherwise the AI accomplishes the actual process.

Fig. 6.3 Museum Selfie and AI Hybrid. Manipulation created using Deep Dream Generator. Image by author (2020), CC BY-NC 4.0.

The smartphone is a very complicated device with many functions. For selfies, I see through the smartphone screen, meaning there is an embodied relation happening. And, while I could be using the phone’s black and white filter (the final selfie is in black and white), I take the selfie in color, knowing I can alter it with software on my home computer at a later time. As I situate myself next to the bust that I want my selfie to be with, I look through the iPhone screen, which shows me how my selfie will turn out thanks to the front-facing camera. While this enables me to compose the selfie, it also constrains my depth perception and the wider area around me, cutting out a visual chunk of reality. This constraint has, unfortunately, contributed to the damage of several museum objects such as a statue of St. Michael in Lisbon (Lewis, 2017).

While I could take advantage of the digital image, which affords the possibility—unlike a print photograph—to immediately upload the selfie to social networks, allowing my friends to more temporally share in the actual moment with me, I choose to wait until later to do so. This is in part due to my difficulty focusing on the small screen of my phone, but it also allows me to take my time in making adjustments to the images using the software and larger screen on my laptop.

In my experience taking a museum selfie, there are also many simple technologies at work. For instance, the bust sits upon a pedestal, which is lucky for me as it allows me to get close. In contrast, other museum objects have ropes keeping visitors from approaching too close to the museum objects. If we think of technology as a continuum, moving from simple to complicated to complex, my clothes might be considered as being between simple and complicated technology; they influence my movement, what I can carry in pockets, and if I am warm or cool in temperature. Museum lighting also influences taking the selfie and can be considered on the continuum between simple and complicated. Other simple aspects related to technological relations concern things like my glasses and the phone’s camera lens being clean or needing to be cleaned.

Intrasubjective Mediation and the Relational Groups

Besides the direct relations just explained, I experience a lot of intrasubjective mediation (ISM) related to previous experiences. This is captured by the question, How do my past experiences mediate the selfie-subject constitution? To demonstrate the influence of intrasubjective mediation, I briefly review how my past experiences with each group of relations influence the subject-selfie constitution intrasubjectively.

Mind and ISM

Before going to the museum, I conducted research on museums, selfies, and museum selfies in particular. There were many different types of selfies, and exploring the range of some of what had come before gave me ideas of how I could potentially frame myself with the museum object. These possible framings allowed me to overlay them with the museum objects I was coming across. In addition, my experience as a semi-professional photographer influenced my ability to imagine and compose the selfies that I was taking.

Body and ISM

The primary temporal effect on my bodily relations was the sedimented action of taking selfies with my smartphone, which involved physically manipulating not only the settings of the camera phone, but also situating my body in relation to the camera, myself, and the museum object—holding the camera in such a way that I could then take the selfie when everything was aligned. This was awkward to do at first, but eventually the action became more embodied and the manipulation of the technology became more transparent.

Space and ISM

While I had been in many museums throughout my life, I had never been in the Art and History Museum. This made me unsure of the layout of the museum and somewhat hesitant as I explored. I did not know what there was to see or even how much there was to see. This lack of experience made me unsure and a bit unsettled in my mind as I attempted to navigate beyond the main Ukiyo-e exhibit and enter the permanent collection area.

Sociocultural and ISM

Because I have had many experiences in European museums, I felt comfortable being there. And, because of my limited amount of experience taking selfies in public, I did not feel comfortable doing that. Part of this stemmed from my own upbringing. As a child, I was taught not to disturb others when in public and to not draw undue attention to my self. I have also run across U.S. citizens in Europe who, unfortunately, fell into a stereotype of being loud and seemingly oblivious to the culture around them. Not behaving in that way has always been a goal of mine, especially when in another culture.

Technology and ISM

Part of this relation was explained with the body-ISM section above. My use of taking photos with my smartphone, not just selfies, contributed to my ability to manipulate the technology in order to take the museum selfie. My past experience with social media also gave me ideas about how I might want to use filters or hashtags when I uploaded the selfie to social media.

This concludes the overview of the first step in using the instrument to identify and evaluate some of the relevant relations that exist when I take a selfie (see Fig. 6.1). However, the experience is more complex than simply a multiplicity of these primary relations. The term ‘primary’ is used here to indicate the direct relation between a subject and whatever they are relating with, no matter what relational grouping is involved. However, there are secondary interrelations that affect these primary relations. These are discussed next.

Interrelationality

The direct relations discussed above are both enhanced or constrained by other relations. There are no standalone relations. While all relations and interrelations happen in one moment of co-constitution, we can gently pull apart the phenomenon of this interrelating moment in order to identify some of the complex entanglement. Therefore, the next step consists of analyzing how relations from other groups affect the relations listed previously. The instrument is one way to engage with the framework in order to provide clarity without removing the complexity altogether. The goal of the instrument is to create a practical way to leverage the framework for a specific situation. The framework itself should be viewed in an open way, available for creative interpretation by whomever is using it.

While Table 6.1 demonstrates each specific relation’s influence on the subject-selfie constitution, it is Table 6.2 that captures the interrelations that occur. This table shows the relations in Table 6.1 and then adds how I felt (at the time) each group or subgroup of relations influenced each specific relation. This table reflects the entanglement of the interrelations that contribute to the constitution of the subject-selfie. As with most quantifiable representations of reality, the numbers should only be considered a snapshot in time and are embedded with bias and interpretation. However, my intent is less to show the specific detail of exactly how each group interrelates and influences each other than to portray the broader effect of interrelationality in order to emphasize the fact that any situation is comprised of not just one relation, even though we experience an event in a gestalt manner.

Table 6.2 Interrelational Influences on Subject-selfie Constitution. Table by author (2020).

The right-hand columns should be read in a downward direction, reflecting how the relations in that group or subgroup influence the direct relations listed on the left. For example, the far-right column ‘Technology’ is listed as affecting the first direct relation: ‘See museum object and imagine possible selfie’ with a moderate influence (value=2). By filling out this spreadsheet, the media user can be guided to reflexively identify many underlying relations that they may not have noticed and also analyze the interrelating influences from a variety of sources. The spreadsheet is a way to realize how media are situated within an entanglement of relations, all interrelating and influencing each other.

After assigning a value for each interrelating relation, I create an average for the group or subgroup for each section. I then take this average (or the largest subgroup average) and create Table 6.3. This table reflects the significant interrelating impact of one group on another group. This table should be read left to right. For instance, the first line shows that relations from the mind group have a significant impact of 2.2 upon the direct relations in the body group. The averages allow us to reflect on the asymmetry involved between the groups, meaning one group might affect another group significantly but is not significantly affected in return. For example, reversing the mind to body example just used, the body only has a slight influence of 1.1 upon the direct relations involving the mind. Reviewing the table also is a chance to question the results. For instance, the table reflects that technology greatly influences spatial relations (2.9). At the same time, spatial relations only slightly influence technological relations (.5). Is this true? Can I analyze this result to bring up counter relations that disprove this outcome?

Mind

Body

Time

Space

Sociocultural

Tech

Mind

2.4

2.2

2.4

2

2.7

1.9

Body

1.1

2.9

1.1

1.8

1.2

1

Time

2.5

1.5

2.6

1.1

2.7

2

Space

1.6

1.7

.1

2.8

.9

.5

Sociocultural

2.6

1.9

2.6

2.4

3

2.3

Technological

1.6

1.7

2.5

2.9

2

3

Table 6.3 Interrelational Average Influences (3=strong, 2=medium, 1=weak). Table by author (2020).

The summary of averages in Table 6.3 is not to be used to indicate general truisms between groups, but rather it reflects the media user’s specific experience of interrelations concerning a specific selfie at a specific time. Since the table is filled out on the micro level of specific relations, the averages enable me to check the results on a macro level. This can help facilitate a deeper investigation and help me potentially think of relations that I did not at first consider. I present this table in order to demonstrate various ways researchers can use the framework and instrument in order to engage with interrelational influences for specific research investigations.

Complexity

Interrelationality rests upon a foundation of complexity (cf. Chapter 4). It is not actually possible to come up with an objective number that represents the influence of any one relation. While this subjective analysis might rankle a reader looking for objective truth, that is not the goal of this framework or instrument. The goal is to better understand the human subject. An important aspect of complexity relating to the evaluation of this instrument is that, as complex systems, we are emergent, non-linear, and open systems.

Complexity can be understood historically, but it is unable to predict the impact of future relations. When we rate our relations, we are doing so after that fact, meaning that we are rating our perception of the actual effect that the relation caused. For example, before I went to the museum it did not even occur to me that the proximity of other people would affect me. However, this relation was the most significant of all influences. An interesting experiment would be to complete a version of the instrument before actually participating in an event, and then complete another one after the event in order to compare expectations and the actual experience. I explore various ways of generalizing the framework and instrument in the next section.

The culminating spreadsheet (Table 6.2) was, in a way, an endpoint to my beginning. I began investigating technological relations by experiencing taking museum selfies and comparing that experience to the postphenomenological approach that I was studying. However, what I experienced was not completely captured by postphenomenology, and so I began to expand my search in an attempt to more fully connect theory and practice. This led to asking about the ‘I’ that was experiencing and gathering concepts from various fields of study in order to bring them altogether. Looking back shows a clear path, but when I was going forward through this experience it was an open process without the intention of creating a framework or tool that could help with media literacy. This reflected the complex process that was emergent and not predictable.

Even if they happen to be virtual interactions, our interactions with media and media technologies happen in ‘real life’. In order to understand the complexity that is involved, it is helpful to investigate some of the specific interrelations involved in order to then have a better understanding of how the media relations are situated and interconnected within our own lifeworld. While domestication theory (cf. Chapter 2) makes the important step to include the context of the media use, the intrasubjective mediating framework attempts to situate our media use even further. The next section continues implementing the theory by investigating how the theory and instrument discussed in this section might be pragmatically used for enhancing media literacy.

Generalizing the Framework and Instrument for Media Literacy

Now that the intrasubjective mediating framework and instrument have been developed through the analysis of a museum selfie, I begin exploring how they could be generalized for media education. I do this by imagining the instrument being used in a university-level media studies or media literacy course. I am not presenting a fully formed curriculum, but simply a possible way to practically implement this posthuman approach. Though it can be used in other ways, for example with younger students, I believe starting with the university level is a good initial choice as younger students would likely need the instrument to be re-worked and simplified.

I had the good fortune to be able to lead a small group of Master’s level students through a course designed around this posthuman approach. This allowed me to perform a small initial usability study for the framework and instrument, which provided valuable feedback and a chance to generalize the instrument and create an exercise just before the publication of this book. The instructions for the exercise are below. Updated instructions, as well as a generalized and simplified spreadsheet, are available on the listing for this book on Open Book Publishers’ website.8

It is through the process of doing the exercise that students will more fully grasp the academic ideas discussed so far. Through my work at Prescott College in the U. S., I have found that experiential education is one of the strongest pedagogical tools that a teacher can employ. The exercise below can allow students to experience the concepts for themselves, allowing the learning to become more deeply embodied.

My hope is that many teachers will find a seed of inspiration in this approach to media literacy and will continue developing unique ways to leverage the framework as a pedagogical instrument. Douglas Kellner and Jeff Share (2005) note, ‘Computer and multimedia technologies demand novel skills and competencies and if education is to be relevant to the problems and challenges of contemporary life, engaged teachers must expand the concept of literacy and develop new curricula and pedagogies’ (369–70).

This autoethnographic approach can specifically help people reflect on the influences involved when they engage with media in order to become more aware of how media is situated within a complexity of interrelations. The media affect and are affected by these interrelations. As Kellner and Share (2005) also point out, ‘Individuals are often not aware that they are being educated and constructed by media culture, as its pedagogy is frequently invisible and unconscious’ (372). The posthuman approach acts as a cartography to help reveal these influences.

Posthuman Approach Exercise: Learning by Doing

How can we critically evaluate the effects of technologies in order to decide if and how to engage with them?

The goal of this exercise is to help students reflect on the complexity of influences involved when they engage with technologies in order to become more aware of how they are situated within a complexity of interrelations. All technologies affect and are affected by these interrelations. This exercise is used to reveal (foreground) the many relations that are simultaneously happening when we engage with technologies. This posthuman approach acts as a cartography to help reveal these hidden influences, bringing us to the point of being able to critically decide how we want to engage with them.

The term ‘engagement’ refers to the student’s phenomenological experience with a specific innovative technology. The student here puts aside their judgement and strives to become aware of the various relations that are occurring at the time of their experience with the technology. The first step of deciding which technology to engage with (and exactly how) is critical, as some types of technologies may work well and others may not. Modification and improvements, in discussion with the instructor, are welcomed.

A conceptual review:

  • The relations in our lifeworld transform us through a continual interrelating process, enabling and constraining our selves and each other.
  • The relations can be gathered into loose groupings, though not all relations can be known or are knowable.
  • These relations interrelate—enhancing and constraining each other—in complex (potentially non predictive) ways.

Through awareness of these points, we have the ability to increase our agency.

Step One: Identify

Identify a technology that you want to engage with. Be specific in what you will experience. This will be an autoethnographic investigation, as you will be analyzing yourself engaging with a specific technology in a specific way during a specific time. For instance, instead of investigating ‘how Instagram affects teenage youths’, narrow it down to investigating ‘Recording and sharing my exercise workout through fitness selfies on Instagram’. It would also be possible to compare two similar experiences, one using a recent technology and another using a technology it replaced. For example, compare the exploration of a new city through a GPS based smartphone app to experiencing a new city with a paper map.

The instructor should approve the idea before continuing. The instructor may also want the student to do some background research about the technology. This can help the student become more familiar and understand what preceding technologies transformed into the one they are studying. For instance, the smartphone evolved from the phone, the camera, the GPS navigation system, and the computer (to name a few). The student will describe the specific engagement chosen on the spreadsheet (cf. Table 6.4), recording: Date, time, and duration of engagement. Also, include the location and conditions (busy, rainy, etc.)

Step Two: Framework

Review the framework (Fig. 5.1), understanding the six interconnected groups and the concept of intrasubjective mediation. To review, intrasubjective mediation is the idea that every relation transforms us in some manner, and that these transformations continue to affect the way we perceive and engage with the world (these transformations can be thought of as embodied relations). If there is a need or compelling reason, identify specific subgroups, or even a specific group for extra attention. Most students will likely use the framework as is. The framework is the foundation for the instrument.

Step Three: Pre-assessment

This is a general inquiry as to what the student believes will be the most influencing relations when they engage with the technology. The student should identify at least two or three possible relations (or questions to ask themselves) in each group in order to begin thinking about the different relations and specific relations. This allows the student to begin exploring the identification of relations.

Step Four: Engage

Intentionally engage with the event. Focus on being aware of the various relations involved. Approach the event as a phenomenological experience, attempting to bracket your own biases and judgement to become aware of all of the various relations that are involved. In other words, you will be engaging with the technology and, at the same time, opening your awareness to the often-hidden background relations. Think about the groups and subgroups to help guide your awareness to these background relations.

Depending upon the event, it could be helpful to have a field journal to take notes and write down the specific relations. This will depend upon the event and how it is orchestrated. Writing down the relations helps acknowledge them without needing try and remember them. Patiently stay with the event, giving it time for new relations to surface. It is likely helpful to focus on one grouping of relations at a time and keep asking yourself what types of relations are happening that relate to that particular group.

Table 6.4 Example of Posthuman Spreadsheet. Table by author (2021), CC BY 4.0.

Step Five: Identifying and Evaluating Direct Relations

Now it is time to fill in the relations on the spreadsheet. Brainstorm all the relations that you can think of, taking advantage of the groups and subgroups to focus your inquiry. Write them down in column B. Remember that you can use, or modify, any of the pre-assessment relations you had written down in Step Three. You can write these as questions (how did the rain affect me?) or statements (I was affected by the rain). Ask yourself, what are all the possible relations within this group/subgroup that had an influence on the constitution of my self or the event being analyzed? These can be thought of as ‘direct’ relations. Analyze how they had influence upon the co-constitution of you and the technological event you engaged with. Use a 3 for highly influencing; 2 for moderately influencing; 1 for slightly influencing; and 0 for no discernable influence. It is not necessary to overthink these evaluations (unless you have a compelling reason to do so).

A note about the ‘PH Instrument’ spreadsheet: The spreadsheet (see Table 6.4) has formulas built into it which automatically average the ratings you will enter in Steps Five and Six. It also contains an ‘Analysis’ worksheet that incorporates the averages of the interrelations for Step Seven. Therefore, be careful to not delete these cells. They will show ‘###’ until you enter numbers into the cells above them. If you have lost one of the cells that averages, you can copy an adjacent cell that has the formula and try pasting. Or, you can download a new spreadsheet and start over. If you would like to modify the spreadsheet in some way (for instance, adding subgroups), check with the instructor.

Come up with 8–10 relations for each main group. Consider if there are any subgroups that you want to focus on specifically. If you are not finding enough relations, you might look at a general relation you listed and see if you can break it into more specific parts. For example, instead of listing that ‘the physical museum affected my experience’, I could break that into how the museum’s lighting affected me, how the rope barriers between me and the art affected me, how the glass cases housing museum artefacts affected me, etc. Some groups will be easier than others to come up with 8–10 relations, but stick with it. You should also look for slightly influencing relations, not just ones that had a significant influence.

Some possible questions for each group that you can ask yourself in order to uncover more relations are:

Mind:

  • What are your intentions?
  • How is your mind directing your awareness/perception?
  • What is the state of your mind (relaxed, stressed, etc.)?
  • Which senses are you focusing on?
  • How is your imagination engaged?

Body:

  • What is the current state of your body (tired, hungry, temperature, any pains, etc.)?
  • How are your bodily abilities enabling/constraining you?
  • What bodily skills are you engaged with?
  • How are your bodily sense organs being affected: sounds, smells, tastes, feelings, vision?

Space:

  • What is immediately surrounding you, and how is it affecting you?
  • What attributes of the physical space are enabling and constraining?
  • How is the space around you specifically affecting your engagement with the media?
  • What is the composite of the space between ‘natural’ and ‘human made’?
  • If you are outside, what is the weather and how is it affecting you?

Time:

  • What is the history of the media you are engaged with?
  • Have your own experiences with the specific media changed how you interact with it? If so, how?
  • What future plans are involved, and how do they affect your use?
  • What other past experiences have contributed to the current engagement?

Sociocultural:

  • What normative influences are you experiencing?
  • Are you feeling judged or judging yourself?
  • How is language playing a role?
  • Are there any gender, class, power, or racial influences?
  • Are you feeling empowered or marginalized?

Technological:

  • What are the basic technologies that are affecting you (such as glasses, clothes, etc.)?
  • What different technological relations are you experiencing (embodied, hermeneutic, alterity, or background)?
  • How are the various technological mediums influencing you?
  • What are the technological infrastructures in place for you to experience the media (wireless technology, servers, corporations, electricity/batteries…)?

Draft Due: Before proceeding to Step Six, the instructor should review the student’s work up until this point. This is a chance to make sure the student understands how to identify and describe the various relations that are occurring. Are the relations in the proper groups? Are the relations clearly articulated? Are there also relations listed with low influence? Do all the relations fit under the specific engagement or are there some unrelated relations mentioned? The student should revise their work before going onto the next step.

Step Six: Evaluating Interrelations

The next step is to evaluate the interrelations that affected the direct relations noted above. The right-most columns (E through J) on the spreadsheet provide you the space to evaluate how the other relations influenced each direct relation listed in Step Five. Keep the specific relation listed in column B in your mind and then ask if it was affected in any way by relations within the interrelational group you are evaluating. Use the most influential relation you can think of for each group and rate it from 3 to 0. The general purpose here is to identify and demonstrate the interconnections that occur, reflecting the complexity of interrelationality.

For instance, if my direct relation was ‘See museum object and imagine a possible selfie’ then I would ask myself how much the Mind relations affected this relation. Clearly, they had a lot of influence, so I put a 3 under the Mind group. How about Body relations? At the current time my body was beginning to get tired, so I would put down a 2. However, if there was something more significantly wrong with me, either my eyesight was failing, or I had another condition going on, this could have been a 3. How about Time relations? Well, my experiences seeing other museum selfies did affect me a bit, but the future potential relation really affected my engagement, so I would list a 3 under Time. Space was also a 3 since I was being mediated by the museum setup in how close I could get and how well lit the object was. Sociocultural relations were affecting me either as a 2 or 3 depending upon how many people were around me. And the technology itself was also affecting me as a 2 or 3 as I had to manipulate my smartphone in order to take the selfie.

What we are trying to do is to quantify complex relations. While this is ultimately impossible in any objective sense, we are simply trying to give approximate numbers to an interpretation of an interrelation at a particular point in time, and our evaluation will be influenced by many things. Do not worry about getting things exactly right. Instead, it is okay to simply give a subjective number that is ‘good enough’ to represent the particular scenario you have in your mind at that moment. There will be many ways that each group will interrelate with the specific relation you are looking at. Simply choose the most influential one that you can think of.

Step Seven: Analyze

After finishing step 6, take a step back from the details you have recorded and reflect if they make sense in a broader perspective. At the bottom of each group’s column are the averages, showing summative data. Looking at the tabs on the bottom of the worksheet (Fig. 6.4), you will notice that you have been working in the ‘PH Instrument’ tab. There is also an ‘Analysis’ tab. Click on this tab and you will be able to see in Table 1 (see Fig. 6.5) the averages for each group’s direct relations (total averages for each group from column C) as well as Table 2 that shows the interrelational averages (see Fig. 6.5).

Fig. 6.4 Worksheet tabs for switching between PH Instrument and Analysis. Image by author (2021), CC BY 4.0

The first step is to analyze the average numbers for each group’s direct influence on your engagement with the technology in Table 1. The total averages allow for a quick glance and a chance to analyze the numbers to see if they make sense to you. This is an opportunity for questioning and critique. Look especially at the highest and lowest averages. Does this seem to reflect your overall sense of your engagement with the technology? These results reflect how we are perceiving the situation at the moment we record the numbers. Can we change our perception? How are our own biases influencing these results? If there are things that do not seem right, can you think of either additional relations or ways of modifying the direct relations you evaluated in order for the average to better represent your experience?

Fig. 6.5 Tables 1 and 2 for analysis. Image by author (2021), CC BY 4.0.

Now, look at Table 2. This table is read from left to right. This reflects how influential the groups on the left were in co-influencing the direct relational groups on the right. This directionality can be interesting. To help explore the table, find the group that is most different from its reverse. For example, the Sociocultural group on the left might show a 2.5 influence over the Time group on the right, but the Time group on the left might only have a 1.0 influence over the Sociocultural group on the right. Do the results make sense? Are you surprised by any of the results?

We can also perform a general evaluation of the entire process. Are there other influences not captured by this worksheet, and if so, do they fit somewhere or is another group or subgroup needed? For the lowest-rated groups, might there be relations that have not been considered within the group? Or, might it be necessary to enter a disclaimer stating that a particular group or subgroup was not focused on, acknowledging that there could be significant relations that had influence but lay outside the scope of the specific analysis? And finally, acknowledge the fact that we cannot know all of the relations that affect us. Not only are there some that are unknown, but there are those that are simply unknowable. Being aware that there are unknowable relations helps us keep a more realistic perspective on our own becomingness.

Step Eight: Critical Assessment

The first seven steps are all about increasing our own awareness of a relation we have with a specific technology. We did this by attempting to set aside our judgement in order to simply become aware of how we were engaging with technology. Now is the time to bring the judgement back and critically (and affirmatively) evaluate your relation with the media technology you engaged with. Your agency and empowerment reside in taking the ‘uncovered’ relational affects and deciding what you want to do about this new awareness. What kind of lifeworld do you want to co-create? Describe both positive and negative aspects of engaging with this specific technology. Do this for both your own perspective (how it is for you), and then more broadly for society as a whole. What are some of the broader ramifications of this technology? What would you recommend people keep in mind when engaging with it? What are ways to mitigate its negative effects and hang onto its positive effects?

Concluding Thoughts

The museum selfie is an entanglement of culture (power, normativity, and language), history, space, time (both past and future), the mind (identity, imagination, memory), and technology. While I created a quantitative instrument to better understand this entanglement, I also thought about how I could represent the underlying complexity in a gestalt manner, visually displaying the general complexity of interrelations that have an effect upon taking the museum selfie. To do so, I used a program called Circos (http://circos.ca/) to create a background for the museum selfie. I took the data in Table 6.2 and, after many hours of experimenting, created the visual gestalt of Figure 6.6. While this visually displays the complexity of interrelationality behind the museum selfie, it of course loses much of the specific details.

Fig. 6.6 The Museum Selfie as a Complex Assemblage of Interrelations. Image created using Circos. Image by author (2019), CC BY-NC 4.0.

Something similar could be added to the exercise above. For students, it would be an interesting task to creatively represent their own experience, something beyond the spreadsheet. This would allow them to engage with their experience in a more creative manner, giving them another chance to think about the complexity of relations that are involved when they engage with technology.

The benefit of the instrument developed in this chapter is how it can help us become aware by foregrounding the many relations that are occurring at any given moment. For media literacy, this allows us to better situate any media or media event that we are interested in investigating, interconnecting the event with the broad spectrum of constituting relations. The framework and instrument together can act as a facilitating cartography, helping to direct our inquiry both broadly and specifically in a posthuman approach.


1 You may download the exercise by going to the ‘Additional Resources’ tab at https://doi.org/10.11647/OBP.0253#resources

2 The museum was called the Cinquantenaire Museum when I visited but is now called the Art and History Museum.

3 Dixon identifies as a digital and social innovator. She has created and runs other social media campaigns, such as Ask a Curator Day and Love Theatre Day. She currently resides in the U.S.

5 Postphenomenology has a history of creating philosophical case studies in order to ground their investigations in the ‘real world’. This pragmatism has inspired my desire to create a practical instrument.

6 Postphenomenology is avidly anti-essentialist, primarily using the concept of multistability to resist considering that technologies have any essential aspect to them. Additionally, it is the imagination that is the source for our ability to recognize technology (see Chapter 5).

8 Look under the ‘Additional Resources’ tab at https://www.openbookpublishers.com/product/1405

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