1The theme for this issue of M/C is 'renew'. This is a term that could be approached in numerous ways: as a cultural practice, in terms of broader dynamics of change, in terms of the future of the journal. In this piece, however, I'd like to narrow the focus and think about renewal in the context of the concept of 'media' and media theory. This is not to diminish the importance of looking at media in relation to changing technologies, and changing cultural contexts. Indeed, most readers of M/C will no doubt be aware of the dangers of positing media outside of culture in some kind of deterministic relationship. Indeed, the slash in the title of M/C -- which since its first editorial both links and separates the terms 'media' and 'culture' -- is interesting to think about here precisely because the substitution of the 'and' opens up a questioning of the relation between the two terms. While I too want to keep the space between media / culture filled with possibility, in this piece I want to look mainly at one side of the slash and speculate on renewal in the way we relate to ideas of media.
2Since its first editorial the slash has also been a marker of M/C's project to bridge academic and popular approaches, and work as a cross-over journal. In the hope of not stretching the cross-over too far, I'd like to bring contemporary philosophy into the picture and keep it in the background while thinking about renewal and the concept of 'media'. A key theme in contemporary philosophy has been the attempt to think difference beyond any opposition of the One and the Many (Patton 29-48; Deleuze 38-47). In an effort to think difference in its own terms, philosophers like Gilles Deleuze and Jacques Derrida have resisted seeing difference as something dependant on, derivative or secondary to a primary point of sameness and identity.
3In this brief piece, and out of respect of M/C's project, my intention is not to summarise this work in detail. Rather, I want to highlight the existence of this work in order to draw a contrast with the way in which contemporary thinking about media often seems caught up in a dynamic of the One and Many, and to pose the question of a different path for media theory. Having mentioned philosophy, I do want to make the point that 'One or Many Media' is not just an abstract formulation. On the contrary, the present day is a particularly appropriate time to look at this problem. Popular discussion of media issues itself oscillates between an idea of Media dominance (the One) and an idea of multiple media (multimedia). Discussions of convergence frequently invoke a thematics of the One arising out of the Many, or of the Many arising from the One.
4Medium, Media, the Media. Which one to use? We need only to list these three terms to begin see how the tension between the One and the Multiple has influenced contemporary thinking about media.
5An obvious tension exists on the level of grammar. 'Media' is the plural of 'Medium'. That is, until we use the term 'the Media' which can be used to refer to the singularity of (a specific area of) the Press. Walter Ong dubs 'medium' "the fugitive singular" to describe this phenomenon (175). To compensate for the increasing use of 'the media' as a singular it is becoming more common to see the term 'mediums' instead of 'media'.
6A second tension exists on the level of the senses. 'The media', and in some senses a 'medium', conveys the notion of a media form distinct from the senses. As Michael Heim notes,
Medium meant conceptual awareness in conjunction with the five senses through which we come to understand things present before us in the environment. This natural sense of media was gradually dissipated during the modern period by man-made extensions and enhancements of the human senses ... . Electronic media gave new meaning to the term. We not only perceive directly with five senses aided by concepts and enhanced by instrumentation, but also are surrounded by a panorama of man-made images and symbols far more complex than can be assimilated directly through the senses and thought processes. Media in the electronic sense of acoustic-optic technology ... appear to do more than augment innate human sensory capacities: the electronic media become themselves complex problems; they become facts of life we must take into account as we live; they become, in short, the media. (47)
7In this passage, Heim shows how through extension and instrumentation 'the media' comes to occupy a different register of existence. 'The media' in this account are distinct from any general artefact that can serve as a means of communication to us. On this register, 'the media' also develops into the idea of the mass media (see Williams 169). In popular usage this incorporates print and broadcasting areas (usually with a strong journalistic emphasis), and is often personified around a notion of 'the media' as an agent in the contemporary political arena (the fourth estate, the instrument of a media baron).
8This brings us to a third tension, to do with diversity. The difference between the terms 'Medium', 'Media', 'the Media', is clearly bound up with the issue of diversity and concentration of media. Sean Cubitt argues that a different activation of interactive media, intermedia, or video media, is crucial to restoring an electronic ecology that has been destroyed by the marketplace (207). What the work of theorists like Cubitt reveals is that the problem of diversity and concentration has a conceptual dimension. Framed within an opposition between the One and the Multiple, the diversity in question -- of different senses and orders of media -- is constrained by the dominant idea of the Media.
9Many theorists and commentators on 'the Mass media' barely acknowledge the existence of video media unless it is seen as a marketplace for the distribution of movies. This process of marginalisation has been so thorough that the contemporary discussion of the Internet or interactive digital media often ignores previous critical discussion of the electronic arts -- as if McLuhan had no connection with Fluxus, or convergence had no links to intermedia experimentation. In a different example, it is becoming common to discuss 'personal media' like laptops and intelligent jewellery (see Beniger; Kay and Goldberg). But if media theory has previously failed to look at T-shirts and other personal effects as media then this is in part due to the dominance of the idea of the mass media in conceptual terms. This dominance leads Umberto Eco to propose an idea of the "multiplication of the media" against the idea of mass media, and prompts him to declare that "all the professors of theory of communications, trained by the texts of twenty years ago (this includes me) should be pensioned off" (149).
10It could be argued that rather than represent a problem the sliding between these terms is enabling not disabling. From this perspective, the fact that different senses of media collapse or coalesce with one another is appropriate, since (as I hope I've shown) different senses of media are often grounded in other senses. Indeed, we can agree with this argument, and go further to suggest that renewing our relationship to concepts of media involves affirming the interplay of different senses of media. What needs careful consideration here, however, is how we think of different senses of media. For it is very often the case that this question of difference is blocked from discussion when an order of media is used to secure a territory or a foundation for a particular idea of how things should work. From this foundation particular ideas of One-ness/Same-ness or Many-ness can emerge, each of which involves making assumptions about differences between media, and the nature of difference. Examples might include notions of mainstream and alternative, professional and non-professional, 'industry' and 'artistic' ways of working.1 In each case a dominant idea of the media establishes itself as an order against which other practices are defined as secondary, and other senses of media subordinate.
11Surveying these tensions (grammatical, sensory and diversity) between the terms 'Medium', 'Media', 'the Media', what becomes apparent is that neither of them is able to stand as 'the' primary conceptual term.
12Attempting to read contemporary developments in light of the One of the mass media means that theory is often left to discuss the fate of an idea, broadcasting, that represents only one way of organising and articulating a medium. Certainly, this approach can yield important results on the level of audience studies and identity politics, and in respect to government policy. Jock Given's work on broadcasting as a "set of technologies, social and cultural practices, cultural forms, industries, institutional forms, words and an idea" usefully contests the idea that broadcasting is dying or has no place in the digital future (46). However, research of this kind is often constrained by its lack of engagement with different orders of media, and its dependence on an idea of the One medium that is now under erasure.2
13Attempting to read contemporary developments in light of the One of the mass media means that theory is often left to discuss the fate of an idea, broadcasting, that represents only one way of organising and articulating a medium. Certainly, this approach can yield important results on the level of audience studies and identity politics, and in respect to government policy. Jock Given's work on broadcasting as a "set of technologies, social and cultural practices, cultural forms, industries, institutional forms, words and an idea" usefully contests the idea that broadcasting is dying or has no place in the digital future (46). However, research of this kind is often constrained by its lack of engagement with different orders of media, and its dependence on an idea of the One medium that is now under erasure.2
14Exploring the potential of 'Medium' as a primary term leads again into the problem of the One and the Many. The content of every medium may be, as McLuhan said, another medium (8). But we should search for the hidden One that binds together the Many. Indeed, multimedia can precisely be seen in this way: as a term that facilitates the singularising of multiple media. In a historically significant 1977 paper "Personal Dynamic Media" by Alan Kay and Adele Goldberg, we read that
15the essence of a medium is very much dependent on the way messages are embedded, changed, and viewed. Although digital computers were originally designed to do arithmetic computation, the ability to simulate the details of any descriptive model means that the computer, viewed as a medium itself, can be all other media if the embedding and viewing methods are sufficiently well provided. (255)
16It is following this passage that Kay and Goldberg use the term "metamedium" to describe this system, which effectively seals the Many into the One, and compromises any sense that 'multimedia' can fully live up to the idea of multiple media.
17Situating the term 'media' as a primary term is interesting primarily because Heim deems it the "natural sense of media". There is some value in re-asserting the most general understanding of this idea, which is that any artefact can serve to communicate something to the senses. That said, any exploration of this kind needs to keep a critical eye not just on the McLuhanesque extension of the senses that Heim mentions, but also the imperative that these artefacts must mediate, and function as a means of communication. In other words, any celebration of this conception of media needs to be careful not to naturalise the idea that communication is the transmission of ideal contents. As Derrida's work shows, a complex system is required for a media to work in this way. It is only via a particular system of representation that a medium comes to serve as a vehicle for communication (311-2). As such, we should be wary of designating this idea of media as 'natural'. There are of course other reasons to be cautious with the use of the term 'natural' in this context. Contemporary usage of 'media' show that the human sensorium has already entered a complex cyborg future in which human actions, digital files, data, scripts, can be considered 'media' in a performance work or some other assemblage.
18Contemporary media theory resolves some of the problems of the terms 'Medium', 'Media', 'the Media' serving as a primary conceptual figure by reading them against one another. Thus, the mass media can be criticised from the point of view of the broader potential of the medium, or transformations in a medium can be tracked through developments in interactive media. Various critical or comparative approaches can be adopted within the nexus defined by these three terms. One important path of investigation for media theory is the investigation of hybrid mixed forms of media as they re-emerge out of more or less well defined definitions of a medium. A concern that can be raised with this approach, however, is that it risks avoiding the problem of the One or Many altogether in the way it posits some media as 'pure' or less hybrid in the first instance.
19In the difficult process of approaching the problem of One or Many media, media theory may find it worthwhile listen in on discussion of the One or Many opposition in contemporary philosophy. Two terms that find a prominent place in Deleuze's discussion of the multiplicity are "differentiation" and "actualisation". I'd want to suggest that both terms should hold interest for media theorists. For example, in terms of the problem of One or Many Media, we can note that differentiation and actualisation have not always been looked at. Too often, the starting point for theories of media is to begin with a particular order of media, a conception of the One, and then situate multiple practices in relationship to this One. Thus, 'the media' or 'mass media' is able to take the position of centre, with the rest left subordinate. This gesture allows the plural form of 'media' to be dealt with in a reductive way, at the expense of an analysis of supposed plurality. (It also works to detach the discussion of the order of media in question from other academic and non-academic disciplines that may have a great deal to say about the way media work.) A different approach could be to look at the way this dominant order is actualised in the first place. Recognition that a multiplicity of different senses of media pre-exists any single order of media would seem to be a key step towards renewal in media theory.
20This piece has sought to disturb the way a notion of the One or Many media often works in the space of media theory. Rather than locate this issue in relation to only one definition of media or medium, this approach attempts to differentiate between different senses of media, ranging from those understandings linked to the human sensorium, those related to craft understandings, and those related to the computerised manipulation of media resources. The virtue of this approach is that it tackles head on the issue that there is no one understanding of media that can function as an over-arching term in the present. The human senses, craft, broadcasting, and digital manipulation are all limited in this respect. Any response to this situation needs to engage with this complexity by recognising that some understandings of media exceed the space of a medium. These other understandings can form useful provisional points of counter-actualisation.4