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Communication and mediation - article ; n°1 ; vol.2, pg 71-90

20 pages
Réseaux. The French journal of communication - Année 1994 - Volume 2 - Numéro 1 - Pages 71-90
Summary: Throughout the Cold War two types of radio stations broadcast to the Communist countries: 'sovereign' radio (e.g. BBC, RFI) and 'substitute' radio (e.g. Radio Free Europe, Radio Liberty). They developed, from the same sources of information, two distinct styles of production and relations with listeners. These radio stations were both a political instrument and a cultural vector, a link with the West and a medium for local communications, until broadcasting finally gained its freedom through political change.
20 pages
Source : Persée ; Ministère de la jeunesse, de l’éducation nationale et de la recherche, Direction de l’enseignement supérieur, Sous-direction des bibliothèques et de la documentation.
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Josiane Jouët
Liz Libbrecht
Communication and mediation
In: Réseaux, 1994, volume 2 n°1. pp. 71-90.
Summary: Throughout the Cold War two types of radio stations broadcast to the Communist countries: 'sovereign' radio (e.g.
BBC, RFI) and 'substitute' radio (e.g. Radio Free Europe, Radio Liberty). They developed, from the same sources of information,
two distinct styles of production and relations with listeners. These radio stations were both a political instrument and a cultural
vector, a link with the West and a medium for local communications, until broadcasting finally gained its freedom through political
Citer ce document / Cite this document :
Jouët Josiane, Libbrecht Liz. Communication and mediation. In: Réseaux, 1994, volume 2 n°1. pp. 71-90. COMMUNICATION
Translated by Liz Libbrecht
Summary: How can communication practices, transformed by
the emergence of computerized technologies and the evolution of
the televisual system, be analysed? This article considers both
technical and social mediation. The influence of technology is
manifest in the modelling of practices on its logic and
performance and in the increasing technicality of the
communication process. That of society is seen in an
individualization and personalization of uses, a combination of
technical rationality and subjectivity. Yet the social link remains
of the framework of reference which gives meaning to practices.
devices, but their functioning is often
4 COMMUNICATION based on numeric commands. The term
'computer-based technologies' has been
chosen here to denote all of these new
AND communication tools.
The evolution of communication practices
cannot however be limited to the use of MEDIATION
such devices, for it is also reaching the
sphere of traditional mass media. Telev
ision-viewing is undergoing profound
change due to the use of peripheral equip
ment such as video-cassette recorders or
remote control devices, but also as a re
sult of technical changes in the televisual
system and the proliferation of the choice
of programmes offered over the past de
Communication practices are often ana
JosianeJOUËT lysed as being the product of changes in
communication systems and equipment,
which are thought to define de facto the
way in which individuals use them. Such
The centrality of mediatized com technical determinism, however, should
munication tools, which have be avoided. The same can be said of the
become standard in all aspects of limiting model of social determinism
daily life, is one of the most signi which ignores the role of technical objects
ficant features of social change in ad and rather sees social change as the prin
vanced industrial societies. The use of cipal factor determining usage.
these devices extends from leisure-
oriented activities to the working environ Nowadays communication practices in
volve dual mediation which is both techment and daily tasks. Concurrently, all
uses of the media are proliferating forms nical and social, since the device used
structures the practice and since the of new 'communicationaT behaviour are
emerging. practice structures itself through the
rules, meanings and motives found in the
social environment. Technical develop
The extended use of communication tools ments and social change meet, and these
has coincided with the arrival in the typi practices provide a highly favourable field
cal home, of a new range of equipment, for observing and defining this conver
commonly referred to as 'new information gence. and communication technologies' (NICT),
This article examines first those social including microcomputers, the Minitel,
facts which bear witness to the signifivideo games, VCRs, CD players, tel
ephones with a memory and special func cance of technology, and secondly those
which demonstrate social dynamics. The tions, answering machines and faxes.
infiltration of technological and social These technologies vary considerably
both in their technical components and in mediation into the formation of communic
their functions. Some are computer- ation practices is then defined through
based, such as microcomputers or the changes in the lifestyle and discourse of
Minitel, whereas others remain analogue users.
73 Josiane JOUĚT
tivity influences the construction of use Technical mediation
for it requires the continuing and active
presence of the user if the machine is to Man-machine dialogue has become com
function. mon in this latter part of our century as
homes are filled with communication de
The interactive situation is therefore very vices used to converse in natural or coded different from the use of 'digital' devices
language. The drop in prices, miniaturi which carry out their 'programme' alone zation of equipment and simplification of at the touch of one or two buttons (e.g. their use have popularized such devices
VCRs or CD players). These electronic and made the most advanced technol
non-computer-based devices function in ogies available to the uninitiated. Their the analogue mode but do nevertheless role in daily life raises a series of questions
include a numeric component (e.g. for on the evolution of the communication
display or programming), which directs process and on its social impact. It in fact the use of the machine. Users must accreates a link between the architecture of cept the machine's logic and follow the technical objects on the one hand and the
operating order if their instructions are to construction of social practices on the be carried out. other. Computer-based tools are leading
to an evolution in communication which 'Digital technologies' are in fact signif
is also seen in the use of established icantly different from former household
media such as television. appliances. They often offer a wide range
of uses which, because of their complexi
ty, require a certain degree of know-how.
An increasingly technical Users, put off by the difficulty of operating communication process instructions, only rarely use all the
possible functions. However, they have Today's computer-based communication
the possibility of programming their macdevices can be operated only if the archi
hines, for example the VCR to record tecture of the technology is respected. An
selected TV programmes, or of selecting increasingly technical
specific information such as a sequence process is therefore being combined with
of a film or a message on the answering the computer paradigm and being inte
machine. The principles of programming grated into daily life.
and sequential logic are henceforth in
The relationship between users and com scribed in the operation of everyday ap
munication tools functions in different pliances and have become, through
ways, depending on the technical makeup experience, an integral part of the mental
of the devices and their level of inter schema of a large number of users (Jouet,
activity. Whereas microcomputers are the 1990).
most interactive domestic machines, the
Minitel is less interactive, and other Traditional mass media are also gradually
household communication technologies moving towards interactivity even if inter
such as VCRs even less so. It is therefore active television remains experimental.
more appropriate to talk of interaction Cable is making money out of
than of interactivity as such. Interactivity the pay-per-view system, and viewers can
is, in effect, man-machine dialogue which react directly by means of telematic polls
is not only based on a continuing ex during the broadcasting of programmes.
change of commands and replies, but With the development of video games, the
which also gives users the possibility of status of television sets is changing
intervening in natural or coded language rapidly. P. Chambat and A. Ehrenberg
in the contents of this exchange. announce the emergence of a screen cul-
ture based on new ways of consuming do not of course constitute a technical
television, such as the transformation of culture as such, but which are gradually
TV screens Into display terminals for in permeating people's habitual frameworks
teractive processes (Chambat & Ehren- of reference.
berg, 1988). Interactivity thus appears to
If the use of computer-based technologies be one of the future dimensions of the
is becoming unavoidably 'technical', that television set. of any other media also requires famil
iarity with the codes and language of the The dominance of the computer-based
technology. Thus the subjective construcmodel is not therefore bound to the use of
tion of meaning in televisual reception the computer alone, but permeates the
does not exclude the 'technical' interpre'digital technologies' that surround every
tation of the contents even if the latter are body. Users of NICT develop a new rela
finally reinterpreted in relation to the sotionship with communication tools and
acquire, in an informal way, computer- cial, cultural and personal references of
each person. Users acquire the ability to type skills which become part of their
understand the language of broadcasting usual communication practices. These
and of images and to interpret messages skills are in most cases rudimentary and
which allow them, for example, to anticilimited to basic operating procedures,
pate the outcome of fiction scenarios (Bersince the everyday use of computer-based
trand, de Gournay & Mercier, 1988). This tools is essentially dependent on an emp
ability reveals familiarization with the irical approach which includes de facto
codes of the medium. a familiarization with procedures re
quired by the machine. Yet with interactive or digital technol
ogies, a break in the relationship with the This informal learning of a technology's
machine can be observed. The communi- codes is however not necessarily a source
cational skills that are applied are not of of knowledge about the technology itself.
the same nature since they are based on There are significant differences between,
the concrete and physical experience of on the one hand, a minority of individuals
technical materiality. These tools require who are interested in a technology as
the user's participation, not simply in such and who acquire theoretical knowl
interpreting messages, but also in operaedge about it, like computer hacks, and
ting the technical system. The user dicon the other hand the vast majority of
tates his or her commands to the machine users who have a purely instrumental
which, in turn, imposes the technical approach to their machines. For the uni
logic of its operation. nitiated the technology remains a black
box, although with practical use its mat
eriality can be grasped, and operating
skills - and sometimes even some theoret
The diffusion of technical values into ical knowledge - acquired. Familiariza
usage tion with the operating instructions
provides access to the Junction but not to Whilst computer-based tools make the
the Jimctioning of the technology and even act of communication more technical,
less so to a thorough knowledge of it. they also convey values of rationality and
Nevertheless, a phenomenon of superfic performance which permeate practices.
New models of action emerge which chanial acculturation to the technology and
logic of the computer can now be wit nel individual and collective expression
and become part of a large number of nessed spreading throughout the differ
ent strata of society. The user-culture is daily activities, given the increasing use
of this equipment. They therefore appear thereby gaining technical features, which
75 JOUĚT Josiane
as the organizers of action. The applica machines are given the task of storing
tions of all computer tools well illustrate personal and professional information
this diffusion of technical values into the such as the most frequently dialled numb
elaboration of practices. The programmi ers on telephones with special functions,
ng of action is the same as that of a or appointments on electronic pocket
technology ... the mere use of digital tech diaries with an alarm. The technical ob
nologies conforms to the model that cel ject becomes a partner guaranteeing
ebrates performance. The execution of order, while life-styles integrate its values
separate operations composed of orders, of performance such as time-savings, pro
selection, sequential follow-up and stor ductivity and rigour. Even uses such as
ing becomes a habit. Operating a machine video games are inspired by the attraction
puts to work a paradigm of formal logic, of performance.
rapidity and efficiency that invades daily
The entire media system is steeped in professional and private life. The practice
these values. The current emphasis on integrates the technology's principles of
the technical achievement of live satellite rationality, order and coherence, which
broadcasting of events taking place anyshape ways of doing things and new be
where in the world, is the result of this havioural patterns' (Jouet, 1990).
striving for information in its entirety.
Computers are often considered as Nothing must escape the eye of television
teachers of rigour, order and method for cameras or that of the TV viewer. Even
viewers' attitudes bear witness to this they require a step-by-step and rigid ap
proach. The professional applications of attraction, shown by ardent zappers who
these tools, for example, lead to the reor try to watch all programmes at the same
ganization of work methods around their time (Bertrand, de Gournay & Mercier,
formal procedures. A growth of productivi 1988). With the VCR and the creation of
ty can be seen to result, and the ration private vidéothèques, technology again
alization of tasks within jobs would seem acts as a memory as TV viewers thems
to be related to the rationale of the ma elves become efficient managers of their
'programme' even if they never chine itself. The setting of a professional viewing
performance standard is often linked to watch all the cassettes recorded. The
the use of computers. values of performance and order which
are integral to advanced technologies
With telematics, information-processing therefore also become part of audiovisual
activities within a domestic and personal communication practices. This technol
context such as enquiries, reservations ogical influence does not however mean
on public transport, banking transac that practices correspond to rational
tions, etc. are henceforth formatted models of use.
within the framework of operating proce
dures, and the interactivity of the tech
nique is expected to produce maximal The singularity of ways of doing
efficiency in man-machine dialogue. things
Time-saving and the optimization of ser
Communicational practices bring out vices are essential motives for using the
particular patterns of behaviour which Minitel.
reveal how each person adapts to the
Furthermore, the memory functions of technical object. The encounter with a
technical devices ae increasingly used in communication tool is the source of a
the management of people's daily lives. specific communicational experience that
Databanks such as the electronic tel involves not only the knowledge of the
technology's codes and the acquisition of ephone directory are commonly used, and
operating skills, but also the elaboration the codes and operating functions of any
of particular ways of doing things. This communication tool, as well as particular
experience is essentially that of the user's ways of dealing with the technical object,
concrete relationship with the technology. both of which constitute the construction
It represents the processes by which of the practice.
users devote themselves to mental and
practical operations in their utilization of
Social mediation such tools, and by which they also create,
empirically, their own ways of using them. Whilst the of technology is not
neutral in the elaboration of communicatAs an example, the use of a word-proces
ion practices, these are equally insor requires a minimum knowledge of the
fluenced by the dynamics of social software and of certain operating proce
change. The emergence of 'active and audures, but each person nevertheless de
tonomous' users has become a common velops his own way of utilizing it. Thus
'forced' to respect the archi feature of the evolution of communication besides being
systems. Nevertheless, a distinction must tecture of the machine's language, the
be made between the different levels of user is granted a large degree of flexibility
this autonomy. There is indeed an indi- allowing him to raid the computer's memo
vidualization of the use of all types of ry, to recreate texts, to combine diverse
media, and communication practices elements and think spontaneously, with
comprise, de facto, a subjective dimenout necessarily being limited by technical
sion for they are based on individual ways rationality. An adjustment takes place
of doing things, respond to specific expecbetween the disorder of intuitive thinking
and the ordering of ideas favoured by the tations and are linked to individual re
presentations which draw from the technology. This can moreover be related
imagination. But subjectivity is brought to the feeling that one is playing a kind of
game when using a computer (Proulx, into play to varying degrees, depending on
the activity. Whereas it is marked in 1988). Furthermore, the mediation of the
machine produces a distancing from in watching television, particularly fiction, it
is far less evident in the functional usage tellectual production which makes this
of the media, such as the consultation of activity both freer and more efficient.
the Minitel for practical purposes, and is Each user of the word-processor therefore
dominant in the use of computer-based has 'his way' of employing the functions
technologies that demand personal invoof the software and of writing on the
lvement and are highly charged emotionascreen.
The use of any communication technol
Furthermore, the autonomy of practices ogy involves personal behavioural pat
is relative, for subjective approaches do terns. The diversity of ways of watching
not take place in a vacuum filled only by television indicates of this personalizat
the mediation of the technical object; they ion. Any TV viewer chooses his relation
are inscribed in the reference to society as ship with the supply of messages and has,
a whole and in the search for a new social for example, his own way of using his
link. remote control device to select the screens
of his unique choice. Thus individuals
create their own modes of using the media From the individualization to the and integrating them into their life-styles. personalization of practices The communicatlonal experience there
fore includes the skills acquired by indi In the broadcasting sector, the 1980s i
viduals through their familiarization with naugurated a tendency towards increasing 77 JOUĚT Josiane
fragmentation of viewing and an individ- diversification of the use of mass media.
ualization of practices. Faced with an Thus the VCR, found in nearly half of all
abundance of programmes, users today French homes in 1993, enables viewers to
tend to adopt autonomous behaviour that free themselves from the constraints of
is not unrelated to the new cult of individ set times and to watch rented or bought
ualism. Television is particularly indicat films of their own choice. Furthermore,
ive of this evolution, as noted by Pierre the tendency towards the individualiza-
Chambat and Alain Ehrenberg: tion of usage is growing today as more
homes are equipped with more than one
set. This reduces the practice of family '.. our society's individualistic tend
viewing, and points to a repetition of the ency is also influencing the com
phenomonon of fragmentation of radio mon base of our televisual
listening produced by transistor radios. experience. In short, the transfor
mation of our cultural models is The broadcasting media, in spite of their
characterized by a threefold di 'massifying' nature, have moreover a
splacement: from the mass to the lways given rise to personalized use. Re
individual, from passiveness to ac- search on use and gratification has
tiveness, from spectacle to com treated media consumption as a 'finalized
munication ... For television, this activity', responding to intentions based
representation of the future is seen on the psychological and social needs of
in new stereotypes under the aegis individuals (Blunder & Katz, 1974). Cul
of communication values. It tends, tural studies in Britain and America also
in effect, to switch from a concep show the complexity of reception, seen as
tion of force-feeding, where 'the' an activity that mobilizes the individual
viewer is imagined as an impress and sets into action a series of psychologic
ionable and fragile child, incapable al and social processes related to his or
of any judgement, to a conception her personal experience and cultural mi
of autonomy where the technology lieu (Hall, 1980). This approach was con
makes an adult of him and the tinued in ethnographic studies of
numerous channels give him fre audiences (Morley, 1980). Furthermore,
edom of choice and even control of research on reception recently took an
his judgement' (Chambat & Ehrenb interest in the inter-cultural dimension as
erg, 1988). a structuring element of the interpreta
tion of media products (Liebes & Katz,
TV viewers are in fact freeing themselves 1986). In particular these studies em
from their dependence on the media. phasize the process by which viewers i
Rather than remaining glued to a single nterpret messages, as well as the
programme, as in the past, they react to productive activity of a reader, listener or
the multiplication of channels by select televiewer. Reception is understood as a meaning.* ing, and increasing use of remote control. subjective construction of A
'Zapping appears as a massive phenomen qualitative survey (Bertrand, de Gournay
on. A household TV set changes its & Mercier, 1988) shows how ardent zap-
pers recreate their own programme from status on average nearly 23 times a day
(switching on, plus channel changes). a mosaic of sequences that they glance at
This corresponds to over five changes per fleetingly, with television becoming the
hour's viewing' (Chabrol & Périn, 1991). medium for subjective fiction. The con
ceptualization of reception has thus This active behavioural pattern can be allowed us to rethink the use of mass identified in the mobility, selection and
* For a synthesis of this work see Dayan, 1992.
media and to highlight the subjectivity of ment and who in a sense shapes the
televisual practices. technology. The quality of autonomy that
is incorporated in the architecture of In the case of interactive technologies, the these devices shifts from the technology construction of usage corresponds to a to the user; users appropriate the mac
different model, based on different prin hine's qualities of performance and inde
ciples. The interactivity of these machines pendence for their own fulfilment (Jouet, demands the participation of individuals 1989). in the communication process, and their
versatility requires that they construct The expression of subjectivity takes differ
their own use. There is therefore a break ent forms depending on the individual's
with the mass media model; usage is no relationship to the technical object. Three
longer measured as a free activity of se typical practices illustrate the way in
lection and interpretation of messages. which subjectivity is born in the use of
computers or the Minitel. The reception model cannot apply to these
technologies because they do not broad
cast programmes, they only talk through (a) Professional applications of home com
their technical potential which conveys a puters are modelled on the rationality of
code of rationality and 'performativity'. the technology and may also be accompan
Software states nothing; it dialogues. ied by subjective behaviour related to an
Usage is combined with a predetermined aspiration for personal accomplishment.
technical potential which forms an una Individuals then appropriate the qualities
voidable framework of reference. Users of the machine to increase their inde
choose an application and construct their pendence and the efficiency of their indi
use with reference to the possibilities and vidual production. Having the machine at
limits of the services and programmes home gives them the advantage, amongst
utilized. others, of not being assigned to a place of
work and of free from institutional Interactive technologies are characterized
constraints. Thus for executives, certain by a high degree of individualization of
professionals and intellectuals, who are practices. Versatility is the interactive
the main users of home computers for component that allows for considerable
professional purposes, the use of these variety in the use of these tools. Thus, use
machines often arises from a desire for of the Minitel includes inquiries, transac
independence and individual control of tions and interpersonal communication,
the work process, which is a form of self- and microcomputers can be used for
management of their production. The games, office management, information
microcomputer is adopted with the aim of processing, and the design of pro
increasing professional efficiency and grammes to meet specific requirements.
productivity, but also for the flexibility It is the user who, with his input, con
that it provides since it makes it possible structs the final product.
to work at the desired pace and time. In
this model, the value of computers is first
and foremost that of promoting an indiRationality and subjectivity
vidual's professional success. The prac
Computer-based technologies lend thems tice of using them therefore corresponds
elves particularly well to personal invo to a response to an approach dictated by lvement which favours subjectivity. Their the primacy of personal initiative, individ
principles of order and efficiency per ual production or even creativity. meate usage and then co-exist with the
emergence of this marked subjectivity. It (b) Personal programming originates in
is the user who becomes the nodal the will to master the technology and the
79 Josiane JOUĚT
pleasure of subjective communication order and rationality of the technology
with the machine. (Computer hacks take that mediates it. Yet, there is a close
the rivalry between their own intelligence interrelation between the architecture of
and that of their computer very seriously.) the technology and the construction of
the electronic social link. An analysis of It therefore integrates the rationality of
the machine and moulds itself to its logic, modes of communication built around
message services makes it possible to but the relational value of the technology
replaces the usage that prevails in overcome the main antinomy between the
the professional self-management model. technical and the social processes, and to
In man-machine interaction, the technol identify the structural homology between
ogy is in effect the only referent which the principles of the operational device
and forms of interpersonal exchange. fulfils the function of mirroring the pro
grammer's mental activity. However, this
First, the configuration of the technical dialogue does not only take place through
system defines the meeting place. The the mobilization of the intellect but
Minitel screen fulfils a dual function: it is through a psychic and emotional projec
a shield that encourages anonymity and tion onto the machine, which enables
the use of pseudonyms (to be protected); Sherry Turkle (1986) to talk of 'the Rors-
but also a mirror that reflects the fanchach computer'. Computer hacks often
tasies and narcissism which pave the way regard their hobby as a passion and de
for the intimacy of interchange (it is scribe the narcissistic pleasure of interac
thought). Secondly, the communication tion with the machine. Personal
software appears as the technical speaker programming is characterized by a soli
that leads the friendly dialogue. The istary and largely self-taught practice
omorphism that results between the techwhich aims at self-assertion and consoli
nical and conversational structures can dation of the ego. It displays subjective
be seen on several levels. Dialogue is behaviour and is founded on the quest for
punctuated by technical interactivity and personal achievement.
is woven around a continual coming and
going between speakers. The computer (c) The approach is very different when it
logic, moreover, dictates the modes of the comes to the use of telematics for inte
practice and users must accept the softrpersonal exchange of messages with
ware's codes. They therefore demostrangers. The prescribed finality of the
nstrate skills based on knowledge of the technology as a practical and functional
technical procedure of the interchange, instrument is diverted for the purpose of
the ability to write on the machine and games with a large element of fantasy,
dexterity in the required manipulations. usually of a sexual nature. Being anony
mous and using pseudonyms encourages
With the loss of traditional referents in the elaboration of a new form of social
electronic communication, words provide interchange which frees itself from
all the piquancy in the messages. They norms and codes. Message services inau
reveal identities and are agents of selecgurate the construction of interpersonal
tion based on spelling, humour, style and electronic communication where subject
the contents of messages. Users develop ivity and narcissism are deployed at will.
personal tactics and become specialists in
Nothing is apriori rational in this practice, managing dialogue, choose their corre
so often described as an 'electronic spondents, exchange messages with sev
carnival', a vast social disorder which eral interlocutors and initiate interaction
functions at the level of imagination and that corresponds to their desires. The use
of message services thus bears witness to desire. Everything therefore seems to op
pose message services to the model of a particularly rich communication expert-

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