Week 4 reading: The meaning of digital environments

Langlois asserts “online participatory media platforms such as YouTube, Facebook, Wikipedia and Twitter offer a constant stream of user-produced meanings. In this new context of seemingly infinite ‘semiotic democracy’ (Fiske, 1987), where anybody can say anything and have a chance to be heard, it seems that the main task is to find ways to deal with and analyze an ever-expanding field of signification.”

The article offers “a different perspective on the question of meaning by arguing that if we are to study meaning to understand the cultural logic of digital environments, we should not focus on the content of what users are saying online, but rather on the conditions within which such a thing as user expression is possible in the first place.”

Further more: “By expanding the question of meaning and using it to explore commercial participatory media platforms, this article offers a new framework for looking at online communication: one that decentres human subjects from the production of meaning and that acknowledges the technocultural dimension of meaning as constituted by a range of heterogeneous representational and informational technologies, cultural practices and linguistic values.”

Langlois concludes that: “The question of meaning in a popular digital environment, such as the participatory media environment, is still a question of power. Meaning has to be rethought as the interface through which language and technologies are articulated together in specific ways to form semiotechnologies. The question of how semiotechnologies become operators of power formation has only been sketched in very broad terms within the scope of this article, through a limited focus on the question of the commercialization of culture, knowledge and social relations. However, the question of semiotechnologies points out to the current blindspots in the study of meaning: it shows that meaning is not simply a human affair, that informational processes that do not have any signifying goals can nevertheless play a central role in linking linguistic practice to social realities, and therefore that communicative agency and cultural subjectivities online are radically dependent on and actualized through non-human processes.”

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