Personal Dynamic Media – Alan Kay and Adele Goldberg – Summary

About the Authors

Alan Kay is an American Computer Scientist. He is known for his pioneer work on “object-oriented programming” and in “graphical user interface design.” Studying his work is of keen interest as it helps us understand how computerization has actually shaped the media and its representations. Alan Turing conceived the notion of a computer and the possibilities of Human Computer Interaction. However, it was people like Alan Kay and Adele Goldberg who collaborated computers with media. He along with Adele Goldberg brought DYNABOOK, which was considered as the basis for the design of what we instinctively call as laptops or personal computers today.

Adele Goldberg is a Computer Scientist. She along with Alan Kay worked on SmallTalk. Smalltalk was used to prototype the WIMP (windows, icons, menus, pointers) interface at Xerox Parc.

Alan Kay is deeply influenced by Seymour Papert. Kay wrote the following in response to Papert’s influence on his work:

I was possessed by the analogy between print literacy and LOGO. While designing FLEX machine I had believed that end user needed to be able to program before computer could become truly theirs—but here was a real demonstration, and with children! The ability to ‘read’ a medium means you can access material and tools generated by others. The ability to ‘write’ in a medium means you can generate materials and tools for others. You must have both to be literate. In print writing, the tools you generate are rhetorical; they demonstrate and convince. In computer writing, the tools you generate are processes’, they simulate and decide. [1]

In this essay, Kay and Goldberg shares their idea of how computers can be a general purpose device where all applications, from music to architecture, from drawing to hospital accounts, et al can be maintained in one place, and above all, user can interact with these application, and also drive them per the requirement.

Kay’s idea of creating a personal dynamic media was to take a step forward and think about computers in a different perspective. Can machines, which are used only for computing, perform user designated tasks and eventually become a medium for communication?  Kay believes that “when normal people start creating and sending each other simulations as a way to exchange ideas, a new revolution will happen, similar to the one which the printing press eventually led to. People will be able to exchange more interesting ideas, and will be able to have deeper conversations than they could before. [2]”

Kay and Goldberg began this with Dynabook. Their idea of a Dynabook was a machine which everyone can use, enabling them to author wide range of ideas in creatively new and important ways. With this, they also developed Smalltalk programming language, which works on Dynabook. On this, “several interesting systems have been written in a new medium for communication. [3]”


People always need to exchange information. There has always been an imperative need to share, explore, create, manipulate. Media, of any kind, aids in achieving this, putting words to one’s thought process. Paradoxically, though media was meant for communication, it ended up being one-sided. These communication mediums did not change per the user wishes. Neither did they perform any user oriented tasks. Computers were understood to have a singular use—of performing arithmetic calculations.

The idea of personal dynamic media was such a media that can hold all the details, which are important to its user in one single place/machine. Such a media should have an ability to simulate all types of media into one machine and then allow user intervention. Such a media would not only help in breaking the static text boundaries and making computers into a conversational artifact but will also allow us to understand the deeper relationship between the user and the media (in several ways machine…like Alan Turing said – Can Machines Think?)

So, what is the Dynabook?

  • A system which is usable by all ages.
  • A personal medium – flexibility and portability. (Is of a size of a notebook?)
  • Is a Metamedium, can encompass all the media.
  • Has Smalltalk, a programming language that acts as a medium for communication.
  • Can be used for text editing, storage and manipulation of data, drawing, reading, animating, compositing, calculating, et al.
  • Provides immediate response – no discernible pause between cause and effect.
  • Has higher quality, probably better than the newsprint.

All these features sounds familiar to us now. And why not, we work in the age of laptops, computers, ipads, and other technical systems sharing more than what we can call common with Dynabook.

Kay and Goldberg extensively tested this device on children. The interactive nature of the the system not only caught instant attention but soon became a platform for their creative explorations, augmenting their attention spans from minutes to hours. [4] Additionally, this also became a ground for testing the constructivist ideas of imparting education, learning by doing it yourself.

Dynabook is a completely self-contained system. It consisted of “several interesting systems which have been written in a new medium for communication, the Smalltalk programming language.” Kay defines Smalltalk as being object-oriented. This programming language is a “recursion on the notion of the computer itself.” This means that every Smalltalk object eventually is designed in a way that it exploits the entire possibility of what a computer can actually do. It thus provides a chance for performing, what we can say as more complex algorithms and programming.

All these features already existed. Kay and his team brought them together on one platform, under one umbrella what we all call a computer. Well, one could argue that all theses technologies are distinctly different from each other and are use like that. So, even on one platform, they will be used and perceived distinctly. A system like Dynabook provides an avenue to realize and experiment as to how each one can be connected to one another in a number of different ways. There exists today ample media. However, the ability lies not in the individual media but what it does when connected together. Dynabook provides its learner with an opportunity to combine technology with creativity.  It allowed its user to choose their own ways to view information. It, therefore can be called a “personal medium.”

According to Kay and Goldberg, simulation is actually the key component of Dynabook. It enables to draw a reconstruction of our worlds. “A suitably skilled animator” would want a system that is “not a fixed set of commands, but an extensible, truly open-ended programming language.”

In any kind of animation, the “response time criteria” is extremely crucial. Animators, require the flexibility to preview minute changes to animation. Along with such a “conversational” ability, it is crucial to have extendibility of the system, which enables the animator to make changes by making simple modifications to the commands.

SHAZAM (Smalltalks’ Shaded Image Zippy Animated Moviemaker) allows editing of the frames/cells while an animation is in progress. As such, SHAZAM contains basic animation capabilities. This is because the system was designed for usage by children. However, as it contains features of an “extensible programming language” [5], it can be easily extended as per the use. “By extensible programming language we mean a base (or core) language plus a programming system, the totality of which has facilities for extending and modifying. [6]”

In SHAZAM, a library of “already-created cels is maintained. The animation can be single-stepped; individual cels can be repositioned, reframed, and redrawn; new frames can be inserted; and a frame sequence can be created at any time by attaching the cel to the pointing device, then showing the system what kind of movement is desired. The control of the animation can also be easily done from a Smalltalk simulation.”

Kay discusses an example of drawing and painting system designed by a child. A young girl, who never happened to program before, thought that the pointing device on the drawing tool of Dynabook will be helpful (what we today know as an arrow). She later wrote a program for building tangram designs as well. Kay illustrates another example of how a decision-theorist programmed a hospital simulation, or an audio animation system programmed by musicians. The power of such a system is enormous. In a constructivist learning environment “knowledge is (derived from) experience, and actively constructed and re-constructed by subjects in interaction with their worlds. [7]” Dynabook provides its user a chance to interact and make communication, which now was, in its real sense, “two-way”.  Such a medium when used in Education, can help in breaking the barriers of classroom learning. This we can witness in the changes we witness in the education pattern and the importance of computers in education. Key concepts, for example of science and mathematic, are now being taught with help of interactive narratives. Children are now made the creators. They make, design, interact, solve, collaborate, et al.

Kay and Goldberg defines computer  “a metamedium” whose content is “a wide range of already-existing and not-yet-invented media.” “It [a computer] is a medium that can dynamically simulate the details of any other medium, including media that cannot exist physically. It is not a tool, though it can act like many tools. It is the first metamedium, and as such it has degrees of freedom for representation and expression never before encountered and as yet barely investigated.”

At the end of the essay, Kay and Goldberg raises a significant question, “if the projected audience for such a metamedium is ‘everyone’, is it possible to make the Dynabook generally useful, or will it collapse under the weight of trying to be too many different tools for too many people?” Today, we find ourselves looking at systems, which probably could be very well called as the future of of Dynabook. These systems are not only driving multiple users but also enabling large scale collaborations. The range of users are no more astonishing and we find children and adult using the same systems creating their own personal data/ experiences.


1 User Interface: A Personal View, 1989


3 Personal Dynamic Media, March 1977

4 Personal Dynamic Media,  March 1977

5 Ronald M. Baecker, MIT Project MAC-TR-61, 1969

6 Ronald M. Baecker, A Conversational Extensible System for the Animation of Shaded Images, SIGGRAPH’76

7 Ackermann.E (2007). Experiences of Artifacts: People’s Appropriations/Objects’ Affordances. Ernst von Glaserfeld Key works on radical constructivism (M.Larochelle. Ed.) Sense Publishers


Posted in Media | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Word and Me

And once again, there I was…

Word and Me…

Oh, what an ecstatic feeling it was, I must confess.

Shy with the inner excitement tearing the boundaries unknown,

Greeting seemed superficial but we conformed to the decorum.

Careful of the suspicious and the animus around,

Our eyes met and coaxed each other silently.

It was challenging to meet openly…

Too much to bear for our adrenaline, we gave up!

We jumped across the street, eloping from the gaze.

Eventually, we found ourselves in a dark, quite, still, park.

Unsure of every next step from here on, we quietly sat on the two benches.

We had come very far without leaving the bread crumbs…

The thought was illuminating for the soul though the body felt numb.

One of us had to make the first move,

So, I decided to be the navigator.

We started walking again, into the wild, into the unknown…

Gradually, hands frisked, then touched, then locked into one another,

With faith, shoulders were lent,

And with assurance, we embraced each other.

Eyes met, tinkled, lips parted and we kissed.

The feeling was gratifying, and I decided to resign…

Slowly and steadily, into that divinity…!


Posted in Writing | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

The Technology and Society – Raymond Williams

About Raymond Williams

Born on 31 August, 1921, Raymond Williams became an influential figure within the New Left. his writings on various topics like politics, mass media, culture, and literature are a significant contribution to the Marxist critique of culture and society.

Through his writings, he always engages in a dialog or debate, which are more often than not radical.  (Alan, 2005).

He has a “modernist imagination” of the world and of mostly imposed changes. This often leaves his reader into shock. However, it is critical that to understand his work and writing one should not go by the complexity but by the position of his thoughts and ideas. It is a fundamental misunderstanding to see Williams work being centered around the idea of the community.

During the years, little less attention is paid to Williams contribution in mass media. He says that it is important to understand the social and economical pressures to understand the effect of mass media. Williams also has some radical views on mass media’s organization, such as, the big corporations should not own the newspapers and broadcast media. Instead they should be owned by workers and people who are directly effected by it.

The essay “The Technology and the Society” discusses technology’s role in the society. Williams through his essay rejects the idea qualified by Marshall McLuhan that technology shapes the society.


In this essay, Williams outrightly rejects the idea of “technological determinist” presented by Marshall McLuhan. He begins his rejection by saying that we often think that television has altered our worlds. He argues that we fail to understand the important underlying meaning of these statements. It is important to see if technology is the cause of such behavioral, social, and economic changes. It may seem “abstract” and “theoretical”, but it is quite practical to do a cause and effect analysis. Williams classifies the nine interpretations of the statement “television has altered our lives” into two categories, 1. Technological Determinism, 2. Symptomatic Technology.  The former drives from the fact that a society’s technology drives the development of its social structure and cultural values. For example, the invention of television “altered all preceding media of news and entertainment”, or “it altered our relationship with others and the world.” The later however argues that if it has not been television, “we would still have been manipulated or entertained perhaps by some less powerful means.” Both these views share one common sentiment, television managed to alter our worlds. Hence, there is a requirement of a deeper “theoretical” distinction to understand this.

The invention of television did not come from a thin air. It was a results of series “complex inventions” taking place in variety of fields. The inventions including Blackwell’s copying telegraph (1847), Carey’s electric eye (1875), the development of trade and transport in 1850s, Nipkow’s scanning system (1884), et al all point us to the fact that the invention of the television was foreseen.  This is does not mean that television was merely an assembling machine (consisting of already developed parts), things like the thermonic valve and the multistage amplifier were still need to be developed. Many of the technologies, which were even used in television, were developed in isolation as well. This contrasts the claims made in anthropology and cognitive science which said that technology is inseparable from the culture itself.

On the other hand, Industrialization and “its new social forms” created new needs and there was a requirement of new communication systems to intervene these complex changes. Hence, there was a need for complex inventions and their applications. Television is thus viewed by Williams as an “intrinsic outcome” of such a change.

Having said this Williams points us to the fact that an inventions/ideas have a chance of realization if it falls within the purview of the key decision makers or interested parties. Major developments in military or for that matter in industrial production happened because of vested interested. Post the second world war, there was a “varying need of a new kind of society and a new kind of life.” Families, as such. started to become more mobile and the concept of “individual” self-sufficient homes emerged. Such social conditions spurred the development of broadcast media. Television and radio became affordable domestic receivers. It was only later, post the technology transmission that the idea of content was given a thought. The trouble ran deeper than just the content here. There was a “contradiction, of a centralized transmission and privatized reception”, and off-course the content part of it. Given the economic solution of licensing and commercial sponsorship, the problem was just masked than solved. The growing dependence and need on the system has only demotivated the financiers to think of any advancements in the medium itself.  Williams culminates his essay by saying that it is with a social, economical, and cultural perspective that we should look at the use of broadcast media and other forms of communications that are being developed or will be developed.

Posted in Media | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Nudity of My Building

It was the summer ending when I came to Boston. The breeze smelled fresh and the air lighter after a 24-hour long and tiring flight from India. Once landed, the mission was to find a place called “home sweet home.” Everyday, from morning till evening me and my husband went searching to define something, which we could call home. A place where we could invite the beautiful summer sun for a warm masala chai and sleep off our tiredness staring at the stars.

Eventually, after several round trips, we succeeded in finding the right place. Surrounded by cluster of huge trees, overlooking a park, besides a muddy river that was home to several ducks, the view was overwhelmingly and toxicatingly beautiful. The old, white brick walled building juxtaposing the view, was inviting and warm. It just felt “home” and was  cliched-ly love-at-first-site. As we settled in, it became a religious sacrament to witness this beauty, dawn and dusk. It felt as if the cluster of these trees protected us from the harsh cold world outside, almost intuitively sensing our loneliness. The feeling was mesmerizing and the idea of diluting it was surely not gratifying.

The thought was so deeply built in last three months that it was difficult to visualize the fall and the naked emptiness of the nature. It was something, I was not prepared for. It was a feeling of a sudden unexpected decent from a mountain where you get detached from the group, and discover yourself alone, without water and food, on a bone-chilling winter night.

With every leaf falling off, river giving into the seasonal change, it was like someone undressing you slowly and silently, and you are not sure it gives pleasure or pain, or both. i was still to discover this.

Once upon a time, yes, it already seems a lifetime, I looked forward to coming back home to witness this beauty. Lush green trees inviting me and the river helping me to fade out my day’s troubles, it was a home coming I longed for. Eventually, as days passed and fall took over, I could see the emptiness of these trees and the coldness of the river. The nudity of my building in this view was disconcerting. The giant windows of my apartment started to witness the change in me. The thing that was never done was now becoming a daily task- the shades were drawn, concealing the blank dark world outside, and I think inside too.

Posted in Writing | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Constituents of a Theory of the Media – Hans Magnus Enzensberger – Summary

About the Author

Hans Magnus Enzensberger was born in 1929 in Kaufbeuren, a small town in Bavaria. He was German author, poet, translator, and an editor. He is part of the last generation of intellectuals whose writing was shaped by first-hand experience of the Third Reich*. Enzensberger also had a brief stint in Hitler’s kiddie-cum-geriatic corps, and also served a stint as bartender and translator of the Royal Air Force while engaging in some black market activities to earn livelihood.1

Enzensberger has a sarcastic, ironic tone in many of his poems/writings. For example, the poem “Middle Class Blues” consists of various typicalities of middle class life, with the phrase “we can’t complain” repeated several times, and concludes with “what are we waiting for?”. Many of his poems also feature themes of civil unrest over economic and class based issues. Though primarily a poet and essayist, he also made excursions into theater, film, opera, radio drama, reportage, translation, et al. He has also written novels and several books for children.

About the Essay

Constituents for a Theory of the Media” is considered to be an influential essay in raising the voice for realizing the true potential of the media. Through this essay, Hans Magnus Enzensberger calls for a much needed participatory model of communication and information exchange in opposition to the capitalist systems controlled by the bourgeoisie and influential class, who are, for reasons defined in the essay, inappropriate to handle the new media to its maximum.2 Enzensberger intention to raise thought of the media and the role of the socialist left is not about the distribution of media but “a fundamental organization of media.” According to him, the new media are “oriented towards action, not contemplation, toward the present, not tradition.”

He is asking the new socialist left to rethink the use of media and define radical changes to encourage reciprocation of information across classes. Being a classic Marxist thinker, you will find some marxists concepts pertinent in the essay. The two central concepts are “base” and “superstructure.” Let me explain what they are before we begin the summary of the essay. In the Marxist theory, the human society consist of two essential parts: the base and the superstructure. The base consists of forces and relations of production—the employer-employee working conditions, the technical division of labor, and property relations—into which people enter to produce the necessities of life. These relations then go on to describe the society’s other relationships and ideas, which are referred to as ‘superstructures.’ This superstructure includes institutions, culture, political structures, media, et al. Establishing a connection, the base determines the superstructure, not to forget that superstructures do influence the base but the base dominates. Remembering these two concepts is important as they are used in the essay and provides better perspective to the ideas presented by the author.

The Consciousness Industry3

Before we attempt to summarize the essay, it is important to understand the concept of the “consciousness industry,” the term coined by Enzensberger. The mind industry does not produce anything specific, rather its main business is to perpetuate the existing order of man’s dominance over man. To see in this perspective, I will quote from his book, The Consciousness Industry, “the mind industry is actually a product of say some last 100 years. It has developed at such a pace, and assumed such varied forms, that it has outgrown our understanding and our control. The current discussion of media also seems to suffer from theoretical limitations as we are failing to understand the phenomenon as a whole. Every new branch of industry is cropping up with ideas/theories, but how many really understand the phenomenon—the industrialization of the human mind. This cannot be understood by examining the machine as such. It is much deeper.” He goes on to say, “Equally inadequate is the term cultural industry, which has become common usage in Europe after World War II. It reflects, more than the scope of the phenomenon itself, the social status of those who have tried to analyze it: university professors and academic writers, people whom the power elite has relegated to the reservations of what passes as “cultural life” and who consequently have resigned themselves to bear the unfortunate name of cultural critics. In other words, they are certified harmless; they are suppose to think in terms of Kultur (German civilization and culture (sometimes used derogatorily to suggest elements of racism, authoritarianism, or militarism) and not in terms of power.

He adds, the term serves to remind us of a paradox inherent in all media work. Consciousness, however false, can be induced and reproduced by industrial means, but it cannot be industrially produced. It is a social product made up by the people; its origin is the dialog. No industrial process can replace the persons who generate it.”

Essay Synopsis

In the first section of the essay, Enzensberger comments on how the consciousness industry is capable of bringing about a radical change, with the development of the electronic media, as it “infiltrates” into all sectors of production. It is capable of determining the standards of the prevailing technologies. There are several forms of media which have com up in the past few years. He says that when the new forms of media merge/connects with the existing forms, they become capable of “forming” universal systems.

When such universal systems are produces, the contradiction between the productive forces and the productive relationships also augments. “Productive force is a central idea in Marxism and historical materialism. It refers to the combination of the means of labor with human labor power. All those forces that are applied by people in the production processes are encompassed by this concept. To sum up, human knowledge can also be a productive force.” Per the Marxian Class Theory, “class consciousness within the production process precedes the formation of productive relationships. Marx sought to define class as embedded in productive relationships rather than social status.”4

Enzensberger says that “the socialist media theory needs to work outside on the boundaries of a monopoly capitalism.” It is only then the media can be productive. Being attentive to all this is good, but not enough. For the media to be productive, we need to exploit the emancipatory potential of the new media. This potential lies in the fact of opening up the media, encouraging reciprocity of information between the transmitter and the receiver, and encouraging feedback.

All these thoughts leads us to the fact that it is important to mobilize the media, which in itself is an important concept. According to Enzensberger, “anyone who thinks of the masses only as object of politics cannot mobilize them.” It is for the first time in the history that media is making participation possible. To put this possibility into action, one requires the development “from a mere distribution medium to a communications medium,” which is technically plausible. However, due to politics, this is not achieved, and thus the technical distinctions between the receiver and the transmitter always persists. This clearly reflects the social division of the labor – the consumers and the producers, which in the consciousness industry becomes of political importance. This structural analogy can be worked out through an organized effort, however, minimum activity on part of the “voter/viewer” is desired. Typically, any feedback given by the masses is reduced to some indices, as part of some election agenda. All these activities are reducing the power of media into the hands of the bourgeois, which is surely not a place media’s true potential resides. Enzensberger quotes from Theory of Radio building on the thought presented above:

Radio must be changed from a means of distribution to a means of communication. Radio would be the most wonderful means of communication imaginable in public life, a huge linked system—that is to say, it would be such if it were capable not only of transmitting but of receiving of allowing the listener not only to hear but to speak and did not isolate him but brought him into contact. Unrealizable in this social system, reliable in another these proposals, which are after all, only the natural consequences of technical development help towards the propagation and shaping of that other system.”5

The Orwellian Fantasy

Enzensberger says that the Orwellian bogey of “monolithic consciousness industry drives from a view of media which is unidirectional and obsolete. The possibility of total control of such a system at a central point are the talks of past.” He further says that the understanding and demonstrating a two-way communication can actually be dealt statistically. Arguing this opinion he also says that “supervision on the basis of approximation can only offer inadequate instruments for the self-regulation of the whole system in accordance with the concepts of those who govern it. It postulates the high degree of internal stability If this precarious balance is upset, then the crisis measured on the statistical methods of control are useless.”

It needs to be recognized that societies in the late industrial era require a robust information exchange platform. Any attempt to block this will result in a block in the entire system. All this will eventually result in death of the system. He gives example of the Soviet bureaucracy, who denied itself “almost entirely” an elementary piece of organizational equipment, the duplicating machine, because the instrument had the potential to make everyone a printer. It was quite evident that the Soviet had to pay price for such a repression. With this Enzensberger says that the problem of censorship is entering a new historical stage. The freedom of press and information has been, like mentioned in the essay earlier, is concentrated only with the bourgeoisie. Slowly, one can see the transformation already in the form of the consciousness industry taking an upper hand.

Cultural Archaism in the Left Critique

While we know that the consciousness industry is about to bring forth a radical change in the way media is perceived, it is important to discuss the concept of manipulation, which till now helped in self learning and development. Now, the same concept is threatening to degenerate “into a slogan which conceals more than it is able to illuminate, and therefore itself requires an analysis.” The socialist left perspective is constrained in attacking only the existing productive relationships. The bigger question of “whom the media should be handed over to” is yet not answered or even thought about for that matter. Unfortunately, the socialist left till now have not proven anything in terms of handling the media in the right direction.

The theory of repressive tolerance , which is in itself an important concept, has also permeated discussion of the media by the left. This concept has also become a vehicle of resignation among the left socialist. Electronic media, innately, is dirty. Enzensberger says that in structure, media is typically anti-sectarian, and this the reason why the left has not yet thought of a reform. The resistance to this, unconsciously, is further enhanced by the cultural factor—the social history of the participants in today’s Left movement. Enzensberger says that it seems that because of their progressive potential, the media are seen to be a threat as they challenge the bourgeoisie culture and thereby the privileges of the intelligentsia. He concludes by saying that the ability to harness the true potential of media is genuinely lacking. The counter reaction to this fear is the split that results among the political active groups and the subcultural groups. On one hand, the comrades take refuge in the antiquated techniques of communication rather than exploiting the potential media offers, and on the other hand, they cannot escape from the consciousness industry’s program/aesthetics. The only beneficiary of this antagonistic attitude of the Left towards the media is the capitalist.

The Democratic Manipulation

We talked about manipulation as part of the cultural archaism. Here Enzensberger recognizes the fact that “manipulation” as such is political act when it comes to the media industry—“every use of media presupposes manipulation.” This, from a practical standpoint is fine. Any form of media is required to be first manipulated and then produced (even the live telecast of the sting operations that we see.) So, the bigger question is not the fact that media are manipulated, but who manipulates them? Such manipulation can be encountered only with the direct social control. Though there is no such example till now wherein a direct social interaction of media has been made possible, but the capitalist knows that this is a possibility of the future and they thus fear the realization of the true potential of media is about to come through.

To look at this in perspective with the current media order, such talks read and sound like fairy-tale. It is unimaginable for many to see a close world order like the one presented above. With internet burgeoning and media opening the public communication platform, we are, to a great extent, learning to harness the power the media as a medium for exchange of information. This brings us to an important point, which is also presented by Enzensberger that the new media is egalitarian in structure. And this is proven well from the point above that everyone now is participating in the process of information exchange and thereby learning themselves.

Properties of the New Media

Having said this, the author points us towards the fact that the “new media is oriented towards action than contemplation, towards the present and not tradition.” Media for the first time, is making it possible to record historical material and then make it available at will to the people. Hence, it would be wrong to say that media equipments are mere means of consumption, they are transforming into means of production. Seeing it closely, one will realize that the hiatus between the producer and consumer is not “inherent” to electronic media, it is a creation of fiction by the economic and administrative forces. Enzensberger provides an example of telephone and telegram to explain this further. Telegram is still in the hands of bureaucracy, telephone is accessible to everyone. The former is till now, in the hands of the bureaucracy. Enzensberger says that the laws that regulate the transmission are antiquated and needs to be reformed in the foreseeable future.

Even if the gap between the receiver and transmitter is closed, the prospect of anyone becoming a producer with the use of media will be limited to individual tinkering. And this is what the bourgeoisie also aims at. Only a “free socialist society will be able to make media fully productive.” Enzensberger compares the private production of media with that of a licensed cottage industry, which even if made public, remains a huge compromise. Even if we hand over the media to individuals, it will more so become a site of mockery by the professional media producers as it will clearly show that the masses do not know how to use the media properly, thus proving them to be incapable to be able to articulate.

Enzensberger says that “not only this run counter to the results of the latest psychological and pedagogical research, but it can easily be seen to be a reactionary protective formulation; the “gifted” people are quite simply defending their territories.” He further says that the socialist who think that the masses cannot govern themselves are nothing but nationalist.

A Socialist Strategy

Any socialist strategy for media firstly need to remove the isolation of the individuals from the learning and production process of the media itself. The idea of having an open media is not just easy exchange of information but also instigating higher level of learning and involvement in the process. All this demands a higher and mature level of organization of the media. Availability of the media is something Enzensberger questions in his paper. He adds, “by producing aggressive forms of publicity which were their own, the masses could secure evidence of their daily experiences and draw effective lessons from them.” The bourgeoisie society contradicts this belief by raising the issue as a threat to data privacy—official and commercial secrecy. The author says that only a “collective and organized effort can tear down such paper walls.”

Once the media achieves the right level of freedom, it will work as a platform for redefining individualism into a “new kind of political self understanding and behavior.” However, what is the right level of freedom is something which is not clearly defined. It is like questioning, how good is good.

Another thesis maintains that the present-day capitalism “lives by the exploitation of unreal needs.” However, this is the best of the half-truth. The “consumer terror” is more related to or corresponds to the “prejudices of the middle class.” The mass consumption is based on the falsification of the consumer needs, and a socialist movement is required to understand these needs seriously and make them “politically productive.” Enzensberger further adds that the socialist and their regimes themselves becomes an accomplice of the system they have undertaken to fight by rejecting the needs of the masses on grounds of falsification.

In short, for the emancipatory use of media, we need to decentralize the system, mobilize the masses, and introduce a participation and feedback.

The Subversive Power of the New Media

Everyone in the international class struggle recognizes the underlying power of media. Frantz Fanon, a French psychiatrist, philosopher, and revolutionary said that the transistor receiver was one of the most important weapons in the third world’s fight for freedom. Through this statement, we come to know about the immense potential of media. There are enormous political and cultural energies hidden in the masses. With their imagination and freedom, they can harness the opportunities offered by the new media.

Enzensberger considers Walter Benjamin as the most prescient harbinger of the potential that new media encompass. Benjamin predicted media’s liberating and destructive powers. He outlines the reciprocal correlation between the author and the masses: the former should be the agent of the latter, while the masses need to become authors themselves.” Enzensberger adds that the apolitical groups have shown much more radical progress in dealing with media than any political group, be it Leftist or Marxists. This is further proven in the understanding of media by Marshall McLuhan. He saw media as the extension of man, which—the extension thesis—alters the patterns of interdependence among people, as it alters the
ratios among our senses. He proclaimed that “new
forms of media transform our experience of ourselves and our society, and this
influence is ultimately more important than the content that is transmitted in its
specific messages.” In other words, all technologies are
extensions of our powers and capabilities. Our technologies are means of enhancing
or amplifying a particular function that has use to us – whether for good or for bad
(extensions and amputations).”

McLuhan’s “medium is message” transmits yet another message, and indeed an important one. It tell us that the bourgeoisie does indeed have all possible means at its disposal to communicate, but the fact is it has nothing more left to say. Enzensberger says that it is ideologically sterile and incapable of making any appropriate use of media.

The Achievement of Benjamin

The idea of the self-sufficient work of art collapsed long ago.” Enzensberger talks about the work of Benjamin:

One might generalize by saying: the technique of reproduction detaches the reproduced object from the domain of tradition. By making many reproductions it substitutes a plurality of copies for a unique existence and in permitting the reproduction to meet the beholder or listener in his own particular situation, it reactivates the object reproduced. These two processes lead to a tremendous shattering of tradition which is the obverse of the contemporary crisis and renewal of mankind. Both processes are intimately connected with the contemporary mass movements. The most powerful agent is the film. Its social significance, particularly in its most positive form, is inconceivable without its destructive, cathartic aspect, that is, the liquidation of the traditional value of the cultural heritage.”

For the first time in world history, mechanical reproduction emancipates the work of art from its parasitical dependence on ritual. To an ever greater degree the work of art reproduced becomes the work of art designed for reproducibility … But the instant the criterion of authenticity ceases to be applicable to artistic production, the total function of art is reversed. Instead of being based on ritual, it begins to be based on another practice—politics …”

Supersession of Written Culture and Desacralization of Art

Towards the end of the essay, Enzensberger talks about the “deeper theoretical positioning.” He says that without the conscious manipulation, the use of the new media is inconceivable. This puts forth a challenge to printed word. The author becomes a part of a group who produce the new media.

The new media create programs. They, to a certain extent pose a challenge the old category of works of art as objects. The “author” as such falls into this old category. “In order not to lose his or her expertise yet overcome the elitism inherent in the role, he/she must engage in reciprocal labor with the masses.” In the process, the specialist will learn as much or more from the non-specialists as the other way round. Only then one can contrive to make oneself dispensable to a field or domain.

Open for Discussion

Many of the observations which Enzensberger has made in the essay have been realized. Media has transformed into a role of a producer/creator, well almost. What I want to put forward for discussion is that if we apply the term ‘politics’ in its broadest sense, what sort of politics are today’s new media capable of subverting or is subverting for that matter. Also, how is digitization of media helping people to transform from non-specialists to specialist, is the media helping them to be dispensable or still is concentrating the power into the hands of bourgeoisie?

Fact: “This essay, written in 1969 during immense political activism in West Germany and France, called for the grasping of the media both from its reactionary artistic experimenters and the socialist bureaucracies. Since then we have seen abuses and progressive distortions of the media, yet the ideas in this and other essays afford Marxists working weapons in their struggles.”


  • Contemporaries include Günter Grass (born in 1927), Martin Walser (1927) and Jürgen Habermas (1929).
  • The Consciousness Industry, On Literature, Politics and the Media, A Continuum Book, The Seabury Press, New York, Edition 1974
  • The Consciousness Industry, Essay The Industrialization of Mind, Hans Magnus Enzensberger, 1974
  • Bertoit Brecht, Theory of Radio (1932), Gesammelte Werke, Band VIII, pp, 129 ff, 134



*^ Contemporaries include Günter Grass (born in 1927), Martin Walser (1927) and Jürgen Habermas (1929).

1The Consciousness Industry, On Literature, Politics and the Media, A Continuum Book, The Seabury Press, New York, Edition 1974

3The Consciousness Industry, Essay The Industrialization of Mind, Hans Magnus Enzensberger, 1974

4 Content taken from

5Bertoit Brecht, Theory of Radio (1932), Gesammelte Werke, Band VIII, pp, 129 ff, 134


Posted in Media | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Learning, Cognition, and Conditioning – Pavlov’s Experiment

This blog is aimed at studying the fundamental contribution of Pavlov.

Pavlov’s Experiment: Definition of the terms

  1. Unconditional Stimulus (US): A stimulus that biologically elicits a reflex and does that unconditionally and reliably
  2. Unconditional Response (UR): biologically elicited reflect
  3. Conditional Stimulus (CS): A stimulus when paired with an unconditional stimulus still generates an unconditional response.
  4. Conditional Response (CR): A stimulus that elicits on a conditional stimulus.

Temporal Relations Between Unconditional Stimulus and Conditional Stimulus

One of the primary law of association is contiguity, which means that any two ideas will get associated if they occur in the brain at the same time. Connecting this with Pavlov’s experiment, it simply means that a stimulus generates some activity in the brain, which he calls as “center of activity in the cerebrum.” If the centers are regularly activated together, they will become linked, so that when one center is activated, other will be automatically activated.

To understand this further, let us explore the temporal relations between US and CS.

First Relation:

From the law of contiguity, it occurs that both US and CS should occur simultaneously – exact simultaneous presentation. It that happens, there is a certain time lack before CS begins, which makes our conditioning weak (weak conditioning.)

Second Relation:

If the CS begins slightly before the US, it thus support the law of contiguity. This means, CS should precede the US. And for CS to become effective, it should act as a signal to the organism.

Third Relation: (Compound stimulus)

If CS starts before the US, say 30 seconds before and overlaps US on the onset, is results in delay conditioning. However, the result of this is astonishing. The dog salivates first at the response of the musical tone (CS), then stops for a while and again salivates till the US (food) arrives. Basically, this suggest that time itself can act as a CS eliciting the salivation (CR). In the experiment, it was a compound stimulus of the musical tone and certain passage of time, which elicited a conditional response.

Compound Conditioning

In compound conditioning, Pavlov uses 2 conditional stimulus at the same time. This experiment is based on one of the old law of association, the law of vividness. The law states that a given vivid idea automatically corresponds with the concurrent vivid ideas and overlook/neglect the weak ideas. Pavlov took two CSs – light and tone and one US – food. He studied that if both the CSs are presented with an equal intensity,  or presented alone, it will elicit a CR.

However, if one is greater in the intensity, then, only the more vivid one would elicit a response. This phenomenon, wherein one CS of the compound is much more powerful than the other is call OVERSHADOWING.

Excitation and Inhibition

The conditioning of a distinct positive response, such a salivation is called conditioning of excitation.

On returning to delayed conditioning, one can witness inhibition. Let us understand this further. In delayed conditioning, after several pairing of the CS-US, CR occurs only at the end of the CS and the beginning of the anticipated time of the US. Why the CR disappears at the start of the CS and then appears at the later stage? According to Pavlov, the answer to this was “inhibition.” He suggested that if we introduce a new CS, say a flash of light, before the CR appears, that is, during the much earlier stages of the CS, it invokes a CR, which in this case is salivation. Now, if the earlier CS and the CR had been completely disconnected, the light would not have caused a CR. “The unexpected appearance of the salivation when the light flashed during the CS indicated to Pavlov that the light interfered with the cortical process, specifically, inhibition, thus releasing the suppressed CR to the tone.

Pavlov distinguished several kinds of inhibitions, of which extinction is the most important one. When we present an established CS alone, without further reinforcement; the CR occurs for a while, fades out, and finally falls to zero. It is plausible to say here that the CS has been disassociated from the CR, even that the CS is no longer a CS but a neutral stimulus, and there is no CR—the reflex has literally extinguished. The neutral stimulus could be any event that does not result in an overt behavioral response from the organism under investigation.

Further investigations related that it is not the case. The CS-CR association is still present only inhibited by the extinction procedure. To take this further, if we remove the animal for some time, say 20 minutes, and then present the conditional stimulus again, CR (salivation) will appear. The reflex is recovered, which means that the reflex was not unlearned by extinction, but was actively inhibited. It also indicates that inhibition is a temporary state abating with time.

Let’s look at another evidence for this above argument. If the extinction goes well beyond the point at which zero salvation occurs , presenting the CS over and over again, additional unreinforced pairings will have no effect. Pavlov found that the longer extinction continued past zero, the longer it took for the CR to spontaneously recover, indicating that additional reinforced  pairing deepened and so prolonged the inhibition of the CR.

Higher Order Conditioning

If we take an established CS (CS1) and pair it with a new CS (CS2), the CR might be elicited in the right conditions. Pavlov called this as secondary conditional reflex. The building of a new CS on old CSs is called Higher Order Conditioning.

Now, if CS2 appears before CS1, not overlapping, a CR will be elicited. However, if CS2 overlaps CS1, then the conditional response is inhibited – conditional inhibition occurs. So, in this case, salvation will occur at CS1. However, no salvation will occur on the compound stimulus (CS1 + CS2). This is because the reflex is inhibited by the presence of CS2.

The question here also arises that how far we can push the higher order conditioning. HOC cannot be pushed further than secondary conditioning and defensive conditioning cannot go beyond the third-order conditioning. TILL NOW, PAVLOV’S FINDING HAS NOT BEEN OVERTURNED.

Generalization and Discrimination

Another law of association is similarity. This means similar ideas are easily associated. Conditional response not only occurs for the trained CS but also for similar CSs. For example, if the dog is trained to salivate at the tone of 1000 cycles per second, he will salivate if the similar tone is presented from near or farther (above or below). In summary, CR will occur for the related tones. Closer the CS to the original tone, CR will be elicited. Farther the CS from the original tone, CR will fade.

The extension of a CR to stimuli similar to the CS is called generalization. The gradual weakening of the CR as the test stimuli increasing differ from the CS is called generalization gradient. Having understood this, let us now look at creating a stimulus discrimination.

We can set excitation and inhibition against one another, thus generating a stimulus discrimination. Let’s taken an example here to understand this further. Suppose we condition salivation to a CS (let’s call is CS+) of a luminous circle on the screen before the dog’s eye. Now, let us begin varying the size and present ellipses varying from near circular to extreme ellipses (CS-). We will notice that generalization gradient will occur. Now, let us present extreme ellipses without reinforcing it, we will notice that inhibition starts building up for the extreme ellipses. We have created a stimulus discrimination. The dog will now respond to CS+, but will not respond to CS-. Now, if we make the successive (CS-) more and more circular, the generalization gradient of excitation and inhibition will begin to clash, thus giving way for antagonistic tendencies in the dog.

Pavlovian Conditioning of Humans:

Behaviorists eagerly adopted Pavlov’s method, because based on this experiments, they had a chance to study human behavior objectively. John. B. Watson was the first American Phsychologist who actually took Pavlov’s study and applied it to human behavior. Waston is also known as the originators of behaviorism in this respect. He began studying the behavior of children, as well, concluding that humans were simply more complicated than animals but operated on the same principles. All animals, he believed, were extremely complex machines that responded to situations according to their “wiring,” or nerve pathways that were conditioned by experience.

There are enormous data available on Watson’s research and Pavlovian connectivity. Let us for now move to the associative theory of Pavlovian Conditioning.

Associative Theory of Pavlovian Conditioning:

Stimulus Substitution Theory:

The Pavlovian theory of substitution conceives substitution as a substitution of the unconditioned stimulus (US) by the conditioned stimulus (CS) in the activation of the representation of the former.

Stimulus substitution is also known as reflect transfer account.

The theory is based on an assumption that UR and CR are identical or nearly identical responses. Per associationism, stimulus substitution holds that even if US and CS are paired, association will not happen between them. Infact association will happen with CR+UR. Now, we can replace UR with CR as they are identical or nearly identical. So, Pavlovian conditioning involves S-R learning (stimulus-response learning) between CS and CR, not S-S learning (stimulus-substitution learning) between CS and US.

This theory made five claims that have proven controversial. I will discuss each claim in my upcoming blog.

  1. Nature of the association: Stimulus substitution theory holds that the association acquired during conditioning is between the CS and the CR it evokes.
  2. Cause of association: The sole cause of association between CS and CR is the close contiguity between CS and CR.
  3. Specificity of the CS: The cue that evokes the CR is the CS alone.
  4. CR-UR equivalence: The CR is essentially the same as the UR, differing at most only in quantity, not in behavioral form.
  5. Equipotentiality: The nature of the CS is irrelevant to learning; any stimulus the animal can perceive can become CS through pairing with any US.

Reference: Learning and Cognition, Thomas Hardy Leahy and Richard Jackson Harris, and other online references.

Posted in Learning and Cognition | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Fighting it Out

Make friends with you Migraine…

It begins with a dull ache in the morning…when I get up all tired and soggy. .Eyes are heavy, heart missing a beat…legs don’t have energy, and I try and find my way to the restroom. I wash my face and look into the mirror. Feeling hollow and helpless. As if, the next minute I will die of this pain, and I pray to god, give me life. I want to breathe.

Times when I am lying on the floor, dying in pain, hoping and praying hard it goes, or it kills me in one shot..but be on one side…and it never listens. Somehow, I gather the strength after few hours of fight with it, and…I find my way through the hectic life. At the back of my mind…still praying and hoping against hope it goes away. This has been the story so far, until I realized, if I want to live, I need to make friends with the pain- a pain called migraine-which is beyond comprehension of human mind, I believe. An invisible tiny element in your brain, which changes your days, your existence, the way you want to live, the way you want to eat, want to sleep- everything; leaving you with a question- why me? You never know when it will strike and you live under constant threat of being a victim, normally, at times when you just don’t want to be one.

It has been 16 years or may be more.  I feel there is no remedy for it until one learns to make friends with it. And the start of this friendship is acceptance. The great divide between being normal and being in pain- we need to fill this up by accepting that we will live with this, till the time it doesn’t want to go.

There is no topomax, sumpatrian, injections, anything that will help. The only remedy that is probably staying happy and staying positive. Yes eating the right food, doing exercise, following a nice easy routine all add. However, by end of day, it is a game that you need to play with it, and like all games, it requires sportmanship and mind to conquer.

More to come…

Posted in Migraine | Tagged | Leave a comment