Mediated Matter – Mass Media, Organic Growth & Modified Environments



Mass Media constructs realities based on specific sets of codes and conventions determined by the nature of each Medium.  Advances in media technology combined with new approaches in physical design and manufacturing means that these constructed  realities can now manifest in the material environment.  When these constructed realities emulate organic forms and growth, a potential hybrid of virtual reality and the physical environment has the potential to come into existence.




The Mediated Matter group focuses on Nature-inspired Design and Design-inspired Nature. Conducting research at the intersection of computational design, digital fabrication, materials science and synthetic biology and apply that knowledge to design across scales from the micro scale to the building scale,  they create biologically inspired and engineered design fabrication tools and technologies and structures aiming to enhance the relation between natural and man-made environments. Their research field, entitled Material Ecology, integrates computational form-finding strategies with biologically inspired fabrication. This design approach enables the mediation between objects and environment; between humans and objects; and between humans and environment. Their goal is to enhance the relation between natural and man-made environments by achieving high degrees of design customization and versatility, environmental performance integration and material efficiency.


Seeking to establish new forms of design and novel processes of material practice at the intersection of computer science, material engineering, design and ecology, with broad applications across multiple scales, they are  breaking through the wall between Media constructed realities and  the physical environment, emulating organic growth & forms in a virtual environment and then replicating these as physical environmental elements.




Volkswagen Devil Logo – What Stays in the Dog Park


volkswagen devil logo

An ironic logo combines with a pet owner’s  bumper sticker ( I spotted this while on a family outing ) to make a social commentary about the Volkswagen Emission Standards Software Scandal.  As that little devil says, “what happens in the dog park, stays in the dog park”.  Unfortunately, the company’s dog-poo has come  back with a vengeance.

VW Sham

Meanwhile, “A new website called is selling magnetic bumper stickers bearing anti-VW slogans, such as “Another VW? No tanks,” “VW took me for a ride,” and “VW. German for FU.” Each magnet costs $7.50, with 5% of sales going to the International Council for Clean Transportation, according to the site.” ( Source Link )

Besides the impact this scandal will have on Volkswagen, the German economy and general attitudes towards vehicle technology, this revelation demonstrates how our culture, and the economy that sustains it, is all about information and controlling it. 

Volkswagen designed and used software to manipulate data. It sought to control information to enhance the marketability of their products. When this came to light it creates a wave of distrust that taints not only the information it provided to its target audience, but also information coming from other sources, companies and independent agencies. This is not dissimilar to the public’s distrust of government agencies and political messages; all become tarred with the same brush.

Notice it is  a company that aligns itself with the aggrieved consumer, giving them a way of communicating their frustrations and sense of betrayal, that attempts to capitalize on the scandal.  Recognizing that giving  the target audience a means to express themselves in such a way that the consumer’s personal message is directly connected to the product causing the frustration ( devaluing the consumer’s self-image) is very effective understanding of an information & messaging mass media dominant culture.

It will be interesting to see how Volkswagen, the car industry and other stakeholders try to  control the flow of information and how the public with respond to these attempts. In the meantime, those who understand the cultural need to interact and express ideas & feelings through various mass media platforms have an opportunity capitalize financially/socially.


Sudbury photo blogger aims to highlight need for cycling infrastructure – Sudbury – CBC News

Sudbury photo blogger, Matt Alexander, is using photo manipulation and social media to highlight the lack of cycling infrastructure within this Northern Ontario city of  over 160,000. Mass Media constructs reality and contains values, beliefs and ideologies. By presenting  over a hundred images of cyclists with their bicycles removed Alexander hopes to use humour and  strong visual images to create a dialogue about the lack of infrastructure for this mode of transportation in the city of  Sudbury. 

Statistics  indicate a low use of bikes by workers in the city, but then lack of infrastructure impedes or restricts their efficiency.  No mention is made in the online  article of students in either  post secondary  institutions or youth.

Click the above  images to visit Invisible Bike Lanes of Sudbury. Check the link below to listen to the full Radio interview on Morning North.


Source: Sudbury photo blogger aims to highlight need for cycling infrastructure – Sudbury – CBC News

Alberta Rethink Your Advertising

Now here is a gift of a lesson.  We have environmental issues, geography, tourism, economics, media literacy, advertising and propaganda, Canadian and World News, indigenous cultures and First Nations  media technology, and of course media principles.  You could even throw in mathematics and science. So lets take a look at the course material that has been provided by the Alberta Government, CBC, and the RETHINK ALBERTA campaign.

Background Information: July 2, 2010 a letter from Alberta Premier Ed Stelmach that emphasized the benefits of Alberta’s  oilsands industry to the United States was published  in a paid half-page advertisement in the Washington Post.The letter had been rejected as an opinion piece for the editorial page. The province paid $55,800 to place the ad.

Corporate Ethics International, an American based group launched a campaign against “the Alberta Tar Sands Disaster” on Wednesday July 14, 2010.  The campaign included billboards in four U.S. cities  and an online component that included a video that was also avail able on YouTube .

The groups involved include:

The Calumet Project– a church based group from Indiana

The Business Ethics Network– “the largest network of corporate campaign organizations North America”  (their claim)

EARTHWORKS Mission – a non-profit organization

Friends of the Earth Canada (FoE)

ForestEthics – a nonprofit environmental organization

Global Community Monitor – trains and supports communities in the use of environmental monitoring tools

Polaris Institute – “enable citizen movements to re-skill and re-tool themselves to fight for democratic social change’ (their claim)


Rainforest Action Network (RAN) – headquartered in San Francisco

July 16, 2010 Rethink Alberta admits that the 90-second video that said oilsands development in Alberta is destroying an area twice the size of England was incorrect. The size is the same as England, not twice the size.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010 Greenpeace demonstrators rappelled from the Calgary Tower on Tuesday, unfurling a banner denouncing what they say is a too-close relationship between the oilsands industry and the Alberta  government.

Thursday, August 5, 2010 Alberta Government responded to the negative advertisements with $268,000-campaign running in  the Winnipeg Free Press newspaper.  Advertisements in American newspapers were also run.

Monday, August 9, 2010  The  polling company Angus Reid reports that the Rethink video has had a  significant impact on public opinion.

Media Productions to consider with students:

The Billboard

The Video

Video Messages from the Alberta government can be found at: Government of Alberta on YouTube

Alberta’s Oil Sands and a variety of tourism videos can be found Travel Alberta, Canada

Here is a sample of two videos from Alberta government sanctioned sites:

Evaluation and discussion topics to consider with your students:

1. Consider the uses of AIDA, claims, and appeals.

2. What is the difference between advertising, public service messages, and propaganda ?

3. What are the biases ?

4. Basic Media Principles: What is the business interest ?  Go beyond oil companies and consider the opposing point of view.

Who is the target audience ?

How is the message shaped / reality constructed ?

What are the codes and conventions used in the different videos ?   How do these differences affect the viewer ?

What are the intended values and beliefs ?

Are there unintended messages ?

Notes to educatorsBesides the media literacy  potential there is a lot information and misinformation that could be related to other subject areas. Environmental science and statistical studies are two obvious ones. The unintentional errors or mistakes in presented data leads to lessons in research methods and accuracy.

A Final Observation: What struck me as significant in terms of media was how out of touch the Alberta government appears to be in their response.  They fall back on print media and public announcements to news outlets . They have their own channel on YouTube and encourage social media use, but they have failed to create an effective positive emotional message to counter the effective one created by Rethink.  Newsprint is not going to carry their message effectively. Depending on which side of the issue you tend to be, that is either a good thing or a serious problem.