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Earlier this week, Oculus VR, a company that has been producing Virtual Reality headsets to developers and other enthusiasts with the intent to release it to the public at a later date announced it would get purchased by Facebook. Many people on the internet have expressed their displeasure of Facebook purchasing Oculus. I want to take a brief look at these things through the lens of semiotics, focusing on the form of Kickstarter and how it influenced these behaviors.  I don’t have an Oculus Rift.

Two years ago, Oculus allowed individuals to support the company by engaging in a Kickstarter. Kickstarter is an interesting design because of the relationship that forms as a result between the the individual or company requesting money and the the person contributing money. This forms the Kickstarter address and its form. Kickstarter’s design has an interesting addressee. The addressee for Kickstarter are these individuals who want to support visions and want to make changes to their world by contributing money and effort. While choosing to purchase a product at a store also supports the company in a similar way. The key difference between these two examples is that the Kickstarter’s design highlights this support and vision-making. Kickstarter Backers have bought into this vision that the individual or company is proposing.

Kickstarter has several design features that allow its form to support this distinct relationship. First and the most important is forcing the creator to create a video for their proposal. These video tend to have the individuals speaking to the viewer and arguing on why they should support their cause. One could go deeper into the semiotics of just Kickstarter videos. Another form that kickstarters tend to have are updates. Creators can create updates throughout the duration the campaign which encourages a dialog between the backers and the creator as the project moves forward. As I mentioned, there is also a duration aspect to kickstarter which encourages a sense of urgency to both the backers and the creator. If they don’t make the money in the amount of time, they will not receive any of it and their vision will not succeed. Another aspect of the form of the Kickstarter is that the total amount of money is displayed publicly to the world. It creates excitement by allowing users see how they get closer and closer to their goals by putting the current amount just above the amount that is being requested. Finally, Oculus announced its kickstarter in a time period of huge excitement for Kickstarter. To many at the time, Kickstarter was very novel and this created a strong excitement around this device.

 

Originally, I was going to talk about the other aspects of this through the Semiotics lens, but this blog post is getting a little long so I might do another blog post later.

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On page 612 of Jeffrey Bardzell’s article, Interaction Criticism: An Introduction to the Practice, he quotes Lev Manovich and theory of transcoding in New Media.  Transcoding means “the principle that computer files have both a computer layer and a cultural layer”  (612).

When I read this quote (and I believe I read some of Manovich’s work when I was in Christians Briggs’s class, cause I know the theory of transcoding from somewhere), it reminded me of the video posted above from BuzzFeed.  Photoshop is used as an example in Jeff’s article, so I will not repeat what he said here.  What I want to focus on is the cultural layer of this video.

We often see models on the covers of magazines and automatically think, that is not the way he or she looks in real life, they have been Photoshopped.  It is said these magazines and the practice of retouching photos to make people appear perfect has lead to increased instances of body dysmorphic disorder.  What makes this video so different is that it shows the reactions of women after they have been put in the model’s situation and have photos of them altered, in order to meet what is called perfect.  The reactions show they do no like what they look like, stating it does not look like them — going against everything these magazine covers are trying to show.  Maybe the cultural layer of Photoshop should be seen more as making things unreal rather than improving photographs.