Friederich Kittler “The History of Communication Media”

cc March 8th 2009

The goal of Kittler’s article is to outline a scientific history of the media. Herein he proposes to analyze communication systems in as information systems to tackle the methodological (defining communication in relation to certain times and spaces)l and practical problems (the documentation) of discussing the history of communication technologies. Kittler’s criticism of the formal model of communication by Shannon (implied to have been enabled by the mechanization of communication systems) is, however, that it lays no claim to historicity, hence cannot be applied to the factual history of communication technology.

In the transition from orality to the written word Kittler finds that the decoupling of interaction and communication took place. The transition from writing to the technical media, in turn, led to the separation of communication and information. Thus Kittler concludes that the history of communication media can be divided into two blocks: the history of writing (subdivided in script and printing) and technical media.

The introduction of script led to the decoupling of communication an information. Herein the signals were without the source of the information. Furthermore writing, due to physical variables, dictates the space and time frame of the communication – other than in orality.

Technical Media

The flow of electromagnetic waves in telegraphy substantiated the break information from communication. This is also linked to a detachment from the ground. In turn this “information time made discrete” led to inventions such as the telephone, gramophone record and film. These developments, paradoxically, processed continuous signal sources. It was digital technologies that made human intervention obsolete and prescribed an automation of a general standard (the binary number system) that regulated the control and translation of the technologies .

It is then pointed out that the history of communication will come to an end when signal processing reaches the physical limits of feasibility. With what logic? “From Freud to McLuhan the classic answer to this was a generic subject – humanity which before of an indifferent or interferent natural world would have externalised first its motor and sensory interface, and finally its intelligence, in technical prosthetics.”

In conclusion Kittler addresses the possible omission in Shannon’s information theory of “reference to the individual or to mankind,” fundamental in the understanding of communication by Locke. [In the introduction] Kittler proved critical of Locke’s philosophy because how people arrive at ideas and conceptions without language (returning to the methodological problem of defining “communication” across and in certain times and locations). In extension of the omission Kittler concludes, “Without reference to the individual or to mankind, communication technologies will have overhauled each other until finally an artificial intelligence proceeds to the intelligences in space.”

Terms defined:

Codex: Bound book
Entropy: (communication theory) a numerical measure of the uncertainty of an outcome; “the signal contained thousands of bits of information” –

Interrelated questions with respect to the article:
How does Kittler conceive of intelligence media? How is this articulated in the way in which he approaches the history of communication media? What er the payoffs an pitfalls of his methodology?


~ by karinvanes on March 5, 2009.

One Response to “Friederich Kittler “The History of Communication Media””

  1. Reasoning on intelligence media on the day Barack Obama lifted the ban on federal funding for embryonic stem cell research with a promise to ‘never open the door to the use of cloning for human reproduction’ offers a fascinating departure point in addressing your question. However, since we have been reading a wealth of post-human philosophy in ‘Technobodies’ over the past few months (Haraway, Deleuze, Guattari, Braidotti), my perspective will deviate from a straightforward answer for a while.

    Kittler traces the history of communication media by drawing the thread HUMAN PERCEPTION ->PHYSICAL PROCESSES -> BEYOND PHYSICAL. Whereas writing has to do with ‘workaday language’ (5), technical media takes a further step by shaping a new language which deals with ‘sensory physiology’ (8), ‘unconscious media effects’ (8) and ultimately ‘rules out communication on communication’ (8). What becomes fundamental in this respect is a further evolution of media by virtue of digital technology and here important keywords are ‘scanning’ and ‘reconstruction’, which go beyond physical processes framed by space and time. Hence we come to face ‘beyond physical’ which I would link to your notion of intelligence media.

    Kittler warns that this process might signal the requiem to history of communication technologies and this is where I find Kittler’s stance confusing. Firstly, he emphasises the need to reference mankind in the methodology he develops, yet this is where end of history of communication stems from as with the shift of ‘beyond physical’ it becomes complicated to situate our antropocentric preconceptions. I think this is where Kittler implies that whichever follows history should be introduced here – in my view, it would be media philosophy, yet I am failing to grasp whether Kittler offers anything besides diagnosis (while I do understand the term ‘media philosophy’ is debatable, I think this is where looking at Deleuze, Latour, Haraway, Massumi and those following in their thought might be a good departure point precisely because their philosophy questions what is human (think – intelligence), machine and the mediated bastards conceived within their interaction).

    While Kittler concludes with the juxtaposition of ‘technical prosthetics’ (11) and ‘artificial intelligence’ (11), it seems to me that his referencing to humankind in the beyond physical stage in communication media is an underdeveloped project, somewhat reminiscent of the mood in Forster’s ‘The Machine Stops’ (1909), where the protagonist discovering himself back in the machine exclaims: ‘I was surrounded by artificial air, artificial light, artificial peace’ ( In other words, Kittler foresees the advent of intelligence media, but meets it only looking back to history. I wonder if media can be other than history – hence my intro to the response, revealing the frustration of humankind with history.

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