Jussi Parikka’s What is Media Archaeology? is a search into the different genres of media today, as well as digging into past forms of media before technology had advanced to the level at which it is in the new millennium. One fascinating subject which Jussi Parikka discusses in What is Media Archaeology? is the concept of Imaginary Media. As Parikka discusses in the chapter, Imaginary Media is many things and is represented in many ways. It is certainly related to Media Archaeology in regards to how it is a practice of “doing old media”. Imaginary Media takes a look at past forms of media and cultural uses of technology and “imagines the possibilities of other pasts and futures”. In other words, observing the ideas and uses for technology people came up with and looking at why ideas were kept and maximized upon, and why others were discarded. How would the narrative of media history be different if people pursued other media and technological endeavors? Parrikka explains that this study is unique because it is “outside linear media history.” What kind of alternate futures would be possible if different technology were pursued and made useful by past cultures?
Likewise, Imaginary Media is also a study of the communication of society. It looks at the aspirations and dreams of a time period and society to push the boundaries of technology. For example, time machines, tele-porters, early versions of the cell phones and transmittance, anything that was imagined on Star Trek in the 1960s or in War of the Worlds at the turn of the 20th century or in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is Imaginary Media. The sacred and profound theory behind this is how the visionary, creative imagination of science fiction writers seem to inspire the coming true of this technology. In the Star Trek episodes of the 1960s, viewers saw William Shatner, speaking into his mobile device to send messages of intelligence back to the Enterprise. Thirty years later, cell phones were the mainstream. We should be able to get a look at more modern science fiction movies like The Matrix and see where society is headed in the realm of Imaginary Media.
There is also a paranormal side related to the concept of Imaginary Media. A big reason why is because in the olden days magic was an easy answer for the unexplained and unfamiliar inventions. Parikka discusses on page 49, “…imaginary media afforded an analysis of communication with divinities… and of communication with spirits, as during the nineteenth-century conflation of technical media with the practices of mediums’ communication with the dead, extending even to Thomas A. Edison’s interest in machines that reach to the afterlife…”
Another branch of Imaginary Media involves products of its artful rendering. Through compilations, “images, metaphors, iconography”, and narratives that send a message are ways that Imaginary Media can impact its audience. Its inspirations come from schizophrenic psychiatric patients to mathematicians (Parikka, 49). Parikka goes on to discuss more in Imaginary Media’s relation to a spiritual medium. He defines the term “Media Zombies” which is “hearing the recorded voice of a deceased person” (Parikka, 61). The radio can be seen as a medium and inspiration for summoning and transmitting a presence that would otherwise not be there. Parikka mentions Kittler’s argument that “the ghostliness of media was an index of how communication had itself fled from the human body” (Parikka, 61). Parikka illustrates this concept articulately on pages 58-59,
“Indeed, what is important to note is that the discourses of and interest in the paranormal were not that easily separable from the new sciences if electromagnetism, or the new technologies of telegraphy and other forms of long-distance communication. As John Durham Peters writes, ‘Though one might be amused at extreme forms of the enthusiasm to connect mediumless communication to deep metaphysical interests, early radio history is inseparable from daring imaginings about the flight of souls, voices without bodies, and instantaneous presence at a distance. Dreams of bodiless contact were a crucial condition not only of popular discourse, but of technical invention as well.'”
Parikka also argues that “New media have constantly been imagined as media of mind control” (Parikka, 57). People are bombarded with advertisements which can influence the way people think and what they think about.
Ultimately, Imaginary Media, in today’s contexts, can “define the boundaries of our thoughts” and is “the dream life of technology” (Parikka, 55,52). It explores the possibilities past, present, and future, and the philosophies that lie within its sciences. Furthermore, it relates to material studied in transmedia fiction. The basis of Imaginary Media is creating and envisioning new works and innovative technology related ideas. It engages users, players ,and an audience. Works of interactive fiction could fall under this category, as well as other artistically rendered, digital pieces which are being studied in Transmedia Fiction. Yet a common thread which runs through a lot of creative works of Imaginary Media, is the echoing back to prior forms of imaginative technology, or explorations into paranormal uncertainty, and just different takes on the conventional uses of technology all together, which makes Imaginary Media artistic.
For further reading on Imaginary Media: