Transmedia, Wikipedia, Actor Network Theory
— Chris Rodley (@chrisrodley) May 2, 2015
The above tweet pointed me towards one of the oddest Wikipedia pages I’d seen since I spotted an innocuous ‘Jesus stole my sandwich’ at the bottom of a page that is no longer viewable. Here is the text from Wikipedia that Chris refers to in full below.
As mentioned before, Italian modernism redefined some classic design models into new, more functional products. Sacco’s design was aimed at mass-media consumption. Its light weight and flexible nature allowed easy shipping. The bean bag chair consisted of a leather exterior that at the same time was a vessel for polystyrene beds. The idea of the design was for the product to shape around the user. Therefore, following the ANT method, the user of the bean bag artifact became the integral part of the objects’ agency. In comparison, a classic ‘chair’ design, can still act as a chair without the user’s input. The network of such an object functions around the designer, producer, manufacturer and user, but for its agency (acting) does not need the user. Sacco on the other hand, cannot fully function as a chair without the user, as the user gives it the final shape. Thanks to its flexibility the object can act as a stool, futon or a pillow. Since it was not the aim of its design this would be considered an anti-program use of the object.
I am writing about this odd block in a Wikipedia page not only because it is entertaining but also because it allows me to examine a feature of interactive media. This passage is a perfect example of how audiences have different readings about objects and what they should do. I say this not only in the context of the use of a bean bag, but also the Wikipedia page about said bean bag. The passage refers to agency, a person can effect the agency of the chair by giving it a ‘final shape’. The exercise of shaping the bean bags agency by using it, not for its intended design but an anti-program use, say as a pillow etc. Likewise the Wikipedia page for the bean chair was probably never intended to showcase Actor Network Theory but somebody with a sense of humour (or perhaps not) has used it in an anti-program sense. This level of audience agency is the founding tenet of Wikipedia and comprises most of its content. Different actors have different rationalities for what Wikipedia should say and so its content is detailed but highly opinionated. Giving agency to the users creates an extremely devoted fan base. This is a major requirement of transmedia projects that rely on a highly motivated audience to move between discrete sections. A higher audience agency relieves the creators of a certain amount of control but can create an environment for deeper involvement.
Wikipedia pages can be changed by whoever edits them for their own purposes and people relish the opportunity to exercise their agency. A bean bag chair’s agency can be changed by whoever sits, stands or does whatever on them and people enjoy the resulting comfort.
Feature Photo “‘ Sacco” by Andrea Pavanello, Milano – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 it via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:%27_Sacco.jpg#/media/File:%27_Sacco.jpg