A Funny Triumvirate: New Media, Anxiety and Humour

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Our relationship with media technologies has been described in terms of bodily extensions, exterior aids or prostheses by commentators like Marshall McLuhan, Walter Ong, and Jean-Francois Lyotard. The use of the term prosthetic leads to connotations of the media filling some severe need or overcoming some lack or shortcoming. According to Ong, these media “technologies are not mere exterior aids but also interior transformations of consciousness”. Further, Landow argues that these transformations carry with them “resentment of the device one needs, resentment at one’s own need and guilt, and a Romantic dislike of the artificiality of the device that answers one’s needs”. In short, our relationship with media technologies generates anxiety.

The psychological value of humour is the reduction of anxiety. However, Waldeck argues that “the comic experience is closely linked with the reduction of low level anxiety” where elevated levels of anxiety “greatly impair the ability to appreciate humour”. Just how much technology anxiety do we feel? Can we laugh at or with our computer?

The writing of comedy has been considered in a raft of ‘how-to’ books that suggest strategies, structures and rules of comedy. Frequently, these books present taxonomic lists of styles of humour that attempt to define comic genres.

This paper explores the relationship between styles of humour and our affective reaction to media technology. Are particular genres of humour more suited to dealing with the media technology anxiety? And, can this understanding provide a basis for developing comic, interactive, intelligent agents?


Keywords: New Media, Humour, Technology Anxiety, Taxonomy of Comedy, Computer Humour
Stream: Media Arts Practices: Television, Multimedia, Digital, Online and Other New Media
Presentation Type: Paper Presentation in English
Paper: A paper has not yet been submitted.


Dr. Michael M. Meany

Lecturer, School of Design
Communication and IT, The University of Newcastle

Newcastle, NSW, Australia

Michael Meany is a lecturer in communication at the University of Newcastle, Australia. Michael's background includes careers as a freelance writer; a typesetter and web designer; and as a playwright. His Master of Creative Arts, titled 'A playwright’s toolkit – The Instruments, Tools and Agency of a Playwright in the Creative Writing Process', drew on this cross-disciplinary life experience. His research interests include: script writing; humour; intelligent agents; and, narrative/interactive media design.

Ref: A09P0030