Posted by: soniahs | August 26, 2010

Exam reading: “Language of new media”

Well, class started this week- I have no idea what the historical basis is for starting school in Florida in the middle of August when it’s 95 degrees out and there’s 90% humidity. It’s bizarre: it makes our “Spring Break” a winter vacation. Maybe it’s because August is one of the only months without a national holiday (Florida is stingy about state holidays– I miss Hawaii, where we got at least one day off a month.)

Anyway, to business: in this exam reading, I tackle Lev Manovich’s “Language of New Media.” The rest of my books came in this week, so I have a big stack of them staring at me. Moving on quickly…

Summary: In this book, Manovich discusses new media in the context of visual media (especially cinema) and computer cultures. “New media” are computer-based, but more specifically: data are numerically represented, objects are composed of modular parts, functions are automated, both data and structures are variable (e.g., updatable, scalable, customizable), and viewable in multiple formats (transcoded). It is not enough for a medium to be computer-based, digital, interactive; it has to have the former properties to be “new media.” Manovich discusses four key aspects of new media in detail: interfaces, operations, illusions, and architectural elements. “Interfaces” are important because the mediate the human interaction with the database; constraints on interface design include print and cinema conventions, as well as general computer-interface conventions (e.g., tensions between icons vs. work surfaces). There are three “operations” that characterize new media: selection of ready-made parts from a database, which are then composited into an object; and teleaction, realtime action at a distance. The “illusions” he discusses are primarily the move toward photorealism in computer animation; the important characteristics of such images that differentiate them from photography are that they are moving, and non-iconic. Finally, the “architectural elements” (my term) he discusses are databases and virtual spaces. These are important because they are cultural forms newly characteristic of new media.

Comments: Manovich’s background is in cinema, and much of his theoretical discussion is centered on theories of visuality. He also discusses how cinema has both influenced and been changed by new media. Since that’s not my main focus, I’m skipping this material here, but one could certainly read this book while paying more attention to the visual material. A comment on databases: M. states that the virtual world is composed of data structures and algorithms, but does not infer a rhetorical or political motivation for such things (unlike Brooke). For M., politics seems to enter into the process at a later level, during selection, compositing, and teleaction.

Links to: Brooke (M’s “death of rhetoric”); Benjamin (visual media, concepts of aura & flaneur); Gee (gaming; G. discusses learning with games, while M. focuses on the overall forms)

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