Discussing Lev Manovich’s “What Is New Media?”

I’m a little behind this week– I don’t know, maybe the Monday holiday has thrown me off, maybe the cold has slowed me down– so I’ll start the discussion threads for the other readings a little later today. Usually, I won’t, but like I said, a little behind….

Anyway, Manovich: Lev Manovich is kind of a big deal in the world of “new media” studies in large part as a result of his book The Language of New Media.  He’s both a computer science and a “creative media” kind of academic, too. I mention this for two reasons. First, he is not coming at this from the same disciplinary perspective of the other things we’re reading around definitions this week– that is, he’s not a composition and rhetoric or “English” department kind of person at all.  Keep that in mind as we keep up with Halbritter and move on to the essay from Lauer. Second, what we’re reading is kind of short version of his definition of “new media.”

I like the overall categories:  that is, new media has “numerical representation” (in the form of computer programs, etc.); it has “modularity” (this is something Halbritter talks about in chapter 2 of his book, btw); it has an element of “automation” to it; it has “variability” in that it is not forever fixed (like print, for example); and “transcoding,” which is to say that new media has a “logic” and perhaps even “appeal” to computers. All of these observations are obviously debatable but quite interesting.

11 thoughts on “Discussing Lev Manovich’s “What Is New Media?”

  1. Lisa Pignotti

    Admittedly, I have never looked up a definition for new media. I’ve had my perception of what it is, but never looked into it much. Manovich does a nice job at attempting to define it. The categories he uses seem open enough to incorporate many kinds of media, but narrow enough to clarify what is meant by “new.”

    I think his attempt to define new media beyond the use of a computer for “exhibition and distribution” and looking at the computer as “a tool for media production or as a media storage device” captures the potential for what can fall into this category.

    Reply
    1. Danielle

      I also appreciated the attempt to define it, but I found the reading itself rather dry. I did think his discussion of automation was interesting, especially the idea of “low level” and “high level” automation. I wonder what the programs we will be using in this class would be categorized as in this sense. “Low level” seems to refer to basic, common knowledge about using a computer or program, whereas “high level” seems to refer to more complex computer knowledge such as coding.

      Reply
    2. Tracey Sonntag

      Here’s what struck me: new media can be described mathematically. That’s kind of mind-blowing for someone who considers herself to be very computer-literate, very technologically adept, and yet horrible at math. I also enjoyed the portions talking bout artificial intelligence, and how we’re seeing more and more of it–and not just in computer games! For example, I think you could think of spellcheck as a form of AI, and Word’s gawd-awful “smart quotes,” and it’s ability to turn two hyphens into an em-dash. Don’t even get me started on how well my smart phone knows me! On the drive home today, it beeped at me to let me know a DSW was coming up on my right. Now that’s scary.

      Reply
  2. Molly McCord

    Danielle, I also had a hard time “staying with” this reading, and this may be partly because, as Steve notes, Manovich is “not coming at this from the same disciplinary perspective of the other things we’re reading around definitions this week.” I think I have an easier time focusing on readings with a more instructional focus, but of course that’s because I’m a teacher:) One part that did catch my attention was toward the end of the piece, when Manovich notes that new media presents the user with a multitude of choices and “by passing on these choices to the user, the author also passes on the responsibilty to represent the world and the human condition in it” (26). I was glad Manovich used the example of the phone and web-based automated menu systems to explain his point how giving the user more “freedom” to self-navigate can actually end up being more of a burden to the user than speaking to an actual person (the “constant” in this case); I hadn’t thought of the kinds of moral implications involved with new media and the shift from traditions (constants) to choices (variables) until I read this very familiar example.

    Reply
    1. skrause Post author

      I agree with you about the examples, Molly. For me, I think it just highlights the presence of multimedia (even if we stick to a definition of multimedia that requires computer technology) in our day-to-day lives. Even as an example something like MS Word, which we don’t generally think of as “multimedia,” but which kind of makes sense relative to old word processing software or even (God forbid!) things like a typewriter.

      Reply
  3. Adam Czarnecki

    I think it’s interesting that a lot of people found this reading dry, because I actually really enjoyed it. I thought that the “Modularity” principle, as Professor Krause mentioned, nicely matched Halbritter’s demonstrating multi-track editing (that independent pieces make up a “whole,” but still maintain their independence), and although it may not be directly relevant to what we’re trying to do in class I thought the section on “Automation” really spoke to the need for an effective storage and cataloging system as we move into the information age (maybe this system is Google): “This led to the next stage in media evolution–the need for new technologies to store, organize, and efficiently access these materials” (21).

    Mostly, though, I got hung up by a quotation from page 25: ” […] new media technology acts as the most perfect realization of the utopia of an ideal society composed of unique individuals.” He says this after making the point that “in a postindustrial society, every citizen can construct her own custom lifestyle and ‘select’ her ideology from a large number of choices.”

    I wrote in the margin, here, “a utopia for who?” because to me it seemed like a warning. I think there’s something to be said for being exposed to things you don’t consciously seek out, otherwise the user (or perhaps student, in our discussions) is apt to cocoon themselves in the familiar. So this example of shifting from constants to variables almost seemed backward, but still left me with the “moral anxiety” he talked about on 26, like it’s almost our responsibility to push back a little even as we engage students in this “new” way to approach composition.

    Reply
    1. skrause Post author

      Whenever I see words like “utopia” and “ideal society” being associated with technology in any way, I always reach for the salt and take a grain of it. So I agree with you here.

      I will say this though: the kinds of technologies that Manovich is talking about here– the web, for example– definitely extend the stories those of us in the “postindustrial” world can tell and read. I mean, this web site is in theory available for billions of readers. That’s not to say we’re attracting any audience beyond the class, but the potential is there. And I can tell you quite clearly from my own experiences in publishing that things I write and post on the web– either in electronic publications or simply on my own initiative– receive many more readings than things that only stay on dead tree paper. That’s not utopia of course, but it’s “something.”

      Reply
    2. Tracey Sonntag

      Adam, I’m with you; I had an easier time getting “lost” in this piece than any of the others so far. The one thing that gave me pause? A statement about how “human intentionality can be removed from the creative process.” If there is no human factor, can it really be called “creative?”

      Reply
  4. Seth

    As Tracey points out, I thought the idea of removing human intentionality from the creative process represented a “debatable” concept of creativity. The idea does, however, have interesting implications for the part of this piece that I liked, which was the correlation between social change and historical changes in media technologies. This really reminded me of the concept of culture as ‘language writ large.’ As the lexicon of media technology becomes more situated within our everyday language, cultural changes start to parallel technological changes more and more. And again, interesting but debatable.

    Reply
  5. Jennifer B.

    Wow, where to start with this one. The first way this piece struck was was, “Wow, look at all these terms that I now have a much better understanding of.” Then I got to Manovich’s section on “variability.” On the bottom of page 24, Manovich (LM) makes the comment, “If the logic of old media corresponded to the logic of industrial mass society, the logic of new media fits the logic of the postindustrial society, which values individuality over conformity.” When I read this, the first thought that came to mind was, “Isn’t everyone clammoring to post videos on YouTube or to write blogs, or to post dozens of “selfies” on Facebook – even though these are individual acts – a whole new kind of conformity?

    The other part of the piece I reacted most strongly to was on page 27 where LM says, “Because new media is created on computers, distributed via computers, and stored and archived on computers, the logic of a computer can be expected to significantly influence the traditional cultural logic of media; that is, we may be expect that the computer layer will affect the cultural layer.” I’m pretty certain I disagree with this statement, or maybe I say I think the level of influence will be gated by the type of end product. I find it very difficult to get on board with the notion that the computer layer could have a significant impact on a cultural layer such as story plot. Maybe, if plot lines could be reduced to numbers and probability (but then, who wants to read THAT?). Maybe I just don’t want to think that computers will ever have that strong of an influence on such a creative form as the short story. And how would his suggestion that the “computer layer and the cultural layer influence each other” factor in say, fiction writers who still work longhand then hand the transcript over to be converted into an electronic document?

    Are we ever going to get to the point where the artistic components of our society are more determined by the computer tools available to create and distribute them than by the artist? Yikes.

    Reply
  6. Jonathan Furlette

    I also like the categories that Manovich has come up with. It is interesting to think of the various approaches involved in creating and critiquing multimedia projects, and the various elements that are necessary to create a successful one, in the scope of contemporary media creations. In some ways, writing seems to be a little easier to handle in this respect, as written works do not appeal to nearly as many of our senses as a multimedia creation does. For the creator, there are so many “plates spinning” on stage that are so fragile, a push in one direction or the other could really “deafen” the other elements in play. It is a real gift to acquire the ability to “keep all of the plates spinning” to execute a project successfully. Our successful interaction with computers in all phases of these projects is necessary; the software that is used to make the user experience of creation more and more seamless is remarkable. I agree that it is debatable to take the idea of “human intention” out of creation, though drawing the distinction is useful, from an artistic perspective. Helps to differentiate in my own mind, the idea of creating for creation sake, without worrying how it will be interpreted.

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>