Manovich, Lev. "What is New Media?" in "The Language of New Media"


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Manovich, Lev. (2002). "What is New Media?" In "The Language of New Media" (43-74). Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press. [1]

Reviewed by Colette Leung

In the chapter, ???What is New Media???? of his book ???The Language of New Media,??? (2002) Lev Manovich argues that multimedia and new media highlight an immediately occurring shift in cultural language and communication, more profound than any previous such as generated by the printing press or photography, because all media is being transformed into computer-mediated forms.

Manovich supports this argument by claiming that to understandthis shift, we must understand what it is that makes new media???new,??? and thus the history and definition of new media must beexplored. This definition includes five principles, ???not laws butrather [???] general tendencies of a culture undergoingcomputerization.??? (49). These principles are: numericalrepresentation which states that new media objects exist as digitalcode or data (49); modularity which explains that the differentelements of new media exist independently (51); automation whichexplains that new media objects can be created and modifiedautomatically without the input of humans (53); variability whichstates that new media objects exist in different, perhaps infinite,versions (56); and the most important, transcoding or to translatemedia into different forms, which suggests that the computer is notonly affected by how we understand it, but that it influences howwe understand and represent ourselves (63). Further, Manovichsuggests that some principles that are often attributed to newmedia aren???t enough to understand new media. These include theidea that new media is not continuous or digitally encoded, that itcan be played on one multimedia machine, that it allows randomaccess, that it can be lost because it contains a fixed amount ofinformation, that it can be copied endlessly without degradation,and that it is interactive (66). All of these principles cannotdemonstrate a shift, as they can all be attributed to cinema.Manovich also demonstrates that new media allows us ???toexternalize the mind??? (74) as we can trace someone???s mentalstructure with new media. Thus it affects all areas ofcommunication (output and input), which makes new media the adventof a true cultural shift.

Manovich???s purpose is to provide a meticulous definition of new media, in order to provide a common ground and understanding upon which others can build theories and their own understanding of new media. He provides a starting point well illustrated with analogies from film theory, history, literary theory and computer science, which appeal to many disciplines. He establishes an authoritative relationship with his audience of interdisciplinary academics, those in the field of computers and digitization, as well as any who are interested in the relations of culture and technology, by providing the layout of the land for others to understand new media, and by providing a language for use when discussing issues.

Moreover, Manovich continually returns to this theme of a ???culture undergoing computerization??? (49), the idea that there is a ???cultural layer??? and a ???computer layer??? (63) that influence each other. Manovich explicitly states this relationship of culture and computers in the context of new media and multimedia, a relationship between the arts and the digital, making this work of interest to our discipline. By setting this theme in the text, Manovich marks his writing as important to discussions of humanities computing, and sets it apart from other work that neglect the exploration of this relationship in new media and multimedia; a relationship that is at the core of Humanities Computing.

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