New Media, New Rules

Where do we draw the line between old and new media? How does this shift impact media creation and consumption? This week I had the pleasure of trudging through some fairly technical excerpts that explore these questions and more.

First, Lev Manovich’s The Language of New Media distills blockbuster movies, glossy magazines and multimedia websites into algorithms. This reduction to numerical data references how we transitioned from printing press to Wikipedia. To pinpoint the shift from old to new, Manovich leads with a detailed but separate history of media (e.g., radio, print, film, etc.) and computer.

Linking media and culture, he explains how mass media was emblematic of the era it served. For example, the typesetting machine mirrored factory line assembly –comparing the standardization of parts to standardized fonts and design. Turning to computer, the early expectations were calculations and storage. A growing population required analyzing increasing amounts of data, and it was becoming too much for our original data systems (the brain).

When media met computer, it revolutionized the creation, distribution, manipulation and access of media to establish computer as a giant media database. Now that we’re up to speed, Manovich considers the principles of new media while also noting that a complete understanding of new media requires moving beyond media theory to software theory.

Janet Murray shares this belief. In Inventing the Medium, she considers the requirements of new media and the programmer challenges that stem from Human Computer Interaction (HCI). These two excerpts touch upon many of the same topics. I believe these points, listed below, help with defining new media as well as understanding how this transition affects consumer expectations.

New media is:

Programmable

New media is created and old media is converted to computable data.

Modular

Forms of new media are built using numerous independent media elements (pixels, characters, etc.) For example, while a website is viewed as a single cohesive page, it essentially consists of numerous pieces that can be removed and manipulated.

Automated

Combining the above factors, designers are able to create algorithms and templates to automate processes. Think about Photoshop and its presets, which give creative powers to the masses. Being able to limit environments and account for consumer interaction with a program allows designers to automate outcomes.

The overabundance of information requires facilitating access to information without overwhelming (Murray, 68). The solution is search functions to sort relevant information. Manovich notes the program Letizia, which considers your current page and determines other pages of interest – creating a very passive but convenient web experience.

Variable

New media needs to be liquid. There is no single format or path. Again tying culture and technology, post-industrial society has moved away from mass printing to individual customization. Platforms collect customer information to provide a unique web interface and consumer experience.

We now have the “realization of the utopia of an ideal society composed of unique individuals” (Manovich, 42). Programmers must aim for robustness (coping) and scalability (accommodation) to account for “unpredictable user input and portability to multiple systems” (Murray, 54).

Participatory

New media requires user participation and thus visual cues for how to interact. Designers must simultaneously script software and user (Murray, 55). People come to a computer with the expectation of interaction, and they will quickly become frustrated or bored if this element is lacking.

Defining new media goes beyond this list, but it’s a good start. To continue exploring the concept and the consequences of the shift from old to new, I have provided some questions. Feel free to comment below with your thoughts.

  1. What becomes of old media? Is there still a place/need for static media?
  2. Much of the creation process is being automated with advancing technology like Photoshop functions, Artificial Life software and web creation platforms. What does this mean for designers? How do these technologies change manager expectations of creativity and skill level of designers?
  3. How has this indexing of media impacted creativity? Do you search for objects rather than creating? Why?
  4. The proliferation of data on the internet has required advancing search capabilities. Interactive computer media also externalizes the thought process with hyperlinks. In these scenarios, acquisition of knowledge is directed by program/designer. What are the potential consequences of users taking such a passive approach to research? Are there any alternative options to quickly maneuver the overabundance of information available?
  5. How does this transition to computable data alter the way in which Communications teams work with Information Technology teams? How does this shift change manager expectations for associate skills and education?
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