Response 9: The Language of New Media

Far from explaining the concept of new media, I feel like Lev Manovich only managed to muddle my understanding of what new media is, what it should be, and what it is not.

I do not think that the definition of new media as “anything that was generated with an aid of a computer” (I am simplifying, of course) captures a sufficient or a necessary condition. I fail to see how “being able to be described with a mathematical function” is so revolutionary a concept, and, nevertheless, physical and analogue objects of old media can be “translated” by finding an appropriate function to describe them. A professor for my J-term class (Wasting Time on the Internet) argued that everything on a computer is text, for example – because everything digital can be changed into a .txt file and read as text. However, I considered that to be such a arbitrary and useless observation. (We could similarly argue that everything digital is a number…) I am not convinced that it matters that a digital image can be translated, modified, or “programmed” easier than an analogue image. It is still an image, fundamentally! A picture is a picture is a picture. So what?

Conversely, even if we accept the criteria for new media, I fail to see how one can argue that analogue film and photography do not belong in the category that digital films and photography do. New media is not the only thing that can be manipulated algorithmically. One can manipulate analogue media, too – it is just more tedious. Similarly, one can argue that these borderline old media are modular, too – we can take out a still, and copy it, can’t we?

Ultimately, I do not think that the distinction between new and old media should be a binary one, but rather it should be a spectrum. And, anyways, I am not convinced that the difference is so fundamental that we need a distinction, at all!