Precision and Interpellation in ‘The Language of New Media’

In The Language of New Media Lev Manovich defines, and traces the evolution of ‘new media’ as a concept and as a form of cultural production. Through a brief recollection of the parallel development of computers and of physical media, Manovich identifies the historical context in which “media becomes new media.” In the late XIX and early XX century, he argues, cultural forms undergo computerization. After this, Manovich moves to point at some principles of new media: numerical representation, modularity, automation, variability, and transcoding.

There are three things I want to highlight about Manovich’s piece. First, his exercise provides with a precise vocabulary with which to distinguish ‘new media’ from ‘media.’ Whether we agree or disagree is another issue, but his effort pointa at the importance of moving toward precision in language rather than to rely on platitudes to describe our changing media landscape. The second aspect I wanted to highlight is a consequence of what I just described. Manovich’s concept of ‘new media,’ and the principles he identifies, are conceptually or theoretically productive because they point at important questions about the nature of the form. In the piece, Manovich himself tries to solve some of these debates, for example, when he debunks the fallacy that all ‘new media’ si digitized analog media, or that ‘new media’ is more interactive than ‘old media.’

Finally, I think Manovich’s piece eloquently reveals an area where processes of isomorphism are understudied in spite of the large consequences they can have for our everyday lives. When discussing the principle of Transcoding, he points at the cultural and cognitive feedback loop between computers and cultural production: we make computers as much as computers make us. This idea is of crucial importance as we think what we lose when we rely on computers for creating and organising different systems of meaning.