What Did Lev Manovich Say About New Media?

Lev Manovich, a theorist of digital culture, offers insight regarding new media in his book The Language of New Media. In chapter one, “What is New Media?” Manovich answers two questions.

Lev Manovich.
    Lev Manovich

First, What is New Media in relation to how culture is affected by computerization? According to Manovich, all stages of communication reap the effects of computer media including acquisition, manipulation, storage, and distribution. The effects of computer media stretch out to include the following types of media: texts, still and/or moving images, sound, and three-dimensional construction.

Second, What are the ways in which the use of computers to record, store, create, and distribute media makes it new? Manovich’s take on this is that new media represents a convergence of computing and media technologies.

Manovich then reveals the five principles of new media as numerical representation, modularity, automation, variability, and cultural transcoding. If all existing media is translated to numerical data that is accessible for the computer then graphics, sounds, shapes, spaces, moving images, and texts are computable. This is where media becomes new media because the computer has become a media processor.

Numerical representation as described by Manovich is all new media objects composed of a digital code regardless of it was initially created on a computer or converted from analog media sources resulting in individual customization not mass standardization.

Modularity according to Manovich is a new media object such as: images, sounds, shapes and behaviors that are represented by discrete samples. These collections of discrete samples (pixels, characters, and scripts) have the same modular structure. Thus, they maintain their separate identities when assembled into larger-scale objects. This means they can be accessed, modified, and substituted without having an effect on the structure of an object.

Automation being both numerical representation and modularity allows for manipulation and access. Manovich mentions that accessing and reusing existing media objects is just as essential as creating new ones.

Variability for Manovich also is composed of numerical representation and modularity, and holds the position that a new media object is not fixed, but rather can exist in different and potentially infinite versions. So size, format, color, shape trajectory, duration, and point of view can all be defined as variables.

Cultural transcoding according to Manovich is the most substantial consequence of computerization. Cultural transcoding then is two separate layers, which are the “cultural layer” and “computer layer” being compounded together. So just as human culture modeled the world and the computer represents it, together a new computer culture is formed and an example of that is databases.

Manovich then concludes the chapter with “What New Media Is Not.” New media according to Manovich is not cinema because cinema as sampled time but preserved in linear order is a “human-centered” representation calling for one to identify with another’s bodily image. It is also not digitization because it is characterized by loss of data, noise, and degradation. New media is not interactivity (hyperlinking) because it calls for one to identify with another’s mental structure.

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