Saturday, June 12, 2010

The New Language Of Our Society

After finishing Leo Manovich’s “The Language of New Media,” I can certainly understand why he titled this book the way he did and realize his observations are mere guesses as to what the future may hold. Similar to the way film has its own technical language, such as chiaroscuro, continuity, splicing, etc…, new media also has its own technical language, such as modulation, encoding, algorhytms, etc… The term “language” is not to be taken metaphorically or overanalyzed, but rather the “language” is simply the nuts and bolts that make up computer technology similar to how our alphabet makes up our English language.

So what is the “language” of computers (or new media in general)? As mentioned already in previous posts, new media consists of numerical representation (data), modularity (elements existing interdependently), automation (automatic modification), variability (multiplication of objects), and transcoding (ability to change formats). Technically speaking, thinking of new media in these terms reduces computers to nothing more than a machine that carries info, but as we all know, computers do so much more than just carry info. All new technologies from here on out are or are most likely going to be computer based and follow the above language. Again, this language reduces new media as numerical data accessible for computers. This begs the question whether our society has become so dependent on the development and fostering of new media, such as digital technology replacing film, that we have or will soon abandon our old language and become a mathematical, technological society, like the Jetsons. Can you imagine having even the simplest tasks, like walking on floors and preparing meals, computerized for us so that floors move and meals are prepared with the push of a button?

New technologies often help construct a new type of society. Clearly the society we live in today is different from that of the 1800s and I agree with the class discussions that the discovery of electricity had everything to do with that. Manovich writes about how strategies of working with computer data become our general cognitive strategies of our current society. At the same time, the design of software and the human-computer interface reflects a larger social logic, ideology, and imaginary of the contemporary society. This sort of relates back to my earlier point and what Bolter was arguing for in “Windows and Mirrors.” If society, especially computer designers, have become so accustomed to working with computer data, then they should be more aware of the interface they are using because the interface shapes how users see the computer itself. ALL of our actions on computers, though the outcome may be different, use the same commands and buttons. Therefore, we should be more aware of the icons we open up into folders, the start menu, and the way we navigate through the programs. Going back to the Jetson's comparison, a nice interface on a computer screen displaying detailed information about the selection of food categories would be very helpful in preparing meals. Hey, it could happen. This seems to be the direction we are heading in considering, again, that most new technological innovations are computer based and the language of our current culture consists of automation, modularity, variability, etc....

Manovich seems to heavily favor cyberspace and virtual reality when he talks about computer games. It seems like I can never escape talking about virtual reality in any of my posts, which makes me wonder if that too will play a center stage in our culture's new language. However, for now my position on virtual reality remains the same. That is, we as humans are fixed to our physical laws and space and can never completely enter into another. When we do enter into a new reality, that is called death. Manovich writes about how the majority of navigable virtual spaces mimic existing physical reality and relates this to the free roaming capabilities present in video games. While I’ll admit you certainly can free roam in video games, even there you are fixed to a certain amount of space. While first person games with the ability to free roam may come the closet to the illusion that we are in a virtual world, I think it is safe to say every gamer knows he is still in our present reality.


  1. Excellent post, Michael! I do wish Manovich had acknowledged the groundbreaking work of Edmund Carpenter, a colleague of McLuhan's, who wrote about media as "The New Languages" back in the 50s. Fundamentally, every medium has its vocabulary, its units that can be combined in some fashion to create a message. And more significantly, every medium has its grammar, its rules for combining the units in a meaningful manner.

  2. I liked your connection to the Jetsens. I loved that show as a kid. Thinking about a Jetsen-like society is scary--completely relying on computer technology for everything.