What new media not is
Part of my research is concerned with the language aspects of traditionally and digitally produced cultural text, with visual language. Lev Manovich's work seems to aim in the same direction, but in fact offers me an opportunity to differentiate and fine-tune my position. In “the language of new media” Manovich defines various criteria delineating the nature of new media, as in digital media, like numerical representation, modularity, automation, variability and transcoding. He then moves on to discuss interfaces and HCI, analyse various aspects of interaction operations and returns to conclude his analysis in view of his favourite medium, the cinema.
I do not accept Manovich’s criteria as defining new media conclusively. Before discussing Manovich’s criteria of new media, I look at his definition of object. Throughout the book he uses the term object synonymously with “new media object, product, artwork and interactive media” , i.e. the content and the medium are one, a unity. On the other hand he uses object in the computer science way to indicate the “modular nature in object oriented programming languages such as C++ and java… ”, i.e. a module of a code structure. This can be confusing as one definition points to visual representation and the other to underlying invisible code. I agree with Mcluhan here and find it necessary to distinguish between content and medium as separate entities and will break down Manovich's explanations accordingly.
If new media were defined by numerical representation, modularity, automation, variability, and transcoding only, a 100-year-old woven paisley rug would be a “new media object”. Lets start with “numerical representation”, as Manovich defines it in terms of digital code, as mathematical form : A woven carpet is defined by a strict grid, by horizontal and vertical threads. This is a binary description as we find it in assembly code, as ’X / 0’, or ‘off/ on’ or ‘one and zero’. Assembly code is a low-level computer language, which can be directly understood by the processor. However few people write computer programs in low level languages, the norm is that programs are written in high level languages, which are close to human languages, compilers then render the high level code into assembly code, or machine code as it is also called. So, if we talk about digital code as in binary code, we talk machine language; if we take digital code as programming language, we need to extend “numerical” to “alpha-numerical”. Strictly binary code only stands for the lowest level of the underlying code structure, it describes the grid of the carrier, the medium or the woven carpet. It does not give us an impression or depiction of the visual representation level.
Picture paisley.jpg as visual and alphanumerical code represenation (jpg opened in MS word)
To discuss the “content”, i.e. the displayed pattern, we can look at Manovich’s second definition of numerical representation as in...